How has the value of a frequent flyer point changed in the last 12 months?

Roughly a year ago, I wrote about the value of frequent flyer points in this article. Whilst the theory of how you value points hasn’t changed, and it is still heavily linked to your approach to determining value, I thought it would be interesting to look at my own valuation and whether it has changed much over the last year.

This is my latest valuation table, with 2016 valuations included and changes highlighted in green and red:

Screen Shot 2017-09-24 at 13.29.15

The ‘actual’ column refers to the valuation, in Australian Dollar cents, for every point I’ve ever redeemed agains that specific scheme. The ‘suggested floor’ column is my recommendation for the minimum valuation you should place on your points, when you’re comparing a ‘use points’ vs. ‘pay cash’ scenario. The reason for the difference is an attempt to reflect specific nuances of the redemptions I’ve made that might not apply to you (e.g. I’ve been forced to accept a lower valuation than I ordinarily would for reasons X, Y and Z).

Key movers and shakers:

  • In general, hotel schemes have improved in value, with the exception of IHG. SPG and Marriott are up 20% and 12.5% respectively, thanks in part to value of non-hotel redemptions (e.g. Marriott travel packages). IHG have just been through a devaluation, where the number of points needed for a room has increased for a large number of properties, but the cash prices have not increased at the same rate.
  • Virgin UK has increased by almost 10%, with British Airways remaining static. This mainly reflects the lower fuel surcharges on Virgin (which helps improve their value), and the fact that relatively little has changed at BA in the last 12 months as they continue to grapple with an identity crisis and a series of customer service changes.
  • Both of the Australian carriers have reduced in value, with Virgin Australia falling 20% and Qantas falling 25%. I think this is mainly a result of me understanding the schemes better! Across most distances, you need > Qantas and Virgin Australia points than the UK schemes, but the taxes and charges are on a par so it’s unreasonable to rate points in those schemes at the same level.

Why are valuations important? I treat points as a scarce resource, and only want to use them when I’m getting the right level of value vs. booking in cash. These tables help me assess every redemption to work out whether I’m getting the right level of value or not.

Availability and Alerting with Expert Flyer

partner-center-logo-expert-flyerI wrote a few weeks ago about a site called Award Ace (www.awardace.com), which is a great way of quickly finding out the best value way to redeem your points on a specific route. This week I’m going to cover Expert Flyer (www.expertflyer.com), which is a website with a huge range of features but highlights are:

  1. Alerting on fare class availability;
  2. Detailed fare information;
  3. Flight status and availability;

Whilst Expert Flyer is a subscription service and probably wouldn’t be worth the fee for most infrequent flyers, it’s useful to know what it can do for you as you can always benefit from my subscription!

1. Alerting on fare class availability;

Primary use: being automatically notified when a flight you want to book on points has availability.

‘Availability’ in frequent flyer parlance refers to the ability to reserve seats using air miles on any given flight. Most airlines only release a handful of seats that can be booked using points, and typically only 1-2 in Business Class. The availability of these seats changes all the time, because:

  • Different airlines have different policies for when they first release seats – some do it at T-355 days, some much closer to departure;
  • People book and cancel redemptions all the time;
  • Airlines often release additional seats closer to departure based on how busy the flight is;

It wasn’t so long ago that you would have to manually check on a daily basis to see if seats had opened up on the flight you wanted to book, but Expert Flyer lets you do this automatically.

You simply search for the flight you’re interested using the website interface:

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 18.41.49

Click on a ‘setup alert’ button, enter a name for it, and hit save:

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 18.42.55

And then sit back and wait! If availability opens up on your flight, you’ll get an e-mail that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 18.45.00

If you’re looking to use your points and not wanting to book urgently, just drop me an e-mail and I’m happy to set up alerting / monitoring on your behalf. I’m currently on a 100% success rate for booking the redemptions I need to book based on this alerting, but it could be that availability never opens up, so still be prepared that nothing will come through.

2. Detailed Fare Information

Primary use: being able to work out how long a given airfare is likely to be around for.

I used to worry quite a lot about how long a given price I’d found for some flights was likely to be around. Expert Flyer gives you access to the detailed underlying fare information that lets you work this out! As an example, say you’d found bargain prices for London to Istanbul with British Airways. Do you book straight away, or can you wait a few days to confirm other things like accommodation?

