I’m sure a few of us have heard that sentence a few times? Followed closely by ‘You must be made of money’. Well, here is the thing. Yes, I am going on holiday again but no, I am not made of money.
Firstly, I am aware that I am lucky in that I have a job that pays a reasonable wage. I have an affordable mortgage and no children. That gives me a luxury of being able to spend more of my spare cash on nice things.
On average each year I will spend a week or two overseas. Sometimes that will include long haul destinations, other times European holidays. On top of that, there are the weekends away in the UK. It all adds up.
Savings, savings, savings
So, how do I afford it? Well, in a nutshell my life is a collection of spreadsheets. I am a little obsessive about organising and planning to the great frustration of my partner, who I am sure would absolutely love to be more spontaneous a lot of the time! By spending time planning my finances in detail, it makes it very clear what is realistic and what is not. This is then usually followed by significant amount of saving to get to some fabulous destinations.
As an example, I have a hotel stay coming up soon which is quite high end. It’s a bit of a bucket list hotel, so I have actually been saving since last summer in order to be able to afford it. I wince a little when I see the price, but it’s already bought and paid for, so there’s no concern about how I need to find the cash and I can just enjoy the luxury!
It’s not all about saving hard cash though. There are plenty of other ways that I have made significant savings. Below are some little tips.
Reward Cards, Credit Cards and Air Miles
A large factor in paying for my (more extravagant) holidays over the years has included the use of reward cards and air miles.
Many years ago, I discovered the Tesco Clubcard scheme. Reward points for shopping at Tesco that can be converted into holidays, flights, days out, meals and host of other things. I initially joined to purchase my first Merlin Annual Pass but soon realised that the scheme had many reward partners including Virgin Holidays. The Clubcard scheme used to offer a huge amount of incentives, many of which included significant bonus points so it was fairly easy to build up a points balance quickly, and convert this into holiday vouchers. £10 of Clubcard points would convert into a £40 holiday voucher. I converted my points into Virgin Holidays vouchers many times to pay towards long haul holidays, including trips to Cuba, Barbados and Florida.
Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
Flying Club is Virgin Atlantic’s frequent flyers air miles programme. They are also a partner of the Tesco Clubcard scheme, where £2.50 in Tesco vouchers converts to 625 air miles. For the most part I now convert the majority of my Clubcard points to build up my air miles. There are regular promotions where you can get an additional 10-30% of miles for converting at certain periods, so it’s worth keeping your eyes and ears open for these offers.
Every couple of years I spend my miles on reward flights, which can start from about 20,000 miles for an economy flight (you only have to pay the taxes), and then rise for longer flights, Premium Economy seats or Upper Class seats. I have been lucky enough to be able to use my miles for Premium Economy and Upper Class flights on several occasions. Upper Class return flights to the USA have cost me in the region of £350.00 in ‘real’ cash (and a load of air miles of course). To pay outright for one of these seats would cost thousands of pounds so I think that a pretty good deal!
The Upper Class experience with Virgin Atlantic is fantastic, starting in the amazing Clubhouse at Heathrow Airport followed by the excellent on-board experience. This is an experience I expect I will never be able to afford to pay for, but collecting air miles gives me that choice.
MBNA Virgin Atlantic Credit Cards
How else do I collect air miles? Well, I have a Virgin Atlantic Credit Card. There are two options for this.
- The Virgin Atlantic White Credit Card is a non fee credit card. It’s actually two cards on one account, as you get a Visa card and an American Express card. The Amex is the best card to use where possible, as you will earn double the amount of air miles as you would spending on the Visa. There is a sign-up bonus if you make your first card purchase within 90 days. I used this card for a few years before I decided on upgrading to the Virgin Atlantic Black Credit Card.
- The Virgin Atlantic Black Credit Card once again comes with both Visa and Amex cards. The difference with this account is that it carries an annual fee. You do however earn a significantly larger sign up bonus and double the air miles per £ spend vs the White card. I weighed up the annual fee against the amount of air miles I earn and it more than pays for itself.
As a little side note, in case anyone is worried that I am running up huge credit card bills in order to get my bum on an upper class seat to San Francisco, don’t you worry yourself. Most of my general monthly outgoings is spent on my credit cards and then I pay them, off meaning the card is cleared every month and I am not paying any interest (give or take a couple of quid here and there). I am very sensible …. most of the time.
Avios is the British Airways air miles scheme. Very similar to the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, they also partner with Tesco, where you can convert your Clubcard points into BA air miles. BA are not my first choice of long haul carrier given a fairly poor experience once upon a time, but I am happy to use them for short haul trips to Europe.
Avios offer a Reward Flight Saver which allows you to buy flights to some destinations for as little as 9,000 miles and £35.00 in taxes. My next planned trip in September involves a flight to Europe using one of these tickets. £35.00 for a 2 hour return flight. Good value if you ask me!
Hotel booking websites
We have covered my use of air miles to pay towards flights. What do I do about hotel bookings? Well, that all depends on the kind of hotel stay I am looking for.
Booking.com is a site that I use frequently when looking for hotels. Firstly, its a really good website to be able to compare hotels in a certain location. Secondly, and this is the deal breaker for me, the majority of hotels listed have an option in the booking process where you can reserve rooms but do not have to pay until you arrive. This rate is of course more expensive than the up front, non refundable rate, but it let’s me plan my budget a lot better.
All hotels have a different cancellation policy when it comes to using this process and there are some you can cancel up to 24 hours prior to your stay without having to pay any kind of cancellation fee (all of which is stated clearly during the booking process).
Sometimes it’s nice to splash out and stay somewhere that little bit more special without breaking the bank. For these situations Secret Escapes is my go to website. This site tends to feature a more high end range of hotels and resorts, but offering significant discounts. If your dates are flexible you can get some great bargains and stay in some beautiful locations. It’s worth taking time to study the different options available, as there are good deals for multiple night stays, stays with dinner included, spa access included and a host of other perks.
It’s also worth giving a shout out to Travelzoo who offer a similar service but they are not aimed purely at the luxury market.
I hope some of this information has been useful. Sometimes seeing lovely holiday photos on social media can give the perception that people have plenty of cash to throw around, whereas in reality it’s about knowing how to research and find the best deal for the right price. Most of us can do it, we just need to find the right way.