How to collect airmiles – the beginners guide

This may seem like a simple question but there is a surprising amount of complexity here. For the semi-regular leisure flyer (it you, it me), it can seem daunting to know where to start. What’s more, when you are collecting, it can seem like you’ll never collect enough to actually be useful.

Here are the simple secrets and tricks to collecting airmiles the right way – because there is a wrong way! When done right, airmiles are free money that can seriously reduce the cost of your next trip to fun-time-happy-holidays.

There are a two things you need to know:

  • There are three major airline alliances, the chances are the airline you’re flying will be a member of one of these
  • You can collect airmiles from almost any flight, even if you’ve booked indirectly and even if someone else paid for the ticket

How to collect airmiles properly in four extremely simple steps:

  1. Chose the airline club that works the best for you from the group (using the below table). This is basically a question of deciding which airline you’d like to spend your miles with the most. For example – If your next flight is with American Airlines but you’re never going to go to the US again, then BA is probably the best bet. These should be your go to airline loyalty scheme within the alliance. Whenever you fly any airline within this alliance, make sure to use this club.
  2. Register for the scheme and get your account number
  3. Use this account number when checking into (or during booking) your flight to collect your miles
  4. Use the same account every time you fly a member airlines

Done and done! Seriously, that’s it.

Now do it again when you fly again. When your account balance is over 10/20 thousand then it’s time to start getting a little excited about what your miles can buy. A free-ish flight to the continent, an upgrade on your next flight? Yes bloody please and thank you so much – it’s all available when you’re collecting miles.

Top tip 1 – If you want to grow your airmiles balance significantly faster you can look at certain credit cards to do this. More on this later.

Top tip 2 – If you’ve flown recently and haven’t collected airmiles on your flight you can still collect them retrospectively, usually up to six months afterwards. Just log into your chosen account

Use the below table to check who is in which club, I’ve bolded airlines that are worth looking at collecting with / I use based on being a UK citizen. Also, you may notice Virgin Atlantic, Etihad and Emirates are missing from the below. These guys are so cool that they rock their own clubs, so you’ll just have to collect directly.

Alliance name: One world Star Alliance Sky Team
Airlines: American Airlines

British Airways

Cathay Pacific

Finnair

Iberia

Japan Airlines

LATAM

Malaysia Airlines

Qantas

Qatar Airways

Royal Jordanian

S7 Airlines

SriLanken Airlines

Adria

Aegean

Air Canada

Air China

Air india

Air New Zealand

ANA

Asiana Airlines

Austrian

Avianca

Brussels Airlines

CopaAirlines

Croatia Airlines

EgyptAir

Ethiopian

Evaair

LOT Polish Airlines

Lufthansa

SAS

Shenzhen Airlines

Singapore Airlines

South African Airways

SWISS

TAP Air Portugal

THAI

Turkish Airlines

United

Aeroflot

AerolineasArgentina

AeroMexico

AirEuropa

AirFrance

Alitalia

China Airlines

China Eastern

China Southern

Czech Airlines

Delta

Garuda Indonesia

Kenyan Airways

KLM

Korean Air

MEA

Saudia

Tarom

Vietnam Airlines

XiamenAir

How to Spend it Widely – the wedding cut

It’s wedding season and here our girl Vix gives you her top tips on where to make the cuts and when to splash the cash based on direct experience of the most expensive, most exciting day of her life…

Don’t rule out fixed price options if you want to go a la carte for venue

Our hotel allocated us an events manager who was absolutely desperate to do something different to the ‘out of the box’ they typically offered so we were able to lift out things we didn’t want, and sub in things we did. We swapped champagne toasts for Prosecco because I really wanted cocktails for after the ceremony without the extra cash. With the saving from the downgrade, we got an extra set of Cosmos and beer buckets for our guests to enjoy while we were pottering around doing photos. I also asked if they could get the fairy lights to dress up some of the darker corners, and they were happy to oblige.

Food glorious food

Some hotels will try to charge you for menu and wine testing so get that agreed up front at the time of booking, it might be a bargaining chip they’re willing to compromise on to close the sale. We’re foodies/greedies and the food was really important to us so to give our guests extra choices, we gave them the full menu of meat and veggie options to mix and match. I have no doubt this was not the normal, ‘done’ thing but we submitted the ‘dietary requirements’ and everyone got what they wanted. It was just one more little detail we really cared about.

