Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

A reader writes about how HFP has helped improve his travel experiences

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I recently received a very kind email from a Head for Points reader thanking for me for helping improve his travels.

He offered to convert his email into an article and I agreed, and as it is a Sunday I feel less guilty about giving up space for it.   Whilst he is mainly preaching to the converted here, it does show how you don’t need to believe the received wisdom that frequent flyer miles aren’t worth the trouble.

Over to Dan ….

A lot of people see collecting points and miles from ways other than air travel as pointless, and that those enjoying the benefits of rewards flights are usually travelling for business in premium cabins. We, the readers of this blog, know that is not the case and that it is very easy to make the system work to your advantage.

I am a ‘civil servant’ earning just above £30K a year, and my girlfriend is a student.  We certainly have no ‘all expenses paid’ trips to our names.  Thanks to this blog I like many others have been able to sample the highlife without splashing out!  I may not embark on multiple premium flights a year, but I have been able to experience something I never would be able to afford otherwise.

I started collecting Avios around the time Head for Points began. I was about to embark on a 6 months backpacking trip around Asia and Australia, and paid for my ticket using my Lloyds TSB Duo card. This, combined with a pile of Tesco Clubcard points gathering dust, managed to get me enough Avios for a few economy flights around Australia on Qantas.  

It was whilst researching these flights that I realised just how good value the Qantas redemptions were.  I was amazed at the low tax rate and wide open availability. When compared to the cash price, the value was outstanding. The tickets were fully flexible and I often did walk up to the ticket counter several hours earlier than scheduled and successfully change my flight, all for less than a tenner in taxes! Got to be better than a Greyhound bus right?

This got me hooked, and when I was back working full time I decided that my next Avios goal was transatlantic business class. Having zeroed out the balance in Australia, I took out the free British Airways American Express card, hit the sign up bonus and cancelled it soon after. I repeated the process with the SPG Amex card, took out Tesco Life Insurance , shopped at Tesco religiously, and spent hours upon hours answering surveys on e-rewards.  I always to this day ensure I pay my credit card bills in full, so I can honestly say this hobby has cost me nothing in card fees or interest.

Aer Lingus 350

When we had built up a sizeable amount and it came to booking our transatlantic business trip, we decided on the Aer Lingus Dublin to Boston route. I had learnt about this route on a post on this blog. This great redemption (50,000 Avios points per person in Business Class pre de-vaulation, which would be 75,000 Avios today) made the goal far more achievable than via Heathrow.

We added on a mix of US Airways / American Airlines economy redemptions to New York and Orlando, which again were fully flexible! To start the journey off in style and to meet our Dublin departure, I used Reward Flight Saver to book a Club Europe connection from Manchester via Heathrow. The long way round maybe … but the luggage allowance and lounge access made up for it.

As I sipped champagne in my lie flat bed, enjoying the Aer Lingus service, I thought back to all the surveys I had completed. No matter how frustrated they got me, they had played a part in me ‘turning left’ for the first time.

We loved our first experience of international business travel, and have definitely got the bug. For us the only way to access this is via Avios!

Ever thinking like a miles collector, I used an Amex Gold card to pay for all our accommodation and expenses on our States trip. The bonus and points that we earned went towards our second trip, a Club Europe hop to Milan from Manchester. We travelled back in economy, so the free lounge passes that came with the card were very useful.

Since the devaluation, I have not booked any more flights using Avios. The loss of the free domestic connection was a blow to us in the regions.  If it was still around I would have used my points on Club Europe flights more as I believe these are excellent value and very achievable for beginners.  

However, rather than stop all together, I continue to collect Avios and am more dedicated than ever. Despite all the changes, there are still many great value redemptions out there to be had like the intra Asian flights on Cathay and Malaysia, and airberlin to Abu Dhabi.

Next time you hear someone complain about avios being too dificult to collect or redeem for the average joe, point them in the direction of this post (then tell them to read the HFP beginners guide!). Every point I have earned has been through cards or promotions I learnt about on here, and I am living proof it is achievable to those on a modest income and living outside London.

Comments (88)

  • Migseb says:

    I agree! As i post this from The Galápagos Islands having used Avios to get most of the way here (Madrid to Quito). Nice article. And great job Raffles.

