Note: I was travelling all day yesterday, so I thought I would do myself a favour by giving this article an airing. I originally wrote a version of it for another publication but it will be interesting for newer HfP readers. It is written in a ‘simpler’ style to most Head for Points articles because it was produced for a broader readership.
Having elite airline status used to be about the finer things in life – skipping the queues at security, heading straight into a luxurious lounge for some free champagne and food before waltzing onto the plane when you felt like it. This is still true, of course, to some extent.
Today, however, airline elite status also brings more mundane benefits – free seat selection (British Airways charges up to £200 return for the best seats in long-haul Business Class), a reduced chance of having your hand baggage taken away at the gate and a reduced chance of being thrown off an oversold flight.
What most people don’t understand is that elite status is easier to get than you think. I am focusing mainly on British Airways here, but the same principles apply to other airlines.
British Airways requires 600 tier points in your 12 month membership year for a Silver card in the Executive Club. This brings lounge access, free seat selection and extra baggage allowance. When you see that a short haul Economy flight only earns 5 tier points each way, however, you may give up immediately.
Don’t. Look further. A one-way long-haul business class flight on BA is 140 tier points. Just two return flights and a couple of short haul trips will get you that Silver card.
But that’s too many for me. It is 140 tier points per flight so the benefits double when you fly long-haul Business Class on a partner airline and need to change on the way. Fly to Asia on BA’s partner Qatar Airways and you change planes in Doha.
Fly to Los Angeles with BA’s partner American and you could change in New York. Suddenly you’re doing two flights each way, so 2 x 140 tier points. That is 560 tier points in one return business class trip. Your Silver card is virtually in the post.
You can even earn status via short haul flights if you are smart. The longest flights on the British Airways short haul network, to places such as Malta, Marrakech or Tenerife, each 160 tier points return in Business Class. Because these are generally leisure routes, operating out of Gatwick and not Heathrow, they are often inexpensive if booked in advance. Four weekends away over 12 months and, again, your Silver card is sorted.
If it is airport lounge access you crave, you can get it via a premium credit card. American Express Platinum comes with two Priority Pass lounge cards. American Express Preferred Rewards Gold is free for a year and gives all applicants two lounge passes for free. HSBC Premier World Elite credit cards come with free airport lounge access.
These are usually for third party lounges, but they are often better than airline-run ones. The calmest lounge in BA’s Terminal 5 at Heathrow is arguably the independent Plaza Premium one.
Even if you fly low cost, you don’t have to miss out on perks. easyJet Plus membership scheme (£215 per year) gets you seat, boarding, fast track security and baggage perks. Combine it with lounge access via your credit card – Luton, Stansted and Gatwick North all have independent lounges – and an easyJet flyer will have a similar experience as a British Airways passenger at Heathrow who has a Silver card.
Here are some other tricks:
If you have status with one airline, other airlines may match it to tempt you to switch. statusmatcher.com is a good website where people post successes and failures.
Airlines have lots of partners. Greek airline Aegean, for example, is the easiest of the 26 in Star Alliance to get status with, although you need to take four flights with Aegean annually. An Aegean top tier status card is valid across Star Alliance.
BA lets its top Gold Guest List members give Gold status to one friend per year, and Silver status to two friends. Got any heavy travelling friends? Time to buy them a beer.
Finally, don’t get status conscious. If you always fly Business or First Class, you don’t need elite status. You get the perks anyway (OK, BA will still charge you for seat selection in Business!). Feel free to pick the highest quality and most convenient airline for each flight you make.
How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (February 2023)
As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!
In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.
You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:
There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 21st February 2023, the sign-up bonus on the British Airways Premium Plus American Express card is increased to 35,000 Avios from 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.
You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points.
Run your own business?
We recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.
You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.
There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.
Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.