Diamond Club rewards scheme closing – so what are the alternative cards?

Two weeks ago, the letter I’d been dreading came through my letterbox from MBNA. “We’re sorry, but we’re closing the Diamond Club. You’ll be able to collect Destinations Miles until 30 September.”

Some background first. The MBNA-issued Diamond Club card replaced the BMI credit card when the company that owns British Airways (BA) also took over BMI. It then allowed Destinations Miles to be converted on a one-to-one basis to BA Executive Club points. And, at two points per £1 spent, it was a pretty decent rate of return.

I’ve been collecting these points for several years, and estimate I converted well over 100,000 Destinations Miles into BA Executive Club points – saving me £100s, if not £1,000s, on long-haul BA flights.

But, as of the end of the month, it’s all over. Well, so long MBNA, and thanks for all the miles.

So, where next?

That’s the question that’s been bugging me. If I’m not going to be able to earn points on that card, which card should I go for? Cashback? Rewards? Another airmiles card? Other MoneySavers commenting on the news story we wrote when the news first broke seem to be going directly for the airmiles cards.

And I think that’s where my interest lies – I take quite a few long-haul flights each year, so to be able to save some cash on at least some of them is a bonus.

My first decision: do I want to stick with earning BA miles? Well, the most common long-haul trip I do is to China. And of the airlines that fly there from the UK, and have an affiliated credit card available in the UK, it leaves me with Virgin Atlantic and BA – at least of the direct flights. So, let’s compare the options:

Reward credit cards compared
BA Amex Amex Gold Charge Card Lloyds Avios BA Premium Plus Amex Virgin Atlantic White Virgin Atlantic Black
Intro Bonus 9,000 20,000 N/A 25,000 10,000 25,000
Points per £1 spent 1 1 1.25 on Amex, 0.2 on Visa (a) 1.5 1 on Amex, 0.5 on Visa (b) 2 on Amex, 1 on Visa
Annual Fee None £140 (c) £24 £195 None £140
Minimum points needed for economy class return to Shanghai 39,000 39,000 (d) 39,000 39,000 45,000 45,000
Amount needed to spend to earn these miles (e) £30,000 £19,000 £31,200 (Amex), £195,000 (Visa) £9,333 £35,000 (Amex), £70,000 (Visa) £10,000 (Amex), £20,000 (Visa)
(a) This is 1.25pt per £1 on the Amex (2.5pts per £1 in the first 6mths) and 1pt per £5 on the Visa. (b) This is 1pt per £1 on the Amex, 1pt per £2 on the Visa. (c) This fee is waived in year 1. (d) Assuming you convert the Amex reward points into Avios points – they can be converted into several different airline schemes’ points. (e) Assumes all conditions for bonus miles met.

On the face of it, from these calculations, it seems fairly simple. The BA Amex Premium Plus gets you the flight most quickly, followed by the Virgin Atlantic Black. However, this ignores the sunk cost of the annual fees on those cards, and doesn’t monetise the benefits of the various other perks that holding these cards can give you, such as upgrade vouchers, companion tickets and more.

But, I do quite like the flexibility that the Amex Gold gives – you can swap the reward points you earn into several different airlines’ point schemes, not just BA or Virgin. And, given that you can sometimes get some excellent deals with other carriers, I think this is probably the card for me – it’s even fee-free for the first year.

If you’ve been affected by the closure of the Diamond Club scheme, do let us know in the comments what you plan to do to replace it.