Credit Card Rewards

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credit card rewards

Spend on one of these cards and it pays you – either in pure cashback or points that can be converted into vouchers for shops, airlines, hotels etc. If you're debt-free and pay off your card every month, you can earn goodies worth £100s each year.

How do reward credit cards work?

Reward cards can be a great way of earning £100s' worth of bonuses, just for doing your everyday spending. It sounds great – everyone loves something for nothing. But unless you're careful, cards will actually deliver nothing for something, as there are a couple of major holes to watch for. We take you through the top cards and the potential pitfalls below.

Use our eligibility calculator to find cards you're most likely to get, without hitting your credit score

Making an application is recorded on your credit file. While a single one is not a big problem, especially if you've a good credit score, lots in a short time are problematic.

So use our Reward Credit Cards Eligibility Calculator to show cards you're most likely to get, so you don't waste an application. And it's NOT recorded as a hard search on your credit file.

The seven need-to-knows

Get it wrong, and you could actually be left out of pocket, so here's all you need to know to get the best from reward credit cards...

  • Getting charged interest almost always scuppers even the very best reward schemes, so quite simply…

    If you want rewards, always set up a direct debit to repay the card in full each month, so there's NO interest.

    Sadly, some card providers deliberately miss the 'repay in full' option off their direct debit forms. If so, just write 'pay off in full' and send it in. It should be honoured, but call and check to be safe.

    If you're not sure you can always repay the card in full, DON'T pick a card for rewards. Focus on a card with a lower interest rate instead – see our 0% Credit Cards for Purchases guide.

  • Once you've set up a credit card, every time you use it you get paid. While this isn't an excuse to spend more, it does mean from now on…

    Use the rewards card for ALL normal spending, replacing cash, cheques and other debit, credit and charge cards.

    For those who have work expenses they need to reclaim, this can be a powerful way to earn more, at no cost to you, provided you can cope with paying the bill in full each month.

    Do check it's fine with your employer though, as there's a chance it could be seen as a taxable benefit (you'll still be up even if it is).

  • Some schemes are focused on making people think they're earning large, when actually payouts are pretty paltry, so go through our best buys below meticulously to check which you'll actually get value from. To what extent depends on the type of scheme.

    • Rewards schemes

      Here you earn days out, flights, holidays and more by getting points – and that's where the problems start, as Martin points out...

    "For a TV programme stunt I was once asked to design a credit card that looked good, but contained hidden, abysmally anti-consumer traps. Many signed up to my fake MACS card (SCAM backwards), which promised TWELVE points per pound spent.

    "Most people didn't ask what the points were worth. In fact, they were worth 0.0001p. In other words, nothing. And 12 nothings… is nothing.

    "It's this lack of transparency that allows reward schemes to create a magical 'something for nothing' mystique. A Sainsbury's Nectar point is worth up to 0.75p compared to a Tesco Clubcard point worth up to 3p, so one Clubcard point can be worth almost four times more than a Nectar point.

    "That's what this guide focuses on: a mathematical evaluation of every scheme to pick the real winners."

  • Usually, the only way to know if you'll be accepted for a card is to apply, but each application marks your credit file. But our Reward Credit Card Eligibility Calculator quickly shows your odds of getting almost every top reward card so you can find the ones most likely to accept you, thus minimising applications.

    How does the eligibility calculator work?

    It uses a 'soft search', which is one you will see on your credit file but lenders usually don't (and where they do they can't use the info), to give us an indication of your credit score. We then match this against lenders' criteria for acceptance so we can show you the odds of getting each card.

    Once you have this knowledge, it will allow you to make a smarter application. Say you have a much better chance of getting a card that's just one month shorter at 0%, you may want to go for that. Therefore, you're less likely to be rejected and less likely to need to apply elsewhere, which would add another mark on your credit file.

    Or join our Credit Club for a full credit health check

    The MSE Credit Club is a game-changer. For years the credit market has been shrouded in mystery, but our revolutionary tool brings together the key components to give you the full picture, and crucially, what it means for your acceptance chances and how to boost your creditworthiness.

