Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Why Barclays Avios Rewards is great for the solo traveller

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The launch of the Barclays Avios Rewards programme in March was a substantial boost for the solo traveller.

I am spending some time over the next fortnight looking again at the new Barclays Premier and Barclays Avios Rewards partnership, so you can see if it is worth signing up.

When we first covered this in March, it was being slowly rolled out. Barclays Avios Rewards is now fully up and running and Barclays is now allowing you to open a Barclays Premier account online – click here.

There is a 25,000 Avios bonus for signing up.

Our overview of Barclays Avios Rewards is here. You can sign up on this page of the Barclays Premier website.

Using frequent flyer miles as a solo traveller

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 first two introductory articles:

Earn Avios, and a BA upgrade voucher, with Barclays Avios Rewards from Barclays Premier

How does the BA upgrade voucher from Barclays Avios Rewards work?

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.

Virgin atlantic credit card for the solo traveller

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.

Conclusion

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 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.

Find out more

Barclays Premier at barclays.com (online applications now possible via this page)

Virgin Atlantic credit cards on virginmoney.com

Comments (17)

  • Amy carpenter says:

    “ 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.”
    That bit confuses me. ‘Points availability’ means Virgin release a couple of seats or so on a flight for a redemption like BA does? So they could have availability in Upper but if it’s not ‘points availability’ you can’t use the voucher, am I right?

    • Rhys says:

      Yes, although Virgin doesn’t guarantee seats are available for redemption on each flight like BA does

    • Rob says:

      Correct.

      You can only upgrade a cash ticket if there are Points seats in the higher cabin (because the upgrade will take those seats, which disappear from Points availability after you’ve upgraded).

      It may not seem to make sense, but Virgin uses the ‘Points availability’ rule as a proxy for ‘seats we’re sure we won’t sell’ and therefore seats they are happy to upgrade you into.

  • Jonathan says:

    It’s just a shame that Barclays limit the Avios reward accounts to only those with high incomes and or people who’ve got over £100k in savings

    • David says:

      You’re not really missing out on much TBF – the previous package of benefits to my mind was a bit better.

      You are paying for the Avios still – if you wanted to simulate that you could get the Nectar app and go shopping on the bonus points at Sainsburys every month.

      The long-haul redemptions are where the best value lies for the voucher, but you still pay taxes and charges which are expensive.

      If you have some flexibility in travel, the value goes down. For instance, the total cost of said PE return to Bangkok (upgraded to CW with voucher) is 72,000 + taxes.

      Waiting around for a good ex-EU deal might cost £800 all in + Avios back if on the right airlines…. if you don’t live in London an ex-EU may only be marginally more inconvenient than going to LHR to catch that redemption flight.

      Crucially if you have the cash but are not Avios rich, then blowing 72,000 points is not great value as circumstances can make them worth more. The ability to book a trip at the last minute at a fixed cost (subject to reward availability) has saved me hundreds over the years.

      Even if you earn £75k, without referal chains it is quite difficult to earn a massive pile of Avios – after all even spending £10k to get the 2-4-1 gives only 15,000, but to make the most of that voucher you’re gonna need way more.

      • Polly says:

        David,
        Agree with the ex EU option. This was our strategy for past few years. An ex eu J QR from Scandinavia to Asia at least every 2nd year to maintain Silver. With the extra trips on a 241 in F mainly to KUL or HKG, as a jump off point. However, when a good QR ex EU sale appeared, we would actually cancel our F 241 flights, and rebook on QR J. Ending up now with many extra miles we cannot spend, like a lot of us on here.
        Ex EU is now more worrying as we won’t know if we will be able to travel there, to depart now. So 241 or ug vouchers become more valuable as more of us need to depart directly from the U.K. fees and taxes payable. Even with fees and taxes, those new BA suites are a game changer.

  • Lou says:

    I feel like I’m the wrong person for this website. I really want to like the long haul redemptions on BA, but given the Nectar arbitrage, unless there’s a last minute flight I have to make where bizarrely the tickets are sky-high and there are still redemption seats, I’m struggling to wrap my head around it all…

    • BS says:

      Indeed. My current plan is current convert all avios to nectar for a new iPad. Except for disproportionate last-minute redemptions.

      • Anuj says:

        I find that hotel points are more worth my time. Especially if you don’t live near london. I’ve found Bonvoy the best personally just because a lot of the higher end redemptions aren’t very expensive

    • Polly says:

      Lou,
      Rewards flights invaluable perk, esp if you have a sick parent etc in another country. Meant we could jump on a flight back and forth to Dublin at a moment’s notice without the last minute £100s charges. Took a lot of the stress out of the situation.
      Long haul J or F is the best of course, but different for everyone.

      • mr_jetlag says:

        actually BA have devalued long haul so much that I’m using 80% of Avios on RFS and short haul CE.

    • Genghis says:

      Not at all. Using them for nectar isn’t too bad an out.

  • QwertyKnowsBest says:

    Anyone any experience if the account transfer to Barclays works without problems when a lot of DD’s/SO’s in place?

    • Amy says:

      I did it in March and went without a hitch. I have about 25 DD at least and 7 SO. No probs at all.

      • jeremy says:

        Thanks for this info QKB.

        I’ve recently signed up to Barclays Premier. Do I join Avios Rewards before initiating the current account switch, or after? Do i have to do it in a particular way to get the bonus avios for a full switch? Thanks

    • Andrew says:

      How many is “a lot”?

      The ADDACS element of the switch service has been running for 30 years.

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