A Practical Approach to Travel as a Wedding Photographer
I fully appreciate that for some of you the idea of “Air Miles” is not one that seems worthwhile considering, or even an exciting subject to read about, especially if your travelling infrequently. In fact, whilst most people have a basic understanding of what “air miles” are, few people actually understand the benefits and loop-holes that can really pay-off for you, and hence why a few, myself included, do find them extremely interesting. Admittedly, it’s normally by some accident that you come to discover more than a “points for flying” explanation of these things called ‘miles’.
I have avoided exploring in any great depth the tricks of mile hacking here, but have instead chosen to explain a few facts of the industry. Unfortunately, airline miles and the world of; money saving, point collecting, status flying and credit card accumulation is a little more complex than that simple ‘points for flying’ explanation that I wish it could be.
However, that simple explanation is the base for any deeper understanding and here I hope to plant the seed for learning more of what could work for you independently.
Why so complicated. In my view, there are four main reasons that the world of air miles appears from the outside to be so complex or ‘pointless’ :) …
ONE Understanding the difference between Air Miles ‘points’, and Airline Loyalty ‘status’. More often than not, I hear people discuss points when actually they mean ‘status’. The simple difference is this; points are like pennies in a jar, they can be collected and redeemed against the cash value of a ticket. Status on the other hand, whilst often accumulated on a point based system, CANNOT be redeemed for cash, but rather are more like stars on a child’s school card. The more stars against your name, the more you are rewarded.
TWO Once you understand that there is a difference between ‘money off’ and ‘building status’ with an airline, the next incorrect assumption is that ‘this is only worth knowing if you fly ALOT’. This is simply not the case. Mid-level tier status with OneWorld (the alliance that includes; Iberia, British Airways, Qatar, Air Berlin, and 11 others) can be obtained by flying as little as 4 flights (a mixture of long-haul business and first), and is easily achievable by splashing out just once every 18 months on a return business trip to Asia (for circa £1,000!) and then taking 4 additional short-haul flights for as little as £39 each.
The same status is also achievable by taking 25 return trips in economy seats with the cheapest tickets you can find. However shopping around and splurging once on a long-haul business flight can be very rewarding – plus it’s an experience I highly recommend! ;) I did this recently for as little as £800, and as well as the status guarantee, got to take 4 long haul business class flights with Qatar for my troubles – not too shabby.
“So what? Now I get a free bacon roll?” I hear you ask.
No! Sadly not. But for the next 12+ months, you will have FREE access to all One World airport lounges, priority check-in, priority boarding, free seat selection, free additional checked-baggage and fast track security at some airports… Every Time You Fly!
For me, if I had to pick between points and status, I would pick status every time. It’s status that makes my travel life so much more productive, enjoyable and rewarding – not the ‘points’.
THREE However, ‘points’ do play a role, and once you start flying consistency with one alliance, the doors can open for you and the places you can visit for “very cheap” prices – start to appear. Just last week I spotted a deal to New York in Business from Madrid, for less than £200 per/person (& 65,000 points). What’s the catch? Well, potentially there isn’t one. It’s working out the value of a point to you, but that can get confusing and here is why…
Gone are the days where you received 4,000 points for flying 4,000 miles. And likewise, it’s complete rubbish you require 4,000 points to fly 4,000 miles. Personally, I value a point at £0.01. Fairly ridiculous right? well… wait. I know other people that will value them as little as £0.005, and some who value them as much £0.03. Yep, 3 whole pence!
The reason someone might value a point at £0.03 is two-fold. Firstly, the cost of collecting them in the first place i.e) did you pay for the flights personally, or did the business? If you collect 10,000 points for a flight, but someone else paid, then clearly those points were free to collect. Secondly, what are you redeeming them for and what are the alternatives? Would you have paid for business class? Are you using them for shop vouchers, first class flights from London to Australia, or a 2-hour economy flight? How you collect/redeem and IF you would have paid the cash alternative, are all factors to consider.
Anyhow… my point is… (excuse my accidental metaphor), that it can get confusing when you don’t actually know what the damn things are worth!
Over the years I have developed an understanding of what a single point is worth to me, and it will take some time to understand what they can be worth to you. Yet, there is absolutely NO REASON not to collect them. At the very least you can convert them to an M&S voucher, or the like (I am not recommending this – it’s an option).
My advice would be to focus more on the “status” if you take up to 25 flights a year, and if not, then don’t dismiss the points benefits. When combined, they can create a rewarding mix.
FOUR Finally, I want to install the knowledge that the best way to collect points, is not necessarily flying. In 2016 I collected approximately 160,000 points, at a personal valuation of circa £1,600.00. Not bad, hey? However, as little as 25% of those points came from flying. The rest, primarily, came from credit card spending and credit card sign-up bonuses. This is one of the secret ingredients that point collectors exploit. It’s still possible to collect those sort of miles from flying alone, but you will need to be consistency flying A LOT of long haul in business class. Since I fly 80% of the time in economy class, the credit cards are my keys to a few reward flights each year.
Like a First Class Return trip to Dubai. (because I like that sort of thing)
If you like geeky articles on photography, travel and productivity, just like this one, please tell me.
(1) You can build status within an alliance by flying with ANY of the members of that alliance – interchangeably. You do NOT have to fly with just ONE airline.
(2) Likewise, when you gain status with one airline, you then have the same (or similar) benefits, with all other airlines, within that alliance.
(3) Whilst I talk about ‘OneWorld’, ‘airline alliances’ and ‘status’, you should know that there are actually THREE different alliances, the other two being; Star Alliance and Sky Team. Everything I have said is almost certainly transferable knowledge, accept the terminology, and the values might be slightly different. If you live in the UK or Spain, it’s likely OneWorld will be for you. If you live in Denmark, Sweden or Norway, then it’s likely to be Star Alliance, because of SAS.
Check the airline you fly with or could fly with, and which alliance they belong to.
Status with an airline can be incredibly rewarding, and productive if you let it!
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