It seems too good to be true. Is it really possible to bag a free break simply by totting up points from a weekly shop?
For years, savvy travellers have been using loyalty cards and airline schemes to accrue enough points to pay for flights and holidays. To the uninitiated, it can seem like a minefield. But follow a few simple steps and it’s easier than you might think to get started…
Focus on flights
You can use airline points and miles to purchase a range of things, from hotel rooms to ferry crossings or even cases of wine.
“But to gain the best value, use them for flights,” says Nicky Kelvin, self-proclaimed aviation geek and head of travel advice website The Points Guy (thepointsguy.co.uk).
If you are confident to play with plastics, Kelvin recommends opting for the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card and Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard Credit Card, amongst others.
“The welcome bonus on a credit card can be as large as 40,000 points or more. In fact, we’re now seeing on the Barclays Avios Mastercard a special offer of 50,000 points,” he says. “To put this into perspective, one-way flights within Europe can start at less than 5,000 Avios per person, and so even just one credit card sign-up bonus requiring you to spend £3,000 in the first three months will earn you enough points for up to 10 one-way flights around Europe.”
Do a supermarket sweep
Fortunately, there are still plenty of ways to earn points outside of credit cards. Kelvin recommends making purchases through airline shopping portals and supermarket loyalty schemes, such as Nectar or Tesco Club Card.
For example, Wightlink, who operate ferries to the Isle of Wight, currently offers triple the value of Tesco Clubcard vouchers, so every 50p in vouchers is worth £1.50. Crossings start from £57.50 for a car and up to seven passengers. Butlins Family Breaks and Intrepid both offer £15 to use for every £5 voucher, while Virgin offer 625 points for every £2.50 voucher.
Nectar Points (nectar.com) can also be used towards part payment for holidays. Collect points by shopping with Sainsbury’s, Argos and eBay, or by paying for petrol at Esso stations. For 400 Nectar points you can receive 250 Avios, which can be used to purchase flights with British Airways. For every 500 points, using a minimum of 2,000, you’ll receive £2.50 off Eurostar tickets. To earn faster, look out for deals on items offering more points for a purchase.
Join an airline or hotel loyalty programme
Earn points to redeem for future holidays while you fly or stay in a hotel.
Offering the best and widest range of options for both earning and using points, British Airways Executive Club and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club are two of the top programmes for UK collectors.
“You can spend British Airways points on all BA flights and other partner airlines such as American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Finnair and Qatar,” says Kelvin. “Similarly, for Virgin Atlantic, because of their partnership with Delta, Air France and KLM, you can earn and redeem points on those airlines as well – particularly helpful if you live in the regions of the UK where KLM and Air France fly to a huge number of UK regional airports, allowing people to use their points to connect through either Paris or Amsterdam to reach the entire world.”
Finally, one word of warning when it comes to redeeming points. Busy routes and peak periods can be tricky. Kelvin advises using tools such as Seat Spy (seatspy.com) or Reward Flight Finder (rewardflightfinder.com) to search multiple destinations across multiple dates to find the best availability.
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