With the government simplifying its Covid-19 travel rules, many of us are thinking of flying abroad once more. Indeed, while we may have thoroughly enjoyed holidaying in the UK during the pandemic, many would agree that there is something rather special about flying to other countries and experiencing new cultures.
Sadly, travelling isn’t cheap, which can limit where we go and how often. But this is where Air Miles can help.
Air Miles are simply reward points that can be spent with certain airlines. You can earn them in several ways and choose to spend them on flights, holidays and hotel stays as well as other travel-related costs, including car hire or even airport lounge access.
It’s important to understand that while you might earn enough points for a ‘free’ flight, this is rarely what it seems, as points cannot be used to cover any associated taxes or mandatory carrier charges (you will need to pay these separately, and depending on where you fly to, they can add up to a few hundred pounds).
That said, used wisely, Air Miles can take a huge chunk out of your holiday costs, particularly if you are booking a trip for the whole family.
Almost every airline has its own free loyalty scheme – simply sign up and you will earn a point for every mile flown with them.
But to boost your Air Miles further, you can also sign up for the airline’s associated credit card. Then, not only will you be earning points for every mile flown, you will also be earning points for almost every pound spent on the credit card.
By paying for your weekly groceries, bills, train tickets or petrol with an Air Miles-linked credit card you can build up a significant number of points surprisingly quickly.
Depending on the credit card chosen (and provided you pay the credit card bill off in full every month) it may not cost you a penny to use, either. Some people earn enough points to put towards a family holiday or other treats every year.
Most Air Miles are valid for around three years before they expire, giving you time to save up for a family holiday to a far-off destination. Virgin points have no expiry date. Some schemes allow you to transfer unused miles to other family members.
The most popular airline reward schemes in the UK are from British Airways (BA) and Virgin Atlantic.
British Airways, which calls its Air Miles points Avios, awards members of its free loyalty scheme with one Avios for every mile flown.
However, if customers also choose to sign up for a British Airways American Express credit card, they can earn one mile for every £1 spent on the card, too.
Spend over £12,000 on the card in a year and you will earn a free companion ticket, allowing you to bring a friend for free when you book an Avios reward flight (economy only). You simply pay the taxes and charges.
In addition, this card currently offers 10,000 bonus Avios if you sign up before 2 November 2021 and spend £1,000 on the card within the first three months. To put it this in perspective, a return flight to Paris can cost as little as £1 plus 18,500 avios, while New York starts at £100 plus 50,000 Avios.
The British Airways Amex card charges no annual fee.
If you fly regularly or spend a lot on your credit card, switching to the BA Premium Plus Amex could prove more lucrative. Not only does every £1 spent earn 1.5 Avios, you will also earn 3 Avios for every £1 spent on BA flights or holidays.
Spend over £10,000 on the card in a year and you will also earn a free companion ticket for a friend to travel with you. What’s more, you can book the Avios reward flights in any cabin (you simply pay for the taxes and fees).
If you sign up before 2 November 2021 and spend £3,000 on the card in the first three months, you’ll earn 40,000 bonus Avios, which should be enough for two return flights to Europe.
But be warned – this card comes with a hefty £250 annual fee, so you will need to do some maths to check if you will earn enough points to make the card worth its fee.
If you regularly shop at Sainsbury’s and are a member of its Nectar scheme, the Amex Nectar card may be appealing. While every £1 spent on the card earns 2 Nectar points (rather than Avios) you can trade 400 Nectar points in for 250 Avios.
New cardholders can earn a 12,500 point bonus if they spend £2,000 in the first three months. But while the card is fee free in the first year, you will be charged £25 per year afterwards.
If you prefer to fly with Virgin, the Virgin Atlantic Reward credit card will give 0.75 Virgin points for every £1 spent (1.5 points for every £1 spent on Virgin Holidays or Virgin Atlantic flights).
Spend £20,000 on the card in a year and you will earn a companion ticket so that you can travel with a loved one (you only pay for the taxes and fees).
If you sign up before 15 October 2021 and spend £500 on the card in the first 90 days, you will earn a 2,000 point bonus. And unlike the BA cards which use Amex, Virgin uses Mastercard, which tends to be more widely accepted in the UK.
