From 0 to BA First Class in under 18 months – Part 2

british-airways-first-class

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In my previous article, I explained how I went from 0 Avios to being within 30,000 points of 2 return First Class flights to North America. Even if I had stopped at this point, I would have had enough for two Business Class returns, but First was the goal!

Below I outline the final two methods I used to obtain the required Avios, and then the actual process of locking in the booking (as I wasn’t lucky enough to find the First Class seats first time), and my calculation of the “value” I received for my Avios spend.

Method 5 – BA Executive Club Gate365 and Avios eStore Shopping Portals.

Click your way to upgraded flights!
Click your way to upgraded flights!

Following the closure of the Topcashback to Tesco Clubcard route, this made the two Avios earning shopping portals more attractive, although I had already been using them for retailers not available through Topcashback.

Gate365 is the BA Executive Club portal, and the eStore is the Avios.com portal. Both offer the same earning rates, although anecdotally I’ve personally found that Gate365 is more reliable when it comes to tracking and paying.

Usual offers are 2 Avios / £1 at Curry’s, Argos, John Lewis and Tesco Direct (and you can still collect retailer rewards on top if they are offered!), with higher rates are more niche/high end retailers – 8 Avios / £1 at Vivienne Westwood anyone?

By tracking purchases I would have made anyway through these shopping portals, I earned in the region of 2,000 Avios.

Running total:

  • Total Avios from Shopping Portals =2,000
  • REMAINING AVIOS TO OBTAIN =30,000 – 2,000 = 28,000

Method 6 – BUYING Avios outright.

Sometimes buying Avios can make sense
Sometimes buying Avios can make sense

So far, my methods have focused on how to obtain Avios as a by-product of other purchases or through sign up bonuses. While these methods are as near as you will get to “free” Avios points, they can also require some waiting for the points to be credited to your account.

When going for an aspirational redemption, in a premium cabin, on a popular route such as the USA West Coast, you need to have the points ready to go in your account when availability appears. With the cash equivalent cost of these type of redemptions, it can make financial sense to purchase the final few thousand points you need to top off your account, rather than risk the availability disappearing.

As with all other Avios collecting methods, there are even tricks to going about purchasing these points!

You can buy Avios points from three main vendors – BA Executive Club, Avios.com and Iberia Plus. BAEC and Avios.com have the same costs in GBP, Iberia Plus is priced in EUR. Periodically each vendor will run independent bonus promotions, so it is important to compare the prices and any promotions between all three vendors before making your purchase.

Remember that you can of course transfer Avios between these three schemes via the Combine My Avios function. 

Last December when I was close to my target and decided to purchase some Avios, Iberia Plus was running a 20% bonus, and the GBP/EUR exchange rate was rather more favourable than it is now!

The standard rate on BAEC/Avios.com for 28,000 is £464, and for 20,000 Avios is £335.

The Iberia Plus rate for 20,000 Avios is €385, and they were running a 20% bonus promotion, so I would get 28,000 Avios. Paying using my Lloyds Amex which incurs no foreign transaction fees, it cost me £279.33 (and I earnt 349 Avios on that transaction). Clearly this is a better proposition than £464!

However – in the absence of the bonus promotion, and given the current exchange rate, Iberia Plus is currently more expensive for 20,000 Avios than BAEC working out at around £338 – so you always need to double check!

Another “gotcha” is that to transfer Avios in/out of your Iberia Plus account, it must be over 90 days old, and have had at least 1 point go through it. My advice – open an Iberia Plus account ASAP and find a method to put a small amount of points through it via an Amex Membership Rewards transfer, a Hilton “Points + Miles” credit or by crediting a flight sector to it, just to ensure the option is there for you to take advantage of, if it makes financial sense to you (which it may well do in future – keep an eye on InsideFlyer UK!).

Running total:

  • Total Avios purchased =28,000
  • REMAINING AVIOS TO OBTAIN =28,000 – 28,000 = 0

celebrate

 

Booking the actual flight redemption.