Identify what is important early on, and invest your money there

I did not care about flowers. I literally could not have cared less. I like sunflowers, which are the simplest flowers in the world so I initially was just going to give everyone one each. With a little bit of a review, it was clear that sunflowers were actually pretty damn cheap to buy wholesale so we just bought 100 of them and made the bouquets ourselves. The internet is full of tutorials and my expectations/care level was so low that I was really laid back about cocking it up. Florists were a bit frosty with us for not investing in their expertise, and muttered a lot about us making a big mistake but we wouldn’t be bullied. We bought florist pins and tape and had a good laugh bundling them up. The money we saved more than covered the cost of the bridesmaids’ dresses. I also did not care about a wedding cake, would have been happy to pile up a load of Colin The Caterpillars, and maybe put a doily veil on one. My Male of Honour’s friend was trying to move into showstopper baking so we booked him to do our cake to boost his portfolio. It was BEAUTIFUL, and a fraction of the price of if we’d gone to a wedding baker. He now has his own gorgeous bakery in Bristol so odds are you won’t get that kind of deal again but, if you want to take a look at some of Greg’s other work then you can check him out at https://www.instagram.com/stickyfingerscake/

27 dresses

So I both spent and saved when it came to dresses. We got engaged two years before the wedding and in the excitement I bought a 1920s-style satin dress online. I waived my right to a refund and had it sent to my house in my haste to have it, and I bought it in an ambitious size too small. The good news is around the time of the wedding, I got it to fit. The bad news is that was the only good thing I could say about it – it fit. At a basic level, it zipped up. I looked like a sack of potatoes in it. Me, a stocky, reubenesque character, had bought a dress for Keira Knightley. I had to sell the dress on ebay, at a quite depressing loss. In the end I went high street. And I would recommend keeping an open mind. I didn’t have a ‘dream dress’ and operating on a limited budget with no ‘vision’, I was staggered by the lack of variation in the dresses in the designated wedding shops. I also had a terrible experience at David’s Bridal that did not carry many stylish dresses above a size 14 – and they forced me into them anyway, despite me protesting that they were not going to fit. At one point the salesperson had one foot in the small of my back dragging on the zip, not quite the cinematic ‘say yes to the dress’ experience I was hoping for. There was one that I quite liked but they refused to order it in for me to try unless I paid a deposit, so they lost my sale. I came out in tears, had cocktails with my friend Beth, then hit the high street, they had a MUCH better range of realistic sizes (not to mention prices) and weren’t so shackled to a traditional meringue. Even if you think you know what you want, it’s worth going to a good department store and raid it from top to bottom, from prom upwards. I had so much fun doing that. The dress I eventually got was Phase Eight (bought with cashback from Quidco for extra value), and I absolutely loved it.

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Do not scrimp on the scaffolding underneath

Get the right underwear – I would have rather fried my own head than stand all vulnerable in a changing room in my pants in front of strangers under normal circumstances, but after my experience in David’s Bridal being shoved into dresses and instructed to do things like ‘jump’ into them, I lost all sense of shame. I had read hundreds of articles about Spanx etc. but I had no idea what was going to work and what wasn’t. Not only did I find out I was wearing the wrong bra size, but the amazing assistant in House of Fraser completely remodelled my figure with shape wear (or, as I called it ‘scaffolding’), and the dress (that I already liked) became absolutely amazing. It’s worth the blushes.

Bridesmaids

I had 6 bridesmaids and a Male of honour; apparently I went through such a mad excited phase that I was practically stopping people in the street to invite them to accompany me down the aisle. They all have very different looks so putting them in the same dress (particularly the boy) was never going to work. I set a budget and a colour palette and asked for suggestions and the result was stunning, all the girls felt like themselves on their best day, and they actually do have (cliches aside) dresses they can wear again. Was one of the best decisions I made and, again, some of them I even got cashback on. My Male of Honour had a suit to match the wedding party – and we also went high street for those, with a view to having them fitted by a tailor as though they were couture.

Wedding vix

The present was your presence – but cash was quite nice as well

We took a deep breath and made the brave decision to ask our family and friends for cash towards the honeymoon as a gift. There are some really cool tools that help you turn asking for cold, hard dollar into an actual legitimate wedding list, like honeyfund, that allows your guests to buy ‘items’ from your itinerary online. Things we asked for included rounds of drinks, books for our Kindles, to bigger things like dinners out and trips to local attractions. We then made sure we photographed us doing all the things on the list so people knew we massively appreciated them.

We also squeezed even more value out of our honeymoon by booking via Quidco. SecretEscapes was on there at the time offering a mighty 10% cashback, which was a really nice rebate to have at a later date.

Do it your way

Above all, the thing to remember is that it is your day. Do not fall into the trap of feeling like you have to care about things you don’t care about. You do you. It’ll be the best day of your life anywhere, because you’ll have everyone you care about at that moment in one room together.

Scrimp V Splash – Today’s letter is H. And the theme is spending.

