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From total newbie, to a Points & Miles boffin – this is my story of how I achieved my “first First” experience in under 18 months, at a fraction of the real cost.
In April 2015 my life changed forever. It all started with a throwaway comment by a colleague about how she had just booked her family holiday flights to Florida using “air miles”.
“Air miles are only for those people that fly loads, and don’t you only fly for holidays?!” I responded quizzically. She then spent lunchtime introducing me to the world of earning points and miles through non-flying methods, and I was hooked!
Naturally – with my fresh faced enthusiasm and naivety, I decided to take the “go big or go home” approach, and my first redemption target would be First Class return to the West Coast of the USA…
(Yes, I can almost hear those of you with any experience of trying to book this type of redemption rolling your eyes and starting to laugh at me).
Below I will explain how I went from thinking Avios was a Spanish typo – to First Class return to the West Cost of the USA for me and my fiancé in under 18 months.
Total Avios required: 340,000
Method 1 – Rewards Credit Cards.
The main way people who don’t fly much can earn Avios is through rewards credit cards, which are discussed regularly in articles here on InsideFlyer.co.uk. To achieve this redemption, I used two Avios earning cards; the Lloyds Avios Rewards card duo pack, and the British Airways Premium Plus American Express card.
I applied for both a main and supplementary card for myself and fiancé, and we switched all our card-based spending to these cards. Food, fuel, clothes, online purchases. We then clear the balance at the end of the month by direct debit, so we are not paying interest.
My work expenses policy also allowed for me to use my personal card, and be reimbursed in cash in my bank account. This is my favourite way to get points and make progress to a spend target as it is effectively FREE! But obviously this only works as I incur expenses as part of my work, and my employer allows for this approach in their expense policy – it’s not worth getting in trouble over!
Using the Lloyds card, which comes with double Avios for the first 6 months (so 2.5 Avios/ £1 on the Amex), we collected around 29,000 points which were deposited into our Avios.com account.
Once the double Avios promotion was over, and I’d had more time to read up on the different credit card options available, I applied and was approved for the British Airways Premium Plus American Express card (Or the “BAPP” for those into acronyms).
The standard earnings rate on this Amex was slightly better than the Lloyds standard rate (1.5 vs 1.25 Avios / £1), and I had also discovered what has been described as the single biggest perk of the UK Points and Miles “game” – the 2-4-1 Voucher.
With a house move coming up, which obviously means we were planning on spending far too much money on home furnishing and electronics (albeit only at those stores that would accept Amex….!), it was the ideal time to attempt to hit the £10k spending target, with the added perk of a 25,000 Avios sign up bonus when spending £3,000 in 4 hours in Ikea and Curry’s 3 months.
- Avios from Lloyds double earning rate: 29,000
- Avios from BAPP standard earning rate: 20,000
- Avios from BAPP sign up bonus: 25,000
- TOTAL CREDIT CARD AVIOS: 74,000 plus Amex 2-4-1 Voucher
- New earning target with 2-4-1 voucher = 170,000
- REMAINING AVIOS TO OBTAIN = 170,000 – 74,000 = 96,000
Method 2 – Tesco Clubcard Vouchers
I would suggest that Tesco Clubcard Vouchers are probably the third quickest way to collect Avios in the UK, after Rewards Credit Cards and the old fashioned way of, y’know actually flying with a OneWorld or Avios partner airline and crediting the miles to your BA Executive Club.
The standard conversion rate is £2.50 Clubcard Vouchers = 600 Avios, although there are regular conversion bonuses of up to 20%.
At the time I was collecting, I used the unfortunately now closed route of transferring £50 of Topcashback earnings which we each had in our accounts, to our Clubcard accounts. This converted to 12,000 Avios. At the time I converted it, there was also a 20% bonus offer running, so we ended up with 28,000 Avios in exchange for £100 worth of cashback.
Now this method has closed, you should read Joe’s great article before deciding whether to convert from Topcashback to Avios directly.
I also switched our grocery shopping and fuel purchases to Tesco wherever possible to maximise our Clubcard Point collecting potential.
- Avios from Tesco Clubcard Points = 31,000
- REMAINING AVIOS TO OBTAIN = 96,000 – 31,000 = 65,000
Method 3 – BA Holidays
Although this was a modest contribution to my overall Avios stash – to borrow a quote from he supermarket starring in Method 2 – Every little helps.
I managed to bag a real bargain in the BA Holidays December sale – Return Club Europe flights from Gatwick to Nice, 3 nights in a 4* hotel in Monaco, and return helicopter transfers from Nice to Monaco (!) for £304 each in January.
Ok so it was off season – but it was still sunny, I enjoyed wandering the streets of Monaco without crowds, seeing the Christmas decorations and taking my first flight in a helicopter to arrive like a movie star!
More importantly, I earned a tidy little sum of Avios:
- 1,821 from the 3 Avios / £1 when using your BAPP card with BA
- 1,174 from the 2 Avios / £1 when booking through BA Holidays and being an Executive Club member
- 1,928 each from the Avios for actually flying the flights in Club Europe (this would be higher if you have status above Blue with BA)
The 2 Avios / £1 appears to exclude some of the taxes, so don’t count on the amount exactly matching the total you paid.
As each passenger earns flown sector Avios individually, you will need to create a BA Executive Club household account to pool these for redemptions, I have included these Avios together in my total as I have created one for our household.
- Avios from BA Holidays = 7,000
- REMAINING AVIOS TO OBTAIN = 65,000 – 7,000 = 58,000
Method 4 – More Rewards Credit Cards! (Responsibly – of course).
I know – I’ve already covered Rewards credit cards in Method 1 – but they were MY cards. Once I had met the spending target requirements on my BAPP card to trigger the bonus Avios and 2-4-1 voucher, any further spend would only earn me Avios at 1.5/£1.
Instead, my fiancé agreed he would take out a BAPP card with him as main card holder, and me as supplementary. This meant we could work towards another 2-4-1 voucher to use in future years, and also he would earn a sign up bonus, so we switched our everyday spend to these cards instead.
As I was now a cardholder – American Express also has a “Refer a Friend” bonus of 9,000 Avios, plus an additional 1,000 Avios on the standard sign up bonus for the friend.
Unfortunately, we managed to pick the few months of the year where the sign up bonus was only 18,000 Avios rather than the 25,000 that has been seen!
- Avios from Referral = 9,000
- Avios from Sign Up Bonus = 19,000
- REMAINING AVIOS TO OBTAIN = 58,000 – 28,000 = 30,000
Just 30,000 Avios to go! Part 2 will follow shortly, where I explain how I obtained those final Avios, and then the process of booking my First class seats.