If you put the flight details into Expert Flyer, and select ‘detailed fare rules’, you’ll get a screen that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 18.52.48

You can see from this screenshot, that it states ‘TICKETS MUST BE ISSUED ON/AFTER 31AUG17 AND ON/BEFORE 26SEP17″, which tells me I’ve got until the 26th September to book before the fare expires and the price is likely to increase.

3. Flight status and availability;

Primary use: working out how busy a flight is to inform upgrade chances and flight selection.

As a general rule, it’s better to fly Economy when the plane is quiet (increased chance you’ll be able to engineer a row to yourself), and to fly Premium Economy when the plane is really busy (increased chance of an upgrade).

Expert Flyer lets you search any flight and see how booked it is. Taking a flight from London to Hong Kong tomorrow as an example:

Screen Shot 2017-09-10 at 18.58.11

The above screenshot shows you every direct flight from London to Hong Kong tomorrow; 5 flights with Cathay Pacific (‘CX’), 2 flights with British Airways (‘BA’) and 1 flight with Virgin (‘VS’). Over to the right is the column entitled ‘available classes’ and then a series of letters followed by numbers. The letter is the fare class, and the number is how many seats are available against that fare class.

  • F,A denotes First Class
  • J,C,D,I denotes Business Class
  • W,R,E, T denotes Premium Economy
  • Y, B, H, K, M, L, V, S, N Q, O denotes Economy

There is some variation between airlines, who might use the codes slightly differently, but the above is a good general guide.

Putting these together with the numbers in the screenshot, and taking BA31 as an example:

  • ‘F1 A0’ means there is a single seat for sale in First Class. Given airlines ordinarily oversell First by a single seat, this probably means F is completely full at present.
  • ‘J3, C1, D1, R1, I1’ means there are 7 seats in total for sale in Business Class. Again, airlines are typically willing to overbook Business by a few seats, so I would guess Business is 95%+ full.
  • ‘W4, E2, T1’ means there are 7 seats for sale in Premium Economy. Given the BA Premium Economy cabin is only c. 20 seats, this means PE is likely 60-70% full.
  • ‘Y9, B9, H9, K9, M9, L9, V9, S9, N9 Q9, O9’ means there are a heck of a lot of seats available in Economy! At most, Economy is looking 50-60% full.

If I were in Business or Premium Economy on tomorrow’s BA31, I wouldn’t fancy my changes for an upgrade, but if I was in Economy I’d be feeling optimistic about my ability to bag a row to myself in the airport.

If you have flights you want to book, or upcoming flights that you’re simply interested in, then just drop me an e-mail and I can use my Expert Flyer subscription to help you out.

Where have the last 5 years of flying taken me?

I have spent a lot of time in the air over the last 5 years, and like any true aviation nerd have tracked every flight. Don’t ask why, but I was delving into my flight history earlier in the week and thought it might be interesting to share some of what I’ve found. Before I do, a quick note on exactly what I keep track of for each flight:

  • Date
  • Origin Airport
  • Destination Airport
  • Distance (in miles…)
  • Cabin (Domestic, Econ, Premium, Business, First)
  • Airline

I briefly toyed with the idea of adding aircraft type and seat, along with some kind of ‘rating’ for what I thought of the seat, service, etc. but felt that was probably taking an already-questionable hobby too far!

Overall Numbers

Over the last five years, I have flown a total of 397,231 miles as a result of taking 318 flights. At 240,000 miles from the Earth to the Moon, that’s not too far off being able to take me to the Moon and back. In terms of split over the years, it looks a bit like this:

image001

2015 was a very busy year, thanks to being co-located between London, Edinburgh and Sydney. 2017 is YTD flights taken, and will push over 100,000 miles and 40 sectors by the time the year ends.

Most Visited Airports

If I amalgamated the London airports into one, they would clearly be at the top of the list having been my base for most of the last 5 years. Instead, Edinburgh takes the number one spot thanks to several years of weekly trips with work. The overall list is:

image001-1

Sydney is understandably high up the list having been my new home since February 2016, and Hong Kong and Singapore do well as primary stop-off points between the UK and Australia. Dublin has been a starting point for a number of long-haul trips (thanks to the €, low taxes and competitive fares) and Geneva shows up in the top 10 thanks to skiing as a hobby.

