Are you looking for a way to maximise your spending and pay for your next holiday with rewards points? This is possible using the best travel credit card for your particular needs. You can earn air miles, hotel points or have one with flexible redemption options.
Best credit cards for travel – UK
The best travel credit cards can also help you avoid those hidden travel fees like non-sterling transactions and currency conversion. Other cards provide discounts on select travel purchases to help you save money on upcoming holidays.
Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus
Best no annual fee card
If you don’t want to pay an annual fee, non-sterling fee or cash withdrawal fees, look at the Barclaycard Platinum Cashback Plus. This card has a cashback scheme earning 0.50% back on every purchase for the first three months. You continue to earn 0.25% back after the first three months through August 2023.
Besides the purchase rewards, the main reason to consider this card is for the waived non-sterling fees and cash withdrawal fees. You can complete your transactions in the local currency and not worry about the 3% fee that other credit cards charge.
Cardmembers can also save up to 10% on Barclaycard Entertainment purchases. These discounts apply to ticket presales, food and drink, and live events at over 19 O2 Academy venues.
One reason why you may not get this card is if you already own another Barclaycard credit card due to current application rules. Unfortunately, UK banks only let you have one credit card from them at a time.
Barclaycard Platinum Benefits
- Earn 0.50% back on every purchase for the first three months (then 0.25%)
- No foreign transaction fee or cash withdrawal fees through August 2023
- No annual fee
Virgin Money Travel credit card
Best 0% interest card
The Virgin Money Travel Credit Card doesn’t charge an annual fee or foreign transaction fee. Although you won’t earn travel miles, you do get travel discounts and get 0% interest on the first 12 months for new purchases and balance transfers. This card carries the Mastercard label which means it has near-universal acceptance anywhere you travel.
Travel discounts include 5% back on Virgin Holidays purchases and higher discounts for other Virgin travel experiences. You can also get cash back on travel insurance. It’s possible to get a complimentary visit to the Virgin Money lounges in spots like London, Edinburgh and Glasgow. These lounges are a fun way to relax when visiting these cities and you need a break.
Virgin Money credit card benefits
- No annual fee or foreign transaction fee
- 0% interest on new purchases and balance transfers for the first 12 months
- Travel discounts on Virgin Holidays purchases
Aqua Reward credit card
Best for less-than-perfect credit
You don’t have as many exciting credit card options when you only have fair or poor credit. The Aqua Reward is one of the best cards if you fall into these categories. You earn 0.50% cashback on every purchase and can earn up to £100 in rewards each year. There isn’t a foreign transaction fee either.
Although you may not have stellar credit, you can still enjoy the perks of credit cards requiring excellent credit. Because this card has an above-average interest rate, only charge what you can pay in full each month. You can enrol in text reminders to never miss a payment.
Aqua may also give you an initial credit limit of £1,200 which can be plenty of purchase power for your next holiday.
Aqua Reward card benefits
- Get 0.50% back on every purchase (up to £100 yearly)
- No annual fee or foreign transaction fee
- Can qualify with little or poor credit history
American Express Platinum credit card
Best for travel perks
One of the most luxurious credit cards is the Platinum Card from American Express. It does a hefty £450 annual fee so you will need to be a serious traveller to get your mileage from this card. You will also need an excellent credit score to qualify as well. As you may expect, there isn’t a foreign transaction fee.
There’s a lot to like about the Platinum Card. Firstly, this card earns rewards points called Membership Rewards. They are redeemable for travel and non-travel rewards. You earn one point for every £1 spent and two points per £1 booking travel through American Express Travel Online.
Secondly, you can transfer points directly to airline and hotel partners like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, FlyingBlue, and Delta Airlines. You may get more value from each point by transferring your points and booking directly through the carrier. If you’re not loyal to a particular airline or hotel loyalty scheme, these transfer partners can be your best friend.
Thirdly, you get complimentary access to several airport lounge networks. These partners include The Centurion, Priority Pass, and several smaller networks. Once you land, you can enjoy elevated loyalty status with hotel programmes like Hilton Honors, Starwood Preferred Guest, and Melia Rewards. You also get special benefits at Fine Hotels and Resorts.
Although the annual fee is £450, the first five supplementary cards are free. One of these cards can also be a Platinum Card but the others must either be a Gold or Green Card which have fewer benefits.
