Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Bits: 20000 IHG points bargain in San Francisco, Thistle Heathrow brings back free pod trips

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News in brief:

An IHG points bargain in San Francisco

A new Holiday Inn Express opened in San Francisco a few weeks ago.  This would not normally be big news, even on Head for Points.

What is interesting, though, is that the hotel is only 20,000 IHG Rewards Club points per night at the moment.  As San Francisco hotels are ludicrously expensive at the best of times, this is a great deal.

Even better, as its name implies the Holiday Inn Express San Francisco Union Square has a great central location, just off Union Square.

As I wrote the other day, it is now possible to buy IHG Rewards Club points for 0.4p each.  This means that you’d be paying around £80 per night if you bought all the points you needed.  That is at least 50% less – and on many nights it is 65% less – than you would be spending if you booked this hotel for cash!

The hotel home page is here.

Thistle Heathrow brings back free pod travel to Terminal 5

Thistle Heathrow brings back free pod travel to Terminal 5

A year ago, I wrote about the interesting transfer option available if you stay at the Thistle Hotel at HeathrowYou can transfer to and from Terminal 5 in the driverless pods which take customers to and from the car park behind the Thistle.

The only downside – apart from the fact that the Thistle is not the most modern hotel at Heathrow – was the £5 per person, each way, cost of taking the pod which is added to your room bill.

Thistle is currently letting you use the pods for free.

You need to stay before 31st March to take advantage.  More importantly, you need to book your stay via the Thistle website.  No other booking method is accepted.

Full details can be found on the Thistle Heathrow ‘pod page’ here.

South African Airways sale now on

Finally, if you read Head for Points on a desktop or tablet, you will have seen some advertising from South African Airways over the last few days.

For those of you who read the site via the daily emails or on your mobile, I thought I’d let you know what you’ve been missing.

The January sale prices can be found here on the SAA website.

In Economy, for travel up to 23rd June but excluding Easter, Johannesburg is as low as £595 return.  Cape Town is £610.  There are also special fares to other destinations in South Africa (Durban, Port Elizabeth, Kruger Mpumalanga and East London) as well as Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

It is worth noting that, looking at the T&C’s of the sale, SAA allows all of its economy tickets to be changed for a fee of £80 subject to any difference in fare.

In Business, Johannesburg is £2699, Cape Town is £2685 and Durban is £2909.  Check out the SAA site for more details.

Remember that South African airline Comair is a British Airways franchise (it flies planes in BA colours) and you can book seats with them using Avios.  This would give you another option for connecting from an SAA flight to elsewhere in the region.

best credit card to use when buying flights

How to maximise your miles when paying for flights (June 2024)

Some UK credit cards offer special bonuses when used for buying flights. If you spend a lot on airline tickets, using one of these cards could sharply increase the credit card points you earn.

Booking flights on any airline?

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold earns double points (2 Membership Rewards points per £1) when used to buy flights directly from an airline website.

The card comes with a sign-up bonus of 20,000 Membership Rewards points. These would convert to 20,000 Avios or various other airline or hotel programmes. The standard earning rate is 1 point per £1.

You can apply here.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 30,000 points (TO 16TH JULY), FREE for a year & four airport ….. Read our full review

Buying flights on British Airways?

The British Airways Premium Plus American Express card earns double Avios (3 Avios per £1) when used at

The card comes with a sign-up bonus of 25,000 Avios. The standard earning rate is 1.5 Avios per £1.

You do not earn bonus Avios if you pay for BA flights on the free British Airways American Express card or either of the Barclaycard Avios Mastercards.

You can apply here.

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25,000 Avios and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review

Buying flights on Virgin Atlantic?

Both the free Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard and the annual fee Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard earn double Virgin Points when used at

This means 1.5 Virgin Points per £1 on the free card and 3 Virgin Points per £1 on the paid card.

There is a sign-up bonus of 3,000 Virgin Points on the free card and 18,000 Virgin Points on the paid card.

You can apply for either of the cards here.

Virgin Atlantic Reward Mastercard

3,000 bonus points, no fee and 1 point for every £1 you spend Read our full review

Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard

18,000 bonus points and 1.5 points for every £1 you spend Read our full review

Comments (51)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Mark says:

    We stayed at the Thistle Heathrow last year when there was an Amex deal and free pods offer running.

    It is badly in need of refurbishment, to the extent that we’d be reluctant to go back at present. My wife complained the towels smelt of curry.

    That said it is convenient for T5 (second only to the SOFITEL in that respect) and if you like watching planes take off has an excellently located bar and restaurant where we took advantage of the free Sunday meal offer that they were running for new joiners to their loyalty scheme.

  • Ziggy says:

    HIX are renovating/remodelling a lot of their properties at the moment. They’ve introduced a “next Generation” room and the first four properties to get that treatment are in the UK (Ealing, Park Royal, Grimsby and Portsmouth North) – hopefully that makes them a little more tolerable….although I’m not too sure about a few things in the new design, I’m reserving judgement till I try one out.