    A credit score alone isn't enough to borrow, as there are other factors at play (it's why many with perfect scores still get rejected). Credit Club shows your Free Experian Credit Report and Credit Score, your Affordability Score, you Credit Hit Rate and much more.

  • By correctly targeting the right rewards to redeem your points on, it's possible to substantially increase the amount. To find out how to do this for all schemes and specific info for Avios, Nectar and Tesco, read our Boost Your Loyalty Points and Avios Boosting Tricks guides.

  • You'll save more by keeping your debts cheap instead of going for reward cards. Every card application has a credit score impact, so make sure your debts are sorted before applying for cashback cards (see Best Balance Transfers for help cutting the cost of debt).

  • They're a tool to get you rewards by using them like a debit card and clearing them each month, and we rate them based on that. If you need to borrow as well, you're far better off focusing on getting the lowest interest rates – that'll save you much more money. See 0% Credit Cards for Spending and Best Balance Transfers for more info.

    And when it comes to withdrawing cash the rule is simple – never, ever, ever use these cards for cash withdrawals as you'll often be charged a fee and interest, even if you pay the card off in full.

Top cashback cards

These are the top cashback cards available, which have a big intro bonus. For full options see our Top Cashback Cards guide.

Top pick as highest payer, giving up to 5%, but not accepted everywhere

The American Express Platinum Everyday* is the top fee-free card, especially if you've big spending to do in the next few months. It has a 5% introductory rate for the first three months on your first £2,000 of spending (max £100 cashback), then 0.5% cashback on up to £5,000/yr and 1% above this. You need to spend at least £3,000/yr to earn any cashback.

Note, as it's an Amex it's not accepted everywhere and you usually won't get the bonus if you've held an Amex card in the past two years (see FAQs).

Would you spend over £9k on it in year 1, or £10k+ from year 2? In that case, try the Amex Platinum (eligibility calc / apply*). It has a £25 annual fee, but gives the intro 5% rate on up to £2,500 of spending (so max £125) and then tiers up to 1.25% in cashback and so is a winner for bigger spenders. Repay IN FULL or it's 28.2% rep APR (incl fee).

Representative APR (variable): 22.9% APR ( Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest
Cashback: 5% in first three months (max £100), then up to 1% after
Annual fee: None
Min income: N/A
  • Cashback will be paid to your account annually – in the month after your card anniversary date.

  • In order to qualify for the introductory bonus, you can't have held any of the following American Express cards within the past 24 months: Platinum Cashback, Platinum Cashback Everyday, Platinum, BA Amex, BA Premium Plus, Preferred Rewards Gold, Starwood Preferred Guest, Amex Nectar, Amex Rewards/Low Rate/Purchases

See how likely it is you'll get this card

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Best non-Amex card with 0.5% cashback

The Tandem credit card pays 0.5% cashback on purchases. As a Mastercard it's also more widely accepted than Amex, especially in smaller retailers. To apply, you must download the Tandem app for iOS or Android.

Representative APR (variable): 18.9% APR (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest
Cashback: 0.5%
Annual fee: None
Min income: £13,000

Go straight to the lender

Apply

Easier-to-get card paying 0.5% cashback, but it's capped

The Aqua Reward* is one of few cards that accepts people with a patchy or limited credit history and also offers 0.5% cashback on purchases (max £100/yr). While it does pay a lower cashback rate than some other cards in this guide, for people with less than sterling credit scores, it could be a winner.

As a bonus, our eligibility calculator can tell you if you're pre-approved for this card.

Representative APR (variable): 34.9% APR (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest
Cashback: 0.5%
Annual fee: None
Min income: N/A

See how likely it is you'll get this card

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Or just go straight to the lender

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Top 'close to cashback' deals

Some reward cards give you points on all of your spending. These can come close to cashback cards as they offer the ability to spend the points you earn in a wide variety of places.

Get 20,000 Nectar points, worth £100, plus ongoing rewards

Spend £2,000 on the Amex Nectar* card within first three months, and you'll get 20,000 bonus Nectar points. These are worth at least £100 and can be spent at Nectar retailers such as Sainsbury's.

Just do your normal spending on it to get the bonus (it's an Amex so may not be accepted everywhere), and remember to cancel after one year if you want to avoid the £25 annual fee that kicks in from year two. Note, you usually won't get the bonus if you've held an Amex card in the past two years (see FAQs).