So after working my way through the 6 methods for collecting the necessary Avios – how exactly did I find availability and book my First Class flights?

The answer is:

1) Having the required Avios and 2-4-1 voucher ready in my BA Executive Club Household Account – and BOOKING AS SOON AS I SAW THE AVAILABLE SEATS.

If you don’t have enough Avios or haven’t triggered the voucher yet, don’t look at specific availability. It will only lead to disappointment later when those seats you saw 2 months ago have long since disappeared…

When booking into premium cabins, availability can be like hen’s teeth. When you find seats available on the route you want on an acceptable date, you should book immediately. If you leave it even a few hours to think about it, the seats can be snapped up by another savvy traveller.

Remember the amendment or cancellation fee for Avios bookings is £35 per ticket. Sometimes it’s worth risking £35 per person by booking the flights and then sorting out the logistics, rather than risking those two First Class seats being taken by someone else. However, you will have to make your own judgement based on your circumstances.

2) Being flexible with my routing and dates, and persevering

Initially I had booked into the newly launched London Heathrow – San Jose California route (REALLY important to check you have the right San Jose when booking…) in Premium Economy out, Club World return in June. When we got down to the detailed planning however, the idea of Las Vegas was floated, and also that maybe we should move our trip to September when it would be cooler and to be there for my birthday.

When I searched, there was availability in Club World outbound, and First inbound LHR-SJC, for dates which worked for us in September.

Not content with only one First class sector – I continued to search for First class outbound availability daily, at all West Coast BA destinations, plus Las Vegas.

Low and behold, months after making the initial booking, 2 seats appeared to Las Vegas from Heathrow in First, on the exact same date we already had booked in Club World to San Jose, and I immediately got on the phone to amend our booking.

Luckily – due to the disruption from snow in New York in February, the BA Ticketing department were running a little behind. As my amendment from PE and Club hadn’t ticketed yet, the BA Executive Club booking agent was able to simply overwrite my changes to Club return, and amend my booking to First Class return without charging me ANOTHER change fee – although this was a total fluke and I wouldn’t bank on it in future.

I could further justify the amendment fee, as in First Class seat selection is complimentary, whereas in Club World BA wanted a staggering £68 each for us lowly Blue members. Given my fiancé is a nervous flyer anyway, the prospect of not being seated together is just not an option, so I would have been paying the seat selection fee.

My “Value” Calculation per Avios.

So whilst not quite as impressive as Ian’s almost 10p/Avios, I still believe I got good value from my Avios on this trip.

First let’s look at my “real money” costs:

Cost
Taxes + Fees £1,058
Booking Amendment Fee £140
Topcashback Conversion £100
Avios Purchase £280
Credit Card Annual Fees £174
£1,752

Now let’s compare the cash price. Unfortunately I don’t have a screen shot of the cash price of my final itinerary but I do have one of my interim First + CW on the day I booked it:

ba-fcw-quote

Now for argument’s sake, let’s say First both ways would have been £10,000 return.

In Discount First (Fare Bucket A) – we would have earned 26478 Avios each on a cash booking.

Avios Redemption Cost 170,000
“Cash Avios” forfeited 52,956
222,956

Using the same method as Ian:

£10,000 – (£1,752 taxes/fees to be paid either way) = £8,248

824800 ÷ 222956 = 3.7p – which isn’t bad going!

Now another Avios Value school of thought is, if you would NEVER pay that amount cash, you can’t count that as your “value”. However, I feel that as I actually received a service which would have otherwise  cost me £10,000 in cash to receive, it is legitimate to calculate value this way.

Let’s face it – at the prices I’m willing to pay – I’d struggle to get far on the Megabus, let alone First class flights!!!

Conclusion.

Ok – so maybe I am a complete Points and Miles geek, and have a real passion for the subject and am willing to go through some convoluted steps to obtain extra miles and points.

However – hopefully by sharing my experience you can see that it is entirely possible for someone on an average wage, paying a mortgage, to travel First class at least once in your life without having to spend a fortune, by collecting points on your everyday purchases and with small adjustments to your shopping habits.

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