A Travel Expert’s Little Black Book

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Nicky Kelvin is The Points Guy. He spends his time criss-crossing the world and teaching people how to make the most of their airmiles. Just for SLMan, Nicky opened up his little black book and shared his favourite ways to travel smart…
Photography JENNY ZHANG/UNSPLASH

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To rack up airmiles, you need to sign up to the right credit cards. The sign-up bonuses are the best way to boost your account balance quickly. The issuer will give you a batch of points for spending a certain amount on the card within the first few months, then you continue to earn points on each pound you spend. To earn the maximum number of miles and points every time you fly or stay in a chain hotel, make sure you’re signed up to loyalty programmes and always add your membership number to your booking. 

If you get one new credit card this year, go for the American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Credit Card. There’s currently a special deal in which new Amex cardholders can earn 30,000 points (that’s roughly £400 in real money to spend elsewhere) if they spend £3,000 on the card in the first three months – watch out for regular deals in these sign-up bonuses. After the first free year, you’ll pay an annual fee of £140. It’ll give you two points for every £1 spent directly with airlines and for any purchases in currencies other than GBP, plus three points per £1 spent directly with American Express Travel. I’d also recommend Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard, British Airways American Express Premium Plus Credit Card and Virgin Atlantic Reward+ Mastercard Credit Card.

British Airways Executive Club is the biggest airline loyalty programme in the UK. One of the easiest and quickest ways to collect Avios (the currency of Executive Club) is with the American Express British Airways Premium Plus card. After spending £3,000 in the first three months of card membership, you’ll earn a welcome bonus of 25,000 Avios. That welcome bonus is worth around £275, which offsets the annual fee of £250 per year – and that’s before you factor in the huge value of the companion voucher, one of the most generous benefits in the UK miles and points landscape.

I collect points every time I fly or stay in a chain hotel. I concentrate most of my earning and spending around the British Airways Executive Club, the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club and Singapore Airlines’ KrisFlyer.

Join Nectar and Tesco Clubcard to maximise your points. The big win with Tesco versus other shopping loyalty points is that Tesco points can be converted straight to Virgin points. Also, make sure to shop online through shopping portals. Almost every major retailer has a presence on these where you can earn huge chunks of miles and points on every single purchase by simply clicking through to that retailer from the portal. It’s an easy win.

Tools like Reward Flight Finder and Seat Spy allow you to browse a range of dates for different airlines to find the best availability.

Routes that have lots of flights per day are best for redemptions. This includes New York City, which has countless airlines and flights arriving and departing every day, to and from the world’s major cities. Even though demand may be high, the increased capacity means there is a much higher chance of getting a reward seat. Use tools like Reward Flight Finder or Seat Spy, which allow you to browse a huge range of dates for different airlines to find the best availability. With this tool, you can also set up alerts for redemptions for the dates or routes you’re looking for. 

If you’re a frequent traveller, it’s worth trying to upgrade your card status. This is especially true if you travel with the same airline often, as the status benefits are incredibly useful. Going that extra mile and taking one or two extra flights to hit status could be very valuable for the following year. 

One of the best perks of being a cardholder is priority check-in and priority security. Lounge access is great too. All these things can certainly help to ease the crazy travel chaos we are all currently facing. One of the best ways to use points and get great value is by purchasing very cheap premium economy tickets and using points to upgrade to business class. 

If you’re after an elusive BA black card, you might have to wait a while. This card is by invitation only and our intel tells us you need to control a travel budget which spends at least £2 million a year with British Airways.

Google Flights is the best way to find airline deals. Especially using the function that allows you to search multiple departure and arrival points, and a range of dates. You can also use the explore option to see a world map showing the cheapest prices.

Travel chaos is expected to last throughout the summer. Several airports are suffering long queues and many flights are getting cancelled, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport and get through the different procedures – Heathrow, for example, is experiencing traffic to even get into the airport. It’s a great idea to buy access to priority security lines for around £5, which is a solid investment to save potentially an hour or more standing in line. 

Before you fly, download Flight Radar 24 which allows you to track the exact aircraft that will be flying your route. You can then see where the plane is and whether it has made it out of its previous destination. Having this information will put you ahead of other passengers (and potentially even some airline staff) to help determine whether there will be delays ahead of your trip.

British Airways is unbeatable because of its giant route network. If you’re London-based it should be a go-to, especially if you have ‘elite status’. For North American travel, Virgin Atlantic has newer aircraft which are pretty slick, and for long-haul travel Qatar is consistently excellent – Doha airport provides a great transit experience. 

The best budget airline has to be Jet2. It’s a solid and consistent low-cost airline that delivers time and again. 

HANSON LU/UNSPLASH

Airport lounges are a must. Some impressive facilities include Peloton bikes in the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at London Heathrow’s Terminal 3, baths and foot massagers in the Cathay Pacific First Class lounges in Hong Kong, and spa treatments if travelling with British Airways in Club World or first class from London Heathrow or New York JFK.

The best flight I’ve ever been on was with Singapore Airlines from Singapore to Zurich. It was in the new suites on the Airbus A380 and I had my own double bed. Everything from the seat and service to the food and drink was outstanding. 

My favourite city in the world is Tel Aviv. I used to live there, and the combination of food, nightlife, people and beaches is unbeatable. In fact, the whole of Israel offers incredible variety. A little closer to home, I love the chilled side of the Balearic Islands, particularly Ibiza. 

The best place I’ve stayed at recently is Hotel U14, Autograph Collection in Helsinki. I went in not expecting much but was incredibly impressed with the public spaces (including one of the coolest clocks I’ve ever seen in the lobby), great suites and a top-class breakfast. It’s well located to explore Finland’s capital on foot.

To avoid summer travel chaos, buy access for priority security lines for around £5. It’s a solid investment that can save you time.

If you want exceptional service at a decent price, book a room at the W hotel in the Maldives. There are private butlers if you want to splash out. 

The under-the-radar spot you should know about is the Tremiti islands in Italy. They are relatively unexplored by international tourists, but are known for excellent diving and ancient castles and fortresses. If you’re looking for adventure and are happy to go further afield, Choquequirao in Peru may be for you. The ruins of the city require a two-day hike, so they don’t draw the overflowing crowds of Machu Picchu.

If you want to travel smarter, do your research. Whether booking flights, hotels or excursions, use comparison websites to find out if you’re getting the best deal. When it comes to flying, if you know where you want to travel, you might want to check different departure airports, especially starting your trip in mainland Europe from places like Amsterdam, Oslo or Copenhagen where, for example, long-haul business class flights for example can be much cheaper.

A great airport hack is to pay a small fee for priority security, if the airport offers it. Skipping the long security queue allows more time to relax and do some shopping or grab a bite to eat in the terminal.

The coolest airline in the world right now is probably JetBlue. It’s really changing the game. With nonstop flights to London and New York, the airline is challenging the traditional carriers by bringing a whole new type of product and service to the industry.

The most comfortable seats are definitely in first class. But you’ll have to book with the world’s best airlines like Emirates, Etihad and Singapore Airlines to enjoy the best experience.

Many people say that BA’s first-class cabin doesn’t quite compete with other competitors. Especially those in the Middle East and Singapore Airlines. However, on the right day, BA can still provide a great service. Almost all airlines offering a first class service will give the passenger a very special experience compared to the average economy class flight.

For more information, visit ThePointsGuy.co.uk and follow @ThePointsGuyUK & @NickyKelvin

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