This is the third article in a four-part series about travel hacking in the UK. Here you will find details about how to earn flyer miles but you may also be interested to read:
Travel Hacking in the UK 1: Can You Really Fly for Free
Travel Hacking in the UK 2: Choosing a UK Air Miles Credit Card;
Travel Hacking in the UK 4: Using Air Miles.
How to Earn Flyer Miles
One of the easiest ways to earn flyer miles is by signing up to a dedicated air miles credit card. As well as accumulating miles every time you spend on your card, many of these dedicated cards offer a signing-up incentive comprising a bonus number of points, a free partner flight or flight upgrades. Of course, these bonuses come with terms and conditions, usually in the form of a minimum spend on your credit card, but if you’re able to meet the requirements, they are a good, relatively quick way of picking up a good chunk of flyer miles.
However, credit card schemes are not the only way to earn flyer miles. From shopping to staying in hotels, to refueling your car and even drinking wine (what?! Yes, I know!), there are more ways than you might think to boost your air mile points.
After a year of travel hacking in the UK, I’ll share with you my tips for earning flyer miles. I’ve also put together a handful of charts (you can find them at the end) summarising the various ways you can earn flyer miles with each of the main air miles schemes in the UK.
A word on air miles schemes and the UK
As a flyer, you can generally sign-up to any air miles scheme on any airline around the world. So, if you fly with Air Asia from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, you can sign-up to their BIG loyalty programme and gain points for your flight. However, unless you are native to that country or take a lot of flights with that airline, the points collection process is going to be slow.
For that reason, I’ve focused in this article on the small (yet adequate) number of air miles schemes that allow you to collect points in the UK in ways other than just taking flights. At the time of writing, the schemes are:
◦ American Airlines AAdvantage
These air miles schemes have affiliated air miles credit cards and also offer many additional ways to earn flyer miles and are therefore the best schemes on offer if you want to dabble in some flight hacking in the UK.
However, be aware that a lot of the ways to accumulate points with the non-UK based schemes (i.e. all except BA and Virgin Atlantic) are in the home country of the airline e.g USA and Germany. Great if you spend a lot of time there. Not great if you don’t.
Full details on all of these schemes and the ways you can use them to earn flyer miles can be found in the summary charts below.
A few more…
There are a few additional schemes to be aware of, though the ways to earn flyer miles with them are limited:
FlyBe Rewards4All – I haven’t included this scheme above because the only way to earn points is by flying with FlyBe. However, you can also take out a credit card, which (at the time of writing) offers a sign-up incentive of a bonus return flight with FlyBe (excluding taxes and charges).
Easyjet and Nectar Points – if you collect Nectar points by shopping at Sainsbury’s, you can use those points to book Easyjet flights. Although this is not an air miles scheme as such and Easyjet does not offer a points collecting credit card, if your primary goal is getting reduced low-cost flights in Europe, the Nectar points loyalty scheme could work for you.
You can find more information about Nectar and Easyjet here. If you’re especially interested in this option, it may be beneficial for you to also sign-up for a Sainbury’s Credit Card to boost your Nectar points collection. Details here.
Monarch and Tesco Clubcard – I cover Tesco and Clubcard points in more detail below. Tesco is affiliated with both British Airways Avios points shcheme and Virgin Atlantic’s Flyer club.
In addition, Tesco Clubcard points can be exchanged for Monarch flights. However, as that’s the extent of the Monarch offering, I don’t cover it in more detail below.
Step 1: Accumulating flyer miles with your credit card
As mentioned above, signing up for a UK credit card will be the quickest and most effective way of gaining a large chunk of points in a relatively short space of time.
For that reason, finding a UK air miles credit card that offers a sign-up bonus should be your first step.
For information on finding the right card, see my related article: Travel Hacking in the UK: Choosing A UK Air Miles Credit Card.
Once you have the card in your wallet (or wherever you might choose to store it – hey, no judgment here), here’s how to make the most of your card to earn flyer miles.
UK Travel Hacking Tip
Not everybody is happy spending on credit cards. I get that. But remember that the goal isn’t to rack up debt. It’s to transfer your daily spending onto your credit card and pay the entire amount off each month. That way you gain the points but don’t incur any of the interest payments that (rightly) scare people off credit cards in the first place.
Meet the exact requirements for any bonus points
Your biggest priority if you have a bonus offer on the table is to know what you have to do to accumulate your bonus flyer miles and when you have to do it by. For example, if you have to spend £3,000 in three months to achieve your bonus points, make sure you know the final cut-off date for your £3,000 spend. You should set a reminder (in your phone, calendar, tattooed on your arm) of that date and check your progress every couple of weeks to make sure you’re on target.
