Welcome to Travel Hack Thursday, (#TravelHackThursday) a regular feature, aiming to demonstrate that you don’t need to be rich, or constantly circumnavigating the globe, to build a substantial air mile balance.
If it’s your first visit to Travel Hack Thursday, and you want to know more, hop over to Introducing Travel Hack Thursday.
Otherwise I’m so excited to introduce our first expert Travel Hacker Amanda, a super duper Account Manager from Cambridgeshire. She’s a girl after my heart naming travel and scuba diving as her passions, even having dived in the UK (that’s hard core!). Amanda has been a true gem, tirelessly answering my questions, to extract her wealth of expert travel hacker tips to share with you. That’s her above in the Maldives.
She first got a taste of the high life when travelling first class with her sister, a flight attendant for British Airways, who was able to secure bargain bucket long haul tickets (at 10% of the full fare!). So let’s see what stokes Amanda’s fire.
[bctt tweet=”Top Travel Hacker Amanda shares her awesome tips on living the high life! #TravelHackThursday @SPOTBAT”]
Amanda’s High Life Introduction
Travel is my passion, and we have visited many countries over a number of years. It helped that my sister works for British Airways, so in the early days, when she was long haul, I was able to fly with her when she was working. We flew to Tokyo to visit Disneyland for the weekend, enjoyed a week in Mauritius, a night in Washington DC for Christmas shopping, and a day trip to the Grand Canyon from Phoenix.
Often we were upgraded to the 1st class cabin, and we soon became used to free flowing champagne and a luxury lifestyle. When we paid our own way, it was back to earth with a bump; flights were ‘down the back’ and we hated it.
Anne: Oh boy do I hear you, once you’ve upgraded once, you are ruined! Don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Amanda had a pretty cool introduction to flying in style I’m sure you will agree. Tokyo for a weekend? Wow! How rockstar! So let’s get to the nitty gritty of Amanda’s experience, and ask the questions you really want to ask.
Amanda are you rich?
We aren’t rich. My husband is retired, but by concentrating on one points scheme, and always using credit cards, paying in full every month, I am amazed at how quickly the points balance grows.
How did you discover travel hacking?
I had always saved Avios points with Tesco Clubcard, but never done anything with them.
In 2012, I was planning a journey back from Venice after a cruise, and decided to see if I could use the points. I booked three nights in a hotel, and British Airways Club Europe flights home which wiped out the account.
When we got home I started looking into the Avios ‘game’ and discovered the British Airways Premium Plus AMEX Card offered a companion 2-4-1 ticket. I also learned how to earn points with the Amex Gold Reward charge card! Soon my husband and I both had credit cards, and a newly acquired British Airways Executive Club card with entry level Blue status, and we started racking up points.
Where did you go in your first long haul flight booked using reward points, and how many points did you use?
In May 2013 we learned to scuba dive, and we used our first 2-4-1 voucher to book British Airways Club class seats to St Lucia, for our first diving holiday. We used about 100,000 points, and we still had lots left over. We built up the balance by buying EVERYTHING on credit cards.
If the retailer didn’t take Amex we used the Tesco MasterCard. We also lodged an Amex against our PayPal account, to allow payment by AMEX, with retailers that don’t usually take Amex.
Having a British Airways Premium Plus credit card each meant we soon had a second Companion voucher to use.
TOP TIP: It is important to switch all purchases to one card to meet the £10,000 minimum spend to earn the voucher. My husband has now learned to ask ‘which card do I use today?’ before he buys.
How long did it take you to accumulate the points, and what methods did you use?
I learned more about where I could earn extra points, from Heathrow Rewards, consumer surveys, shopping through the Avios portal, and referring friends and family for AMEX cards galore!
My ‘go to’ information in the beginning came from Head for Points and his Avios Redemption University; I also learned loads from One Mile at a Time, based in the USA. It’s great that TravelTheGlobe4Less has launched as most travel hacking sites are very US focused! These types of sites are invaluable for a newcomer to travel hacking.
Our second voucher was used to book first class British Airways flights to Abu Dhabi en route to the Maldives for another diving holiday. It cost 80,000 Avios and taxes amounting to not much more than two economy tickets. Flights from Abu Dhabi to Male were booked with Sri Lankan in business, earning us yet more Avios and British Airways tier points.
We have also booked flights with our third British Airways companion ticket, so we head back to the Maldives in around five weeks. We are travelling in First Class with British Airways, and then on to Male with Sri Lankan. We still have about 150,000 Avios in the pot.
So in just three years Amanda has managed to accumulate sufficient points to fly her and her husband long haul business class once, and long haul first class twice, with a remaining pot of 150,000. That’s pretty impressive considering she is simply putting all her normal spending on credit cards!
She estimates that she has accumulated around 600,000 points in that time period, and is staggered by how quickly points can accumulate.
What are Amanda’s tips for anyone else wishing to do the same thing?
Pick one airline scheme and stick with it. Be flexible with destinations and dates when it comes to booking reward flights. Sometimes to secure availability, you have to take an odd route to get to your final destination.
Use partner airlines too when you have to take revenue flights. Maximise your credit card usage and learn which cards will get you the most points, upgrade vouchers or companion tickets. Sometimes first class costs the same as business class in taxes, for just a few more points. Fly first if you can, it’s another world again.
Check out purchases in your favourite stores, but then go home and order online. Ensure you have an AMEX lodged against a PayPal account so you can pay by AMEX with retailers that don’t normally accept AMEX. The Avios shopping portal is great too.
And finally, what’s so great about business? Why aren’t you happy to just slum it in cattle with the rest of us mere mortals?
We love the extra space in business class. Long haul flying can be stressful, but somehow it becomes much more pleasant when you are in a quieter, smaller cabin, with more attention from the cabin crew, better food, and the ability to sleep properly.
I also like the nicer amenity kit, pyjamas (first only!) and less likelihood of an upset child disturbing my sleep.
My hobby does come with a warning though, once you start there is no stopping, you will never want to fly economy again.
Read More: A – Z of AVIOS
If you want to head to the Maldives for a dive extravanganza like Amanda, be sure to check out some great deals with Qatar Airlines, but remember you might get a better deal booking through Skyscanner so check both before booking.
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Photo credits: all photos courtesy of Amanda unless stated