5 secrets of an elite frequent flyer

I’ve just booked my 4th weekend break for 2018. What, you haven’t even organised your summer holiday yet?  You do realise you’ll be paying through the nose for that week in the sun? Friends and colleagues marvel at how often my husband and I go on holiday, enjoying priority security lanes, sipping champagne in first class lounges, even luxuriating in a flat bed whilst on some short haul flights, and still flying “traditional” (rather than low cost) airlines.  They are even more surprised when they hear the low amount we pay for our trips.  I thought it was time to lift the lid on my other passion (airports, airlines, aircrafts) and share a few secrets on how you can crank up the number of holidays you have without breaking the bank.

1. Align with an airline or alliance – whilst some advocate always choosing the cheapest possible flight, I believe in just the opposite.  I’d rather pay £10 more to fly from my local airport, than spend 2 hours travelling to an airport further away to take a horribly early flight to save a few pounds.  I learned a long time ago that for me, low cost carriers don’t work.  It costs me more in time AND money to get to the airports they fly from and to than going with a traditional carrier from a nearby airport.  Whether it’s a low cost carrier, or a national carrier within a global airline alliance, sticking with the same airline or alliance, to clock up points and status over time does pay off.  You start to get the status perks, and accrue more benefit by focusing on the airlines you chose to fly with.  Although the traditional national carriers are slashing away at the perks, it’s still worth doing.

2. Book early for the best price – Some of my best friends think I’m mad for booking a year in advance.  “How do you know you’ll be free that weekend?”, they ask.  When it’s that far in advance, I know I’m not free, because I’ve just locked in a weekend break at a crazy price.  Interest rates are so low that you wont earn much money in the bank, so why not ensure you get a better price by planning far ahead?  Of course, there are sometimes some great last minute deals and sales, but this means you need to be flexible with dates and destinations. I’d rather know that my trip is booked and I have something to look forward to, especially in those long winter months!

3. Credit card sign up bonuses & referrals – Most airlines (including many low cost carriers) have an affiliated credit card, which invariably includes a sign up bonus.  Between my husband and I each year, we earn enough points to fly from London to New York first class in the points earned from credit card sign up bonuses.  In fact, over 80% of our points are earned through credit cards, not flights.  In addition, finding a buddy (spouse, friend, colleague) to exchange referrals with (you sign up, then you refer me) will net you a whole raft of extra points. Every day spend (including linking your card to Android Pay, Apple Pay and Paypal to your credit card) means that throughout the year, every time you spend, you’ve earned a few more points toward your next trip.

4. Be strategic about using points – A very close friend was recently about to “burn” (spend) a large amount of points on a long haul economy flight.  If you’re in the UK, because you still need to pay the very high government taxes, this would have been a really poor value deal.  Before doing your first redemption, take time to work out how much “value” you’ll achieve by using the points, and make sure that you understand whether it’s good value.  Burning most of your points to save £100 is not a good idea.  The best value I achieved was saving £27,000 on 2 first class tickets to San Diego over New Year!

5. Use resources online – You can feed your newly-found hobby to get the best strategic deals by leveraging the many tools online to help you gain knowledge and insight.  Skyscanner is a cracking tool for searching for basic and complex flights.  TripIt is an easy and reliable way to track all your flights, trains, hotels and care hire in a sign app on your mobile. Flyertalk has airline forums full of experts willing to share their know-how.  Onemileatatime is an amusing blog where the author flies around the world exclusively in first and business class spending the absolute minimum cash.  As well as entertaining, these kind of sites help you broaden your awareness of what is out there, and may just help you get an amazing deal.

For me, airlines, aircraft and airports are a hobby, I spend what I can afford and maximise my return.  It doesn’t have to be a chore – I relish the opportunity to find a hidden deal!  I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, but I learned from them.  In 2017, I’ll do 22 trips for leisure, both weekend breaks and longer holidays. If you feel like you could do with a couple more trips in your calendar, try following my advice to get the biggest bang for your buck!  If you’d like me to share more of my secrets, or would like me to share “trip reports” on my numerous excursions, leave me a comment, and I’ll share more!

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