  • harry says:

    O/T Iberia – Groupon – ***URGENT***

    If you have not received your Groupon points ie credited into your Iberia account, you need to do something about it or you risk losing your money. The points should definitely have arrived by now. The deadline is 10th January ISTR with your unclaimed Groupon vouchers expiring after that (I think).

    You probably didn’t validate them correctly / or didn’t send them to your IB a/c correctly.

    All is not lost. You should go back to your Groupon a/c and go through the claiming process again without delay.

    • Andrew H says:

      I’d just like my bonus miles from Iberia Plus store to be processed.

    • sedgie252 says:

      Thanks for the reminder Harry! Fingers crossed that I receive the points in my Iberia account.

    • Karl says:

      I’m starting to worry about these Groupon Avios now. I bought 5 x 8000 miles on 21 Dec. The first 8000 credited just after Christmas and a further 8000 credited a couple of days later. The Groupon website states that there have been technical issues and that points may not be credited until the second week of Jan. On Wednesday 4 of the 5 coupons were still showing as unclaimed so I submitted the codes again. Today it had the same status so I had another go. My Spanish isn’t great so I wouldn’t be able to phone Spanish Groupon to sort it out.

      Presumably if you’ve paid by credit card you’ll be refunded for not receiving the goods?

      • harry says:

        If I were you I’d relax, I wasn’t trying to scaremonger. Groupon rules might state you lose the points/ vouchers if not claimed by xyz but in reality they’ll sort you out. The fact that they have technical issues actually helps your position.

        Maybe you should screenshot that page though?

        • Karl says:

          Thanks for the advice Harry. I’m a bit obsessive about screenshotting things. On this one I even recorded myself inputting the codes etc!

          • harry says:

            Raffles – one for tomorrow, though. Groupons expiring. Have folks got the Avios or not? Should they be worried?

          • Rob says:

            I don’t know the answer though, so I’ve no idea what to say. What I do know is that Groupon will make you right via a refund even if the Avios do not appear.

  • Eric says:

    We used the Thistle Heathrow hotel the night before we departed for Stockholm to start our ARL-AKL flights. The family room we booked was really nice. It was two rooms (not separate rooms interconnected). It seems as though it had recently been refurbished. The price was £75.00. We used the public bus to get to the hotel which took around 5 minute from T5. The bus is free in the Heathrow area. We tried the POD early the next morning, £20 (4*5)is a bit steep but the novelty value was there first time around. Overall I was I’mpressed with the hotel. It does look a bit grim from outside 🙂

    • Jeff says:

      very easy to avoid paying….just follow others out (and in, from the carpark)

      thereafter, if you didn’t want the ‘hassle’, you only had to pay for one person to use the pod (with all others following behind like ducklings)

  • Frank says:

    Stayed at Thistle Heathrow with my girlfriend last summer and was not asked to pay after being buzzed through the gate on arrival. I guess it’s a bit difficult for them to keep track of who’s been using the gate and who hasn’t. When we left I did not mention that I wanted to use the pods until after I had checked out, and only had to pay for one person. So £5 instead of £20

  • Mark says:

    Grabbed myself a bargain couple of nights in San Fran for an upcoming trip in May 🙂

  • MrHandBaggaeOnly says:

    If anyone from Thistle is reading this thread they should note that I have just decided not to stay at the their hotel despite finding a decent priced room, a refurbished one apparently, because of the charge for access to the gate to the Pods. If the access to/from the Pod parking was made free then Thistle would move right up my list of hotels to consider for Heathrow trips and I would happily pay for the extra parking charges to leave my car there for a few days as well.

    As it is I have decided to take a cheaper hotel further out and pay more for Short Stay parking, which in total is a slightly lower price and less hassle (especially for MrsHBO has done the Pods once, doesn’t need to do them again and is just happier walking straight to the car).

    • Fenny says:

      Completely agree. I picked a different hotel last summer over the Thistle and caught the free TfL bus into LHR. If the pods were free, I’d much rather stay at the Thistle.

    • Aeronaut says:

      Signage at the access gate states that the whole £5 charge for the pods goes to Heathrow and that the hotel doesn’t see any of it. I don’t know how accurate that is, but if so, then room rates at the Thistle would presumably have to rise to cover the pod access cost.

  • Radiata says:

    Booked several SAA domestic flights to and from JNB in the last fortnight whilst visiting but the sale proviso – certainly for domestic flights – was for bookings to be made at least 28 days in advance.

    Somewhat OT, one of my DUR-JNB bookings made on SAA website included a single letter typo. Call centre remarkably difficult hence booked a second ticket (at double the price). CS at the airport refunded the higher fare (less ZAR 285 admin fee) and apologised, saying that single letter typos, where not introducing doubt as to identity of passenger, are overlooked.

    Also, do check both the SA and UK versions of site for prices. Rand volatile at present and it can pay to book in ZAR notwithstanding 3% fee many UK cards will add for foreign transactions.

    • harry says:

      It’s quite a good point. We still need to book my wife’s last flight for the summer. On UK version of BAEC it is £180, but in local currency it is £130.

      On Amex Travel it is £145 – which is why I am still looking for a way to combine flight + £6 experience to get above £150 (=£50 off, ie £100 net) – but it seems this cannot be done in one transaction.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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