Representative APR (variable): 28.2% APR incl fee (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest
Annual fee: Free in year one, then £25 
Standard points earned (excl bonus): Two per £1 spent
Value of one point: 0.5p
Points' expiry: One year if you don't collect or spend any points

  • Usually one Nectar point is worth 0.5p, but occasionally some retailers give better offers (see Loyalty Schemes for more info).

  • In order to qualify for the introductory bonus, you can't have held any of the following American Express cards within the past 24 months: Platinum Cashback, Platinum Cashback Everyday, Platinum, BA Amex, BA Premium Plus, Preferred Rewards Gold, Starwood Preferred Guest, Amex Nectar, Amex Rewards/Low Rate/Purchases

See how likely it is you'll get this card

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Get £50 M&S/Amzn vch or 10,000 Avios + 2 free airport lounge passes

If you're accepted for the Amex Preferred Rewards Gold* credit card, and spend £3,000 in the first three months, you'll get a bonus 10,000 reward points, equal to £50 in high street vouchers or 10,000 frequent flyer points, such as Avios. Plus you get two free visits to airport lounges (see FAQs below)

The card usually has a £140 annual fee, but is fee-free in the first year, so to avoid it, remember to cancel before year two starts. Note, as it's an Amex it's not accepted everywhere and you usually won't get the bonus if you've held an Amex card in the past two years (see FAQs).

Representative APR (variable): 57.6% representative APR (incl fee), 22.9% interest on purchases (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest
Annual fee: No fee in year one, but £140 from year two onwards
Standard points earned (excl bonus): One per £1 on day-to-day spending, two points per £1 spent directly with airlines or in a foreign currency 
Value of one point: 0.5p
Points' expiry: N/A

  • You get two free visits to airport lounges (see affiliated lounges) which you can use for yourself twice on two separate visits, or yourself and one guest for one visit. 

  • You can convert points into vouchers for Amazon, M&S and more. Alternatively, you can convert them to frequent flyer or hotel scheme points and add them to your current stash (transfers can take up to five working days). For full options see the Membership Rewards site.

    Bonus points can take a month to hit your account, but we've seem them applied on the day you hit the trigger.

    We've analysed how much you might get back from different levels of spending...

    ANNUAL OVERALL SPEND £3,000 £5,000 £10,000 £20,000
    Points earned, incl bonus 4,500 7,500 15,000 40,000
    Converting to vouchers £20* £35* £75 £200

    Assumes 50% of spending on air travel and abroad and 50% elsewhere, and you spend the same each month

    * = doesn't use the entire points total

  • You get a 10,000-point bonus on the anniversary of taking out the card if you've spent more than £15,000. Remember, if you keep the card into a second year, you'll pay the £140 annual fee, though if you cancel it before the year is up you'll get a pro rata refund.

    You can also boost your points by getting a supplementary card (for a partner/friend), whose spending will then earn points. The first card is provided free, though any more will cost £45.

    Plus, if you have a friend who has the card, get them to recommend you, and they'll get 6,000 bonus points and you'll get 2,000 extra points - as long as you spend £3,000 within three months.

  • Yes, but you'll receive slightly less than you'd get exchanging for vouchers; 1,000 points gives £4.50 'cashback' vs £5 in vouchers – so it's not the best use of them.

  • Yes – additional guests or visits cost £20 charged to your Amex.

  • Gift cards are sent by post (within 10 working days) or email.

  • In order to qualify for the introductory bonus, you can't have held any of the following American Express cards within the past 24 months: Platinum Cashback, Platinum Cashback Everyday, Platinum, BA Amex, BA Premium Plus, Preferred Rewards Gold, Starwood Preferred Guest, Amex Nectar, Amex Rewards/Low Rate/Purchases

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Get £25 M&S/Amzn vch or 5,000 Avios

If you won't hit the spending trigger on the Gold card above, or you want a card that's fee-free all the time, this could suit you better. Spend £2,000 on the Amex Rewards* credit card in the first three months and you'll get 5,000 bonus points, which you can convert into £25 of vouchers at retailers such as Amazon and M&S. 