There are a few airports where I’ve flown into them more or less times than I’ve flown out of them, primarily because of a ground sector between two airports. For example, in Easter 2015 I flew into Abu Dhabi, took a taxi to Dubai, and flew out of Dubai.

Most Flown Airlines

Those 318 flights were spread across 25 different airlines. The top 10, with the number of sectors in brackets, are:

  1. British Airways (214)
  2. Virgin Atlantic Little Red (28)
  3. Qantas (14)
  4. Jetstar (8)
  5. EasyJet (7)
  6. Qatar Airways (7)
  7. Virgin Australia (5)
  8. Cathay Pacific (4)
  9. American Airlines (3)
  10. Singapore Airlines (3)

With 67% of my flights taken on British Airways, I have a fairly ‘long tail’ of airlines that I’ve only flown once or twice, including Air Berlin, Air Canada, Austrian, Dragonair, Sri Lankan and Tigerair.

Most Flown Cabins

Based on the amount of moaning I do about flying Economy, I was expecting to see a massive skew towards that cabin, and indeed that is the case when you look at number of sectors with 81% of flights being in either Domestic or Economy.

However, when you look at total miles flown and ‘time in the air’, just shy of 50% of all the miles I’ve flown have been in either Business or First.

image001-3image001-2

Whilst I’d love for all my flights to be in Business or First, the reality is that it’s difficult to justify on short routes and / or isn’t possible on routes which only have a ‘Domestic’ option.

I’m looking forward to hitting 500,000 miles in the next 12 months, and then onwards to joining the ‘million mile club’!

Why InterContinental Ambassador is the only reward scheme that I’m happy to pay for.

Screen Shot 2017-07-16 at 22.06.46Regular readers will have picked up that I am a huge fan of InterContinental properties, and the IHG rewards scheme ‘Rewards Club’. The ability to earn large numbers of points in their regular ‘Accelerate’ promotions by staying at low cost properties, to then redeem them at aspirational 5* properties, is exactly what you want from a hotel rewards scheme. There is one small catch, however, in the way that IHG run their reward scheme. They actually have two schemes:

  • IHG Rewards Club – the ‘main’ program, with levels including Club, Gold, Platinum and Spire. It works much like every other hotel loyalty scheme, albeit with the benefits for top tier members being fairly weak. Benefits apply across Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, Staybridge Suites etc.
  • InterContinental Ambassador – applies only to InterContinental properties, and gives excellent benefits at those properties. There are two levels, ‘standard’ InterContinental Ambassador and Royal Ambassador, which is invitation only.

The fact that you have to pay for Ambassador status will put many people off, but it’s one scheme I have no problem paying for so thought it would be worth quickly running through the cost and the benefits.

How much is it?

There are two different rates, one for initially purchasing Ambassador and one for renewing. Initial purchase costs US$200 or 32,000 IHG points, with renewal having three options:

  1. Renew for US$150 and receive 10,000 IHG points;
  2. Renew for US$200 and receive 15,000 IHG points and a 10% rebate on all reward nights;
  3. Renew for 24,000 IHG points and receive 5,000 IHG points;

What are the benefits?

According to the marketing spiel, you will get all the things listed below. I’ve added my own views and experiences in receiving them in italics:

  • Guaranteed room upgrade each time you stay – one of the best benefits. If the next room up is a suite, it’s a big jump, but occasionally an ‘upgrade’ can just me a slightly improved view. I’ve only ever had good experiences and ended up in a materially better room.
  • Fresh fruit upon arrival – never really notice this one.
  • In-room mineral water (replenished daily) – if you have elite status in IHG rewards club, you’ll likely get complimentary water anyway, but it’s handy to have it guaranteed.
  • In-room welcome gift – the gift is at the discretion of the hotel, and has ranged from a key ring (yay…) to a bottle of wine (much better). I tend to keep my expectations low.
  • Single-room rate for double occupancy – no experience of this one – will need to investigate!
  • Extended check-out — up to 4 pm – one of the best benefits, I use this pretty much every time I stay in an InterContinental. If you have an evening flight, it’s great to head out for the day and then come back and use the room for a shower etc. before heading to the airport.
  • Dedicated Ambassador check-in area – does normally mean you get into your room quicker, but even if you’re checking in as a ‘normal’ guest you rarely spend more than a few minutes waiting.
  • Complimentary pay-TV film per stay – only works on paid stays (not reward nights), but I do quite like having the option particularly on longer stays.
  • Complimentary newspaper, delivered daily – it’s a newspaper…
  • Instant checkout – not even sure why they mention this one, it’s open to anybody.
  • Complimentary weekend night certificate – definitely in the top three benefits, this gives you a free night at the weekend when you pay for one night (e.g. pay for Friday, get Saturday free). Whilst you pay a higher rate than the cheapest advanced purchase rate for the one night you do pay for, it works out as at least a 35-45% discount on a weekend stay.
  • 5,000 bonus IHG Rewards Club points – I think of this as offsetting some of the fee you pay for Ambassador in the first place.

