How to Earn Flying Club Miles & Other Points for ‘Free’ Travel
We used American Express Membership Points and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club Miles to get our Upper Class flights from London to San Francisco worth £14,000 for 100,000 points + £700 to cover taxes and fees.
In this post, I’ll go into how we earned those points and how I’ve learned to earn more to hopefully get us even better deals in the future.
The information below is focused on the UK but most points systems are similar so there should still be some useful information in here if you live in a different country or use a different points programme.
How we got started earning points
A couple years ago, friends of ours told us about the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Card which was offering a signup bonus of a bunch of points, various other perks, and no membership fee for the first year.
This card was also a charge card rather than a credit card which meant the criteria for approval was a lot less strict and we would be approved even though we hadn’t been in the UK that long. It also meant that the card’s total balance was direct debited out of our account at the end of the month (not something we minded since we wouldn’t want to pay any interest anyway).
It’s worth noting before I talk further about credit cards (I will mention a couple other ones that we use later in the post) that you really shouldn’t be using credit or charge cards unless you can pay them off at the end of each month. Interest is a waste of money and eats into the value of the points you’re earning. It’s also really easy to let it get out of control – I should know, I had to work really hard to get out of debt a few years ago and it’s not something I want to deal with again.
Our friends referred Matt (which got them and us an extra bonus), he signed up and I got a supplementary card then we started using it for everything.
The greatest thing about it initially was how quick the transactions showed up under pending and just how clear and easy it was to track our spending on the American Express site. Which, you’ll know from this post is something that excites us very much. It was even easier than our bank cards which had a delay on the details showing up (what?).
Fast forward a year and we had heaps of points just from everyday purchases and I started looking at what I could get for them.
American Express has lots of airline partners you can transfer points to and one of the best was Virgin Atlantic for a) being a great airline and b) their points (Flying Club miles) spend table was quite reasonable and they offered 1 for 1 transfer from American Express.
For these reasons (and a couple of others), we decided to spend our points with Virgin Atlantic for our Upper Class flights to San Francisco and have been hooked on trying to earn more Flying Club Miles ever since.
American Express Membership Points
This card is especially good at earning points if you travel because:
- One point per £1 spent.
- One additional point per £1 spent directly with airlines.
- One additional point per £1 spent in a foreign currency.
Spending these points on any of the goods offered seemed incredibly overpriced and not worth it but the opposite was the case for most of the travel related things.
Avios is another good program to be involved in that you can transfer your American Express Points to. Avios is British Airways’ loyalty program so you have a lot more options when it comes to flying routes although they did just devalue their points so Avios aren’t worth quite as much as they once were.
There are also hotel loyalty schemes you can transfer into if you prefer that option. I signed up for my own Preferred Rewards Gold Card a few months ago since I didn’t need a credit history to get it. We spent the minimum needed to get the bonus sign up points and since the 1st year has no membership fee, I’m going to hold on to it to get the 1st year bonus.
I’m keeping them as Membership Rewards for now because we don’t have anything specific to spend them on and I want to keep my options open. But we’ll have to decide soon because they have to be transferred before the account is closed (which, in our case, we want to avoid the annual fee in the 2nd year).
If you decide to get the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Card, leave a comment below or send me an email and I can send you a referral invite so we can both get extra points!
So how else do we earn Flying Club Miles?
This is where things got interesting. We found there was a whole world of points earning options out there and half of were from things we would be buying anyway.
These other ways of earning Flying Club Miles have proved really fruitful. Our Preferred Rewards Gold Card earned us 100,000 miles in one year, these next two ways have earned us that much EACH in the same amount of time. Every little bit adds up!
I’ve only used Virgin Atlantic’s Shops Away site so I can’t comment on the others but I’m sure they’re very similar.
You log in as usual to your frequent flyer account and follow the links to the Shops Away portal. There, it will list hundreds of retailers that advertise miles deals should you click the link to go to their site. Sometimes, they will even run promotions for extra miles so make sure you check.
For example, when I was planning our States road trips I knew that hotel booking sites (that I would be using anyway) would be on Shop Away and should give me some Flying Club Miles if I clicked their link on the portal. So I checked them and decided to go with Hotels.com for some of them because they gave 6 miles per £1 bonus which was a lot more than Booking.com offered.
At the time I actually booked the hotels, Hotels.com was running a promotion so I got a HUGE 12 miles per £1 spent.
You do have to read the small print though to make sure you get the miles. In this case, all accommodation had to be paid for at time of booking in order to get the miles but that wasn’t an issue for us since the American Dollar was relatively low against the Pound at that time so it was a good rate to lock in.
Like I said before, they have hundreds of retailers so I always check the site first before I buy anything online. I’ve even been known to go to a clothing store to try on clothes or shoes I want so I know the right size before purchasing them online because I know I’d get more miles that way.
We have earned 30,834 total Flying Club Miles this year JUST from using Shops Away for things we’d be buying anyway.
Virgin Atlantic Credit Cards
Pretty much all airlines will have their own loyalty programme and therefore their own credit cards so you can earn their points directly into your frequent flyer account.
Virgin Atlantic have 2 credit card levels that you can use. The best part about their cards is that you get both an American Express and a Visa card to use to collect Flying Club Miles so if a place doesn’t take AMEX (the highest earning rate of the 2 cards) you can still get some miles using the Visa card instead of nothing (like we often had before).
These are proper credit cards (not like the charge card above) so they will charge you interest if you don’t pay it off at the end of your billing cycle.
The White Cards are completely free (!) and have an earning rate of 1 mile for £1 on the Amex and 0.5 miles to £1 on the Visa. They often run promotions that increase the sign up bonus from 3,000 to 10,000 Flying Club Miles so it’s best if you wait until one is on before you sign up.
The Black Cards have a yearly fee of £140 which is quite pricey. However, we decided to have Matt sign up while they were running an increased sign up bonus promotion because it meant pretty much enough bonus miles for a return economy flight and the earning power on these cards is AMAZING. You get 2 miles for £1 on the Amex and 1 mile for £1 on the Visa. So many Flying Club Miles!
The Black Cards also had added bonuses for reaching certain thresholds like spend £5,000 in a year and get a free upgrade to premium economy (and again if you reach another £5,000 of spending).
In our experience, you CAN hold both cards at the same time. Both Matt and I have a White card account with supplementary cards and got them at different times so we could both get to the spend requirements for the bonus miles. Matt also holds the Black card which we currently use for everything because the earning power is the best out of pretty much any card out there.
The only downside is the 2.75% foreign exchange fee on overseas purchases – most cards in the UK have 1% to 2.75% fees so this is somewhat inevitable but we could get a lower fee on other cards.
We’ve earned 96,270 Flying Club Miles using these cards (including sign up bonuses).
We switched to grocery shopping at Tesco’s purely because you could automatically convert your Clubcard points to Flying Club Miles and the valuation is actually really good. MUCH better than Sainsbury’s Nectar points – in my experience, Nectar points are pretty much useless and barely get you anything!
Virgin Atlantic and Tesco often run promotions for bonus miles when you convert miles and also when you choose to automatically transfer your Clubcard points to Flying Club Miles so wait until they have one before you set that up.
We earned 13,313 Flying Club Miles from shopping at Tesco.
I learned a lot from the Head for Points site in the UK. He puts out multiple posts a day and always alerts you to any promotions being run or good deals on credit card bonuses etc. His focus is mainly on Avios points but he does have a lot of good information on Virgin Flying Club Miles.
My only regret is that I didn’t know about collecting miles sooner! Hopefully I’ve encouraged you to go out and look into how you can earn points for things you’re buying already. It’s a no brainer, really!