Travel Credit Cards of 2017

We've looked at the travel cards available in the UK and found they offer a variety of features, such as fee-free purchases while abroad, earning miles (e.g., for free flight)s, earning points (e.g., for hotel stays) or withdrawing cash from ATMs without penalty. In our analysis, we considered foreign transaction fees, annual fees, reward rates and flexibility. There may be other cards with better features than those we mention here. Before choosing a card, think about what you're looking for out of a travel card and carry out your own research.

Travel Credit Cards Overall

Travel credit cards may offer one or both of the following features: no foreign transaction fees (on purchases and also perhaps cash withdrawals) and travel rewards.

No Foreign Transaction Fees & Air Rewards: Lloyds Avios Rewards Credit Card

The Lloyds Bank Avios Rewards card is both a travel rewards card and a no-fees-on-foreign-transactions travel card. Cardholders get an Amex and a MasterCard. Amex purchases will earn 1.25 per £1 spent, with double Avios accumulating in the first six months. Mastercard purchases earn 1.25 Avios/£5 spent. In addition, you can earn a free flight upgrade voucher by spending £7,000 a year. This upgrade voucher can be very variable in its value: it can be worth nothing (e.g., it expires unused) or hundreds of pounds if used well (e.g., to upgrade from Premium Economy to Business).

While purchases made abroad will not incur an FX fee, cash withdrawals are treated differently, incurring a 3% fee (£3 minimum).

Summary

  • Rewards rates around 1.25% on Amex and 0.25% on MasterCard
  • No fees on non-sterling transactions abroad
  • 3% fee on cash withdrawals abroad (£3 minimum)
  • Earn Avios when you spend (1.25 Avios/£1 spent on Amex, 1.25 Avios/£1 spent on MasterCard)
  • Double Avios first 6 months (up to £2,500 of eligible spend)
  • Earn free flight upgrade voucher by spending £7,000 a year
  • Lower-than-average 18.9% interest rate on cash withdrawals (or 21.9% or 25.9%, variable)
  • 18.9% purchase APR (or 21.9% or 25.9%, variable)
  • Eligibility checker
  • Annual fee of £24

Travel Credit Cards for No Foreign Transaction Fees

Here are two other travel cards that don't charge fees on foreign transactions. Remember there is no one "best" card, as everyone has different requirements, so research thoroughly before choosing a card. If you're primarily interested in a no-foreign-transaction-fees card, you may want to look at our in-depth article that covers a wider selection of no-fee travel cards, in order to learn more.

Barclaycard Platinum Travel Credit Card

The Barclaycard Platinum Travel Credit Card won't charge you a fee for purchases or ATM withdrawals made in a foreign currency while you're overseas. Also, you won't be charged interest on foreign-currency cash withdrawals made abroad, if the full balance is paid off in full, and on time. This detail gives you up to 56 days interest free on ATM withdrawals. It's important to note that the current "no non-sterling transaction fees on your foreign spend and ATM withdrawals abroad" promotion ends on 31 August 2018.

Summary

  • No fees on non-sterling ATM withdrawals or transactions abroad (Fees increase after 31 August 2018)
  • No interest charges on non-sterling cash withdrawals, if balance paid off in full and on time
  • 18.9% variable purchase APR
  • 27.9% variable cash withdrawal APR
  • Eligibility checker
  • No annual fee

Creation Everyday Credit Card

The Creation Everyday credit card is a travel credit card for use overseas that charges no fees on non-sterling purchases or cash withdrawals abroad. The 12.9% interest rate on non-sterling cash withdrawals is lower than average. It's important to be aware of your cash interest rate because, like most credit cards, the Creation Everyday card starts charging interest on cash withdrawals immediately.

Summary

  • No fees on non-sterling ATM withdrawals or transactions abroad
  • Lower-than-average 12.9% APR (or 17.9% or 21.9%, variable) cash withdrawals
  • 12.9% purchases APR (or 17.9% or 21.9%, variable)
  • Quick Eligibility Check available
  • No annual fee

Travel Credit Cards for Airline Rewards

We've chosen to discuss two travel cards - the Virgin Black for higher-than-average potential rewards and the Miles & More for being a free air rewards card. There is no one "best" card, as everyone has different needs, especially when it comes to flying. If you're quite interested in an air miles rewards card, look at a wide selection of airline rewards cards, including the British Airways credit cards, so that you can choose the best air card for you.