However, there is a cap on how many points you can earn each month that is linked to your credit limit (if your credit limit is £5,000, you will only earn points on the first £5,000 of card purchases in a month). The card does not charge an annual fee.
If you tend to spend a lot, the Reward+ card may be a better choice. You will earn twice as many points as with the standard card (1.5 points for every £1 spent and 3 points for every £1 spent on Virgin holidays and flights).
In addition, you will get 15,000 bonus points with your first card purchase, plus an extra 15,000 points if you apply before 15 October 2021 and spend £3,000 on the card within 90 days.
Like the standard Reward card, the Reward+ also has a cap on how many points you can earn that is linked to your credit limit.
Spend £10,000 on the card within 12 months and you’ll earn a reward, which could be a free companion ticket, an upgrade voucher or a Clubhouse (airport lounge) pass, depending on your status with the Virgin Flying Club (loyalty scheme).
You will also have access to free global WiFi through Boingo.
On the downside, the Virgin Reward+ card charges a whopping £160 annual fee.
Finally, if you prefer to not be tied to any one airline’s scheme, the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold card earns its own membership reward points.
Not only can the points be converted into BA or Virgin reward points, you can also turn them into reward points for 10 other airlines including Emirates, Finnair, Air France and Qantas, all on a 1:1 basis, or Singapore Krisflyer (at a rate of 3:2).
Other benefits include:
One point earned for every £1 you spend on the card
Double points earned on any airline or foreign currency purchase
Two £5 credits that can be used against Deliveroo purchases each month
Two complimentary lounge visits per year at over 1200 airport lounges
The Preferred Rewards card is also currently offering 30,000 reward points to new Amex customers who spend £3,000 in the first three months of card ownership.
On the downside, while this card charges no fee for the first year, the annual fee from year two is a considerable £140.
If you’re avidly saving Avios, there are a few other ways to boost your total. Sainsbury’s Nectar loyalty scheme will allow you to convert Nectar points to Avios (400 points = 250 Avios). You can also earn Avios by shopping online via the Avios e-store.
In addition, the Barclays Avios Rewards packaged bank account costs £12 per month and gives new Barclays customers a 25,000 Avios joining bonus, with a further 1,500 Avios each month. You will also receive a British Airways cabin upgrade voucher on your account anniversary.
Those saving Avios points for free flights should be aware that BA (and it’s one world partners) offer a few seats on each flight that are charged a fixed Avios amount, with a low fixed cash fee to cover taxes and carrier charges.
Flying to European destinations costs 18,500 Avios and just £1 to cover taxes and charges, while North America costs 50,000 Avios and a £100 cash fee. Simply search for reward flights and check availability.
You don't necessarily need to spend your Air Miles on flights. Points can often be used to upgrade your seat to one in the next cabin (allowing you to move up from economy to Business class, for example) in your airline’s group. You can also convert Avios back into Nectar points, to be used for supermarket shopping etc.
Alternatively, they can be spent on:
Finally, while saving Air Miles can be very appealing, it is important to keep things in perspective and not be dazzled by ‘free’ offers because often they’re not free at all. Bear these points in mind:
If you choose an Air Miles card that charges an annual fee, you will need to do a lot of spending just to break even. A fee-free card could be a better option.
If you think you will not be able to pay off a credit card bill in full each month, do not take out the card. You will pay far more in interest that you will save.
Many of the affiliated credit cards are American Express cards, which are not as widely accepted as Mastercard or Visa in the UK. Bonus points won’t be given to new customers who have had a personal Amex card within the last two years.
Many airlines only allocate a few seats per flight to reward scheme customers, so you could find it difficult to book if your dates are not flexible.
Check when your points expire – particularly if you are intending to save up for a long haul destination.
The taxes and charges payable on reward flights can really add up – meaning you may be able to find full price flights with other airlines for less.
With Covid-19 still darkening our holiday plans, keep an eye on the government's foreign travel advice to ensure you can actually travel to the destination you’re saving up for.
Collecting Air Miles is exciting – whether it’s through a loyalty scheme or associated credit card. After all, who doesn’t love the idea of a cut-price holiday? Just ensure you do your sums carefully, work out how many points you could earn in a year and if you decide to take out an Air Miles credit card, choose the one that works best for the type of flights you plan to take.