Anyone who knows me, knows I’m obsessed with collecting Avios points. I am as strategic as one can be in the pursuit of what I view as one of the greatest pleasures of life: flying business class. I’ve been lucky enough to fly business class to New York twice in the past year, which was gloriously exciting. There was so much champagne! I made friends with the crew! We went for drinks on a rooftop bar in Manhattan that afternoon! Now that doesn’t come included with the ticket, and it only happened the one time, but my God, I had a blast. Business class to NYC will usually cost anywhere north of £2000, but I paid just over £500 for the experience and if you listen I’ll tell you how.
Firstly I want to state that I am no Should-be-Sir Martin Lewis; I just have a lot of people asking how I utilise my airmiles for decent travel rewards and I believe that sharing is caring. I’m not about the life of making it look like I’m incredibly well off or dashing around the world here and there in business on the reg – I like to be transparent. Speaking of, did you hear there are private jets photoshoots you can buy in Russia where you doll yourself up and a they take photos of you for instagram as though you are actually flying in a private jet? People are truly mad. Anyway, back to a little less bullshit.
N.B. Please also note that when I say ‘free’ below I mean the ticket – there are always airline taxes and fees to pay, regardless.
The main rule of thumb is, I use my credit card for everything. Everything I can purchase with my credit card, I do. Every coffee, every dash to the Co-op for emergency wine, every tube journey, all of it. For every pound I spend I’m building on my air miles, which allows me to (eventually) save enough to fly fancy. I also shop through an online portal that boosts my points and try to stay loyal to British Airways as an airline if it doesn’t mean a huge discrepancy in flight prices, but the main way I build up the points to fly is by doing my every day spending on an airline credit card. Be strategic enough and you can get flights for next to nothing, as well as 2-for-1 flights and upgrades to live the business class dream.
Somewhat irritatingly, the main credit card I’ve used in the past (Lloyds Avios Duo American Express and Mastercard) has now been scrapped. Which I realise doesn’t help you that much, but I want to be clear about how I’ve managed it so far. After spending £7k on this card, you would be issued an upgrade voucher for one person return, or two people one way. The only catch is you have to be able to cover the cost of the ticket fully in Avios points, and then pay the price of the taxes on top of that. So thanks Lloyds for ruining everyone’s fancy flying fun. The good news is there are still other ways for your every day spending to simultaneously buy you tickets to far off places without this card.
THE CREDIT CARDS
British Airways American Express Card
- The regular BA Amex card has no annual fee, with a sign up bonus of 5000 Avios points when you spend £1000 in your first three months. For reference, a return economy to many places in Europe is 9000 Avios and about £35 in taxes.
- 1 Avios point for every £1 spent.
- Once you’ve spent £20,000 on your card, you will receive a 2-for-1 companion voucher. This will allow you to purchase a flight paid for full in Avios points for one person, and receive a second ticket on the same flight in the same class for free. So if you wangle it and have enough points for a business class ticket, you can fly a second person in business for no extra.
I currently have a referral code to get you 6000 bonus points rather than the usual 5000, so swoop on into my DMs and I’ll shoot it over. In the interest of transparency, I would also get some points via this referral will therefore be subsequently contracted to love you forever
British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card
- The premium BA Amex card costs £195 per year, but the offset is a bonus 25,000 Avios points when you spend £3000 in the first three months.
- 1.5 Avios for every £1 spent, 3 avios for every £1 with BA or BA Holidays.
- 2-for-1 companion voucher on £10,000 spend.
Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard Credit Card
- The regular Virgin Atlantic card has no annual fee, with a sign up bonus of 5000 Flying Club Miles when you spend anything in your first 90 days (no minimum spend). As a marker, 10,000 miles is a one way ticket in economy to India, the UAE, East Coast of the US and the Caribbean.
- 0.75 points for every £1 spent, 1.5 points for every £1 spent on Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays.
- Spend £20,000 in a year for either a companion flights or ticket upgrade to premium.
Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard Credit Card
- Annual fee of £160. Sign up bonus of 15000 Flying Club Miles when you spend anything in your first 90 days.
- 1.5 points for every £1 spent, 3 points for every £1 spent on Virgin Atlantic or Virgin Holidays.
