I love travelling.
I’m a nomad at heart.
But travelling can get quite expensive.
Like all our spending I like to be mindful and optimise every penny to get the best holiday experience for the lowest cost.
I don’t mind paying £130 a night for a room, but if I can get the same room for £115 with a quick web search, and then get £13 back through cashback, then heck, why not? That’s £23 (or £27.6++ pre-tax) I’d rather spend on BBQ sardines and a carafe of wine. On top of that if I can earn some points towards to the flights, for no extra cost!
Some travel hacks I’ve used with success are:
Earning points through credit cards
One of the most lucrative travel hacks is collecting reward points.
Once you’ve accumulated enough reward points, you can redeem them for free flights (plus taxes), upgrades or free hotels rooms.
The most powerful way to accrue points is through credit cards.
A major caveat to this approach is you must be good at managing your money and paying off your credit card spend each month. If you can’t commit to this, please do not consider credit cards for travel hacking!
Listening to our Choose FI friends in the US, I admit to being quite envious about the huge amount of points they can earn, and the amazing strategies they employ.
Unfortunately, such generous offers aren’t available for us here in the UK. Still, it is possible to accrue enough points for the average family to enjoy a ‘free’ flight to Europe each year and cheaper or--even free--hotel stays.
The British Airways Frequent Flyer program is called The Executive Club where you collect reward points called Avios.
This is the one I use, so know the most about.
I have an array of other points I’ve haphazardly accrued over the years such as with Malaysian Airlines (Enrich), Virgin Australia (Velocity) and Sri Lanka (Fly Smiles), and each have proved too difficult to use now I live in the UK.
I ended up using my Velocity points on hotels, my FlySmiles points were lost, and I’m still trying to work out what to do with my Enrich points—most likely a flight from one Asian city to another--not that helpful right now.
So, I digress.
Learning the hard way, I’ve come around to focus on the major domestic points program in the UK--Avios.
How do I earn Avios?
There are many credit cards offering reward points for every pound you spend.
American Express offers the most rewarding programs. They have a large selection of cards--below are just three. It’s worth noting that Amex isn’t accepted everywhere, although most major retailers, petrol stations and supermarkets accept it.
American Express® Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card
The Amex Membership rewards points can be converted into Avios or many other airmiles programs, or you can redeem them against your statement, or event get gift cards. They are much more versatile than Avios.
Collecting Avios and the 2-for1 Companion Voucher
If you want to concentrate on accumulating just Avios however below are two cards to consider.
Both offer the 2-for-1 Companion Voucher (at a certain spend) that is a huge benefit if you can use it.
When you book a free flight using your companion voucher you can get a second seat on the same flight for no extra points. This offer becomes very valuable when you have accrued a large number of points—enough to redeem a long-haul or business class flight--or best of all—a long-haul business class flight. The bonus can be worth £1,000s.
Now we’re talking!
British Airways American Express credit card
British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card
It’s the £195 annual fee that needs careful consideration.
Word of warning:
As with all credit cards make sure you read all the terms and conditions on these cards. They do change from time to time and the above may already be out of date (it was researched on 20 September 2019). Be careful of annual fees, and most of all, make sure you pay off your balance in full, every month. The interest rates are eye-wateringly high--and no person on the path to FI should be paying them.
Ways to boost your Avios points
Introduction bonuses & referrals are probably the easiest points you’ll find. Look out for special promotions and ask someone (like me - firstname.lastname@example.org) if they can refer you. You will both get a bonus for doing so.
To maximise your introduction bonuses, you can ‘card cycle’. This is where you sign up to a card, get the bonus. Cancel the card. Wait out a set period (determined by the card company), then sign up again, getting the bonus again.
If you have multiple cards on the go you can always have a couple active, and some in a waiting period. Our friends in the US use this strategy a lot, but here in the UK it’s getting harder. Recently the American Express® Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card waiting period was lengthened from 6 months to 24 months. Bummer, hey? Not such an easy strategy.
If you have another half or mate who thinks it’s a good idea (who’s also committed to paying off the card in full each month), you can refers one another, you’ll both get a bonus.
Redeeming points is a science in itself.
It’s best to book as early as possible. BA usually release flights 355 days before departure. So, if you know your dates, secure your flights as soon as you can. For travel hacking to work it helps to be flexible. You may find redeeming flights in school holidays and over bank holiday weekends a bit tricky--and it’s likely to cost you more points.
Reward flight finder is a handy tool to see what’s available and when.
You can redeem Avios on other airlines part of the One World alliance, such as Qatar, Qantas, American Airlines, JAL and Malaysian Airlines, however usually your best offers are on BA (but not always).
Use British Airways Avios Store
Once you’ve signed up to British Airways Executive club you can use their shopping portal to gain extra points for online purchases you were planning to make anyway.
When I last looked you could get 6 Avios for every £1 spent at Topshop for instance. So, you’d get an additional 600 points of you spent £100. Not bad if were going to make the purchase anyway.
You can buy more Avios at any time, although it’s not great value. There are sometimes deals that make your cash go further that may be worthwhile--especially for buying small amounts if you’re near a threshold for a flight you want to redeem.
Next post I'll look at using Cashback sites to help you travel hack.
If you've got some travel hack tips you'd like to share please let me know in the comments below.