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Guide: My Ultimate UK-based Airline Points & Miles Strategy for 2020

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A new year is upon us and it is a great time to set your premium travel goals and strategy! In 2019, I earnt two free first class upgrades on Emirates, and redeemed a first class round trip for two to Tokyo with BA for just £576pp. Today I share how I plan to earn points in 2020 and how I may spend them.

Please note that I am not recommending the below strategy is the best for everyone, but it is what will best make use of my circumstances and spending habits. In particular, this only applies if you are in the UK, where we are more limited on our options, compared to those in the US. Earning points and miles isn’t a one size fits all, but hopefully this gives you some ideas for your 2020!

1: Register for (and probably then cancel) the AMEX Business Platinum Card

Photo: AMEX

In 2019 I cancelled my personal AMEX Platinum Card, because the annual fee went up to £575 and by keeping my card, I would never see a sign-up bonus again.

As a personal cardholder, I have to wait two years with no Membership Rewards earning cards until opening a new card would qualify for a sign-up bonus. Two years!

The personal Membership Rewards earning cards are the Platinum and Green charge cards and the Gold and AMEX Rewards credit cards. Holding any of these over the past two years means that even if you open any other, you won’t get a sign-up bonus.

But I am also a small business owner and can register for the AMEX Business Platinum Card with a sign-up bonus as long as I’ve not held a Membership Rewards earning card (Business or Personal) for 6 months, which I am soon to hit! Further, holding the Business card will not reset my personal credit card 24-month clock.

The Business Card costs a little more at £595, but earns 40,000 Membership Reward points when you spend £6,000 of business spend in the first three months (you will get 20,000 if you manage to hit £3,000 instead). All spending also earns 1 point per £1 spent, or 2 points per £1 spent at AMEX Travel. It is a charge card, so all transactions must be paid off in full each month.

I will then do all business spending on this card (as long as it accepts AMEX!) The rewards points themselves go to you personally, so do not need to be used on business travel. Points can be redeemed to a huge number of airline loyalty programmes, typically on a 1:1 basis. Last year I used 78,000 points to upgrade two of us from Business to First on our Emirates flight back from New York to Milan. For 2020, I shall be saving for a Singapore Airlines Business to First upgrade! 40,500 points would upgrade one person one-way into a 2006 Suite between Frankfurt and New York, or 70,500 would get me the newest 2017 suite between London and Singapore!

In addition, the card will get me:

  • A digital subscription to the Times
  • A Priority Pass for me and a supplementary cardholder, where we can each bring in a guest, for 1,200 airport lounges worldwide
  • £150 credit for One Fine Stay
  • Travel insurance (for bookings made with the card)
  • Access to the Fine Hotels & Resorts programme, which regularly offers 3 for 2 nights, guaranteed 4pm check-out and fiid & beverage credit (although I found the price of the hotels are inflated)
  • Opt-in to immediate Gold status with Marriot, Raddisson, Hilton and Melia and Jade status with Shangri-La (which matches to Taj Inner Circle Gold)

Personally, I don’t really value the benefits on their own and once I’ve hit my earning goals, I may considering cancelling again for a pro-rata refund on the £595 annual fee.

If you are not a business owner and haven’t had a Membership Rewards card in 24 months, I’d recommend either the AMEX Platinum at £575 with a 30,000 bonus (on spending £4,000, but no bonus thereafter) or the AMEX Gold with no annual fee in the first year (£140 thereafter) and a 10,000 bonus (on spending £3,000 in first three months and £15,000 annually thereafter). But only get them if you can pay off in full each month.

2: Get Star Alliance Gold in just 3 flights

Star Alliance Gold is a great airline status to have, getting you lounge access and priority check-in/baggage handling/boarding with all Star Alliance Airlines. In 2020 I plan to achieve it in just 3 flights by:

  • Redeeming my Shangri-La Jade status via my AMEX Platinum
  • Getting immediate Singapore Krisflyer Silver status by linking my KrisFlyer account to my Shangri-La Golden Circle account and vice-versa, then accelerating my Singapore status via their Infinite Journeys website
  • Flying 3 Singapore Airlines or Silkair flights in ANY class within 4 months on my accelerated status being granted!

