THE CHALLENGE

The Challenge
Given two years, research various loyalty programmes using the wealth of knowledge on FLYERTALK, and working them to best advantage, put together a top notch 2-week+ holiday to some far flung corner of the world, flying either 1st class or business class (I've never flown anything other than economy).  The goal would be to have an extremely high standard holiday, using the loyalty programs to ensure the cost is only a fraction of what it would be if I was paying "straight"

Background

I've always liked to travel. Not only that, but I consider myself to be really tuned into getting the best deals possible on hotels and flights. Been using Priceline in the UK since shortly after they launched, to get some unbelievable hotel bookings, and will search and re-search every major flight booking site for months to get the most direct flight at the best price with the best carrier. The holiday for me is made all the better knowing that I've gotten the best possible outcome and level of luxury for the money that it's cost.


It therefore came as a major wake-up call to me some 8 months ago, that there are many travel reward/loyalty schemes out there that I could have been taking advantage off....


 Travelling only 3-4 times a  year for pleasure, I had always assumed that these schemes were solely the preserve of the business traveller and had no relevance to someone like me. This only became apparent to me during one of my many travel site searches, as I stumbled upon probably the most complete website out there relating to loyalty programs:-





Beginnings

I'm in Northern Ireland.  Neither here nor southern Ireland has fantastic international links.  So I'd have to consider my starting off point to be UK.  BA is the obvious choice to centre my flight plans around for 3 reasons.

  • They are a UK carrier. They'll have more UK based non-flying opportunities for collecting their loyalty points (called Avios) than any other carrier.
  • BA provides by FAR the best choice of destination starting in the UK.
  • BA via their oneworld and other airline partnerships provides an extended network that should allow me to get pretty much to anywhere I want, using their loyalty points.

To get started on the BA loyalty program, you need to sign up to the BA exec club (ba.com). So I enrolled and got a BAEC account number. This would be were all my avios would be held.


American Express...you frequent flyer friend.
Reading the BA forum on flyer talk, it became clear that the single best non-flying way of collecting avios, is via the American express platinum card. This card is a must have for anyone who intends to travel a lot. Yes, it costs £450 a year to have it, which to any sane person initially seems a stupidly high amount to pay for any type of card, but it gets the owner the following:-

  • Great comprehensive travel insurance (as long as all travel costs are put on the card)
  • 52,000 Membership rewards if you are referred by an existing American Express card holder (subject to a min spend of £2000)
  • The ability to get an additional 24,000 Membership rewards each time you successfully refer someone else
  • immediate "status" at certain hotel brands
  • Access to over 500 airport lounges (read freebie food and drink at airports)
But what are these "membership rewards" I hear you say. Well they are American Express's (here on referred to as Amex) loyalty reward scheme. For every pound you spend on the card, you get 1 MR point.  Amex points can be transferred to a number of other loyalty schemes, including our British airways BAEC account, so your 52K MR points can become 52K Avios. I worked out that my travel insurance was costing me over £100 a year, the passes into the airport lounges would easily save me £100 a year on my existing 3-4 leisure flights, So I would be getting 52K BA miles for £100 and the opportunity to refer others and get 24K BA miles a pop, it is a no-brainer.

So I signed up, via a referral from someone else. My card arrived in a few days, and I was ready to go. I was planning a holiday for this year (2011), and had some immediate spend to put on it, in less than a month I'd spent the £1500 required, and I duly got my 42K MR points.  I was lucky enough via friends/family and other sources to refer 6 people, which accrued me 174K points, plus my spend, in no time I had about 200K points in my MR account.( this was when the signup bonus was 42k, it is now 52k, with a 2k spend requirement)

I highly recommend this card for anyone who does travel a lot, or indeed someone who is intending to start. If you use the link on the right hand side of this page to apply, you'll be in line for 52K introductory bonus, which is not available if go directly to American Express.


Your friend can fly free

So I've got my 200K points, but this really isn't enough if you want a good selection of destinations, and you have a spouse/partner/ "friend with benefits" to come along.  This is were the Amex BA premium plus card comes in.  This is an Amex card, but instead of it accruing Amex MR points, it directly accrues BA Avios miles, which go into your BAEC account.  However the main selling point of this is the "companion voucher" it provides, known in frequent flyer circles as a "2-4-1".  Spend £10,000 in 12 months, and you get one of these vouchers. Book a ticket on BA.com using miles, and you get a 2nd ticket for the same itinerary FREE ! This can effectively double the value of your miles account. One important thing to note is that a 2-4-1 is ONLY valid if flying on BA planes. On other words, although you can use Avios miles to book flights on BA planes and on other planes that are BA partners, to use a 2-4-1, your flight MUST be a BA flight, known as "BA metal" in the jargon. This card costs £150 a year. When I signed up, there was an 18K BA mile bonus, which softened the blow.

Depending on your usual spend, £10K can either be pretty easy for you, or be a really hard target to hit. As previously stated I had a significant holiday coming up at the end of 2011, and thus I had already lined up £3.5K of spend for that. £1.5K was spent on the plat card above, and thus I had 2K spend to put on this card.  I also had various other things lined up for spend. My £300 gym membership. £500 ipad purchase. All the fuel for my card. Hire of an indoor soccer hall at £26 a week, weekly groceries, concert tickets, buying an annual car park permit (£400) instead of quarterly ones (£100). In fact everything I could put onto the card, that's what I did. Amex is not taken in a lot of places, so it sometimes is a case of planning purchases at specific shops that do take Amex.

Some of my more creative spend was:-

  • Upgrading my iphone to iphone4S. I upgraded WITHOUT trading my phone in with CarPhoneWarehouse. This meant I had to pay CPW around £160 more (via the card of course).  However I had an online trade-in site that would give me £180 for my phone. Result is that I had £160 more spend on my card than I would have otherwise.
  • Laptop purchase.  My brother was buying a laptop. He was happy for me to buy it on my card, and give me the cash. Same when he was buying a computer monitor. £600 of "free" spend
  • Christmas M&S gift vouchers. Had £150 to give out. Gave them as M&S vouchers. Gets the spend up, and also gets miles for the £150.
  • Booking flights for other people. Some of my friends aren't too tuned into the internet and ask me to book their flights. Now, note that many airlines charge more for Amex use, but still, just take that hit personally, and you get all that "free" spend on the card.
  • Some other spend directly related to this challenge, but more of that later.
As I type this, I am 8.5 months into my BA PP card, and have less than £500 to spend to get my 2-4-1.


Check back tomorrow, to learn about Tesco/BA and how every little really does help !


3 comments:

  1. Great site...... You might want to look up "travel is free" the couple give some good tips. I've just stumbled upon the Airmiles frenzy too.... Started my ba account and flying 10 flights round America in 21 days through US Airways ..... Hope it starts me off with a good base number of points .... Not sure about the £450 annual fee on Amex although might look at the £150 one .... Also use tesco for MasterCard transaction .... Every little helps lol

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  2. This was my first post, over 3 years ago now. the info in it is somewhat out of date, for example the bonus for the plat card isn't 52K anymore. For most, the Amex gold card is a no brainer, its free for the first year and you get 22K points (if referred), once you do your £2K of spend within 3 months.

    You can get a referral from me by clicking on the panel on the right of this page.

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  3. Problem i've found is that most purchases with AMEX (if the website even takes it) incur a card handling fee of a couple of percent. Makes the churning process quite costly.

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