First-class flights on British Airways are pretty special. Not only do you get access to a luxury chair that can convert into a fully flat bed and is lined with the same Italian leather that they use in Maseratis, but you also get to sample some of the most exquisite wine and food in the world.
A first-class ticket grants you access to the renowned Concorde Lounge where you can fill up on unlimited bottles of £200 Champagne, get a massage, or even take a shower.
These luxuries, however, come at a staggering price. A general transatlantic flight on British Airways first-class can set you back up to £10,000 per person. So how did we manage to get ourselves two first-class tickets for free?
As regular readers of my blog know, I’m extremely frugal. I would never dream of buying a ludicrously priced first-class BA ticket with my own hard-earned cash.
What I did do though, is utilise Avios points.
Avios is a rewards system where spenders can use cards such as the British Airways American Express card to earn flight points whilst they spend. A first-class flight grabs you the best value when spending your Avios points, and it allows people who would never usually pay for this ticket to experience the luxury that’s on offer.
Different flight destinations cost different amounts of Avios points ranging from 100,000 to 300,000. So it could cost up to 600,000 Avios points to get two first-class tickets. Some people would scoff at that figure as with most cards you only get rewarded 1 Avios point for every £1 spent.
With my £10,000 per year annual budget, those 600,000 points would take a hell of a long time to accumulate. But, thankfully, there are loopholes to abuse!
Here’s what I did.
Step 1: Open an American Express Gold Card. This card is free for 1 year, then £140 per year afterward, but you’ll be cancelling before the year is out so you’ll never pay the fee. Make sure you get referred to the Gold Card, this way you’ll earn 12,000 points instead of 10,000. My referral link is here, click ‘view other cards’ for the gold one.
Step 2: Order a companion card so all of your household spendings can go through the Gold Card. You need to spend £3,000 in the first 3 months to get the ‘welcome bonus’. All of your spendings should be on this card. If you think you won’t make the spending in time, buy Amazon gift cards to push you over the line.
Step 3: After 3 months you’ll hit the welcome reward which will grant you 10,000 reward points (12,000 if referred), you should have also amassed an extra 3,000 points from the spending itself.
Total points: 15,000
Step 4: Refer your partner via the American Express Referal Program. Have them open up a Gold Card. You’ll earn 6,000 points for this.
Total points: 21,000
Step 5: Do the exact same thing for your partners’ card, shift all spending onto this one. After 3 months you should have hit the welcome bonus again.
Total points: 33,000
Step 6: Cancel the Gold Cards. Make sure you’ve converted your Membership Reward Points into Avios points before you cancel the cards to avoid losing them.
Step 7: Pick a new American Express Rewards Card which awards Avios points such as the British Airways card and repeat the process again from Step 1.
After you’ve not had a certain brand of card (the Membership Rewards cards and British Airways cards are different brands) for 6 months you’ll be eligible for the welcome bonuses again.
Doing this referral trick will allow you to be in a constant state of earning referral and welcome bonuses throughout the year.
There’s one more trick that you can do in order to double your points when you’re ready to buy your first-class ticket: getting a companion voucher.
How to get a Companion Voucher
Some of the cards reward you with a Companion Voucher when you reach a certain spending tier. This item allows you to take a companion on your reward flight for no extra Avios points, effectively doubling your points.
There are a couple of methods that you can use to get one of these handy vouchers. The first is with the standard British Airways American Express card.
With this card, you need to spend £20,000 in a single year to get the voucher. This is a tough spend for quite a lot of people, so I’d only go down this route if you know you’ll have to buy some big-ticket items throughout the year like a new boiler or other home improvement purchases.
The alternate method and the one that I used to get my Companion Voucher is to get a British Airways American Express Platinum Plus card.
This card costs £195 for the year, but it awards you with a whopping 25,000 Avios points and 1.5 points for every £1 you spend, which more than covers the cost of the card.
With the Platinum Plus card, you only have to spend £10,000 in the year to get a Companion Voucher, this is a lot more achievable.
Something to also consider with the plus card is that the voucher lasts longer. With the standard card, it only lasts for 1 year before it expires, with the plus you have 2.
Using these methods we managed to save up enough Avios points to get two first-class flights to America in only 2 years. It added an awesome flare of luxury to our already exciting honeymoon, and we’re now saving up again!
Here’s what I learned along the way.
The companion voucher expires! I had no idea that this was the case when I purchased the £195 Platinum Plus card.
The two years that they give you to use the voucher also begins as soon as you hit your £10,000 spend, which in our case was a lot sooner than we thought.
You also need to return from your trip before the voucher expires, and as Avios flights have limited availability, you usually need to book 11 months in advance, this makes for a very small window of opportunity to book your flight once you receive your companion voucher.
You also might not yet have amassed the total Avios you need by the time you need to book your flight.
Due to this, I would advise you to only begin focusing on your Companion Voucher when you’ve got all of the points you need to book your first-class flight. This will save you a lot of stress!
Avios flights are quite limited. We had actually planned to travel around Japan for our honeymoon but we didn’t realise there were no first-class flights offered for this route. Due to our efforts with getting the card (and our companion voucher running out), we decided to go on our next best holiday instead which was an American road-trip!
Make sure you check where you can go with a first-class ticket beforehand to avoid disappointment.
You have to pay ‘tax’ for your flights. The small print which British Airways adds to their rewards scheme is that you still have to pay fuel tax for your flights even if booked through Avios. These generally cost around the same as an economy ticket (we paid £550 per person for our flights).
It’s a small price to pay when you’re getting a first-class ticket worth £10,000, but make sure you realise that you’ll need to stump up a bit of cash beforehand!
I’ve found Avios to be the best form of spending rewards out there. The gold card even gives you two free airport lounge visits per year (unlimited booze and food!).
Avios points can also be used for extremely low-cost inter-European flights, costing as little as 10,000 Avios with a £15 fuel charge, pretty awesome.
Have any of you taken advantage of this great rewards scheme? Let me know in the comments below. I’ll leave you with some pictures of our awesome first-class flight experience!