I guess you could call it a hobby now, but it didn't start out like that. After travelling for work to London and back regularly 4 years ago, I ended up with a small balance of Avios points with British Airways Executive Club. I decided to look into what I could do with them. Unfortunately the answer was not very much.
I didn't want to lose the balance, so began researching what I could do to earn more.
Earning through travel
I didn't have any plans to travel long distances for work, and we only travel once a year on holiday, so our earning potential through travel was limited. However every little helps, so I looked at maximising the points we did earn.
First thing, pick an airline scheme and stick to it. Try to travel with the same airline, or a partner airline in the same scheme. Obviously, don't pay more than you have to, but work out if paying a bit more to earn points is worth it.
Next, set up a household account. This allows you and your partner (and children) to earn points and combine them into a single balance. This makes things easier when it comes to making a redemption.
Set yourself a goal
In order to give yourself a target to work towards, look at what your want to achieve, or where you want to visit, and see how many points you need. The best value for redemptions is usually flying in the higher classes. I decided that I wanted to try and get 1st Class flights to the USA for my first redemption.
Using the British Airways Avios calculator, I worked out I needed over 300,000 Avios to get 1st Class return tickets with British Airways to New York. Given I only had 25,000 Avios at the time, this seemed like a big ask, but I continued to investigate.
During my research I found this site. It is a great resource for starting out collecting points (and Avios in particular). It has a section specifically covering getting started. I found this very informative and discovered that travel wasn't the only way to earn points.
Credit card Spend
Firstly you need to understand the Golden Rule when dealing with credit cards, always pay off any credit card in full at the end of each month. That way you won't accrue any interest, if you do, it will negate any value you will get from the exercise.
Head for Points has a helpful section reviewing all point earning Credit Cards in the UK. I looked at the list and the definite each offered. I then set up a spreadsheet to track my household spend over the coming 12 months, and any anticipated additional spend such as company expenses, holidays etc. I then allocated my spend against each credit card to achieve to best benefits.
The British Airways Premium Plus Card
This is an American Express card which offers the following benefits for a £195 annual fee:
- 25,000 Avios if you spend £3,000 in the first 3 months (drops to 18,000 for periods);
- 1.5 Avios for virtually every £1 you spend;
- 3 Avios for virtually every £1 you spend direct with British Airways or BA Holidays;
- Spend £10,000 or more within an anniversary year to earn a complimentary Companion Voucher, valid for 24 months;
- Complimentary Supplementary Cards for friends and family members (subject to approval).
The companion voucher is the main benefit. It gives you a second ticket for free when you book a ticket with Avios. This reduced the number of Avios I needed for my trip to 150,000 points plus the voucher. The sign up bonus was also attractive, given I knew I would hit the spend target by paying for my holiday that year.
American Express Gold Card
This is an American Express Charge Card, and offers the following benefits for a £140 annual fee (waived in the first year):
- Earn 20,000 bonus Membership Rewards points when you spend £2,000 in your first three months of Card membership.
- Receive a 10,000 Membership Rewards points anniversary bonus after each year of Card membership, when you spend at least £15,000 within the 12 month period of your Card anniversary. - Transfer your points to 12 major frequent flyer and 3 hotel programmes, redeem them with a wide range of shopping, travel and lifestyle partners or Shop with Points with select retailers online such as Amazon.co.uk and Ticketmaster. - Receive US $75 hotel credit and room upgrades where available at over 350 hotels globally including Hilton, InterContinental and Sofitel. - Enjoy two complimentary Lounge visits per year to use at over 500 airport lounges globally. Benefit from Travel Inconvenience Protection and Travel Accident Protection benefits when you pay with your Card. - 10% off Hertz base car rental rates, plus a one car class upgrade and additional driver fee waived. Upgrades are subject to availability.
Between these two cards, I added another 45,000 points to my balance, but I needed more. I kept my eye out of Head For Points for any offers I could sign up for. I joined www.e-rewards.com and spent my evenings filling in marketing surveys to earn additional points. I got another 14,000.
Our holiday for that year added another 27,000 between us for flying with BA in Economy.
Even though I had already triggered the BA voucher I was still routing all my spending through the card getting 1.5 Avios for every pound. I used it for all business expenses, another 15,000 came that way. I paid for dinner every time I was out with friends and took their share of the bill back in cash. Another 5,000 came this way. I had managed to route most of my day to day spend through the BA card, this was totalling ~£1,500 a month, giving me 27,000 Avios by the end of the year.
Finally our holiday the next year earned us another 24,000 flying with BA. I had got to 168,000 Avios points, passing the magic number!
Making a Redemption
When booking a flight with your Avios points it is best to research the route you are looking to fly. I know BA only release 2 First Class seats and 4 Business Class seats for reward bookings on each flight. Some routes only have 1 or 2 flights a day, and with eager Avios Collectors out there snapping up seats as they become available 360 days in advance, I knew I had to get in quickly. Boston and New York have multiple BA flights everyday, so there seemed to be plenty of availability when I checked on the BA website.
I decided to phone up and speak to someone in person. You pay a £40 booking fee for doing this, but I like to be able to ask questions. The person I spoke to was very helpful, not only did they sort out my inbound and outbound flights to New York, but advised that if I went business class on the return leg rather than First, I could use my remaining Avios balance to pay for some of my internal flights with American Airlines. They were also able t open up seats on the Glasgow to Heathrow bit of the journey. Somehow the domestic flight connection always seems to present me with issues.
I had done it, First Class Flights from Glasgow to New York, Flights from New York to Charlotte (North Carolina), Flights from Charlotte to New Orleans, Flights from Nashville to New York (We got a train and bus from New Orleans to Memphis and Memphis to Nashville), and Business Class Flights back from New York to Glasgow. All for my 168,000 Avios points plus the Companion Voucher from BA. It had taken the best part of 18 months from start to finish, but I had achieved my goal. It felt great.
All that was left was to book the hotels we needed and to sit back and wait for our trip.
I'll be doing some follow up posts on this topic over the coming months with some other top tips.