The launch of the Barclays Avios Rewards programme last week is a substantial boost for the solo traveller.
When paired with a Virgin Flying Club Reward or Reward+ credit card, you will receive two powerful vouchers each year which can make your flying far more comfortable.
Miles and points for the solo traveller
How should your miles and points collecting change if you are a solo traveller?
Whilst Head for Points generally treats the 2-4-1 voucher from the British Airways American Express card as the greatest thing since sliced bread (and it is – here is the maths to show that the BA Amex card is the most generous UK credit card) it would have been pretty useless to me in my youth.
I did a lot of solo travelling before I settled down, and a 2-4-1 voucher isn’t much use there. Despite having a family I still do the odd solo leisure trip when my wife takes the kids to spend time with her parents.
In general, whilst you won’t necessarily get any value from the BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher, the solo traveller has an easier time with the ‘miles and points’ game than a couple, and a far easier time than a family.
Miles and points benefits for the solo traveller
Here are a few things in your favour as a solo traveller:
- The fewer award seats you want, the easier it is to get them. 1 is easier than 2 is easier than 4.
- Unless you work in education, you are unlikely to be tied down to school holidays when seats are harder to find and both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic are operating ‘peak’ reward pricing.
- Some airlines restrict the award seats they release. British Airways only opens up two Club World seats 355 days from departure, although they will generally open up more as the months pass. A family can never guarantee that BA will open up three or more premium seats on a particular day.
- It is easier for a solo traveller to get an award seat using ‘easy’ miles, generally from credit cards. Take, for example, the Virgin Atlantic credit cards. Taking out the premium Reward+ card will earn you 15,000 miles. This gets a solo traveller quite a way towards a one-way off-peak Premium Economy ticket or a return Economy ticket to most places the airline flies. A couple would still have been substantially short. Adding on a free (for the first year) Amex Gold with another 20,000 points and you’d be close to having enough for a one-way flight in Upper Class to New York.
- A solo traveller will find it easier to arrange their schedule to maximise their points earning and burning and even minimise their airport taxes. Ever tried telling your partner that you need to change your hotel three times during a week because you want to maximise your bonus points? Or that they are flying to New York via Madrid to save tax? If you’ve got family, don’t even think about it, at least whilst your kids are small.
- A solo traveller may also be willing to compromise slightly on airline or hotel quality to maximise points earning or minimise points spending. Whenever I go with my family we stay at better hotels, ignoring whatever promotions are on offer elsewhere.
Things that count against the solo traveller:
- You don’t have a partner who can also obtain credit card sign-up bonuses
- You don’t have a partner who can help boost your ‘household income’ to improve your chances of being accepted for credit cards (American Express likes to look at household income)
- You don’t get any favours from the hotel reward schemes – a room for one person costs the same number of points as a room for two. That said, you get an easier time than a family, as suite redemptions using points are rarely available. You can request two connecting rooms but in my experience it is 50/50 whether you actually get them when you check in.
- You get no benefit from the British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher and feel very grumpy that other people get two Avios flights for the same number of points that you are using for one.
What does Barclays Avios Rewards have to offer the solo traveller?
Barclays Avios Rewards is the new loyalty scheme for clients of Barclays Premier Banking and Barclays Wealth.
I don’t want to go over it again from scratch, so please take a look at the following if you missed our coverage last week:
Put simply, you pay £12 per month for Barclays Avios Rewards and receive:
- 1,500 Avios per month
- Additional Avios for taking out certain other Barclays products
- A BA upgrade voucher every 12 months
How does the Barclays Avios Rewards upgrade voucher work?
The upgrade voucher is where the real value sits. It is an improved version of the voucher which used to be issued with the Lloyds Avios Rewards credit card.
It allows you to upgrade an Avios seat for free. Club World costs World Traveller Plus mileage, World Traveller Plus costs World Traveller mileage, Club Europe costs Euro Traveller mileage. First Class is not available.
This HfP article from last week explains in details how the Barclays Avios Rewards voucher works.
The Barclays Avios Rewards voucher offers real value to the solo traveller. You would save, for example:
- 48,000 Avios on a return off-peak Club World flight to Dubai
- 20,000 Avios on a return peak Club Europe flight to Athens
- 65,000 Avios on a return off-peak Club World flight to San Francisco
- 72,000 Avios on a return off-peak Club World flight to Bangkok
These are big savings. If you value an Avios point at 1p, you are ‘saving’ £720 on the return flight to Bangkok. You would only need 78,000 Avios vs the usual cost of 150,000 Avios for that flat bed Club World seat.
If you end up deciding to take someone on your trip with you, you can still use your Barclays Avios Rewards voucher. Instead of upgrading one return BA Avios flight, you can also use it to upgrade half of a return flight for two people.
You can find out more about Barclays Avios Rewards on this page of the Barclays website.
What do the Virgin Flying Club credit cards have to offer the solo traveller?
There is one benefit of Barclays Avios Rewards which most people don’t immediately appreciate. There is no credit card spend requirement, because it isn’t from a credit card – it is from a current account.
This means that joining Barclays Avios Rewards still leaves you free to direct all of your credit card spend wherever you want. We would suggest you take a look at the Virgin Atlantic credit cards.
Virgin Atlantic offers an upgrade voucher of its own via its two Virgin Money credit cards. The free card (review of the free Virgin credit card here, apply here) and paid card (review of the paid Virgin credit card here, apply here) both offer a voucher, and both are valid for two years.
The Virgin Atlantic card voucher is triggered at £20,000 annual spend on the free card or £10,000 annual spend on the paid card.
How does the Virgin Atlantic credit card voucher work?
Virgin Atlantic made some changes to its credit card voucher in August 2020 which make it substantially more attractive.
The voucher was previously restricted to upgrading Economy redemption flights to Premium Economy. This has now changed.
The annual Virgin Atlantic credit card voucher can be used to either:
- upgrade a return Economy flight to Premium, or
- upgrade a return Premium flight to Upper Class
For the first time, Upper Class is now included. Even better:
- you can use the voucher to upgrade a cash ticket, or
- you can use the voucher to upgrade a Virgin Points ticket
In all cases, you need Virgin Points availability in the cabin to which you want to upgrade. This applies whether you are trying to upgrade a cash or a miles ticket.
Because you can upgrade a cash ticket using your credit card voucher, you don’t need a huge Virgin Points balance. In fact, you don’t need any Virgin Points at all although you will obviously have some from your credit card spending.
If you end up deciding to take someone on your trip with you, you can still use your Virgin Atlantic credit card voucher. Instead of upgrading a flight, you can use it for a ‘2-4-1’ booking, for miles or cash. Do read the small print on this because it is a little complex.
There is no easy answer as to whether solo travellers come out best overall in the miles and points game.
However, by carrying the right credit cards and exploiting the right opportunities, you can tilt the odds in your favour.
The launch of Barclays Avios Rewards last week should be of particular interest to solo travellers – at least those earning £75,000+.
The recent changes to the Virgin Atlantic credit card upgrade voucher are also very attractive, especially as you can now upgrade a cash ticket and you can now upgrade to Upper Class for the first time.