Flight hacking for amateurs alert!
Read on to find out how I used assorted loyalty programmes to flight hack:
- A flight from the UK to Budapest for £50 ($85)
- A flight from Athens to the UK for £70 ($120)
- A return flight from the UK to Miami for £250 ($425)
- A flight from Fort Lauderdale to Managua, Nicaragua for £80 ($135)
First up, there was a one-way flight from Manchester to Budapest in late September.
Thanks to my Jet2 loyalty points built up over a less-than-significant 4 or 5 short-haul flights with them over a couple of years, this cost me the princely sum of £4 plus taxes. OK, once I added in a checked bag that meant it was about £50. But still …. £50 ($85) …. I can’t get from York to London for that!
Flight hack two – Athens to Edinburgh
Next up, it was Athens. I’ll be losing my travel bloggers conference virginity at TBEX there in October. I’ll make my way to Athens overland from Budapest over the course of a month; so needed a one-way fight back to the UK after the event.
This was where Nectar came in. For those in the UK, a Nectar loyalty card accumulates points for purchases at BP petrol stations, Sainsbury’s supermarkets and more, and assorted online stores. Points can be spent on shopping and more, and also on flights with Easyjet – a budget airline who I’d class as pretty decent.
The brilliant thing about booking via Nectar’s website with Easyjet is that you can part-pay for flights with your points. Awesome! My one-way flight from Athens to Edinburgh including taxes and check-in bag came to about £70 ($120) once I’d used £50 ($85) worth of points towards it.
Flight hacks three and five – London to Miami (return)
Then … a two-month trip to Nicaragua and Colombia. This one’s work in progress, but I was the proud owner of nearly 80,000 Virgin Atlantic airline miles; earnt from of a couple of flights with them, plus by converting my Tesco Clubcard points into Virgin Atlantic miles over the last year or so.
Virgin miles expire after 3 years, but only if you have no activity with them. Clubcard points count as activity and keep ALL my miles fresh, even though I’ve not flown with Virgin for more than 5 years.
Miles in hand, I started to get creative about how to get to Nicaragua and/or Colombia, given that Virgin don’t fly to Nicaragua (why ever not??!)
Internet scouring gave me three options, all flying to/from London:
- Fly to Cancun, using about half of my miles. Maybe stay for a day or two, then sort a flight from there to Nicaragua or Colombia
- Fly with Delta to Bogota via Atlanta, using all my miles
- Fly to Miami, using about half of my miles. Stick around for a bit, then sort a flight from there to Nicaragua or Colombia
Hmmmm. Choices, choices. I did a quick pros and cons check of the three:
- Pros – it should only be a short hop on a plane from Cancun to Nicaragua (or somewhere in the vicinity). Mexican immigration is quick and simple.
- Con – I really don’t like Cancun. The hotel zone is my idea of hell. Centro is ok though.
- The deal-breaker – There’s no direct flight from Cancun to Managua; and the ones to Bogota were quite pricey.
Bogota with Delta via Atlanta
- Pro – straight through check-in with one airline / ticket.
- Con – connecting in the US. It can take hours. Memories of running through Chicago airport after three hours in the immigration queue and only making my connection because the plane was delayed are still in my memory.
- The deal-breaker – it uses all my points. All of them. And the taxes are £400 ($680).
- Pro – I’ve not been to Miami, and a few days of Art Deco architecture and Key West in the sun in January have a certain appeal.
- Con – a few days there is going to be baaaaaaad news for my budget.
- The deal-breaker: There are flights from Miami and nearby Fort Lauderdale to all sorts of central American destinations, plus Medellin, Cartagena, Baranquilla and Bogota in Colombia – choices, choices!
So, Miami here I come! Return flight booked with decent availability choice, leaving early January and returning early March. I used only half my miles, and it cost me just short of £250 ($425) in taxes.
Flight hack four – Fort Lauderdale to Managua, Nicaragua
Next up, it was a check of google flights (thanks for that tip, Nomadic Matt). Google flights told me that a one-way ticket from Miami International to either Managua or Bogota would cost between about £220-£300 ($375-$510).
OR … if I flew from Fort Lauderdale (20 miles from Miami), and went a day later with budget airline Spirit, I could get a direct flight from there to Managua for about a third of that. Even once I’ve allowed for bag check in and taxes (and wow, US airline taxes are waaaaaaay cheaper than UK ones!) it comes in at only £80 ($135).
Flights six and seven will be some sort of Central America-Colombia flight, and a one with Spirit back from Colombia to Fort Lauderdale –I’ll organize those when I’m on the ground.
To sum up …
So, there you have it. Five international flights for less than £500 ($850). For a foray into flight hacking that is focused on your regular spending, and occasionally (but not vigilantly) using online points e-stores for special offers and spending, you too could benefit from some flight bargains.
My top tips
- Many credit cards earn you airline miles. In the UK, Tesco Clubcard Mastercard is my preferred choice.
- Use online shopping portals where you can boost your points totals on your regular spending. In the UK, that means remembering to log onto ebay, Amazon, Apple via Nectar e-stores (or others) to earn more points.
- Sign up to airline loyalty programmes for carriers you’re likely to use at least a couple of times.
- Check out google flights. It can offer options from nearby airports you may not have thought of (as per my Fort Lauderdale example).
*Flight prices rounded to the nearest £5. Exchange rates calculated on 30/6/14 at a rate of £1=$1.705 via www.xe.com, and rounded to the nearest $5.