Virgin Atlantic Black Credit Card

The Virgin Atlantic Black Credit Card rewards frequent Virgin travelers with Flying Club miles when they spend plus the chance to earn two Premium Economy Upgrades and one Companion Reward Voucher. An 18,500 Flying Club miles welcome bonus, earned with your first purchase in 90 days, is nearly enough for an off-peak, round-trip awards flight to New York or Dubai.

The Virgin Black account comes with two credit cards: an American Express card and a Visa. The Amex sports higher rewards rates (around 5% on Virgin spend and 2.5% elsewhere) and should be your go-to card wherever it is accepted. Where Amex is not accepted, you can still earn half of those rewards by using the Virgin Black Visa card.

The annual bonuses of two Premium Economy Upgrades and one Companion Reward Voucher can also be earned with Amex spend of £5,000 (£5k for each upgrade) and £7,500, respectively. Vouchers and upgrades are valid for twelve months. These perks alone can be worth hundreds of pounds - if you use them.

It is important to note the Companion Voucher is earned after you've spent £7,500 AND then buy a full fare qualifying flight. (A full fare qualifying flight are those tickets purchased in booking classes: Y,B,R,L,U,M,E,Q,X,W,S,H and J.) You'll have to fly Virgin a second time (paying for that ticket at a qualifying adult fare) in order to use the voucher. The Premium Economy upgrade lets you swap an Economy reward flight (an Economy seat bought with Flying Club miles) into a Premium Economy flight.

Summary

  • Potential rewards rates around 5% on Amex and 2.5% on Visa
  • On the Amex card, earn 2 Flying Club Miles for every £1 spent on general purchases and 4 Flying Club Miles for every £1 spent at Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays
  • On the Visa, earn 1 Flying Club Miles for every £1 spent on general purchases and 2 Flying Club Miles for every £1 spent at Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays
  • Receive a Premium Economy upgrade on an economy redemption when you spend £5,000 on the Black Amex in a year (you can earn two of these upgrades a year)
  • Earn a complimentary companion reward flight when you spend £7,500 in years when you purchase a full-fare flight
  • Earn 18,500 bonus miles with your first purchase within 90 days
  • £140 annual fee
  • Eligibility checker
  • 22.9% variable APR

Miles & More Credit Card

The Miles & More Credit Card is a free card that offers rewards on both air and general spending. Like many other air rewards programs, account holders will receive two credit cards: an American Express and a Visa. Cardholders earn 2 award miles for every £1 spent on the Amex and half that on the Visa card, achieving potential rewards rates of 1.8% and 0.9%, respectively. Try to use the Amex when you can, in order to maximize your rewards.

Cardholders will earn a bonus 1,500 miles on their first card purchase (within 90 days of account opening). As a free card, there are no annual bonuses like companion vouchers or upgrades. Miles may be redeemed on any Star Alliance partner, Luftansa, Luftansa Regional, Air Astana, BMI Regional, Jet Airways, Air Malta, and TAM. The Miles & More program is the largest air loyalty program in Europe.

Summary

  • Rewards rates around 1.8% on Amex and 0.9% on Visa
  • Earn 2 miles per £1 spent on the American Express card; earn 1 miles per £1 spent on the Visa
  • Earn 1,500 miles when you make your first card purchase (within first 90 days)
  • No annual fee
  • Eligibility checker
  • 22.9% variable APR

Travel Credit Cards for Hotel Rewards

If you're after hotel rewards so that you can can stay for free the next time you're on holiday, you may be considering a hotel rewards credit card. Because of their different annual fees and rewards rates, finding a card is a very individual decision and will depend on annual spending and if you want to align your hotel reward earning with a favourite hotel property or brand. For a more thorough analysis see our Hotel Rewards Credit Cards article.

