Travel Hack Thursday, (#TravelHackThursday) is back!!! It has been ages but I have tracked down an expert travel hacker (he is far too humble to acknowledge this!) to share top tips on how to travel in business and First Class using airmiles. He isn’t a bond trader (I don’t think so anyway), nor is he constantly on transatlantic flights. He has, however, learned how to use credit cards to upgrade his family travel. Discover his top tips on how to collect AVIOS.
Without any further ado, let’s hear from Simon. Simon is a regular reader of the blog and I always enjoy his witty repartee and insightful comments. From discussions about kitchens to credit card hacks, I invariably learn something from him on a regular basis (not always travel-related either).
Are you rich?
I’m married with two kids, two cats and a mortgage. Our household has two motorbikes and three cars so I would say I am cash poor but existence rich.
How did you discover travel hacking?
By accident. I still consider myself very new to the travel hacking game (Anne: see what I mean about humble?!), but it all started a long time ago when I had even less money than I do now.
Each month saw a pay check appear in the bank and the balance dwindle as we paid the bills and socialised during the month. I then discovered these things called ‘credit cards’ that I could use to buy stuff. This gave me much needed cashflow as I didn’t need to touch my bank balance at all for the whole month until the credit card bill needed paying. By that time, another pay check had been paid in. With a current account attracting interest on a daily basis this was too easy!
Anne: take note peeps, if you are struggling to pay the bills on a monthly basis, credit cards might not be the answer for you. If you do not pay off the full balance each month, you will incur whopping charges! Also, unlike in Simon’s heyday, your current account probably is paying you jack currently due to low interest rates!.
In 2001, I discovered the American Express Platinum Cash Back card, which actually paid me money to buy things. By putting my spend on that card, they gave me money. Wow!
In those days, however, I didn’t rate going on holiday. It was expensive, consisted of huge amounts of preparation (remember, two kids and two cats) and tended to be hot and sticky. We did Disney with the kids when they were young and soon learned that half board with fixed, paid-for meals was a waste of time. The kids only grazed and they never wanted to eat what we had already paid for.
So, we did all-inclusive holidays in Europe instead with huge buffet meals and free ice cream and drinks throughout the day. None of this was very inspiring and then we returned to a mountain of work to wade through. Where is the fun in that?
Hope for holidays
We went on our last family holiday when the kids were young adults with their own interests and friends and we were soon to become the people they would not choose to go on holiday with. Tracey, my wife, found a holiday with TUI in Riva del Garda. The hotel was a delight, the area superb and Lake Garda itself breath-taking. I made the mistake of saying I loved it, which I did.
Discovering the benefits of the BA Executive Club
Due to a few overseas work trips, I was already a member of the British Airways Executive Club. I was once booked on a flight in Club to return from Johannesburg and received a courtesy upgrade to First Class. I swore then that this was something I wanted Tracey to experience, even though I slept through most of it! (Anne: ha ha I hear you, the first time I flew Business Class I did that and was gutted!)
The lure of a flat-screen TV with video on demand, champagne, endless bacon butties and lovely flight attendants that lovely, personable and friendly was huge. This was in 2007 so things have changed since then.
The attraction of Club class
I then got an email from BA about an offer to book Club and receive an upgrade to First for free. Tracey was already flicking through websites and brochures, so I urged her to look at BA Holidays. The deadline for the offer was nigh so we grabbed a fantastic offer for a week in Antigua, staying at Club Sandals Grande Antigua. In all the rush to meet the deadline, we booked it before realising they didn’t even have a First Class cabin. Nevertheless, we had a fantastic holiday.
The following year, we did a long weekend in New York and this time we did manage to get a First Class flight. Tracey resolved to never fly long haul in anything less than Club again. (Anne: ha ha think Jason may have heard me say this! Take note peeps, once you have experienced the high life, there is no going back!)
Becoming a travel hacking expert
In 2018, I came across some blogs. Turning Left For Less led me to Head for Points which led me to Travel The Globe For Less (now rebranded as From Miles to Smiles). All three raved about the 2 for 1 Companion Voucher.
