Illustration: Colin Daniel

Standard Bank has crash-landed its association with British Airways (BA), with little consideration for the airmile-generating holders of its Standard Bank/BA credit card. The good news, however, is that BA has joined forces with Barclays Bank (read Absa) for people who wish to earn its air miles (Avios miles).

The new Barclays/BA package is a better deal for cardholders than the Standard Bank/BA package. Cardholders now receive one Avios mile for every R7.50 they spend on the card, with an even better one Avios mile for every R5 they spend at British Airways, Pick n Pay or BP petrol stations. Travellers get priority (business class) check-in and, depending on the amount they spend a year, access to Slow airport lounges in South Africa, cabin upgrades and companion flight vouchers

With the now-defunct Standard Bank/BA card, you had to spend R8.50 to earn one Avios mile and you did not get the deal with Pick n Pay and BP.

In ending its alliance with BA, Standard Bank is hoping to switch the cardholders to its new loyalty scheme, uCount, which offers a wide range of incentives.

The way the whole issue has been handled, particularly by Standard Bank, has been disgraceful.

When Standard Bank and BA entered into the agreement to provide a card that would provide Avios miles, the two also agreed that they would not divulge details of a break-up to cardholders.

And both Standard Bank and BA used this agreement to avoid providing proper details to cardholders until the divorce was final at the end of January.

So the Standard Bank/BA cardholders who signed up to get the air miles have lost out on a potential month of air miles, while some will probably also lose out on a free companion ticket, depending on their annual membership cycle.

This is not treating customers fairly. It is treating customers with absolute contempt.

Standard Bank claims its customers have, through direct discussions and surveys, indicated that their rewards and loyalty bonuses should be more relevant to their daily lives and also more immediate in terms of redemption. However, the bank does not want to provide Personal Finance with the actual results of the surveys.

The reason I and other cardholders had the cards (the number is also being kept a secret) was to get the air miles – nothing else.

In early January, when cardholders were told the Standard Bank/BA card was being stopped, they were not told that BA would launch a new scheme in partnership with Absa Bank, leaving cardholders without proper options until last week.

The question now is: what should cardholders do? The main question is whether to take advantage of the 9 000 possible additional Avios miles that could come from switching to the better Barclays/BA card or to stick to Standard Bank and its new loyalty system and be left with the worry of being dumped again on the whim of some bank clerk.

Apart from its new loyalty programme, the main advantage of staying with Standard Bank is that you will not have to jump through all the credit and money-laundering hoops to obtain a new card, or pay initiation fees to a new provider.

At the very least, Standard Bank should have issued all cardholders in good standing with a letter stating that they are in good standing to enable them to make a choice; and offer to pay any initiation fees if they switched to another card.

Choosing a credit card can be a complex operation.

The cheapest and simplest credit card available in South Africa is the Virgin Money card, which has no monthly or annual membership fees. It has no loyalty programme attached – not even for Virgin Airlines.

Incidentally, South Africa is one of the few countries where banks charge a monthly or annual fee for a credit card – a good indication that some sort of cartel arrangement operates here.

Banks everywhere, including South Africa, earn money from renting card machines to vendors and charging them a percentage of sales.

The trouble with deciding on an alternative option to the Standard Bank card is that it is very difficult to compare loyalty schemes.

If you are a member of Discovery Vitality, you should add Discovery’s credit card to your list of options, because you can also get Avios miles on this card (which is a joint venture with FNB).

But you have to sign up and pay extra for the pleasure.

The card has two options:

* The ordinary Discovery Miles option, for which you pay an annual fee of R350 and receive one Avios or South African Airways air mile for every R12 you spend; or

* The Fast Mile option, for which you pay R2 950 a year and receive one Avios mile for every R6 you spend. So you would have to spend at least R177 000 a year on your card to make the Fast Mile facility worthwhile.

But as a Vitality member and a card holder you also receive a number of other incentives, including cash back on what you spend at certain retailers and discounts. And the discounts improve, depending on your status.

Or you could open a bank account with Investec Private Bank, which allows you to link your spending to BA and earn Avios miles

It is impossible to do a generic comparison. The best option will be different for different people.

You have to take account of, among other things:

* How much you fly and your status as a BA Executive Club member;

* The card fees;

* Fees for linkage to air-mile rewards;

* Your qualifying spend on your card;

* Cash back for spending at certain retailers;

* Loyalty scheme partners, from whom you receive more air miles and/or better discounts.

* How far you get to travel on an air mile and the amount you pay for what are listed as airport taxes but which include fuel levies. And if you want to use the air miles for business or first-class seats, you pay more on airport taxes.

It is very complex and difficult to calculate the best package for you. You need to be a master in spreadsheets to work it out exactly. One way around it is to ask the card company to do a calculation for you based on your circumstances – hopefully it will oblige.