  • Kathy says:

    Agree completely. I’m also a non-frequent flier and not a huge earner/spender (I generally only manage £500 a month credit card spend) and yet thanks to Raffles have just done an ex-EU return to New York, got one free hotel night from Hilton CC and two more at effectively half price by working the IHG Accelerate promotion. Last year I managed a trip to New York for £405 – flying out in economy and back in club and with 4 nights in a hotel paid for by Avios. Couldn’t have afforded to do that trip otherwise. I’ve also had an upgrade to Club flying back from San Francisco (pre-devaluation).

  • Matthew says:

    I think it was Nov 2013 I first came across this site. My first redemption was in 2014 with Virgin PE to Vancouver, 5 nights with SPG points, then to Whistler on Rocky Mountaineer before flying CX F to NYC for a few days, upgraded with a matched top tier in Kimpton, then back home in Virgin PE again.

    2015 saw me I’ve use Avios for family to go to Galapagos with Iberia in Business. I also flew LHR-AUH rtn in Etihad F A380 Apartments on points and a couple of CE redemptions too.

    2016 sees my family of 4 go on a trip of a lifetime to NZ in Singapore business and later in the year Etihad A380 Business Studio again LHR-AUH.

    Already used my Hilton Diamond match to much success and already planning the next big trip for 2017.

    None of this would have been possible without help and advice from Rob, for which I’m very thankful :-).

  • Isabel says:

    Thank you Raffles and Dan. I wholeheartedly agree with Dan that on a local government income I could travel extensively by putting the time into collecting Avios by variousmeans and HFP have been a great help. Even when my Amex is not accepted I can at least top up by using the Lloyds Duo and transferring from my Avios account to the BA one.

  • Matthew says:

    Perhaps we could have a HFP get together for an informal chat/share experiences etc over a few drinks/nibbles?!

    Is this something you would consider Rob or not your bag?!

    • Anon says:

      I was thinking a HFP Flyertalk discussion forum might be a good start, Rob could link to it from here…

      • Rob says:

        It might happen – I could probably get Melia, Hyatt or Starwood to donate a venue. There is a lot of admin involved though. Planning something casually in a pub is also an option but my schedule makes that difficult because my wife has a habit of disappearing for work purposes at short notice which plays havoc with the kids.

        There is a London Flyertalk drinks party on Friday 1st July at St Thomas’s Hospital – http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/british-airways-executive-club/1757145-london-do-2016-friday-1st-july.html This was a good event last time it was held. It is in a big function room so ideal for people who don’t like circulating in pubs. I popped along last year and, looking at my diary, should be able to make it this year.

  • Vivian says:

    Thanks for HFP, I got to go to Marrakech on CE for £150 return. Sitting behind a Hollywood actress and her musician fiancé added a touch of glamour to the flights (outbound and return – I wasn’t stalking them). Later this year, I’m going to Boston on a redemption DUB-BOS flight (25,000 avios in Economy).

    I’ll also go to Miami for Christmas on CW for £750, and have one free night at InterContinental Miami, and another free night in a suite at La Concha in Key West (after a few mattress run during IHG Accelerate) – all thanks to Rob’s article on the BA sale from Dublin.

    It’s not just business travellers that could benefit from HFP. Alerts on BA sales (such as £60 return to Dubrovnik on ET) is very helpful to all.

  • pointsarb says:

    @ mark1980

    It’s the IC Cancun and it’s a very nice property with excellent customer hospitality. We got upgraded (admittedly with gentle persuasion from me!) to an ocean facing suite on the club floor with a stunning view and club lounge access with complimentary breakfast and evening snacks including well known liquor brands. Raise a glass to Rob!

    • Mark1980 says:

      Hi pointsarb, thanks for the response. I’ve been looking at that hotel for a redemption next year so it’s good to get some feedback! I like the look of it as it’s relatively cheap at 30k per night and it’s supposed to have the best beach in Cancun with very shallow calm water so good for the little one. It seems to fly under the radar as it’s not all inclusive but good to hear you’re getting treated well with club lounge access – what are food and drink prices like otherwise?

  • pointsarb says:

    Quite reasonable actually for an IC and I can recommend it for the little ones who are also welcomed in the lounge as it has a large tv screen with kids DVDs on display in what seems to be the kids corner.