According to the excellent guide on the latter blog, if I signed up for a British Airways Premium Plus credit card and put as much of my spend on the card as possible, I could go anywhere with BA by doing what I was already doing, but with a different card. Wow!
Introducing British Airways Premium Plus AMEX
September 2018, I got my own shiny black card. We needed to pay for car insurance on three cars (one multi-car policy) and a BA holiday to Iceland. I also ordered a supplementary card to pay for weekly shopping, made some referrals and, before I knew it, I had earned a sign-up bonus. Pretty soon, we had to decide where to go with the 2 for 1 voucher!
Where did you go on your first long haul trip using rewards?
“We’ve got a voucher, Wifey – where shall we go?” I said.
(Anne: ha ha Simon really knows how to keep his wife happy!!)
This decision was harder than earning the voucher! Although Tracey doesn’t read any blogs, she does read a lot of emails, social media posts and holiday brochures. She had also seen a double-decker plane on a recent holiday, so I knew one flight had to be on an A380.
I looked on the BA fleet site to find out where these beauties flew to and from. Tracey then found a company called the American Road Trip Company (ARTCo) that offered flights, cars, hotels and road trips in America. We decided to fly to San Francisco for a couple of days, drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, through Hollywood and LA and on to San Diego. We would fly back to the UK from San Diego.
ARTCo were brilliant. I told them I would book flights and hire a car with BA and they were happy to organise the rest.
Introducing Reward Flight Finder
I jumped on Reward Flight Finder (RFF)to find suitable availability for Club World flights, then rang the call centre to book flights. As it was an open jaw booking, it was not possible to book flights online and use the companion voucher. I then also signed up for seat alerts with RFF, in case a better option arose.
The flights cost 125,000 Avios and £1335.64 in taxes and fees. If you book these flights now, the cash price is £13,996.52 for the flights in 2020! If you want to spend 22 hours in cattle class, it comes to £786.52. World Traveller Plus costs £2718.52.
Reward Flight Finder came up trumps and I received an alert about First Class availability on both flights. I jumped on the phone straight away and upgraded the outbound flight for the cost of 22,500 Avios and £72.80. As there isn’t a First Class lounge in San Diego, and it was an overnight flight, it didn’t seem worth paying to upgrade the return. So, we got to use the Concorde Room, and the Elemis Spa and it was so worth it!!
I also thoroughly recommend driving the Pacific Coast Highway in a red, drop top Ford Mustang! (Anne: check out prices to hire your own on Holiday Extras)
How did you collect AVIOS?
I received the card in September 2018 and booked the flights in March 2019. The ‘tricks’ we used were quite simple:
- Get a supplementary card for the family (my kids I wouldn’t trust with birthday cards, let alone credit cards, so it was just one for Tracey) to earn a referral bonus of 3,000 on either the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card or AMEX Gold.
- This helps you satisfy the minimum spend too, as they can put all their purchases on the card and help you to achieve the sign-up bonus and the minimum spend to earn the 2 for 1 voucher
- Check your monthly and annual subscriptions. You may be able to pay subscriptions to companies such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Microsoft 365, Hotel Chocolat, your wine club by AMEX. Anne: What? Seriously, do you have a monthly subscription to Hotel Chocolat?
- Sign up for the BA Executive Club eStore and always start your online shopping journey there. Your purchases from many stores will cost the same but earn you valuable AVIOS.
- Check out all the other ways you can collect Avios on BA. You may also wish to check out the A – Z of AVIOS here.
- Of course, once you’ve got the voucher, you need an Avios balance to get the best value from it. You can consider persuading your significant other to accept a referral for their own card. Make sure they use your referral as they will earn an additional 1,000 AVIOS when they satisfy the minimum spend.
- Get them to sign up for their own British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card or the AMEX Gold. You will earn 6,000 and 9,000 respectively as a referral bonus. If they then refer you for a supplementary card you will (collectively) also earn the additional 3,000 referral bonus. Clever hey?
- On AMEX Gold you earn Membership Rewards that can be transferred into Avios.
- Finally, you need to get your partner to sign up for a BA Executive Account and then set up a Household Account so you can pool all your collective Avios too!