Pulling out the key benefits, for a max of US$200, you get:

  • 5,000 IHG points worth c. US$40
  • A free night in an InterContinental worth c. US$100
  • Benefits on each stay valued at US$20-$30

A quick bit of maths will tell you if you’re  going to stay more than 2-3 times at an InterContinental over 12 months, it’s worth paying for the status. I probably do 5-6 InterContinental stays per year and certainly don’t regret paying for it.

 

Travel ‘101’: Where should you stay when you’re flying from Heathrow?

she268ex.148268_mdI had an early flight from Heathrow a few weeks ago, and since I no longer live 30 minutes away, stayed at one of the hotels not far from the airport. Whilst I was there, it occurred to me that over the years I’ve stayed at a significant percentage of the ‘mainstream’ Heathrow hotels, including:

  • Holiday Inn London T5
  • Sheraton Heathrow Hotel
  • Sofitel T5
  • Sheraton Skyline
  • Holiday Inn Heathrow Ariel
  • Hilton Garden Inn Heathrow
  • Hilton London Heathrow Airport (T4)

And probably a few others that I’ve missed off the list too. Rather than rate all of them, I’ll go for the two that will get my custom every time in the future!

Best for convenience…Sofitel T5

The Sofitel is connected to the terminal at T5, is a genuine 5* hotel and a great option whether you’re flying from either T5 (a short walk) or T1,2 and 3 (free Heathrow Express). You’ll pay for the privilege, but on a fairly frequent basis you can get the Sofitel as a “secret hotel” on lastminute.com and other aggregators. It will look something like this:

Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 23.02.49

The screenshot shows £168, but it’s frequently available for close to £100.

Best for value…Hilton Garden Inn Heathrow

Located close to Hatton Cross tube is the Hilton Garden Inn Heathrow. It’s a “low end” hotel, but recently renovated and a short walk from Hatton Cross. It’s infinitely easier than relying on the ‘Hotel Hoppa’ services between the hotels and the airport terminals. You can pick it up for c. £60 in a sale, £75 as a ‘normal’ price or c. 20,000 Hilton points:

Screen Shot 2017-06-25 at 23.12.07

I struggle to see myself using any other hotels in the Heathrow area other than the two above, not withstanding these possible exceptions:

  1. A lucrative promotion / bonus with other providers; I’ve stayed at both the Holiday Inn London Ariel and the Sheraton to trigger IHG / SPG bonuses respectively.
  2. Significant price difference; it’s unlikely that you’ll find hotels much cheaper than the Garden Inn, but if you want to stay somewhere nicer but the Sofitel is expensive, it would be worth considering the Hilton at T4 (except if you’re flying from T5).

Great to hear from you on whether you have a different set of go-to hotels at Heathrow, and if so why!

 

More on the British Airways Customer Experience Push

Screen-Shot-2017-04-07-at-6.56.40-AM-730x523Unfortunately I’m going to have to keep this brief as I’m currently writing from the back of a Toyota RAV4, travelling between Kings Canyon and Uluru, in the Northern Territories of Australia. I’ve already given a fair bit of coverage to the slow, painful demise of the experience of flying British Airways. They continue to be a healthy and profitable company, but over the last 18-24 months have been on somewhat of a mission to make product and service cuts across most areas of their operation.
In an attempt to counter this, BA have done a couple of things. The first is promised to spend £400m on an overall of the Club World experience, and the second is to put on a press flight from Gatwick to Heathrow via Orkney to show off all the different things they’re doing to improve things. On this flight, Chairman and CEO Alex Cruz spoke and took questions regarding the enhancements being delivered and a group of c. 40 journalists were able to try out some of the new enhancements.
I’ve outlined the major takeaways  below, and overlaid my own (slightly cynical) view on top:
On The Ground
 
