Should you convert to new Emirates rewards cards?

By Emma Lunn

MBNA has launched two new reward credit cards aimed at Emirates customers. They allow users to collect the airline's frequent flier miles, which are called Skywards Miles. But how do the rewards stack up against cards that earn British Airways' Avios points?

There are two versions of MBNA Emirates accounts to choose from: the Emirates Skywards Elite account, which carries a £150 annual fee, and a free Emirates Skywards credit card account. Following a pattern set by Lloyds TSB on its Avios cards, both the elite and the free Emirates accounts come with two cards -- an American Express and a Visa -- on the same account.

The free account offers 5,000 bonus miles when you make a purchase in the first 90 days. You then earn twice as much for purchases made on the American Express than on the Visa, but more places accept the Visa. You get 2 miles for every £1 you spend with Emirates on the Amex and 1 mile for every £1 spent elsewhere. The Visa earns 1 mile per £2 spent on everyday purchases, and double that for purchases from Emirates.emirates-rewards-cards

The Elite card comes with an opening bonus of 10,000 miles. Elite cardholders also get £150 off an Emirates business or first class flight purchased within the first 90 days, and a free companion reward ticket when they spend £15,000 on card purchases within a year. Both cards get you 10% off Emirates Tours and a 25% discount when you buy extra Skywards Miles.

Whether the Skywards Miles scheme represents serious competition to Avios dominance is open to debate. Avios positions itself more as a reward scheme then a frequent flier programme. You can collect Avios not only by using a co-branded credit card or flying BA or Iberia, but also through the Avios eStore or by converting Tesco Clubcard points to Avios. For this reason, many favour Avios.

However, Andrew Hagger of MoneyComms says collecting Skywards Miles is a no-brainer if you frequently travel on Emirates.

"The intro deal is better on the Avios card, thereafter Emirates looks better as AmEx spend is rewarded at the same rate but the Visa card is rewarded better than the Avios MasterCard (1 mile per £2 rather than 1 mile per £5)," he says.

But Robert Burgess, who runs Headforpoints.com, says if you don't already collect Skywards Miles, the new Emirates credit cards are not a good enough reason to start. One of the main reasons, he says, is that redeeming Skywards Miles doesn't get you as far as redeeming Avios.

"As an example, London to Dubai would cost you 90,000 Skywards Miles in Business Class at ‘Saver' level and 125,000 at ‘Flex' level. That's 10,000 more miles than BA would require, and BA allows one-way awards as well. Emirates only allows one-way redemptions at the more expensive ‘Flex' level," he explains.

One of Burgess' main concerns is the small print concerning companion tickets. The companion reward ticket that elite cardholders can earn is only valid alongside an expensive "flexible" ticket, and only if "Reward" space is available on the flight.

"At the very least, Emirates could have given you a free cash ticket when you purchase a cash ticket. After all, you have already spent £15,000 on their credit card and bought an expensive flexible ticket," says Burgess, "The bottom line is that some of the benefits have devious small print attached and it is certainly not worth bothering with unless you already have a stash of Emirates miles to top-up."

See related: Editor's pick: best sign-up bonuses 2013, 5 tips for using rewards cards wisely

Published: 31 July 2013