Note, as it's an Amex it's not accepted everywhere and you usually won't get the bonus if you've held an Amex card in the past two years (see FAQs).

Representative APR (variable): 22.9% interest on purchases (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest
Annual fee: None
Standard points earned (excl bonus): One per £1 spent
Value of one point: 0.5p
Points' expiry: N/A

See how likely it is you'll get this card

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Top airline cards

There are a variety of different schemes, but part of the choice depends on which airlines you prefer and their availability, as often the big gain comes from using credit card points along with points from frequent flying.

Watch out for taxes and charges, though, as all reward schemes make you pay these on top when you book a flight using points, which means in some cases it may be cheaper to fly with a budget airline. Read our Cheap Flights guide.

We've listed the top fee-free cards, but you can earn more airline rewards with other cards which charge a fee. Frequent flyers should read Airline Credit Cards for all our top cards.

No fee. Intro 5,000 bonus points (gets short-haul one-way), plus companion ticket on £20,000 spend

Most airline cards have an annual fee, but the British Airways Amex* is free and gives 5,000 bonus Avios points when you spend £1,000 in the first three months – on top of the standard one point per £1 spent. And if you spend £20,000 in a year, you'll earn a companion ticket, which lets someone travel with you without using points, but don't use this as a reason to overspend.

An off-peak economy return to Paris costs 8,000 Avios points (plus £35 in taxes), so you'd get a one-way flight (plus taxes) with the intro bonus points alone, while an off-peak economy return flight from Heathrow to New York costs 26,000 Avios points (plus £373 in taxes) – see the BA website for more.

Note, as it's an Amex it's not accepted everywhere and you usually won't get the bonus if you've held an Amex card in the past two years (see FAQs).

Representative APR (variable): 22.9% APR (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest
Annual fee: None
Standard miles earned (excl bonus): 1 Avios per £1 spent
Points' expiry: Three years after you collect your last.

  • Avios can be redeemed on BA and other Oneworld airlines, including American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qantas. See the Avios site for where you can go.

  • The companion flight can be used to get the same ticket type as the cardholder (if you go first class, so do they) without using any points, though this is only on BA flights. You'll also need to pay taxes and charges, and the companion ticket is valid for 12 months. You can continue to collect points after it has been issued, but ensure you leave enough time to actually book the flight as seats are limited when redeeming miles.

  • If you're in a trusting relationship, you can boost Avios further by adding a partner to your account. The points accumulated when they spend will also be added to your account, making them grow quicker.

  • Yes, if you're short of Avios you can top them up. Better still, if you're collecting miles and also redeeming a companion flight, in effect you get double the value. Extra points or miles can be bought at Avios or British Airways.

    With Avios points, you do also have the option to part-pay, so you pay with a mixture of Avios points and cash, which is usually cheaper than buying points. See how it compares in our part-pay vs buying points analysis.

  • The Avios points will expire three years after you collect your last.

  • In order to qualify for the introductory bonus, you can't have held any of the following American Express cards within the past 24 months: Platinum Cashback, Platinum Cashback Everyday, Platinum, BA Amex, BA Premium Plus, Preferred Rewards Gold, Starwood Preferred Guest, Amex Nectar, Amex Rewards/Low Rate/Purchases

See how likely it is you'll get this card

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New. No fee. Intro 12,000 bonus miles, plus free companion ticket or upgrade on £20,000 spend

The Virgin Atlantic Reward* card has no annual fee and gives 5,000 bonus miles as long as you use the card to buy anything within 90 days, plus a further 7,000 miles if you apply by 30 June and spend £1,000 within 90 days of opening your account. In total, 12,000 bonus miles is enough for a one-way off-peak economy flight to New York (plus taxes and charges).

It gives you 0.75 Flying Club miles per £1 spent and if you spend £20,000 in a year, you'll also earn your choice of a companion ticket in economy – which lets someone travel with you without using points (see FAQs) – or a flight upgrade from economy to premium, but don't use this as a reason to overspend.

Representative APR (variable): 22.9% APR (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay IN FULL every month to avoid interest
Annual fee: None
Standard miles earned (excl bonus): 0.75 per £1 spent
Points' expiry: Three years after you collect your last.

