I love travelling as much as my Dippy-Dotty Girl. I am writing this for you because I think that travel can be rewarding and enlightening. If you do it with some plotting n’ planning, it might even be cheap. Collecting loyalty points is my hobby. If you ask Dippy-Dotty, she would remark that it’s my obsession. I spend hours scouring loyalty blogs/websites to boost my loyalty point balance which does make her climb the walls at times. But it keeps us on the move.
Most of my points on travel will focus on short breaks (for those in Europe). If you plan to fly across the pond or visit from Asia/ Oceania, you will want to cover multiple destinations given the amount of time invested in getting to Europe.
The Miles Cache
At the outset, let me say that I am not a low cost carrier fan (EasyJet/ Ryanair). Just the thought of spending time at Luton/ Stansted is something that I personally don’t enjoy. Also the lack of any meaningful rewards programme makes me steer clear from them. Not collecting rewards on the money and time you spend on flying or staying at a hotel is like throwing away a portion of your next holiday that could be ‘free’. However, if you do you get a great deal – such as a return trip for £20-35 – on low-cost airlines then it might be worth a thought.
I mostly bank my loyalty with British Airways (OneWorld Alliance). Flying to Europe with BA can be cheap, regardless of whether you choose to pay the fare or redeem your points. Apply for one of the co-branded credit cards in UK, and you can get anywhere for 18K to 25K bonus Avios, which would be enough for 2 to 3 return tickets for short-haul flights. If you fly regularly, either for work or pleasure, you should look at sticking to one alliance/ airline and bank points on it. I highly recommend BA if you are based in UK and looking at exploring the continent.
Now assuming that you have chosen BA as your preferred carrier. The first thing for you to do would be to register for their loyalty program called ‘Executive Club’. You will earn ‘Avios’, their term for flying currency in terms of miles travelled on most, if not all, Oneworld Alliance Partners. Open accounts for everyone in the family (spouse and children, if applicable) and create a ‘Household Account’ which allows you to pool in/ combine everyone’s frequent flyer points. These can be used for flight redemptions.
Let me give you an example. I am looking for a four-night break in March and aiming at flying out of Gatwick.
Getting to The Airport: We live in Northampton and a taxi to Gatwick can set us back £130. Steep, ain’t it? But I want to get something out of spending the cash. Avis has tied up with British Airways and you can earn Avios for renting a car. At a minimum, you get 750 Avios for a three-day rental. They are running a promotion of 5000 Bonus Avios for a 3-day rental and 1500 Avios for the car. All terms can be viewed on their website (https://www.avis.co.uk/). So I decide to book a car for four days for £60 and a one-way fee of £50. That equals to about £110 and in return I get 6500 bonus Avios.
Points Redemption Option: For example, if you look at flying to Barcelona, the city falls within Zone 2 in the Avios map – which means that you require 6500 Avios (off-peak) for a one-way redemption in economy and £17.50 in taxes. Return tickets therefore cost 13000 Avios (off-peak) and a tax sum of £35. Peak flights cost 500 Avios more per sector (1000 more for a return-trip). Now using points is a big deal for me. I want to get the best value. I want to get at least 1p per Avios.
Buying a Ticket: A quick search on buying an economy ticket (without checked bags) for Barcelona during reasonable hours (first flight out and last flight back in) is £123. You would earn 538 Avios for the booking. Currently there is a triple Avios offer for bookings made and flights taken before March 31st.I could potentially earn 1500 Avios off this booking. For the two of us that’s 3000 Avios.
Conclusion: In this scenario a redemption is giving me is giving me <1p in value. In such a scenario, I will the buy the ticket outright and save my Avios for later. However, you can also choose to do a combination of Avios and Money.
Tips: Remember that for redemptions your best chance is to look out for seats early. Sometime, options also open up a couple of days before you want to travel.
Other Options: For the same days, a Ryanair ticket is for £53 (choosing similar flight times). This is approx. £70 less than BA. It is tempting. But in the long run, I prefer to stick to a global carrier with multiple alliance partners. You never know when you need the status and points.
Hoarding Hotel Points
For hotels, I am a big fan of the Intercontinental Group (IHG) and Starwood Properties (SPG). As with airlines, most global chain have loyalty programs and co-branded credit cards to get bonus points. You can sign up for the programs for free. IHG has hotels in 60 countries and SPG in 100 countries. For hotels that are not part of a global chain you can consider Hotels.com or points sites like Kaligo and Rocketmiles (I will expand upon this).
Assuming that you want to build on your points balance and don’t have any points currently, you can look at booking and earning points directly through hotel websites. Remember nowadays that hotels chains have woken up and are usually cheaper to book directly through their own websites as opposed to aggregators like Expedia.
Point to note – hotel points can only be earned if you book at the hotel directly.
Hotels.com is a good option as well if you are not looking at boutique properties. The site gives you one free night* (explained below) at any hotel after you book 10 nights with them. The value of the free night that can be redeemed is equivalent to the average value of the 10 nights you have booked with them. For example, if you have spent 600EUR over 10 nights then you will get EUR600/10 = 60 EUR to redeem at a hotel worldwide. For example, if you were making a trip to Vienna and you do get a hotel for 60EUR, then your points could be redeemed here to avail of a free stay. If it is 80EUR, you only need to pay the surplus 20 EUR.
Alternatively, lets assume you want to collect airline points from hotel stays. Then head to Kaligo.com or Rocketmiles.com. These sites give you a variety of options for earning airline points for your hotel stays. The points can be credited to airlines such as BA or Virgin. For instance, a comparable hotel to Four Points, NH Barcelona Diagonal Center, will cost 71EUR per night and you could earn at least 1500 Avios for the stay. On your first booking at one of the sites, you can earn a bonus 3000 Avios. Four Points hotel will cost the same and earn you at least 3900 Avios. You have hotels starting at 30EUR per night on these sites.
Note that sometimes hotels on these sites can be 2-5EUR more expensive than on Hotels.com or chain websites (IHG, SPG…). Comparisons are provided on Kaligo.
Rocketmiles is similar to Kaligo though, according to my observations, it has limited options as compared to Kaligo.
I have gone on for a while now. But there is a point to this crazy/absurd/ methodical planning. You chose which adjective you prefer and then check the figures.
Let’s assume I did all of the below stated activities:
1. Booked a car for the airport £110
2. Bought flight tickets £250 approx
3. Booked hotel through Kaligo (Four Points) £350 approx
4. Travel money for holiday £420 approx
Total Spend £1130
I spent £1130. Not a meagre sum, eh, but then I earned some dough back.
1. Car Rental 6500
2. Flight Tickets 3000 + 750 Avios for booking on Avios CC
3. Hotel 5900 (including first-time bonus)
4. Avios earned on Credit Card spend 400 approx (I spent 50% on CC)
Total Avios Earned 16550
Given that I value my Avios at least 1 p, the value of my return is £165. It effectively brings the cost of the trip down to £965.
More importantly, those 16550 Avios can be used for our next holiday and used to redeem at least one return ticket in Europe or I can get two free return tickets to destinations like Paris/Amsterdam on Economy.
Points add up fast. And the cost of your trip can go down rapidly as you build up your balance. I started with zilch (points) three years ago, but plenty of careful planning and now I have enough hotel and air miles for a few trips.
I have rambled enough but I hope I have introduced the concept and not made it more confusing. Here’s to maximising each pound/euro/dollar/yen/rupee/ any other currency.
What are your thoughts on the entire spectrum of loyalty programs?
Meanwhile, happy travelling!