Ever seen the movie Inception? Well, the labyrinthine world of frequent flyer points feels a bit like that. The theory is fairly simple: you get a point per mile flown, and those points can later be redeemed on another flight with the airline. So a Heathrow to Cape Town economy class return with Virgin Atlantic gets you 12,040 of Virgin’s Flying Club points. Clock up 35,000 points, and you get a free flight to Chicago (excluding taxes and a series of utterly spurious charges).
Alas, those charges can mount up. A British Airways return to Dubai may cost £496 in cash, or 40,000 of BA’s Avios points, plus £340 — £213 of which is BA’s suspiciously opaque ‘carrier imposed charge’. However, a short-haul return flight costs just 9,000 points and £35. Still, most airlines have a points scheme that’s free to join, so concentrate on the one you’re most likely to fly with in the future.
You can even rack up the points without flying. Some credit cards (usually American Express) earn you points per pound spent on them, while Tesco Clubcard points can be converted into the BA and Virgin schemes. Do your online shopping with the Debenhams or Argos via the airline site and you collect, too. The same applies with some hotel, train and car rentals.
Combine your strategies, and the points can mount up surprisingly quickly. The golden rule? Collect when you can on something you’re buying anyway — but never buy something just to get the points.
Talking air miles
Published in the Jul/Aug 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)