Personal Finance

Tips and tricks for collecting air miles

With the price of plane tickets soaring, cash-strapped globetrotters might be looking for ways to travel for less. Air miles could be one option. 

Air miles are “loyalty points programmes aimed at frequent travellers”, explained The Times Money Mentor. 

In the same way that earning points on your supermarket shopping can help you get discounts later on, collecting air miles helps travellers get money off flights and other travel perks, the website said. 

These benefits might include access to exclusive lounges or upgrades. The “air-miles-obsessed” will do whatever it takes to “achieve the privileges that go with airline status”, said Radio 4 in Four, from the BBC.

However, you have to “know the system well” to see the real benefits of air miles, The Times Money Mentor said. So what are some tricks of the trade?

Airline loyalty schemes 

Travellers can earn air miles by joining an airline’s frequent flyer scheme. For example, British Airways runs the Avios scheme, while Virgin has its Flying Club. 

By joining a loyalty scheme, said The Points Guy, “every time you fly or stay in a chain hotel, you could be earning chunks of miles and points, which can be used towards future free flights or hotel stays”. 

Make use of reward credit cards 

Airlines have partnerships with credit card companies that can help you gain points towards air miles.

By using airline credit cards, said MoneySavingExpert, “you earn airline points doing your normal everyday spending and when you’ve collected enough, they can be converted into flights, though you still need to pay taxes and charges”. 

Different reward credit cards will help you gain points towards different travel schemes, explained The Money Edit. If you are determined to fly with a particular airline, “then it makes sense to focus on the credit cards that correlate with that scheme”, the financial website said. 

There are some potential drawbacks to consider when choosing a rewards credit card for air miles, like fees and limits on where the card will be accepted. 

For years, the only way to collect Avios points was with an American Express credit card, said MoneyWeek. “The issue with that has always been that many retailers don’t accept Amex,” the site said. “But now you can collect your Avios points with a Mastercard.” 

Reward cards can be a great way of “getting more when you shop”, MoneyWeek continued. However, if you can’t pay off your balance in full each month, they should be avoided, because the high interest rates could quickly wipe out any benefits.  

Be smart when booking

Many airlines will run special promotions offering double points when you travel between certain dates. “A good way to take advantage of these deals is to sign up for the airlines’ newsletters,” said the BBC. “This way the deals will fly direct to your inbox.” 

Indirect flights are usually cheaper, and “because you get status points for every leg of your journey, you get your status more quickly and for less”, the BBC added. Some flyers will even “stop off as many times as their ticket allows, undertaking convoluted multi-leg journeys” to maximise points. 

Earn points while you shop 

Check an airline’s loyalty website for sections linking to other retailers, such as Apple and Nike, said The Points Guy. These affiliate links can help you “earn huge chunks of miles and points on every single purchase”. 

Points from some supermarket loyalty schemes can also be converted into air miles. For example, you can convert Tesco Clubcard credits into Virgin points, and Sainsbury’s Nectar scheme has a similar partnership with Avios. 

These types of cards will be a useful option if you do all of your grocery shopping in one supermarket, said The Money Edit, “but otherwise you may struggle to earn a sufficient return to convert the points into a tangible discount on your holiday”. 

Are air miles perks worth the trouble? 

The rewards points you build up will make a difference, said The Money Edit, but you’ll almost always end up paying for something, whether it be annual charges for the card, taxes or fees for the flight. Plus “the company operating the scheme could devalue your points at any time”. 

Availability is also more limited when booking a flight using air miles than when paying in cash, said The Times Money Mentor. You can check the value of your air miles either directly with your loyalty scheme or by using online calculators from websites such as The Point Calculator or The Points Guy.  

Flexibility and planning are the most important things if you want to be “jumping on a killer deal”, said The Points Guy, adding that “if the value of the points you’re redeeming is more than you’d be paying for a cash ticket, you’re better off just paying for the travel”. 

Marc Shoffman is an award-winning freelance journalist, specialising in business, property and personal finance. He has a master’s degree in financial journalism from City University and has previously written for FT Adviser, This Is Money, the Mail on Sunday and MoneyWeek. 

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