LUSCIOUS TRAVEL: How we travelled first class for free (plus taxes) on our honeymoon using points

How to collect enough miles to fly for free

 

In March 2016, Mr Luscious and I finally made things official with our little registry wedding

And in April, we set off for a much-longed-for, 4-week honeymoon to Dubai, France, Switzerland and Italy, travelling from/to Australia in first class using points.

You can see all the photos via @myLusciousLife on Instagram, including some photos from our first class travel experience (including the Emirates first class shower!) by searching for #ALusciousWedding and #ALusciousHoneymoon.

Here’s how we saved points towards our honeymoon, and for our next luscious adventure…

 

 

LUSCIOUS TRAVEL: How we travelled first class for free (plus taxes) on our honeymoon using points

 

 

DISCLAIMER: Most of this information is relevant for people living in Australia, but it might be useful for international Luscious Lifers too, especially some of the links to proper point-hoarding experts!

 

How it all started

OK, to be fair, it started thanks to a fabulous boost from Mr Luscious’s employer at the time who gave points to some staff as a reward. Until then, we had hardly any points between us and had no idea that you could fly in luxury by being savvy about points collection.

I’ve gone from completely clueless to being an obsessive points collector in about 18 months. Since I’ve showered in the sky in an Emirates First Class bathroom, snuggled up in my own cocooned suite, and been driven to and from airports with Emirates Chauffeur Drive, I really, really don’t want to be squished into an Economy seat ever again.

Inspired by the gifted points, we started looking into how to build upon them, and not only managed to enjoy our fabulous honeymoon, but we’re now 3/4 of our way to having enough points for another return first class trip for two people, with approximately 270,000 Velocity points and 360,000 Qantas points saved so far.

 

 

How we save enough points to travel in first class

 

 

Use what you’ve got but be clever about it

It’s not magic, alas, because you still need to spend money to earn points. But we’ve made it a point (boom, boom!) to search out myriad options for spending our money to maximise points collection.

We pay rent, buy petrol and groceries, buy clothes and gifts, and go out for dinner sometimes. But the difference is that we now pay for these things through credit cards which give us points (and sometimes bonus points), and use services through sites which give us points too.

Watch out: If you’re spending money simply to earn more points, then you might as well be saving that money to pay for a proper plane ticket instead.

And don’t spend money on your credit cards if you can’t pay them off (take it from someone who made a big mess of this in years gone by). It’s a false economy to have points stashed away if you’re spending too much and then paying interest on it.

 

 

 

 

Follow the leader(s)

There are lots of experts out there who do daily posts about this stuff, so I encourage you to follow them and slowly acquire knowledge like I did. These people make a living out of it, as their adventures prove.

Here the sites I subscribe to, mostly via Facebook:

 

 

How we saved enough miles to travel first class for free on our honeymoon

 

 

How we do it at Chez Luscious

Being in Australia, we are more limited with reward flight options, so primarily collect points for both Qantas and Virgin (Velocity) which enable us to choose from both those airlines and their partner airlines. We also have smaller Emirates and Etihad accounts, hotel memberships (Hyatt Gold Passport and Sheraton Starwood) and FlyBuys for which points can be converted to Etihad points.

I have a points spreadsheet which I update every day with an overview page, as well as tabs for each credit card so I can list spending and points earned. Note that depending on your credit card, you might earn more than $1 = 1 point.

For example, on the AMEX tab, it looks a little like this, with a running total:

August 15, 2016 = $143.10 at Woolworths = 143 points
August 15, 2016 = $100 at XYZ restaurant = 300 points [because restaurants give us 3x points]
August 16, 2016 = $70 at BP Australia = 70 points [note that we’ll earn Velocity points at BP too]

I also have notes about how many points we need for future trips, and how many more points we need to earn before we have enough to go.

For example, we are thinking about going to Canada and New England to enjoy the end of a Canadian summer and the beautiful early Fall colour of the northwestern United States. Here’s what we need to fly with Qantas or a Qantas-partnered airline:

Melbourne-Vancouver return in First Class = 312,000 (one person only)
Melbourne-Toronto return in First Class = 384,000 (one person only) and it goes via Dubai

 

 

 

 

Our credit cards

The main way to earn points is by having point-aligned credit cards.

We have two main credit cards: AMEX Velocity Platinum Card (for Virgin/Velocity points) and a Jetstar Platinum Mastercard (for Qantas points). Learn more about finding the right card for you (if you’re in Australia) from American Express Australia or Qantas Credit Card Selector page.

This particular American Express card gives us 3 points for every dollar spent in cafes/restaurants (eg. we spend $20 and receive 60 Velocity points), 2 points for every dollar spent overseas (which was terrific when we travelled), 1 point for every items (eg. groceries) and 0.5 points for “utilities” (eg. our Optus phone bill).

When we got the American Express card and spent the minimum required (it might have been $1000? sorry, I can’t remember) within the timeframe required, we earned 100,000 points which was brilliant. It does come with an annual fee of $349, but it also comes with travel insurance, a return flight on Virgin within Australia each year, lounge access, and other benefits. There is currently a similar offer (for 50,000 points) for this card via American Express.

