Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Why Barclays Avios Rewards and Virgin credit cards are great for solo travellers

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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 and you will earn 43,000 Avios in total in your first year.

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 four Club World seats 355 days from departure, although they will generally open up more as the months pass.  A family can never be certain that they will get the seats they want.
  • 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 (there is currently a 30,000 point bonus on the Reward+ card).  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 30,000 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 three articles:

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.

The Virgin Atlantic Reward+ credit card – click here – has an improved sign-up bonus of 30,000 Virgin Points if you apply this week.

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

You can apply for Barclays Premier at barclays.com (online applications are now possible via this page)

You can apply for Virgin Atlantic credit cards on virginmoney.com here. Remember that the offer of 30,000 Virgin Points for getting the Reward+ card ends next Friday.

Comments (19)

  • Paul says:

    How long are the Virgin vouchers valid for after issue?

  • Fraser says:

    I previously held both Virgin cards but now only have the free one. Is there a way to apply for/upgrade to the paid card without cancelling and waiting 6 months? And if applying for the paid card now, would I earn the bonus?

    • Jonathan says:

      You just have to close the free card, apply for the premium card, when you’re rejected, just contest the rejection, citing you wanted to upgrade, and they’ll almost certainly accept !

      When I wanted to upgrade, the CS agent told me that’s what’s needed to be done

    • ianM says:

      I think you still have to wait six months for any bonus

  • Jonathan says:

    Any idea if Barclays would consider extending their Avios rewards program to their clients who don’t qualify for the account(s) needed to obtain it ?

    • Rob says:

      Not on current accounts. The whole point of this is that the BA Exec Club base is very wealthy compared to the average population and so can get Premier.

      • ianM says:

        That’s a telling statement, there is probably a small fraction of total BA Exec Club members that earn over £75k a year. HFP def getting niche and clique

        • Rob says:

          I’ve seen headline BAEC data. £70k+ is also the biggest salary band for HFP readers looking at the data (albeit that there are 5 bands below that which spreads people out).

          • KP says:

            How can you tell how much hfp readers earn? Was there a survey or something?

          • Rob says:

            You know how you read in the papers that Google and Facebook know everything about you? It’s true. I can tell you the most common brand of car driven by HfP readers – or at least what is assumed to be. Your browser is tracking all the web pages you visit, Facebook is tracking everyone you interract with. Google and Facebook overlay this with existing hard data (if you live here then you are x% likely to drive a y, or if you read magazine m you are n% likely to earn £x) and it’s relatively easy. Not to the individual level, but on an overall level.

  • Saiz says:

    If I open the Barclays one as a joint account can I use the voucher for myself as a return ticket or will it need to be one way for each of us?

  • Mark says:

    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

    If I’m looking for a 1-way only, does this still work?

  • Ian says:

    Can anyone explain why Amex doesn’t offer a solo traveller the option of a 50% redemption instead of a 2 for 1 voucher?

  • Markus Brodie says:

    Who would want to bank at Barclays Premier – they are rubbish

    • Ian says:

      That’s a rather inane comment. I’ve had a Barclays Premier account for years and never had any trouble with it.

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