Many airline frequent flyer programmes now offer the chance to earn points by making purchases with a range of featured retailers, using a referral link. Hotel booking sites like Booking.com and Hotels.com are regularly included in the list, and routinely offer head-turning deals like “12 points per £1 spent”. Is this an incredibly simple way to amass frequently flyer points for no additional spend, or are these offers too good to be true?
When you click a referral link from your airline’s frequently flyer website to earn miles with selected partners, like Hotels.com and Booking.com, check you’re not paying an inflated room rate to get those bonus points. If you are, you’re effectively buying points and should decide (a) if you urgently need the points to warrant a purchase and (b) the rate you’re buying them at represents good value for money.
British Airways Avios
Let’s start with a recent example we found, involving the British Airways Executive Club.
Logging into the BA Executive Club member area, we found a promotion where we could earn 12 Avios per £1 spent on Hotels.com. We read the small print and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.
- We had to click through on the link provided
- Points would only be credited after the hotel stay
- Offer dates must be respected or no award would be given
- Not valid in conjunction with other offers
Happy with the small print, we clicked the link and searched Hotels.com for a place to stay on a forthcoming trip.
Palazzo Versace came up, and it was one we had on our shortlist. It looked pricier than we thought we’d seen elsewhere, so we decided to do a little experiment. We opened a different web browser, went to Hotels.com and searched for Palazzo Versace for the same dates.
The results page suggested we enter our email address to unlock “Secret Prices”. We did that and we were surprised to see it would be £195 cheaper if we didn’t come through on the BA Avios link. By simply handing over an email address we’d reduced the rate by nearly £50/night, but we now wouldn’t earn the bonus 12 Avios per £1.
Doing the Maths
If we booked through the BA link, our £1,576 stay would bag us 18,912 Avios.
Our BA Amex card earns us 1.5 Avios per £1 spent, so we’d also earn 2,364 Avios for the spend.
Total: £1,576 = 21,276 Avios (2,364 + 18,912)
If we didn’t book through the Avios promotion, we’d earn just 2,364 Avios from the BA Amex card, but pay £195 less for the same room.
Total: £1,381 = 2,364 Avios
Is 18,912 Avios worth £195?
There are two ways to answer this. First, how much does it cost to buy 18,912 Avios from BA? Secondly, what value can you get from 18,912 Avios?
Buying the equivalent Avios
A quick check on the British Airways website showed us that we could buy 20,000 Avios for £335. That meant it was £140 extra – almost double – to buy the miles from BA, rather than through the promotion. So, we’re effectively buying 20,000 Avios for £195 instead of £335.
If we were looking to amass some Avios in a hurry – perhaps we’re short for a trip we want to book – and are looking for cost-effective ways to do it, this promotion might prove useful. Saying that, the small print said we wouldn’t see the Avios until at least 3 months after we’d completed the stay, so that might invalidate the speed advantage and leave us wondering if we really needed those Avios we just paid £195 for.
How much value can you get from the Avios?
Off-peak economy flights from London to some cities in Europe come in as cheap as 8,000 Avios return with a £31 cash payment (we don’t recommend the Avios + £1 offer). This offer of 18,912 would bag you 2 returns in Economy or 1 return in business for £195.
For reference, cash fares on the same dates retail for:
- Economy: £58 return (£116 for two)
- Business: £151 return
Summing it all up, you’re not really getting much value from this spend on short-haul redemptions. It’s cheaper to pay cash for both the economy and business class trips. The only value we think you could obtain from this spend is supplementing a healthy Avios balance with enough miles to buy the long-haul flight you’re eyeing.
Other frequent flyer programmes are the same
Buyer beware. Not all spend on so-called loyalty programmes is profitable. As soon as you’re clicking links through to partners, check the rate you’re getting doesn’t include a premium for paying you points. Be confident you’re being rewarded for your spend with the partner and not just paying extra to buy the points.
Weighing it all up, this kind of promotion doesn’t sit well with us. The marketing suggests we’re getting 12 points for the same spend, when we’re actually being asked to spend more cash to buy the points at a discounted rate.
Is it worth it? For us, it’s the same answer to “is it worth buying Avios for cash?” In general, no. If you’re a few Avios short for that business class redemption to Miami, it might make sense.
The question for us was a simple: Did we want to pay £195 more for the same room in the same hotel, so we could earn 18,912 Avios? We decided we didn’t.
For our Dubai example, we chose not to book through the link, instead finding a good rate directly with Palazzo Versace, which also included discounts on our in-house spend.
Had similar experiences? Do you have other examples you can share? Leave us a comment below.