The Jetstar Platinum Mastercard gave us 40,000 Qantas points after we spent $3000 on eligible purchases within the first 60 days. And whilst this is a lot of money to spend, we had saved up some transactions to put through which had it sorted in no time. The fee on this card is much lower than the AMEX card, at $69.

Every dollar spent using this particular card, regardless of what it’s spent on, gives us $1 = 1 Qantas point. We also avoid those pesky Jetstar booking and service fees, and other benefits. But from what I see on the Jetstar Cards website, the current card on offer is sadly only $1 = 0.5 point.

Our biggest expense is our rent and we were fortunate that we have a nice real estate agent who allows us to pay our rent via our Jetstar Mastercard each month for a small fee.

 

 

How we used credit cards to earn points for free first class travel

 

 

Other ways to earn points

Obviously, putting things through a credit card that suits you is the key earner, but there are other ways I’ve collected points which are not reliant on credit card spending (although you can earn twice as many points if you combine the transactions).

Qantas epiQure wine

Mr Luscious is addicted to finding super cheap boxes of wine at auction so our home looks like a winery, and to be honest, he’s been pretty clever about it (eg. spending just $1-2 per bottle). Most of the wine is drinkable and some of it is even very good.

But I also like buying highly rated wine every so often so we have a guaranteed selection for dinner parties and to use as gifts. For this, I got a Qantas epiQuire Premium Membership account and take advantage of special offers, eg. 5000-10,000 Qantas bonus points on top of standard points.

For example, in August, I splurged on a case of excellent wine (12 bottles) for $398 and earned 796 Velocity points by using the American Express card and 8194 Qantas points because the deal included 7000 bonus points.

 

 

Earning points for first class international travel

 

 

Online shopping via the Qantas Mall or Velocity eStore

I use this mostly for eBay, ASOS and David Jones shopping but both programs have a lot of brands in their stables such as Net-A-Porter, Seed Heritage and Yoox (Qantas) and StrawberryNet, Chemist Warehouse and GraysOnline (Velocity). Both have some crossover brands, such as eBay and ASOS.

I don’t shop with David Jones very often, but I do look out for their special offers and try to buy up items months ahead for Christmas presents so that we’re not completely broke in December. In June, for example, I saw some items on sale which would be good for presents, and spent about $500 via the Qantas Online Mall > David Jones link (where $1 = 5 points). I earned 500 Velocity points for using the American Express card AND 2500 Qantas points, plus I have the smug satisfaction of having done some early Christmas shopping with sale items AND it’s all delivered.

Mr Luscious and I buy heaps of things from eBay, so for this I go via the Virgin Velocity eStore link (where $1 = 2 points), even though Qantas Online Mall has an eBay link too, but the value is less ($2 = 1 point). Even though most of the eBay purchases are for small items, I figure that every point counts.

I’ve also used the ASOS, Net-A-Porter, StrawberryNet, GraysOnline and Chemist Warehouse links and received points, and I look out for special points offers such as $1 = 12 points for Net-A-Porter this week.

 

 

 

 

Restaurant bookings

Both Qantas and Velocity have restaurant booking affiliations, so I take advantage of this when booking meals out with friends by first checking if the cafe or restaurant we have in mind is a points earner.

The Qantas Restaurants scheme has over 3000 restaurants throughout Australia, and you earn 100 points per diner, eg. 400 points for a table of four people. Virgin Velocity is affiliated with OpenTable and offer 300 points per booking (rather than per person).

We also earn 3x points if we pay using our American Express card, or 1x using the Mastercard.

For example, in February we had a pre-show dinner at Teatro in Southbank and earned 300 Velocity points for booking through OpenTable, and as we spent $105 on the AMEX card, we earned 315 Velocity points ($1 = 3 points at restaurants).

 

 

How we collected enough points to fly first class around the world for free

 

 

Petrol

We are fortunate that the closest petrol station to us is a BP which is now offering Velocity points for petrol and in-store items such as milk.

On August 10, for example, I stopped in for petrol, milk and kindling and spent $73 on the American Express card, so I earned 73 Velocity points for that, plus 100 Velocity points for the petrol and 32 Velocity points for the other items.

 

 

 

 

Grocery shopping at Woolworths and Coles

We do most of our shopping at the two big stores near us, as well as locally at the IGA. I was very annoyed when Woolworths changed their points-earning relationship with Qantas a few months ago because for a while there we were raking it in with the stocking up on sale items and collecting bonus points offers.

But all is not lost because we still use our American Express card for groceries and earn $1 = 1 point.

At Coles, we earn FlyBuys which can now be converted to Etihad points, as you can purchase 4000 Etihad guest miles for 10,000 Flybuys points. Point Hacks has more information here.

We’ve also earned FlyBuys points from shopping at Shell, Liquorland, Kmart and Target.

