When it comes to earning airline miles on your everyday spending the drill is simple. Get an Amex card, be it the Gold, BA, SPG card or any other flavour and you’re good to go. Unfortunately, it’s not actually as straightforward as that.

Plenty of shops in the UK, particularly smaller ones, still don’t accept Amex cards. Which card should you be using at those places?

For some time, HSBC has led the way with their Premier and then World Elite cards. The old Virgin Black double pack used to offer a good rate but that is now gone. The Tesco Premium card was a similar story, but that too has fallen by the wayside. Then the Virgin Reward+ card from Virgin Money came along in April with some highly competitive earning rates and carrying a similar annual fee to the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard.

So which is ultimately the better card – the Virgin Reward+ Credit Card or the HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard?

Today, I’ll be comparing their respective features to see if we can reach a definitive conclusion…

HSBC Premier World Elite MasterCard
HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard
Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card
Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card

Welcome bonus

The HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard offers 40,000 HSBC Rewards points (worth 20,000 Avios) after spending £2,000 within the first three months of card membership.

HSBC Reward points can be transferred to four different frequent flyer programs at a 2:1 ratio:

  • British Airways Avios (British Airways Executive Club)
  • Asia Miles (Cathay Pacific)
  • Etihad Guest (Etihad Airways)
  • Singapore KrisFlyer (Singapore Airlines)

The Virgin Atlantic Reward+ card offers 15,000 bonus Virgin Flying Club miles after making your first card transaction.

You can read more about Virgin Flying Club miles in this guide

Winner = HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard

Day-to-day earnings rate

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard

  • 2 HSBC Rewards point per £1 (i.e. 1 Avios etc per £1)
  • 4 HSBC Rewards point per £1 spent on foreign currency transactions

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card

  • 1.5 Virgin Flying Club miles per £1
  • 3 Virgin Flying Club miles per £1 per £1 spent directly with Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays

Winner = Virgin Reward+ card – but only just. Yes, it has the higher outright earnings rate but there have been periodic 25-30% transfer bonuses to Avios (and Etihad) in the past which evens things up somewhat.

Annual fee

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard £195 per year plus £60 for additional cardholders.

Representative 59.3% APR variable and 18.9% p.a (variable) for purchases, based on an annual fee of £195 and an assumed credit limit of £1,200.

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card£160 per year.

This card has a representative APR of 63.9% based on a notional credit limit of £1,200 and a £160 annual fee. The representative APR on purchases is 22.9% variable. 

Remember that unlike American Express cards, neither HSBC nor Virgin Money offer pro-rata refunds on card fees. This means that once paid, these annual fees are a sunk cost.

Winner = Virgin Reward+ card

Other key perks

HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard

  • Free airport lounge access – via the LoungeKey network.
  • Additional first-year bonus – 40,000 HSBC Reward points when you spend £12,000 in a card membership year.
  • Free unlimited WiFi – Via the “world’s largest WiFi network” iPass.
  • Access to World Elite benefits – as a World Elite Mastercard, you have access to a range of Mastercard benefits. You can find more information on these benefits on this page.
  • £20 Uber credit when you spend £500+ on airfare

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card

  • After spending £10,000 in a calendar year, cardholders can select from a range of rewards that vary according to their elite status level with Virgin. Reward options include – free companion seats, Virgin Clubhouse passes and one-cabin upgrades. More info on these rewards can be found in this article.
  • Free access to over 1 million global hotspots via Boingo Wi-Fi
  • Free use of Virgin Money lounges

Winner = HSBC Premier World Elite Mastercard (unless you have Virgin Gold status in which case it becomes a lot closer).


Though the Virgin card has a higher earnings rate, HSBC Reward points are the more versatile currency given that they can be transferred to four different frequent flyer programs. If your sole interest is collecting Avios (or Etihad/Cathay/Singapore miles), not Virgin miles or vice versa, this will also affect your decision.

In summary, the Virgin card is the better bet in terms of day-to-day earning rates and a slightly lower annual fee.  The HSBC card is the clear winner though when it comes to welcome bonuses, as well as the bonus available for ongoing spending.

You can apply for the HSBC card here.

The link to apply for the Virgin card is here.

Do you have a favourite non-Amex card?

Disclaimer: The information provided by Tricks of the Trade is intended solely as a helpful guide to relevant travel rewards card products and their various features and offers. You should always conduct your own research as recommendations provided within may not be suitable for your personal financial circumstances. 


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