Travel With Points and Miles

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At the airport in Tokyo, Japan. Photo by Steve Collier, November 2016.

Want to travel for free or at least save a heap of money on your bookings? Of course you do. We thought it would be useful for travellers, especially those from the UK, to explain how we gather points and miles and use them to save money. Travel can be cheap but frequently isn’t and it’s important you know how to extend your ability to experience the world as much as possible.

Over the last few years we’ve saved hundreds if not thousands of pounds simply by taking advantage of loyalty schemes, everyday spending, and a bit of time doing research.

In the UK we certainly don’t have as much access to the apparently crazy deals travellers in the United States are able to use. However we do have our own ways to make our spending count and get a few kick backs along the way. Let’s break it down starting with ways you can gain value from your everyday spending because this is a route you’ll have the ability to tap in to every day. We’ll talk about air miles schemes later.

Loyalty Cards

The two main loyalty cards we use to gather points on everyday spending are the Tesco Clubcard and Nectar points card (for which the main supermarket affiliate is Sainsbury’s). Tescos points can be converted to Avios (British Airways, United etc.) which is the main reason we now collect them. Tescos tends to have one of the lowest petrol prices at their filling stations (other, potentially cheaper outlets are available!) so although you may not be spending as little as possible on petrol it does mean you can collect 1 point per £2 spent and trust us, they add up fast! Of course you can collect points for everything you spend at a ratio of 1 point per £1 on everything else.Another great way to spend Tesco Clubcard points is to convert them to Eurotunnel Le Shuttle vouchers meaning you can save money taking a car across the English Channel. Useful for those road trips to mainland Europe! Check here to see the full range of travel related rewards on Tesco Clubcard.

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Nectar cards can be used to collect points from Sainsbury’s supermarkets and petrol stations as well as a whole host of other outlets. Grab a free card as soon as you can, register it and have a look at the huge number of ways you can collect points including bookings on Expedia, linking the card to your home energy scheme, eBay transactions and countless retail outlets. The best ways we like to use Nectar points are Easyjet and Eurotunnel travel. We’ve used both of these savings previously and it’s definitely worth working towards.

These are the two supermarket linked loyalty cards we use so we can’t honestly review any others. Both of these schemes have apps in which you can track your points and view offers while also acting as a digital card if you decide to leave yours at home. It’s worth noting you can add points later by taking the receipt from your purchase to the customer information counter with your points card.

Payment Cards

We used to only spend money using cash or debit cards. The we opened credit card accounts and enjoyed cash back offers. At the moment we bank with Halifax and have a Halifax Clarity Credit card which means we get decent cashback offers from certain outlets periodically. Most offers range from 5-10% on purchases. The Clarity card also waives foreign transaction fees when travelling which is great.

We also have an American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Card and this is where it gets really interesting and slightly nerdy! The main attraction with this card are the bonuses. 22,000 points bonus (transferrable to air miles at a 1:1 ratio so definitely worth it!) if you spend £2000 in the first three months (perhaps get this card just before a big purchase for which you can use Amex), double points for travel related purchases (flights, hotels, trains, travel insurance etc.), two complimentary airport lounges per year for which you can use one of those for a travel buddy, 9000 points bonus for any referrals (up to 90,000 a year) and zero fees (usually £140) for the first year which simply means just make sure you cancel before the 12 months is up to avoid the renewal fee. Points can be transferred to a large number of air miles schemes. Full benefits can be seen on the website and if you sign up using this link we get that lovely kickback of 9000 points too! We have just achieved the second round of 22,000 points bonus after 3 months spending (Steve referred Nic and will switch back in the future) and are looking forward to using the new points in the future after a bit more saving.

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Proof. We just used 45,000 points to book 2x one way flights from Frankfurt to New York JFK. We had to pay the infernal fuel taxes and fees which at the time of booking in 2017 came to £202 but that’s not a bad price for two tickets on that route! Other routes charge extremely low additional fees but unfortunately we had a load of Singapore Airlines Airmiles to use before they expired and SA are limited in their routing across the Atlantic. The flights from London to New York incurred additional fees which made buying a full price ticket on other airlines far cheaper for instance but still nowhere near the price we paid to get across the sea. For full disclosure our return flight will be with Norwegian Air to Oslo and then Oslo to London via Ryanair. Total cost £453-ish at the time of writing. Of course, if you use a different air miles loyalty scheme or are flying between different countries you may not have to pay more than £10!

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Our reward booking from Frankfurt to NYC using Singapore airlines points.

This is where you come in. Take some time and do research. In helping a friend search for flights between Europe and Thailand I discovered a great way to build and use points with United’s points scheme. It’s worth nerding out a bit to find the best way to spend your points.

Airmiles

We didn’t know anything about air miles before we planned to travel to New Zealand back in 2014! Now it’s an everyday goal. Each coffee we can buy with Amex or bag of vegetables from which we can gain Clubcard points is another step towards building our ability to transfer those loyalty points to air miles.

Air miles isn’t a subject we’re going to go in to in any major depth as there are many, better researched and exhaustive sources out there by which you can deep dive in to that world however it’s worth noting the basics to get you started immediately. It’s a needlessly complicated subject but we’ll give you an idea of how to start using it.

Pretty much every airline operates a scheme by which you can gain points for every mile you travel. These airlines are linked by different alliances the main ones being Star Alliance, One World, and Sky Team. For instance Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand are both part of Star Alliance so when we flew to New Zealand our journey was broken in to a leg taken by Singapore Airlines which meant we enjoyed a stopover in Singapore and one with Air New Zealand. For that journey we collected points on Singapore Airlines’ scheme called KrisFlyer. As American Express is partnered with Singapore Airlines (as well as many others) it meant that the points we collected for our flight to New Zealand could be combined with American Express points to pay for our flight to New York with Singapore Airlines.

Each scheme contains varying levels of flexibility, transferability between partner airlines, redemption amounts, expiry rules, and other details which would be impossible to list here. The main point you need to remember is that collecting miles on flights is something you should never miss out on.

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Not just a coffee break. Also a small step towards cheaper travel!

Start thinking of everyday purchases as a step closer to bagging a free ticket and you’ll be surprised how quickly you can accrue those points.

Do you have any simple ways to save money and gain extra points towards free travel? Let us know via our Facebook Page or in the comments below.

Until next time, happy travels!

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