3: Keep my Capital On Tap Avios gravy train going as long as I can!

(Photo: Capital on Tap)

Again, as a small business owner, I have a Capital On Tap Business Credit Card, which for a £99 annual fee, earns me 1 Avios for every £1 spent. The card also currently offers 10,000 Avios once you hit £5,000 of spend in 3 months.

This doesn’t sound too ground-breaking, but the great thing is that my old-style Mastercard allows me to pay for VAT returns to HMRC as if it is a debit card, incurring no fee.

Soon, and for all new cardholders, my card will be replaced with a Visa corporate card and HMRC payment will incur a £34 fee. Depending on the Avios I’m going to get back, it will probably no longer be worth it, but I will still use my card when AMEX is not accepted.

4: Cancel my British Airways AMEX Premium Plus Card (for now) and use my Avios on a multi-Oneworld booking

The BA Premium Plus Credit Card (photo: British Airways)

I’ve loved my BA AMEX Premium Plus card in 2019. The card cost £195, but earnt me 26,000 Avios as a sign-up bonus on spending £3,000 in my first three months (it is usually 25,000, but you get extra if you apply via a referral).

I did all my spending on the card, earning 1.5 Avios per £1 spent (3 Avios per £1 spent at BA) until I eventually hit £10,000 of spend, at which point I received a two-for-one voucher. The voucher can only be used full Avios bookings (not Avios+cash) on BA-operated flights out of the UK. So it is quite limited, but it got me a round-trip from London to Tokyo for two in First Class for just £578pp in taxes.

But this card has a 24-month window until you can earn a sign-up bonus again as well. I would have to spend over £17,000 on the card in two years (or nearly £9,000 with just BA) to hit the same 26,000 Avios bonus I’d get if I waited the two years, which I don’t think I am going to do.

Further, I want to use my Avios in 2020 (or beyond) on Oneworld partner airline redemptions, which means earning the 2-for-1 will not be of use. The reason for this is that BA first class flights aren’t that expensive compared to other airlines. You can often get around £1,800 to the US, whereas an Avios booking will still incur around £675 in taxes and fees and won’t earn any miles or status points.

In 2020, a better use of my Avios will be forming a route that uses multiple Oneworld airlines over several connections. The Avios redemption is then based on the distance, rather than the segments flown. BA’s multi-airline chart is here (multiply by 2 for Business and by 3 for First). I will be looking to form a route with the likes of Cathay or Japan Airlines to fly 20,000 miles in First for 300,000 Avios.

5: Apply for the Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Credit Card

Photo: Virgin Money

I’ve held off from the Virgin cards for now, but 2020 may be the time! The Reward+ card costs £160 and awards 15,000 Flyingclub miles as soon as you make a purchase! You then earn 1.5 miles for each £1 spent (3 per £1 on Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays).

But the rubbish voucher has put me off. If you spend £10,000 in a year, you get a free upgrade voucher or a 2-for-1 companion voucher. Sounds great, but if you only have basic Virgin Flyingclub Red status, it’s only valid on an Economy to Premium upgrade or 2-for-1 in Economy. Bleh!

But, Flyingclub miles can be used on partner airlines, such as ANA (All Nippon Airways), which has a great first class product. A return from London to Tokyo in ANA First is just 120,000 miles (plus taxes and fees). With BA it is 102,000 one way! An ANA ticket currently costs around £10,700, versus £8,700 on BA, so the Flyingclub miles go really far!

I’ll therefore be doing all my personal spending on this card in 2020 (and maybe 2021!)

6: Making sure every purchase earns me points with shopping portals

Finally, both BA and Virgin have e-stores where online purchases earn you points back. There are very often offers giving you bonus points at certain stores. Topcashback also allows you to convert your cashback to Avios. So pretty much all online shopping can be earning you extra miles!

In 2020 I’ll be comparing the cashback/points being offered across the three to maximise the value of my purchases!

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