It would be such a shame to go to all of the effort of getting a card to earn flyer miles to then fail to earn the points.
Make ALL new purchases on your credit card
This may sound simple, but new habits can be hard to make in the early weeks. As a person who is used to taking out zero credit cards let alone two or more (a safety habit I’ve adopted for my travels), there were plenty of times I cursed myself in those initial weeks for not having my points collecting cards with me and missing some valuable points opportunities.
Swap cash for card
Travel has also conditioned me to be a cash carrier rather than a card user but in the UK, where it’s possible to pay for even the smallest item with a card – a pint of milk, a beer in a bar, my sandwich at lunchtime – I forced myself into this habit early on. Sure, you may hear a lot of tutting behind you in queues (oh, the British way), as you hand over your credit card to pay for the smallest of items, but those tuts will dim in your memory when you’re lounging on a beach in the Seychelles! Take that, Mr. Passive Aggressive Tutter!
Get your friends and family in on the spending action
Dedication is the key to collecting points so ask your friends and family if they will let you put any significant purchases on your card and then transfer the money to you. If a family member is about to buy a new TV and doesn’t plan to use their credit card, why not benefit by earning flyer miles? My dad would always come fetch me when he was about to fill up his car with petrol so I could pay and get the points (he’d pay me back, of course).
Budgeting tip: try to get the money back from family and friends by bank transfer. It requires a little more effort on their part but it removes the significant likelihood that the cash will evaporate from your wallet on a Friday night in your favourite bar.
Check if there is a family account feature
As well as utilising your family’s spend, you might want to check if your air miles scheme has a household account feature – British Airways, for example, allows family members to collect points all under the same flyer miles account. With a number of people’s purchases added together, you’ll see your air miles rack up much quicker if you have willing family members prepared to help you out. Just make sure the family and friends you ask are good at paying off their credit cards on time – you won’t make yourself popular encouraging people into debt!
Another important point, if you’re going to go down this route – be sure your family is happy to hand over the points that are accumulated. You don’t want to find that Aunty Fanny was expecting to use her share of the points to join you for a week in Ibiza. Awkward. Very, very awkward.
Some people simply aren’t into the whole air miles gig yet if you have friends or family who travel a lot, particularly for work (and their job allows them to collect points on their personal account), ask if they are prepared to share or gift their points to you. Rather than let them expire, wouldn’t it be better for them to go to a good (holiday)home? If you’re too scared to ask, pass your friend’s details to me and I’ll ask them for you. In short – nothing ventured, no points gained.
Beware of false economies
When you’re collecting points, it can be easy to get carried away. Sure, if I’d bought a yacht on my credit card (my latest obsession…if that seven figure book deal falls into my lap), I’d have bagged a sweet number of points. However, making purchases outside of your usual spend just to earn flyer miles is a false economy. Getting cheap flights with air miles is the goal here. If I could have booked 200 flights for the same price as the yacht, I’ve kind of missed the point of my goal. Sure, it’s an extreme example, but you get what I mean.
STEP 2: Earn flyer miles on wine (and other ways)
Once you’ve got your air miles credit card set up and are getting into the swing of collecting points and working towards your bonus, it’s time to look at additional ways you can earn flyer miles and boost your points collection.
British Airways and Virgin Atlantic offer by far the greatest number of ways to earn flyer miles, so I’d recommend looking at those schemes first. However, the scheme that works best for you is going to depend on your lifestyle. So, before you decide on a particular air miles scheme, have a look at the summary sheets below, check the details of the schemes online and find the scheme that aligns most closely your lifestyle.
Here are some of the other ways you can earn flyer miles.
Ok, let’s get the obvious out of the way first. While you’re collecting points with the aim of getting a cheaper flight at some point in the future, all interim flights you take (assuming you go with an airline affiliated with your air miles scheme) will gain you more point. Yay!
Better still, and perhaps not so obvious, the main airlines that offer air miles schemes in the UK allow you to collect points not just on their airline, but with their partner airlines as well. So, for example, when I flew with Japan Airlines, I was able to add my flyer miles from that flight to my British Airways Avios account. In short, you can earn flyer miles across a huge network of airlines that cover much of the world.
Flying with airlines that allow you to collect points can become addictive. Don’t overlook the possible savings you might make if you fly with a local, lower-cost airline.
A note on Avios and British Airways
Confused about the Avios and British Airways schemes? I’m not surprised – I was too. Here’s the low down I wish I’d had.