  • Assuming you have red tier status (its basic level), the companion flight can be used to get a ticket in economy for someone travelling with you without using any extra points for them – though you'll both need to pay taxes and charges and of course, you'll need to use your points to buy your ticket. The companion ticket is valid for two years.

    If you've silver or gold tier status with Virgin, you can use your companion ticket in premium or upper class respectively. For more on its tiers, see the Virgin Atlantic website.

  • Booking a flight during Virgin's peak season, eg, during summer and around Christmas and Easter, will cost a lot more miles. See Virgin's seasons for reward flights for a full breakdown of dates.

     

  • If you're in a trusting relationship, you can make your miles go further by adding a partner to your account. The miles built up when they spend will also be added to your account, making your miles grow quicker.

     

See how likely it is you'll get this card

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Top supermarket and stores' loyalty cards

Some cards give boosted rewards, vouchers or cash for certain retailers or when spending in a particular store. They can be useful if you're a creature of habit, and like to do your weekly shop at the same place every week.

Possible £37.50 bonus Nectar points, plus earn points for all spending

If you're a Sainsbury's shopper who hasn't had one of its credit cards in the past three months, the Nectar Dual* credit card is a good deal. Give your Nectar card number when you apply and you'll get 750 bonus Nectar points worth £3.75 each time you spend £35+ in store or online at Sainsbury's (excl petrol) in the first two months (max 7,500 points, worth £37.50). Doing a big shop? Split it into £35 chunks to max bonus.

You also earn Nectar points on all spending. On top of this, you could get up to 27 months 0% on spending (some poorer credit scorers will get 24 or 21 months 0%), but only use this if you're disciplined and can fully repay by the end of the 0% period.

It's also worth taking a look at the Amex Nectar card, which offers a hefty 20,000 Nectar point intro bonus and ongoing points, as it could be a better option.

Representative APR (variable): 20.9% APR (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay in full before end of 0% period to avoid interest (always pay at least monthly minimum) then clear IN FULL every month if you continue spending on it
Annual fee: None
Standard points earned (excl bonus): Two per £1 spent in Sainsbury's, one per £5 elsewhere
Value of one point: 0.5p
Points' expiry: None unless account is closed

See how likely it is you'll get this card

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Get £25 in M&S vchs, plus earn points for spending

Accepted new M&S Bank* cardholders can get a free £25 to spend in its stores on almost anything (incl clothes and food) if you follow the steps below. It's split into two parts...

  • £20 in M&S pts. Awarded the first time you use the card anywhere for any amount within 90 days
  • £5 M&S vch. You're sent a coupon with the card. Swipe it or use online with your card to buy most things at M&S for any amount and you get another £5 of points.

Representative APR (variable): 19.9% APR (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay in full before end of 6mth 0% period to avoid interest (always pay at least monthly minimum), then clear IN FULL every month if you continue spending on it
Annual fee: None
Standard points earned (excl bonus): Two per £1 spent in M&S in first year (then one per £1), one point per £5 spent elsewhere
Value of one point: 1p
Points' expiry: Two years

  • Points-related vouchers are credited to your account within 30 days of your first purchase and will be sent in your next available quarterly reward mailing.

  • You can't get the card if you're an existing M&S Credit Card holder or if you've held a credit card with M&S Bank within the past 12 months.

  • There's a six-month 0% period on spending with the card, a nice bonus, but don't feel you need to use it. If 0% spending is what you're looking for, see our 0% Spending guide.

  • You won't get the £5 (500 bonus points) if you use your voucher to spend on tailoring alterations, 'Made to Measure' shirts, ‘Your School Uniform’ service, name tapes, personalised cards, Lunch to you, Wine Club, restaurants, deli bars, M&S Café or branded food goods.

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Get £25 John Lewis/Waitrose vch plus ongoing points

The Partnership* credit card gives newbies 2,500 bonus points – worth £25 to spend at John Lewis or Waitrose – if they spend £200 at either store within 90 days. Plus it gives ongoing points for all spending. 