 

 

How we travelled first class for free on our honeymoon...by buying groceries

 

 

Car hire

Another expense on our honeymoon was car hire on the French Riviera. I shopped around for the best rate and ended up going with Avis via Qantas Points > Cars & Hotels.

We spent $805 on the American Express card and received 1610 Velocity points (2x because it was an international transaction) as well as 700 Qantas points for booking via the Qantas website.

 

 

 

 

Secure-A-Spot parking

Whenever I drive into the city and need to park, I check the Secure-A-Spot website which has a Qantas points affiliation, with $1 = 2 Qantas points.

I love that I can pre-book and pay for the car spot online and just turn up at the entrance and key in a code which is sent to me at the time of booking. I have the American Express card attached to the account, so earn additional points for that.

For example, I had a dinner with some girlfriends in the Melbourne CBD and was able to get a super cheap ($7.50!) rate for the whole evening, just around the corner from the restaurant. I earned 8 points by using the American Express card and 35 points by using the Secure-A-Spot Qantas deal.

And whilst 43 points doesn’t sound like much, it all adds up! Especially as I would have expected to pay $25-60 for parking on previous occasions (before I knew I could book online beforehand for a cheaper deal) and not earned any points.

 

 

 

 

Hotel bookings

Qantas has about 188,000 hotels on their books, most of which earn you Qantas points (although always check because I found some that don’t). You should earn $1 = 3 points but if I have the luxury of time before booking, I wait for the semi-regular $1 = 6 points or $1 = 9 points special offers.

For our honeymoon, I booked us into the Park Hyatt Dubai for our stopover using Qantas Hotels and paid for it on the American Express card. We spent $1369 but earned 2 times that because it was an international transaction so we received 2738 Velocity points via the credit card, and then earned 12,321 points from the Qantas Hotels booking ($1 = 9 points special offer).

We also earned points for money spent on incidental items and a spa treatment when we arrived, once again using the American Express card and receiving 2x points because we were travelling internationally.

 

 

 

 

Travel activities

Also on our honeymoon, I booked us in for several activities such as a literary walking tour in Paris and a foodie tour in Milan.

For this, I used the Qantas Viator Activities Tour link and earned points for the credit card spend as well as the tours themselves via Qantas, totalling about 3500 Qantas points.

 

 

 

 

Points transfer offers for credit cards and hotel accounts

Once or twice a year, some credit cards have a “points transfer” offer, where you can move points from a card to a frequent flyer account and receive between 15-30% extra.

You can also convert hotel membership points to airline points in many instances.

For example, Starpoints with Sheraton’s Starwood program offers 1 point = 1 Velocity or Etihad point. And whilst we only have about 2500 Starpoints right now, I could buy 20,000 Starpoints points for $525 and then transfer them to Velocity and receive 5000 bonus points when they have their 25% bonus offer which is 1-2 times a year.

We have about 15,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points which I could convert to Qantas points, at 2.5 Hyatt points = 1 Qantas point, to give us 7800 Qantas points. And I could buy 1000 Hyatt points for $24 (or more) if I wanted to top up our points.

 

 

 

 

Some final thoughts

  • Spend time comparing credit card offers before you commit. Sites such as Point Hacks and Australian Business Traveller have done a lot of the work for you, so do take a look.
  • Do your research before you spend your money as you might find a points affiliation (eg. earning points with eBay). The airlines are doing their best to win your loyalty by constantly improving their offers, eg. points for online shopping and petrol. But only take advantage of the points offer if you feel it is really valuable to you (ie. you might be able to save yourself more money elsewhere and forgo the points).
  • “Top up” points can sometimes be purchased from an airline, eg. Qantas allows you to buy a minimum 500 to maximum 20,000 points (from $20 – $557.50) if you have a specific award in mind.
  • You can usually transfer points between family members, but there are restrictions so read the fine print.
  • Sign up for emails from all the parties involved or follow them on social media, so that you can keep an eye on special offers.
  • Remember to budget for taxes for your award flights, and be aware that they change depending on your aircraft type and your destination. For example, we’d originally been booked on a Boeing 777 from Milan to Melbourne and only had to spend $290 in taxes. But due to an itinerary change, we had to change the flight, which became an Airbus A380 and the taxes went up to $1390! Eeek!
  • Actually redeeming points for award flights is a whole new ball game. I booked our Melbourne via Dubai to Paris flights 365 days before our trip to ensure we got the exact flights I wanted (they are typically released 12 months ahead and can get snapped up within 24 hours). Which means that the airlines don’t make it easy for you to spend those hard-earned points. But this is a topic for another day!

For more information about earning points with Qantas and Virgin Velocity, go to their respective points pages: Qantas Points and Velocity Frequent Flyer > Earn.

 

 

 

 

 

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Cheers, Natasha
www.myLusciousLife.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One Comment

  1. Steve October 25, 2016 at 11:14 pm #

    Wow, what a wonderful trip.
    Glad I could help in my small way.
    Hope you are saving for your next luxury adventure.

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