How to benefit from UK airline loyalty schemes and score the holiday of a lifetime!

How to benefit from UK airline loyalty schemes and score the holiday of a lifetime!

Anse Vata Bay, Noumea, New Caledonia {Explore}
Eustaquio Santimano via Compfight

I think everyone has probably heard of airmiles. You save them up and spend them on flights to pretty cool places, or hot places as I’d prefer given we’re in the midst of winter! Although I’d heard of the term and the concept I have to admit I hadn’t really given much thought to actually saving them or even if that was what was available in the UK.

Before we set off on our first adventure I came across a credit card offer that promised 20,000 Avios (our equivalent of Airmiles) if you spent a certain amount.  I figured this would be a great start to getting the miles and went ahead and started off on my saving journey.  When the points came through and I was excited to have a flight paid for, I started looking into possible holidays.  You can imagine my dismay when I started plugging in destinations such as New York and the price for a flight there was almost the same as booking it without points.  You see, we have incredibly high airport taxes here and they still need paid even if you ‘pay’ with points.  I started to wonder why on earth anyone would bother saving them!

The points sat languishing in my account until we came back from our adventure and I looked into it again.  I had a decent sum, I needed to make sure they at least weren’t wasted!  Eventually I came across a really helpful blog called Head For Points that was a huge resource and was extremely helpful in getting my head around the scheme, the different ways I could save and some decent hacks to enable me to get a flight that wasn’t a huge price!

The key points I learned were:

About the scheme

In the UK the main scheme to save towards is called Avios not Airmiles and they can be used on British Airways flights among others.  You can sign up at both Avios and British Airways.  They are separate schemes, but both use Avios points and you can combine points from one partner to another.

Earning Avios

*  If you save Tesco Clubcard points, you can turn these into Avios.  As our nearest supermarket is Tesco we’ve started going there for our main shop.  The normal exchange rate is 2.4 Avios per Clubcard point.  So if you have £10 worth of vouchers they can be exchanged for 2400 Avios.

* Credit Cards are the best way to earn really.  Our original card I signed up to pre adventure gives me 2 points per £ spent which is a really good rate at the moment.  New cards are more like 1 point per £ if it’s an American Express.  Unfortunately my card isn’t available now to new customers.  What we did also get was a Tesco credit card which, with their referral scheme, gives you and the referrer 1000 Clubcard points, so 2400 Avios each.  If you fancy trying to get this card the referral is done after you get accepted, and is the only way to get points on sign up unless they are running a promotion.  I can refer you after you’ve been accepted if you contact me.

*  There are other cards that do good sign up offers, but at the moment I don’t know much about them.  If I try any out I’ll add the details here.

*  Shell garages have a loyalty scheme which can be redeemed for Avios.  It’s not super lucrative, but if you ever fill up there it’s worth having.

*  British Airways and Avios have a ‘cash back’ site, similar to the likes of TopCashback and Quidco.  They pay in points, but generally the rates are pretty low.  One exception is the British Airways site, which is called Gate 360, as they have a partnership with John Lewis and as far as I know that is the only way to get any cash back from John Lewis, they aren’t on any other sites.  So if you are buying from there, go through Gate360 and you should get a small amount of Avios.

*  TopCashback is a cash back site that pays its referral money back to you.  For example, if you switch your gas account to another provider and you’d clicked on an advert somewhere else on the web, the person who put the ad on their site would get a cut from the new business.  TopCashback gives this cut back to you.  It can be very lucrative!  Utilities, insurance, mobiles and general shopping can all give you cash back.  Now you can accept this as cash or, at the moment, it has an option to convert up to £50 per year to Tesco Clubcard points.  It’s free to join, and if you go through my referral link at the moment there is a further 500 Clubcard points (so 1200 Avios) that you get just for signing up (I think it’s paid when you earn £10)

Although it seems not very straightforward, it’s really easy and a great way to earn miles.  If you’re saving for a big trip and can earn £50 worth of cash back that would be worth a huge 12,000 Avios just on its own!  Oh and if you have other adults in the house, they can have an account each.

*  Flying!  The original idea of airline reward programmes are giving back miles if you fly with the airline and that still exists.  You earn Avios if you fly with British Airways and selected other airlines.

*  Odd promotions from time to time come around, so keep an eye on social media or sign up for updates on the Head for Points blog as he tends to know all about what is happening.


Spending Avios

If you’re saving for a big flight, perhaps to the USA, then consider looking into departures that aren’t in the UK.  For example, at the time of me writing this (Jan 2014) a one way flight from Heathrow to New York on British Airways would cost one person 20,000 Avios and also £234.50 in taxes.  So you can imagine for a family of four, this is quite a sum!  If you flew from Berlin to New York, flying on AirBerlin, though it would be 20,000 Avios and a further £62.50 – saving £172.  Ok, I’d need to get to Berlin, so I could then take a Reward Flight saver from the UK, wouldn’t even need to be from London, for a further 4,500 points and £17.50.  Overall I could add a city we’ve never been to to our itinerary and still get to New York for £80 each.  (Also look at flights from Dublin on AerLingus)

If you’re aiming to get to the US then internal flights are really good value compared to what we can get back in the UK as the taxes are really tiny.  It’s really worth having a play with the British Airways flight search and see what it says for flight costs.  One example is NYC to Miami which is 7,500 Avios plus £1.50!!

You can redeem Avios for car rental and for hotels.  Generally this isn’t the best use of your points, but it is available should you end up with lots.

Not too shabby after all

So, as you can see, there is a point to collecting.  We may not have the schemes and scale of collecting that is available in the USA, but we certainly have something that is worth considering.  Especially if, like me, you’re saving for a big trip in the future.  Americas here we come!

2 thoughts on “How to benefit from UK airline loyalty schemes and score the holiday of a lifetime!

  1. Good tips Kirsty. We also earn companion flights through spending on a British Airways Amex’s not free but It’s been well worthwhile and in 2012 it got our family of five to Rio to start our family gap year. True, we were stung with tax and the idea of going somewhere via Berlin or Dublin is definitely one I’ll look at!

  2. Thanks Mo! Yes I’ve seen about the companion flights too, but haven’t had that card ourselves yet. One to look at for next time!

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