Collecting points: When you look at the Avios website and then look at the British Airways website, the two sites list different ways you can collect points. That can leave you with the impression that it makes a different whether you sign-up to an Avios credit card scheme (e.g. through Lloyds TSB credit card) or directly with British Airways (e.g. the British Airways Avios credit card).
In practical reality, there is no different in terms of the points you collect. Although the two websites list different ways to collect points, you can freely transfer your points between the BA and Avios websites. Cool, huh?
Choosing a credit card: What you really need to focus on, therefore, is which credit card offers the best sign-up incentive.
Spending points: when it comes to spending your Avios, do be aware that you may be tied to using the Avios website to book your flight (your bonus points may come in the form of an Avios travel voucher – mine did). However, the flight deals are the same on the BA and Avios websites, so again there is little difference.
The only bonus I found is that you more choices in terms of how to spend your points (flights, hotels, day trips etc.) on the Avios site compared to the BA website.
Clearer? Hope so.
Go on holiday
From P&O cruises to Thomas Cook to Kuoni to Arabian Adventures, many of the air mile schemes allow you to earn flyer miles when you go on holiday – and not just with their own branded trips.
And the sky is no longer the limit in terms of earning points: Planning an intergalactic trip any time soon? You can earn flyer miles on it. I’m serious – just check out Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club. One caveat – I suspect after going to space, a discounted trip to the Algave (as beautiful as it is) isn’t quite going to equate!
Shop at Tesco
I’ve already discussed above the ability to trade your Tesco Clubcard points and your Sainsbury’s Nectar points for flights with Easyjet and Monarch respectively.
However, if you’d looking to earn flyer miles with a more extensive air miles scheme, you should give serious thought to switching your weekly shop to Tesco. Affiliated with both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, your Clubcard points offer a very decent way to bump up your air miles. For example, £2.50 of Clubcard vouchers converts to 600 Avios and 625 Virgin Atlantic Flyer Miles.
Considering you can take a return flight in Europe for as little as 9,000 points (and a flat fee of £35), you only need to collect £37.50 worth of Clubcard vouchers to gain an (almost – curse the taxes) free flight.
What’s even better is that Tesco offers so many ways to earn Clubcard points (and therefore flyer miles). In addition to your food shopping bill, they offer a whole heap of other non-food products from electrical items to toys to clothes. There are frequent points promotions to look out for too. Shop online, change your mobile phone to Tesco mobile, and switch to Tesco partners Eon (electricity) and Esso (fuel) and you could very quickly find yourself with a whole raft of additional air miles.
Full details about Tesco Clubcard and earning air miles can be found here.
A word on Tesco’s Credit Card
Tesco also offers a credit card and one of the advantages is the ability to increase your Clubcard points collection. Details here. However, it’s worth doing the air miles maths. Sure, you may boost your Clubcard points, which you can convert into miles, but how does that compare to the sign-up bonus on offer with some of the other air miles credit cards? In my case, the 30,000 bonus points on offer with my card made it more beneficial to take a dedicated air miles card rather than a supermarket credit card.
Take the train
A few of the air miles schemes have affiliations with train lines in the UK and abroad.
Virgin Atlantic let’s you gain points for any trips you take on their Virgin Trains network. If you want to go further, you can also gain points (again with Virgin) when you hop on the Eurostar. Nice work, Virgin!
British Airways’ Avios scheme, meanwhile, will give you points when you take the Heathrow Express and when book train tickets through the booking website TrainGenius, while United Airlines will let you earn flyer miles when you take a trip on Amtrak…something I plan to do pretty soon.
Sleep (away from home)
If it were possible to earn (a serious amount of) money sleeping, that would be my chosen career, but failing that, earning flyer miles while you sleep…at hotels…has got to be the second best option.
All of the major UK air miles schemes I mention above offer you the chance to earn flier miles with hotel stays. Think of a big brand and you can most likely gain air miles by staying there.
I’ve listed the hotels/hotel chains affiliated with each airline in the summary charts below but some of the airlines have so many affiliated hotels brands that I couldn’t even list them (100 or more hotels in some cases). My point: that’s a lot of opportunities to earn points.
Budget tip: hotels are another occasion when it pays to have a reality check. If you can find a much cheaper hotel in the same city that you’re visiting, think twice before booking into the air miles affiliated hotel just for the sake of collecting the points…unless your corporate giant of an employer is paying, in which case, book the biggest, best, and most points awarding hotel in town!
Car related bonuses
There is a whole heap of ways that driving can help boost your air miles.
Most of the air miles schemes allow you to earn flyer points when you hire a car with most of the main car rental companies around the world (Hertz, Avis, Sixt etc.) and a couple of the schemes (BA and Virgin Atlantic) even let you collect points when you re-fuel your car.