Haircuts

Now don’t get me wrong, there are deals to be had in haircare, but automatically opting for the cheapest can be a recipe for disaster. There is a whole gallery of pictures of me failing to learn this lesson over the last decade but now when I find a stylist who does what I actually want, I cling to them like a barnacle. I have suffered various indignities in my search for value since living in London, culminating in me being locked in an empty salon after hours with a hairdresser who, over the course of the evening- highlights literally take forever – shared that he loved sherry and collecting Barbie dolls. Whilst we were having this heart to heart, I watched with rising panic as he poured bleach, freehand, into a hospital kidney tray and then stuffed my hair in it. Needless to say it was not the subtle ombre that I had hoped for. But reader, I was brave. This was about the fourth or fifth catastrophic disappointment I had experienced and I was so done. I told him I didn’t like it and I wanted him to fix it. I know; unprecedented. Unbritish. Unbelieveable. I didn’t pay. I duly went back and had a marginally better job done, although at that point it was clear that he did not have the skillz to pay the kidney tray billz. I styled it out – in the literal sense – for a few months then researched extensively to make sure my next salon was better. And now it is true love. When things don’t quite look like the picture in my head, probably a lot of times through my own fault for not accurately articulating it (so I want it to look really short, but still be really long and I don’t want any of the length cut off. But can it be like, completely radical? Yeah? Cool) I feed that back calmly and coolly and we work together to have the outsides match the insides of my head. And they give me loads of wine – it’s brilliant. That said, there are still ways to get cheeky discounts – when I was in my experimental phase, slutting around looking for ‘the one’ I used Treatwell, to get money off my first treatments – sometimes the only comfort when I was staring into the mirror with a judge’s wig staring back at me. Now I am happy and committed, and Facebook official with my beloved Luke Jacob, I haggle for discounts by introducing my friends and family. And because we’re in a longterm kindof thing, they cut my fringe for free, whenever I want it, and they give me wine then too.

Hotels

Vix 4 Airbnb – true love forever

Airbnb is an absolute treasure trove. We initially turned to it when we couldn’t find a reasonable hotel solution for a party of 5 but now it’s our first choice for City breaks. For awkward group sizes, they are an absolute God send, from a price and experience basis; if you have an odd number of travellers, finding accommodation to suit can be a challenge, you risk the dreaded ‘single person supplement’ or, as has happened often to me and my family, getting a room/suite supposedly for 3 that consists of a double bed and some sofa cushions for the unlucky third wheel, who then has to sleep with their head in the oven. One fateful teenage holiday, none of us was willing to be ‘left out’ of bedtime chat so three 17 year old girls ended up sharing the double bed in the bedroom out of nothing but pure, unadulterated FOMO. Airbnb didn’t exist when I was a ludicrous, irrational teenager making bad choices, it’s too late for me, but you can still save yourselves. There is something at every price point if you book early enough and you can, if you’re lucky, end up living a rich, indulgent fantasy life, from having custody of a penthouse with a wrought iron spiral staircase to pose for fake music videos on to floating around a beautiful, light flooded loft complete with a grand piano you can play (but not put any drinks on under pain of death) It’s fun, it’s quirky, for the nosy it’s a proper peak behind the curtains into someone else’s life. I love it. Viva la Airbnb.

Holidays

Is the season to run away and you may well be starting to panic that you don’t have your break lined up but be on your guard for the pitfalls of sales language if you’re tempted by the promise of a last minute break from a deals site. I nearly bought a thoroughly bog standard holiday to Thailand one year because it seemed like a bargain to my untrained eye and I needed to BUY NOW as there WERE ONLY 2 LEFT! Having calmed down (and looked at my very disappointing bank balance) it was actually a fairly standard offer for the time of year, in the rainy season, when you might have 7 days of Welsh Weather for the price of . With holidays, check the reviews extensively, know what you want but also know how to read the reviews – your idea of gastro paradise is someone else’s nightmares and reviews are subjective. In this kind of scenarios, pictures don’t lie, so have a good look at the ones that have been taken. Where possible, fact check your deals and build your holidays brick by brick. That said, services like HolidayPirates are absolutely brilliant – highlighting price glitches and sales, you can keep an eye on their offers via email or even Whatsapp. Word of warning on flight glitches, be cautious. British Airways just cancelled hundreds of flights booked during a glitch and left people out of pocket and understandably furious. If you gamble on a deal that is obviously a mistake, you need to accept the risk it might be pulled.

The ultimate guide to complaining

Us Brits are great at queueing, talking about the weather and drinking (amongst other things) but we’re rarely comfortable making a fuss if something goes wrong. This is due a combination of us feeling awkward, not wanting to be rude and not knowing how.