In the meantime, the chart below shows how the rewards can change for different levels of annual spending.

A graph showing the rewards over first two years with the 3 best hotel rewards card, the SPG Credit Card, the IHG Rewards Club Premium Credit Card, and the Hilton HHonors Credit Card, for average UK spending and higher spending
Rewards on 3 Hotel Rewards Cards over 2 Years, for both Average UK Household Spend and Higher Spending

Hilton HHonors Platinum Visa Card

The Hilton HHonors Platinum Visa Card gives hotel rewards on your spending, but as a free card does not offer annual bonuses. For every £1 you spend on the Hilton HHonors card at participating hotels within the Hilton Worldwide portfolio, you'll earn 3 HHonors Points. Every £1 spent elsewhere earns 2 HHonors Points. We estimate the value of an HHonors point at 0.5 pence, yielding an ongoing rewards rate around 1.5% on participating Hilton spend and 1% elsewhere.

HHonors Points can also be exchanged for miles at Virgin Atlantic (1 Virgin Flying Club Mile : 1.5 HHonors Points), Hawaiian Airlines (1 HawaiianMile : 1.5 HHonors Points), or Sri Lankan Airlines (2 FlySmiles : 1 HHonors Point). Hilton Worldwide brands incorporates over 4,600 properties across 14 brands:

Hilton HHonors Hotels
Waldorf AstoriaConradCanopy
HiltonCurioDoubleTree
Tapestry CollectionHilton Garden InnHampton
truHome2 SuitesHomewood Suites
Embassy SuitesHilton Grand Vacations

Summary

  • Rewards rates around 1.5% on participating Hilton Worldwide purchases and 1% elsewhere
  • Earn 3 HHonors Bonus Points for every £1 you spend at participating Hilton Worldwide hotels (in addition to the Base Points you already earn)
  • Earn 2 HHonors Bonus Points for every £1 you spend elsewhere
  • Gold Elite Status (when you spend £10k each year)
  • One free night e-cerificate (when you spend £750 in first 90 days)
  • 2,500 Bonus Points for each of your first four stays in your first 12 months
  • Eligibility checker
  • No annual fee
  • 18.9% purchases APR (variable)

IHG Rewards Club Premium

With the IHG Rewards Club Premium, cardholders earn 4 IHG Rewards Club points for every pound spent at IHG properties and 2 rewards points per pound spent elsewhere, achieving potential rewards rates of 2% and 1%, respectively. Add to this a welcome bonus of 20,000 points (worth approximately £100) and a free night each year in which you spend £10,000, and over two years the average consumer could earn around £640 of rewards. IHG Rewards can be redeemed at over 5,000 properties, part of the following brands:

IHG Hotels
InterContinentalKimptonhotel Indigo
Even HotelsHualuxeCrowne Plaza
Holiday InnHoliday Inn ExpressHoliday Inn Club Vacations
Holiday Inn ResortStaybridge SuitesCandlewood Suites

Summary

  • Rewards rates around 2% on participating IHG purchases and 1% elsewhere
  • Platinum Elite status
  • One free night voucher each year in which you spend at least £10,000
  • Welcome bonus of 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points (when you spend £200 in first 3 months)
  • Eligibility checker
  • Annual fee of £99
  • 19.9% purchases APR (variable)

Starwood Preferred Guest by American Express

The Starwood Preferred Guest card delivers ongoing rewards rates estimated at 1.4% on general spending, a 10,000 Starpoint welcome bonus and an annual bonus of a free weekend night (earned by spending more than £25,000 in a year). Be aware that the free night voucher can only be redeemed at a hotel in Categories 1 through 4; the exclusion of the highest categories does limit the value of this feature.

After analyzing the cost of random nights at hotels across the spectrum of categories, we arrived at a value of 1.4 pence per SPG point. This yields a rewards rate of 1.4% on regular spending. Until November 2017, cardholders earn double points on SPG & Marriott purchases for a rewards rate of 2.8% on participating hotel spend. In order to make up the annual fee, a cardholder would need to spend at least £5,500 a year on regular spending, or half that at Starwood properties.