Want an added bonus? Sign-up for RAC breakdown cover and you can collect points with Avios.
Not many people know this (or do this) and I confess I’m prone to forget but did you know that many of the air mile schemes have their own online shopping portals that allow you to collect points when you shop with the brands you’re probably already using.
By simply adding one extra stage to your online shop, (clicking through the airline shopping portal on their website) you can air miles at the likes of John Lewis and Play.com (Avios), and iTunes, Nike and Apple (Virgin Atlantic.
Neat trick, huh? Just be sure to bookmark the sites and get into a habit of checking the airline shopping portal before you buy anything online (this is as much a note to myself as much as it is to you – I could definitely be better at doing this!).
Financial stuff usually makes me glaze over (I’m actually half asleep even as I type), but it’s worth staying awake long enough to know that you can earn flyer miles with many of your travel related financial transactions – money exchange, using pre-loaded foreign currency cards and acquiring visas can all attract air miles if you use the company that your air miles scheme partners with.
If you do travel a lot…hell, even if you only take a trip or two a year, don’t miss out on the travel transport related points you can earn.
I’ve already mentioned BA’s bonus points for using the Heathrow Express but there are additional opportunities for earning flyer miles from Purple Parking (with Virgin Atlantic) and Ground Link and Super Shuttle (with United).
If, like me, most of your money goes on entertainment (after food, travel and electronics), keep an eye out for ways to boost your flying miles. Although the opportunities aren’t as plentiful as other points collection methods e.g. hotel stays, there are still some restaurants and theatre tickets that allow you to have a great day or night out while earning miles in the process.
Virgin Atlantic, which allows you to collect points across the entire Virgin Group (including balloon flights and experience days), has the most extensive offering if entertainment is a big feature in your life.
Ok, for the sake of completeness I’m going to include the option of buying points. However, this is generally a bad use of money because your pound is usually more valuable than the points you’re given.
That said, there are some occasions when you can benefit from buying points e.g. when the air miles scheme runs a points promotion such as 30% more points when you buy. However, be sure to do the maths before you commit.
Buying points can also be useful for more traditional friends and family. If you’re saving desperately for a trip and Christmas is coming up, try asking for air miles instead of another sweater (that isn’t going to serve you well in Southeast Asia). It’s a better option for people who are flat against handing over a wad of money as a gift.
I find surveys a chore but what if you could earn flying miles for taking them – a different business, huh? Most of the air miles schemes offer points in exchange for taking surveys with E-Rewards (and a couple of other survey companies). I confess I’ve not tried this…yet. But I’ll update you when I do.
And even if the idea of taking surveys remains a painful concept (regardless of the points you could gain), consider combining the task with the next points collection method…
What? That’s right, you heard me! Of all the crazy, I-don’t-really-need-another-excuse-but-hell-why-not reasons to drink wine, collecting flyer miles has got to be one of the best excuses there has been for popping a cork. Sign-up to Lathwaite’s wine club and you can collect Avios points with every case you buy. The same applies to Virgin Wines.
How to Earn Flyer Miles: Checklists
The following summary charts below provide much more detail on the various companies you can earn flyer miles with but hopefully the details above has given enough of an introduction to help you realize the significant potential for travel hacking in the UK.
In the fourth and final part of this series, I’ll get to the most fun part – spending your flyer miles. Until then, keep collecting.
The devil’s in the details
As you can tell from this article and the summary sheets below, there is a lot of detail on this subject, and not only do we know that the devil is in the detail, but that the devil likes to muck around with the details from time to time. The information here is correct at the time of this article and I will update it whenever I learn of any changes. Equally, if you spot any errors or information that has become out of date, I (and everyone who reads this article) would be really grateful if you let me know so I can keep this article as accurate as possible. Just think of the good travel karma you’ll gain!
Have you done any travel hacking in the UK? Ever managed to get cheap flights with air miles? Any additional tips to share?
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Photo credits: Star Monkey Brass, Page Dooley, Ministry of Stories, Gianni Dominici, Club 306, ian_np. Main image: x-ray delta one
6 thoughts on “Travel Hacking in the UK: How to Earn Air Miles”
This is so helpful!
Glad to help 🙂
Great info, thank you! I knew about Nectar and Easy Jet but not about Tesco 🙂
Sally, glad to help!
This is a fantastic overview of UK opportunities. I’m always surprised when I hear from folks that “there are no opportunities in Europe” or that it’s strictly an American game. Great overview!
Thanks Lance, yes – there are way more opportunities in the UK than people realise. I’ve just booked my flight home for Christmas from New York to London for just £85. Can’t beat that!