  • A new ‘First Wing’ has been opened in Heathrow, linking the check-in areas directly with the lounge. Cynic? Can’t really knock this one.
  • New lounges have been launched at Gatwick and Boston. Cynic? They only did Gatwick because they moved from the North to the South terminal, and Boston had to happen given the extra capacity introduced by the A380.
  • New lounges are planned for a number of destinations, including Aberdeen, Rome, Geneva, San Francisco, Johannesburg, Manchester and Chicago. Cynic? A number of these are likely to be standard capital replacement.
  • Automated bag drop, boarding and lounge entry will be introduced to Heathrow in 2017. Cynic? More likely to be a cost reduction drive (reduced headcount) than explicitly a customer experience benefit.
In The Air
  • A new seat will be launched in Cub World, likely to debut on the A350 with possibility for retrofitting to the existing fleet. Cynic? Seat replacement is long overdue, and there are still no confirmed timings for when this will happen.
  • Wi-fi will be rolled out to the entire fleet in 2017. Cynic? Pricing looks reasonable so not much to complain about here.
  • Improved sleep experience in Club World, with improved pillows, duvets and mattress toppers. Cynic? Look like genuine enhancements
  • New food service, including cutlery and glassware. Cynic? I think these look good, including the tumbler-style champagne glasses, but they look a little style over substance.

Overall, the enhancements look broadly positive, but I’m still not convinced they’ll be sufficient to bridge the gap between BA and it’s North American, Middle East and Asian counterparts.

Celebrating one year of The Reward Concierge

Screen Shot 2017-03-19 at 18.54.19It’s been just over a year since Laura and I started The Reward Concierge, and today’s weekly e-mail will be number 50 since the first edition on the 20th March 2016. When we decided to set the site up, we were sat in a small cafe in Clovelly, Sydney, and simply thought it would be a good way of channeling some of my frequent flyer nerd energy and helping people out. We didn’t have any particular interest in making money, and didn’t really know whether we were talking about a hobby or a business.

Since that day, and over the last year:

  • More than 6,000 unique visitors have browsed to therewardconcierge.com;
  • We’ve helped more than 100 people get a better deal on their travel arrangements;
  • We’ve booked more than $100k worth of travel;
  • People save an average of $100 – $200 when they get in touch, though the range is very broad (from $0 to several thousand);

Clearly, if The Reward Concierge was our livelihood, we’d be homeless and living on tinned ravioli! But as a hobby being squeezed in at the margins of the day, we’re pretty pleased with how our first year has gone. Some of our observations from the last 365 days:

  1. We don’t have enough time to do it ‘properly’. Running a site like this is a significant time investment, and between busy jobs and other commitments, we’re a long way away from doing all the things we’d want to do with the site. I’ve not even managed to do something as basic as set up a proper e-mail signature!
  2. People value the service we provide, but we’d benefit from being able to issue tickets directly. Because neither of us are registered travel agents, we can’t actually issue tickets. On the rare occasions where we do make bookings on peoples behalf, it means complex payment arrangements and a bit more hassle all round.
  3. We’re not good at converting people onto the mailing list. We have plenty of e-mail exchanges with people who get in touch, and many of them are repeat customers, but we’re not great at converting them into having an ongoing relationship with The Reward Concierge via the mailing list.
  4. Word-of-mouth drives 95% of our business. Given we don’t do any marketing, and the extent of our social media usage is roughly one post every quarter, this isn’t a surprise! However we’ve been delighted by the number of people who are clearing talking about The Reward Concierge to their friends & family, and we see the vast majority of people who get in touch starting their e-mails with “X mentioned you to us”…

So what about the next 12 months? These are some things we’re actively contemplating, and will hopefully put in to place over the next year:

  • Taking time off work to purely focus on developing the The Reward Concierge. This won’t be in the order of months, but I’ll be looking to take a day every month or so to dedicate to improving the site.
  • Introducing more feedback loops to better understand peoples experiences. We’ll be trialling a ‘satisfaction survey’ in the next few months, so we can start to get more quantitative feedback on how people have found their experience.
  • Looking at company incorporation and trademarks. At the moment, The Reward Concierge isn’t registered as a business (I’m effectively acting as a sole trader) so we’ll be looking at whether we register either in the UK or Australia (our complex immigration status doesn’t make this easy).
  • Looking at becoming a registered travel agent. This isn’t a cheap and easy thing to do, but it would give us the ability to issue airline and hotel bookings ourselves and make things easier for our customers. We’ll be exploring this further over the next year.

