I’m an avid traveller, and until recently couldn’t get my head around using or collecting airline miles. But now, I realise the power that they hold, as after a little research and planning, I have enough frequent flyer miles for a free first class flight – all from one trip abroad.

My next flight will be in style, because in one holiday that I took with my mum last October, I earned a combined total of 97,000 frequent flyer miles… despite only making a journey of a few thousand. The total value of these? If used to get money off flights, probably around £900+… or if used to purchase a first class ticket (and avoid the £1,000s airlines normally charge), it’s probably around £2,000 in upgrades!

The way I did it was pretty simple. I didn’t take advantage of any special offers either, just knew the right places to book through and what credit card to spend on to max it… so you can do the same too with some forward planning!

Now before we go any further, this isn’t going to be a sure-fire way to get rich quick and jet off around the world in first class. The method I used required a lot of spending, and the reward flights that I’ve earned will require taxes to be paid on them. So bare that in mind. 

So here’s how I did it:

My mother and I were booking a mega trip abroad to both the USA and Canada for two weeks. This would require two different hotels, three flights and a lot of spending. By booking in the right places and using the right reward card, we managed to rack up 95,000 miles.

American Express Rewards Gold Card

Just before we made any purchases or booked anything, I applied for an AMEX preferred rewards gold card (see MSE’s eligibility checker to see if you’ll be accepted). When signing up to the card, you can claim 20,000 bonus reward points when you spend £2,000 in the first three months of membership. There is usually a £140 annual fee but it is waved for the first year (and you can cancel after that).

We knew we were going to spend that much between the two of us for the whole trip, so put every penny of spending on that card… and obviously paid it off IN FULL. Just by putting our spending on that card, we got 1 point for every pound spent, and got the 20,000 point bonus, meaning 22,000 AMEX membership reward points. This can be transferred to a number of different frequent flyer programs, including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

The card has a few nice perks too, including membership to the Lounge Club, which gets you free airport lounge access the first time you use it, and a reduced rate for every other visit – which was handy on our travels!

Disclaimer: Please be careful when using credit cards not to overspend or get into debt. If you know that your spending may increase, then it may be worth thinking twice before applying.

How to earn bonus points

If you’re referred by a friend who is a cardholder when applying for the card, you can get a 2,000 point bonus (claiming 22,000 AMEX points when you reach the £2,000 spend). If you’d like a referral to claim the bonus, email me and i’ll send you a referral link!

You can also apply for the card through TopCashback, who offer you £10 Cashback after being accepted for the card. The cool thing is, you can convert this Cashback from TopCashback for frequent flyer miles too (either British Airways Avios or Virgin Frequent Flyer miles) with a 5% bonus. So you can either pocket £10 cash or collect 1,050 points.

When I signed up for the card, I was referred by a friend, which got me 24,000 points after completing the £2,000 spend.

Total so far: 24,000 points

Rocketmiles hotel bookings

We were visiting both Vancouver, British Columbia (see my city review) and Dallas, Texas for a week each, so needed two hotel bookings for the trip. We could’ve booked through Hotels.com or a similar website and earned a free nights reward, but instead we used a website called Rocketmiles, and because of which, earned 53,000 frequent flyer miles.

Rocketmiles is owned by hotel website Priceline and offers you anywhere from 500-10,000 airline miles per night on over 40 airlines by booking hotel rooms. You can credit miles to schemes including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, or you can select other rewards such as Amazon Gift Card or Uber credit.

After a quick search and choosing the best deal, our hotel in Vancouver cost us £800 for a week’s stay, and as a result we got 37,000 miles from the booking. Similarly in Dallas, our hotel cost us £800 for the week and we claimed a bonus 16,000 miles for that one. So just from booking two hotel rooms, we amassed an extra 53,000 miles, which you can assign to any frequent flyer program! That amount of miles, is enough to claim first class flights one way on a number of airlines (including Emirates First Class Suites) in itself!