So, for those of you asking how to complain properly when something has actually gone wrong – here are our top tips:

1 – Be polite – This is SO important. Firstly, if you’ve ever worked in a customer facing role (we both have), you’ll know how horrible it can be on the receiving end of a tirade about something that wasn’t your fault – especially when you’re just trying to help. You do not have to be rude to complain and it’s almost certain to not get you what you want. Be polite all the way through.

2 – Be specific – When raising an issue, make sure you know exactly what you’re flagging. Be clear about the expectation you had, and why this wasn’t met.

3 – Know what you want – Have an idea of how the business can make it up to you. Side note – be realistic about this (a cold soup as a starter does not mean you deserve a meal for free – see our [LINK: How to know when you’ve crossed the line]). Your expectation should be consummate with the problem – poor service could lead to a free round of drinks, rubbish food could lead to a free course, a product that broke should lead to a refund

4 – Be determined – This goes hand in hand with rule number one. The real secret to successfully complaining is to perfectly balance politeness with determination. Keep reiterating the point and show with your body language that you are not going anywhere until the issue is resolved.

5 – Speak to the right person – Don’t shout at the person in the buffet car if the train is running late. The general rule here is to either find a customer service person or, preferably, a manager. You need to complain to someone who cares and who has the power to give you what you want

6 – NEVER NEVER NEVER say any of the following: I know my rights / do you know who I am / my best friend works for x. Just, you know, don’t.

This ultimate guide to complaining should give you a great headstart when you next experience awful service or a shoddy product. If you’ve got ideas on what else works then let us know. Equally, feel free to share your stories. We’d love to hear from you.

How to get free hotel upgrades

Admit it, you check into a hotel, you know there are better rooms than the one you paid for (and even some suites) and you want that upgrade – you just don’t want to pay for it. Well good news, here are our tried-and-tested top-tips on how to get free hotel upgrades.

  1. Special occasion – Are you staying somewhere special for a honeymoon / anniversary / birthday? Well let the hotel know. The best way to do this is by dropping them an email in advance, although just letting reception know at check in can yield some great results. Don’t expect a presidential suite, but a corner room or bigger room with robes can be a nice treat. As an aside, it’s up to you if you want make this special occasion up, I personally don’t but I know people that do (no names – you know who you are!)
  2. Spend points – Travel points are a whole article in and of themselves but, it’s fair to say, almost all of them can you used to buy premium hotel rooms in some way shape or form. Whether you’re using Amex points (which can be transferred to pretty much anything), hotel points themselves or even Avios (yup, you can use airmiles to buy hotel rooms), this is a great way to get this upgrade for free.
  3. Loyalty schemes – all major hotel brands have loyalty schemes. These are designed with two goals in mind: firstly to reward loyalty and secondly to skew people’s purchase decisions to stay at these brands. That being said, they are always free to join and hotels will usually offer some perks even to free members. What’s more, they’re more likely to look at you favourably when using any of the other tips. Finally, if you’ve booked directly, you’ll probably get points for your stay. This is free money. Why wouldn’t you do this!?
  4. Status – Not only do loyalty schemes allow you to join for free and collect points but, the more you stay, the more you work your way up the tiers – silver, gold etc (it’s a bit like the Olympics although with less sports, and it’s not every four years, and it’s not thousands of years old – ok it’s not much like the olympics). Anyway, the higher tiers in these schemes often give you room upgrades for free, sometimes guaranteed! If you don’t stay enough to earn status then there is a fantastic secret to getting status at hotel chains – this is included as a perk with several credit cards.
  5. Negotiate – ok, I’ll admit that this one isn’t technically a ‘free’ upgrade but it sure as hell can be a deal. Hotels often have premium rooms un-sold, which means they’re going to sit there unused and empty. A hotel would much rather make some money from these rooms than none, so it’s always worth asking for the upgrade price and then making an offer. In my experience, this works in over 90% of instances and we’ve secured crazy deals like a £400 per night five-star suite for only £20!
  6. Complain – specifically when or if something goes wrong. Everyone hates the dude shouting at some poor receptionist for nothing – don’t be that guy! That being said, if you’ve been looking forward to an awesome holiday or your annual trip abroad and the air conditioning doesn’t work / bathroom tap is broken / minibar is missing / there are holes in the wall (all of these things have happened to me) then tell someone. Follow our how to complain rules and be specific that you’d like to move rooms and would appreciate an upgrade
  7. Flirt – Like most things in life, rightly or wrongly, this really can work. I personally have had varying degrees of success here but I know people where this works a lot. If you’re out of option and wondering how to get that free upgrade when walking to check in, don your best fake smile and cheeky wink (or whatever your thing is)

Got your own thoughts on how to get free hotel upgrades? Do you have a secret trick up your sleeve? Let us know by getting in touch and we’ll get your top tips added to the list