Thanks for reading, and if there’s anything you’d like us to add to the list of ‘things to do’, as ever just get in touch.

Adam & Laura

What have I used my points on in the last year?

Screen Shot 2017-03-05 at 21.49.44Like any self-respecting points nerd, I maintain a tracker of all the times I’ve used loyalty points for cars, flights and hotels. It helps to see how much value you’re getting for points in different schemes, not least because it means:

  • When you need to spend money to accrue the points, you can hold that against their value to work out if worthwhile or not.
  • When you’re considering a redemption, you can work out if it’s good value based on your usual spending patterns.

The last year has been fairly ‘typical’, that is, not particularly different from any of the last 3-5 years in terms of earning and spending points.

Headline Statistics

Over the last 12 months, I’ve redeemed 1,463,300 points across 10 different loyalty schemes. Those are: BA, Qantas, United and Virgin (UK & Australia) for airlines; IHG, Hilton, Marriott and SPG for hotels; and Hertz for cars.

Taking inspiration from the recent oscars, here’s an awards style run down of highlights from the last year:

  • Most points for a redemption (total): 200,000 IHG points for 4 nights at the spectacular InterContinental Da Nang Sun Peninsula in Vietnam.
  • Most points for a redemption (individual): 66,500 British Airways Avios for a one-way flight in Business from Vancouver to London with BA.
  • Most active scheme: IHG, with a total of 440,000 points paying for 14 free nights in 7 different InterContinental and Crowne Plaza hotels.
  • Best value scheme (per point): Not all points are created equal, so this one is a tough category to judge! Hertz averaged c$10 per point which is at least twice any other scheme. This is primarily driven by the low number of points needed for a redemption (550/day for a car). Ignoring Hertz, Virgin Atlantic wins with an average of c$4.72 per point.
  • Best value redemption (per point): This one goes to British Airways, where I was able to use 9,000 Avios to save a whopping AU$1,726 on some very last minute flights from Da Nang to Hong Kong with Dragonair. Those points delivered an awesome c$19.18 per point.
  • Most valuable scheme (overall): In the last 12 months I’ve used 403,500 British Airways Avios, delivering a total of AU$13,545 worth of savings.
  • Most valuable redemption (overall): I used 100,000 Virgin Atlantic points for two one-way tickets from London to San Francisco in Virgin Upper Class, which I valued at AU$4,764.

Overall, my tracker is telling me that I’ve used points to save a total of AU$31,245 in the last 12 months.

It would be great to hear about your own redemption success stories, and hopefully at least this inspires you to start your own tracker…

New British Airways flights from Manchester & London Stansted.

British_Airways_Manchester_Boeing_737-200_KvWBritish Airways strategy for much of the last 5-10 years has been to focus on London Heathrow as its hub airport. For the most part this is due to the cost benefits of operating from one place. This wasn’t always the case, with BA having had a significant regional presence in the past. In more recent times there have been very few exceptions to the “all flights must start or end at Heathrow” rule, mainly focused on fights from London City and a solitary Edinburgh to Ibiza flight! This looks set to change as BA announces the launch of a series of flights from Manchester and London Stansted, and as a result I thought it would be helpful to give a quick run down of the new routes.