It’s a great option for those looking to boost the points balance of their frequent flyer schemes. If you wanted to give RocketMiles a go, you can use my referral link to get a bonus 1,000 miles on your first booking.

When booking through Rocketmiles, it’s worth checking that the prices are competitive with other hotel websites, as sometimes the prices are inflated. You can use a hotel comparison website such as Trivago to check whether it is the best value. When we looked however, the prices of the hotel we were looking at matched other sites.

Total so far: 77,000 miles

Claiming miles on flight bookings

We needed to book three flights from London to Vancouver, Vancouver to Dallas, then Dallas to London. For the two flights in and out of London, we booked with the cheapest airline that we could get tickets for, which was British Airways. By signing up to the British Airways frequent flyer scheme beforehand, that gave us instant miles for flying with them. 

Then on the flight from Vancouver to Dallas, we booked with what’s known as a ‘One World Alliance partner’. Basically, British Airways and a lots of other airlines are partnered, meaning you can earn and redeem miles with the airlines they are partnered with. One of them is American Airlines, which we booked with for the internal flight.

In total, when the trip was over, we earned 10,000 miles EACH for flying with BA and its partner scheme (as you can input a frequent flyer number for each passenger). With the BA mileage scheme, you can transfer miles between accounts too, which meant we got 20,000 miles total all in one frequent flyer account. 

Total miles earned across the trip: 97,000

So after the whole trip, the total miles that we earned from spending on the right card and taking advantage of bonus point offers, was 97,000 miles. While you can choose which frequent flyer program you assign these miles to, we decided to go for Virgin Atlantic for the main 77,000 miles and the 20,000 extra British Airways Avios points from flying with them that trip.

What does 97,000 miles get you?

The 77,000 Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles that we accrued is enough for return Economy flights for both me and my mum anywhere in the world (all we’d pay is the taxes). We could also get return premium economy flights for both of us for just the tax to certain destinations… or the big one… a ‘free’ first class flight to and from either India or the UAE, for just the tax.

Upon review, if I wanted to book a return first class flight to Dubai, it’d set me back £2,600+. But by accruing these miles on this one trip, the flight would only cost the tax, which is £514 (around the cost of a normal economy flight).

free first class flight with frequent flyer miles

Let’s not forget, I also have 20,000 British Airways miles to use too, which is enough for a return flight to most of mainland Europe, with just tax to pay. I’m not saving any money, as I would never dream of paying for first class flights normally, but the value of the miles means I’m getting over £2,000 in upgrades – and the chance to get waited on hand and foot, and even sleep on an airplane, which is something in my eyes, money can’t buy.

I thought it was a free first class flight?

You certainly can find free first class flights with that amount of points – with different frequent flyer schemes. Since redeeming the miles to my Virgin Atlantic account, I realise that those 97,000 miles could hold a potential to unlock a lot more value if I credited them to a different airline. Unfortunately if flying out of London, you pay an awful lot of tax in Air Passenger Duty, but there are ways to get your free first class flight (or pay less in taxes). 

In one of my next blogs, i’ll tell you all of the ways to max these miles by crediting them to different milage schemes. Some of the rewards can include:

  • Flying 18+ hours of business class on Japan Airlines for 25,000 miles and £20 in fees
  • Return First Class suites on Emirates for just 90,000 miles and £200
  • A multi business Class American adventure traveling to 3 different US cities for just 115,000 plus £50 in fees. 

Just goes to show the power of miles if you use them and rack them up when you are spending high and staying at different hotels.

If I do decide on a trip across to Dubai in first class, the process will be repeated, getting miles for the hotel booking on Rocketmiles and spending all costs on the AMEX card to convert into miles. Just a quick check tells me, I’ll earn around 25,000 miles on Rocketmiles for a cheap 4* hotel for a week’s stay. That itself is enough miles for yet another reward flight… so you can see how this can keep rolling if you are an avid traveller!

I can’t wait for my ‘free’ first class flight! Will you be trying this out? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below, on Twitter @Jordon_Cox or on Facebook.

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