The SPG program offers redemption flexibility; Starpoints can be redeemed for flights on over 150 airlines, usually transferred at a ratio of 1 mile : 1 Starpoint.

Starwood Hotels
Four PointsSheratonAloft
W HotelsLe MeridienThe Luxury Collection
elementWestinSt. Regis
Tribute PortfolioDesign HotelsStarwood Preferred Guest

Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Marriott Rewards have recently merged, but continue to operate as two separate entities. They are expected to combine in 2018 and will keep all 30 brands, encompassing around 7,000 properties. Until then, join both the Marriott Rewards program and the SPG program, linking your accounts to accumulate points and benefits at all of the hotels in the portfolio. Once you’ve linked your accounts, you can transfer points between them in order to redeem across the portfolio. Points are transferred at a rate of 1 Starpoint = 3 Marriott Rewards Points. Linking accounts also serves to match your status in one program with the other.

Summary

  • Rewards rates around 2.8% on SPG & Marriott purchases and 1.4% elsewhere
  • 10,000 Starpoint welcome bonus (spend £1k in first 3 months) SPG Gold Preferred Status (spend £15k each year)
  • Earn a free weekend night (spend £25k each year)
  • Redeem Starpoints for flights
  • Eligibility checker
  • Annual fee of £75
  • 19.9% purchase APR (variable)

Summary of 2017's Travel Credit Cards

Below is a summary of our top picks for best travel card across different categories.

For...Credit CardQuick Summary
Overseas Purchases & Earning Air RewardsLloyds Avios RewardsNo foreign transaction fees on purchases; Avios rewards around 1.25% on all spend
Overseas Purchases & CashBarclaycard Platinum TravelNo foreign transaction fees on purchases or cash until 31 August 2018; Grace period for cash - no interest if pay balance in full and on time
Overseas Purchases & CashCreation EverydayNo foreign transaction fees on purchases or cash; Lower-than-average 12.9% interest rate on cash
Air RewardsVirgin BlackPotential to earn 5% on Virgin Atlantic/holidays spend and over 2% elsewhere through companion voucher and upgrades
Free Air RewardsMiles & MorePotential rewards rate nearly 2% on all spend; No annual fee
Hotel Rewards for higher-than-average spendStarwood Preferred GuestAnnual spend over £25,000 qualifies you for free night voucher; Ongoing rewards around 1.4% on everyday spend
Hotel Rewards for average spendIHG Rewards Club PremiumFree night voucher each year spend £10,000; 1% rewards on everyday spend
Free Hotel RewardsHilton HHonorsHotel rewards around 1% on all spend; No annual fee

Average Rewards on Travel Credit Cards

A graph comparing the rewards over two years for the best UK travel rewards credit cards.
Rewards on Travel Rewards Cards over 2 Years

How to Choose a Travel Card

There is no "best" credit card and choosing a credit card is a very individual decision. The right card for you will depend on your personal financial situation, needs and spending patterns. We give you some concepts to keep in mind when doing your own research.

To take some confusion out of choosing the right travel card, think of your primary goals for the card. Do you want a travel card to pay for hotels, restaurants, shopping, and other expenses while you're on holiday overseas? Learn more about No Foreign Transaction Fees cards. Do you want a travel card to earn free or discounted flights or hotel stays? Learn more about Airline Rewards cards and Hotel Rewards cards.

Keep in mind that while air rewards cards may appear to be much more valuable than other rewards cards, realizing these rewards is not always possible. Much of the value on air cards stems from companion vouchers. However, companion vouchers can be difficult to use - seats can be difficult to find on your desired routes and dates, especially if you are flying at peak times. Consequently, companion vouchers may expire before you can redeem them, massively dropping the estimated value of an air rewards card.

Beyond this, the value of a mile can vary significantly depending on route and cabin class. Poor use of miles can, again, drop the value of an air rewards card. (The same applies to hotel rewards cards.) For our calculations, we have used average values we think a savvy flyer can achieve for their rewards miles. However, the value earned on air (or hotel) rewards cards can vary significantly from one card holder to the next.