New cardmembers can also earn 30,000 bonus Membership Rewards points by spending £2,000 in the first 3 months. This bonus is worth approximately £300 in award travel.
American Express cashback credit card
- Can transfer points to airline and hotel loyalty programmes
- Complimentary airport lounge membership
- Elevated travel loyalty programme status
- Earn up to £2 per $1 spent
British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card
Best for earning Avios
Avios is perhaps the most popular air miles scheme in the UK. The best credit card for earning Avios and enjoy other travel benefits is the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card.
You earn 3 Avios per £1 spent on British Airways and BA Holiday purchases. All other purchases earn 1.5 Avios per £1 spent. There isn’t a foreign transaction fee which means you can earn Avios on your foreign-based card purchases as well.
By spending at least £10,000 each year you get a 2-for-1 companion voucher. Simply redeem Avios for your ticket and you only have to pay the fees and taxes for your companion’s ticket. This benefit alone can offset the £195 annual membership fee.
New cardmembers also have the chance to earn 25,000 bonus Avios by spending £3,000 in the first three months. This bonus is enough to book two return flights from London to Berlin at 9,000 Avios each. You can also book one return flight to Athens (or elsewhere in Europe and Africa) for 20,000 Avios.
This credit card has a £195 membership fee although supplementary cards are free. If you are a casual flyer but still want to earn Avios on every card purchase, the British Airways American Express Card is the best alternative. It doesn’t charge an annual fee although there is a 3% non-sterling transaction fee.
British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card benefits
- Earn up to 3 Avios for every £1 spent
- Annual 2-for-1 companion voucher after spending £10,000 annually
- No foreign transaction fee
Virgin Atlantic Rewards credit card
Best for flying Virgin Atlantic
There are two different branded Virgin Atlantic credit cards. The Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card has a £160 annual fee and can be the better option when making at least £10,000 in card purchases. Reaching this spending milestone gives you a one-time upgrade to premium or a companion ticket. If you use the £0 annual fee card, you must spend $20,000 each year to get the same perk.
You also earn £3 on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays purchases and £1.5 on all remaining purchases. The current one-time signup bonus offer is 15,000 miles by making your first card purchase within the first 90 days.
When travelling around the UK, you get free access to the Virgin Money lounges. Simply show your Reward+ credit card to get access.
Another valuable card benefit is free Boingo wifi hotspot access. With over a million hotspots over the globe, this perk lets you avoid hotspot access fees some cafes, businesses and airports still charge.
Virgin Atlantic credit card benefits
- Earn up to 3 Flying Club miles per £1 spent
- One premier upgrade or companion certificate after spending £10,000 yearly
- Free Boingo wifi hotspot access
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express
Best hotel credit card
Some travellers prefer earning free hotel nights. The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express lets you redeem points for stays at Marriott and Starwood properties.
Owning this card gives you automatic Silver Elite status in the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty programme. Perks include free wifi and earning 10% bonus points on stays. Your loyalty status upgrades to Gold Elite after £15,000 in total annual card purchases.
You also get a free night certificate by making £25,000 in yearly card purchases. The free night certificate is redeemable at any property that costs 40,000 points or less. That’s any category 1-5 property which is most of the Bonvoy portfolio.
In regard to earning points, you get six points per £1 spent at participating Marriott and Starwood properties (through December 31, 2019). All other purchases earn three points per £1 spent.
Redeeming points for award nights at Marriott Bonvoy properties start ay 7,500 points per night. You also have the option of booking flights with your hotel points. This rare feature lets you book from over 150 airlines or you can transfer to over 40 airline partners.
You will pay a £75 annual fee. There is a 2.99% fee on non-sterling transactions.
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express benefits
- Redeem points for flights or hotel nights
- Automatic Silver Eliter Marriot Bonvoy status
- Earn up to six points per £1 spent
Each traveller is going to have a different credit card preference, so the best travel card is the one that ultimately meets your specific needs. One of these cards should be able to maximize your spending. You may even be able to save some money when travelling abroad because you don’t pay foreign transaction fees. Wherever you go, happy travelling.
About the Author
Josh Patoka has been to six different countries and most of the United States. These days, he enjoys travelling with his growing family in his free time. You can find Josh writing about travel hacking on Johnny Jet.