Manchester

Most of the flights are seasonal, and in general there is only one in each direction each week, so will mostly benefit leisure travellers who are going away somewhere for a week. They are:

  • Alicante
    • Dates: 20th May – 30th September
    • Day(s): Saturdays
    • Times
      • dep. MAN 05.50, arr. ALC 09.40;
  • Ibiza
    • Dates: 18th May – 1st October
    • Day(s): Thursdays, Saturdays, Sundays
    • Times:
      • dep. MAN 21.25, arr. IBZ 01.15 (Thurs)
      • dep. MAN 19.30, arr. IBZ 23.30 (Sat)
      • dep. MAN 12.50, arr. IBZ 16.40 (Sun)
  • London City
    • Dates: 21st May – 1st October
    • Day(s): Sundays
    • Times:
      • dep. MAN 19.55, arr. LCY 20.55
  • Malaga
    • Dates: 19th May – 29th September
    • Day(s): Fridays
    • Times:
      • dep. MAN 05.35, arr. AGP 09.35
  • Mykonos
    • Dates: 19th May – 29th September
    • Day(s): Fridays
    • Times:
      • dep. MAN 13.10, arr. JMK 19.10
  • Nice
    • Dates: 20th May – 30th September
    • Day(s): Saturdays
    • Times:
      • dep. MAN 13.05, arr. AGP 16.25
  • Palma
    • Dates: 21st May – 1st October
    • Day(s): Sundays
    • Times:
      • dep. MAN 05.50, arr. PMI 09.35

In terms of new flights from Stansted, unfortunately the schedules haven’t yet been published, but you will be able to fly to Florence, Geneva and Nice. I’ll drop the details of these into the weekly e-mail once they’re available.

How much is airline status worth?

Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 20.34.49For the last few years, the amount of flying that I’ve been doing for either work or pleasure has seen me renew my British Airways Gold card without too much thought. This year, with my collection year running February – February, I’ve due to come up a little short. To renew Gold with British Airways, you need 1,500 Tier Points, and I’m currently on 1,465 with no further travel planned in the next 2-3 months.

Given i’m not far off the mark, I’ve been considering a ‘tier point run’ to earn the extra 35 points I need. A tier point run is where you take flights purely for the purpose of earning air miles and elite status. How much would earning 35 tier points cost? If I were based in Europe, I would be able to book a cheap return in Club Europe with BA for around £150 / AU$250. Unfortunately things are a little more expensive in Sydney, with the cheapest option being to fly to Perth and back in Economy for around £330 / AU$550. Is it worth spending $550 to maintain BA Gold, or should I just drop down to Silver?

To work this out, I’ve outlined the key benefits and how I value them below. I’ve split them into ‘Reservations & Service’, ‘On the Ground’ and ‘In the Air’.

  • Reservations & Service
    • Dedicated Phone Line; I end up calling BA quite a lot, and having a dedicated number for Golds often shortcuts this process, especially in times of disruption. This can often be the difference between spending several stressed hours at the airport or getting issues sorted out quickly, so I do value it. £20 – £30.
    • Improved Economy Avios Availability; Golds get access to an extra fare bucket against which they can use their Avios points, and this significantly increases availability. This can often mean ability to redeem points instead of using cash, and can save substantial amounts of money as a result. £125 – £150.
  • On the Ground
    • First Class Check In; this can sometimes save a little time versus using the Business class check in desks that BA Silver gives you access to, but it’s a pretty small margin. £5.
    • First Class Lounges; these can make a big difference to a journey, and whilst any lounge is a privilege the F lounges typically mean (i) restaurant-style sit down dining instead of a buffet, (ii) vintage champagnes instead of sparkling wine or prosecco and (iii) generally more luxurious  environment (especially shower facilities). I would probably pay a £10 premium over a Business lounge each time I go through one, which is anything between 10 and 15 times per year. £100 – £150.
  • In the Air
    • Onboard Service & Upgrades; I’m not convinced that being Gold has any impact on my changes of an upgrade, but I do think the service tends to be better, especially when travelling Economy. It’s fairly intangible but I do think there’s something there. £20 – £25.
    • Increased Avios Earning; when you fly BA (and only BA), you earn a 100% bonus over the base earning rate vs. a 50% bonus for Silvers. This has much more limited benefit for me these days as a decreasing proportion of my flights are on BA, but at a guess this earns me an extra 5,000 – 10,000 Avios per year. £50 – £100.

I think that’s about it! Most of the other benefits of Gold, you also get as Silver, and therefore not worth considering when trying to value the premium that  a Gold card is worth. If you add all of the above up, you get a valuation of between £320 / AU$530 and £460 / AU$765.

That makes it just about worthwhile to spend the money on flying around aimlessly to renew for another year, and is why  in the next couple of weeks I’ll be spending a day flying to Perth and back!