While it's a decent offer if you'd spend £200 at these stores anyway, don't use the £25 bonus as an excuse to spend more than you usually would. You can't get the bonus points if you've had a Partnership card in the last six months.

Representative APR (variable): 18.9% APR (Official APR Examples)
Important: Repay in full before end of 9mth 0% period to avoid interest (always pay at least monthly minimum), then clear IN FULL every month if you continue spending on it
Annual fee: None 
Standard points earned (excl bonus): One per £1 spent in John Lewis/Waitrose, one per £2 elsewhere
Value of one point: 1p
Points' expiry: Two years

  • The bonus points will be added to your account within two months of you spending the £200.

    Points are redeemed automatically as John Lewis/Waitrose gift vouchers in February, June and October (as long as you've at least 500 points). 

See how likely it is you'll get this card

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Don't shop at any of the stores above? More reward cards

If you don't shop at any of the supermarkets or stores above, here are some quick details of other cards to consider.

CARD (REP APR†) BONUS POINTS PER £100 VALUE OF ONE POINT ELIGIBILITY CALCULATOR
Amazon (21.9%) £10 Amazon gift card straightaway 75 at Amazon, 25 elsewhere 1p -
Asda* (19.9%)
N/A 1% 'cashback' at Asda, 0.2% elsewhere (1) N/A You can use our eligibility calculator for this card
Tesco (19.9%) N/A 25 at Tesco, 12 elsewhere 1-3p (See how to boost points) -
†Representative variable APR, your interest may be different. (1) You don't get points, just 'cashback' which can only be redeemed as vouchers to spend at Asda.

Cashback sites may pay you for signing up

As an extra boon, members of specialist cashback websites can be paid when they sign up to some financial products. Do check that it's exactly the same deal though, as terms can be different. And remember the cashback is never 100% guaranteed until it's in your account. 

For full help to take advantage of this and the pros and cons, see our Top Cashback Sites guide.

Reward cards Q&A

  • It depends. You should always concentrate on repaying your debts, but if they're at 0% (in the form of, for example, a 0% spending or balance transfer card) then it's less of a problem – as long as you're certain you can repay them by the end of the 0% period.

    The golden rule for reward cards (hopefully it's large enough at the top of this guide) is always pay the card off in full at the end of the month. So if you have one card for rewards you do that with, and a separate card for your debts you should be OK.

  • There's another big bonus to using a rewards card. You actually have far more consumer protection. This all comes about due to what's called Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. It means that if you buy something costing between £100 and £30,000, here or abroad, and pay on a credit card, the card issuer's equally liable if something goes wrong.

    Now, this protection only applies to credit cards, not debit cards or any other plastic, and it's hugely important. If a retailer were to go kaput, you'd still be able to claim your money back from the card company. Read a full guide on Section 75 Refunds.

  • Sometimes, but there's little point in doing so – you don't earn points on balance transfers.

    Many reward credit cards try to tempt you with competitive balance transfer offers – they want you to spend and shift debts to them. It'll end up costing you as you're unlikely to be able to afford to repay the card in full. Instead use a separate card for balance transfers.

  • The second source of income for card companies is the retailer. When you pay on a credit card, the card company gets between 0.1% and 0.3% of what you spend from the shop/restaurant and this will often cover the cashback.

    Therefore, in a way, all you're doing is getting back the extra that's been factored in to pricing for all customers to cover credit card costs.

    Generally, the bigger the retailer the less it pays, as it has more negotiating power with Visa or Mastercard. Also it's worth noting Amex tends to charge retailers more, one of the reasons some smaller companies don't accept it.

  • As many as you're accepted for – there's no limit. Though of course, every card application has a small impact on your credit score. So the more you have, the less likely you are to be accepted for more cards.

    Don't apply for lots if you may need credit for something important such as a mortgage or a balance transfer card. Full info in our Credit Rating guide.

  • If you spend a substantial amount of money in a store then it certainly is worthwhile. But don't let this blind you for the rest of your spending: make sure you maximise what you get elsewhere too (it may be worth having two cards).

    Also remember that lots of cards use a 'double earn' promise, so it looks like you get more points using your credit card in the linked store, but actually you would've got the same just using its normal loyalty card. See our Loyalty Points guide for a full explanation.

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