- Spend £10,000 in a year for benefits such as companion flights or upgrades.
American Express The Preferred Rewards Gold Card
- Annual fee of £140 but FREE in your first year. Sign up bonus of 10,000 membership rewards points when you spend £3000 in first three months of opening the card. Amex memebership points can be transferred into Avios – 1 point equals 1 Avios, so that’s a great deal.
- 1 point for every £1 spent; 2 points for every £1 spent with airlines or in foreign currency; 3 points every £1 spent at American Express Travel.
- Two complimentary lounge visits per year to use at over 700 airport lounges globally.
- Card anniversary 10,000 bonus points if you spend £15k within the year.
- Hotel room upgrades and credits.
TEN IMPORTANT THINGS TO REMEMBER
1) None of these cards are interest free, so it’s important you only put things on here you can immediately pay off so as not to incur debt on them. This is also great for your credit rating.
2) Put all your regular, budgeted day-to-day spending on your credit card and immediately pay it off. I’m talking your Netflix subscription, food shop, travel cards – all that stuff you’ve already budgeted should be paid for with your credit card. Keep an eye on it coming out and immediately transfer the money over from your current account and you’ll be earning points on your basic spending in no time.
3) If you’re going down the British Airways route, do all of your online shopping via the British Airways Avios e-store. Most of the big names are on there and shopping via these links (much like you would a cash back site) has gained me thousands of points over the months. That ‘saved for later’ ASOS basket never looked so good.
4) This whole system works particularly well if you have a lot of big purchases coming up – weddings to pay for, houses to furnish, new car etc – those big chunks will not only mean more points but will take you a lot nearer to your companion voucher spend, which I know for many may feel out of reach (myself included). These cards are well suited for high spenders, but that doesn’t mean you can’t nab yourself some great short haul flights via your Tesco order.
5) Although the initial annual fee for the premium cards is pretty hefty, and won’t be the right choice for everyone, you are going to reap the rewards quicker. It can take a long time to build up the level of points you are aiming for, so consider whether this fee is worth it overall for you in order to build rewards quicker. You should factor this into what the potential cost of the flights you may book would be – is it worth the extra outlay to reach £10k spend for a companion voucher versus the £20k needed on the regular card?
6) Remember that you can get multiple cards on the same account so if you’re in a couple you can both work towards those points with each of your card usage. This probably comes with the caveat of having to definitely use the companion voucher with this person, mind. So make sure you really do like them (your credit ratings will be tied together so this is very important, but I imagine you already know that if you have your finances linked!)
7) As previously mentioned, free flights don’t exist. When I say ‘for free’ in any of the above, I mean the ticket is free. The taxes and fees still have to be paid for. These can be as little as £35, or a fair few hundred for a business class ticket. I paid £670 for my most recent reward flight, which is double the average economy flight to NYC, but as far as a business class return flight goes, that’s a pretty attractive price, and it was worth it to me. It depends what your priority is – nailing down the economy flights so your points go further and the tax expenditure is minimised, or saving up for longer for that one big treat.
8) The availability of a flight and the availability of reward flights are not one and the same. There will only be a certain amount of reward flights available to purchase with your points on each flight, so bear in mind that the more flexible you are, the better – especially if it’s not a particularly regular route. The further in advance you book, the more availability (flights are released 11 months beforehand). If you want to fly at a peak time of year, it’ll cost you more points, so factor this into your planning. If you’re set on having that business class experience, it’s great to be more fluid in terms of your dates and time of day that you aim to travel.
9) Mastercards are widely used whereas some places don’t take Amex, so bear this in mind when choosing between the British Airways and Virgin Atlantic cards.
10) Airmiles aren’t just for reward flights – they can be spent on hotels, car hire and can be used to be put towards upgrades. Even if you haven’t saved enough to get that business class experience, there are plenty of options for your every day spend to contribute towards your holiday, or adding a bit of luxury to make it extra special. So, where are you off to?
DISCLAIMER: I am in no way affiliated with the above credit cards and you should read into each of these, their rates and their Ts&Cs before applying directly on their websites. I am not a financial advisor. I would imagine that’s pretty clear, but just to clarify.
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