Like thousands of others across the UK, being locked away at home during the start of the pandemic resulted in my family re-evaluating our space requirements at home. As a home working travel agent, I was always working from home. But suddenly, my partner, a chartered accountant was now stuck at home with me. In addition to that, our three children were now stuck at home as well! Fortunately, their schools had all made arrangements for online learning but that meant that they all required their own individual spaces to study.
Our 4 bedroom home which had always felt large enough to accommodate all our needs until the kids eventually flew the nest was now starting to feel very small! So in the summer of 2020, as lockdown measures started easing up, we decided to invest in an single storey rear extension and a loft conversion. The new room in loft would provide a home office for my husband which could double up as a guest bedroom for my out-laws when they visited from London. The ground floor extension would give us a larger living space and allow me to enlarge my home office.
So how does building an extension get you free flights or an upgrade?
Let’s begin with the British Airways American Express Premium Plus Credit Card. I applied for the card which comes with a £195 annual fee. In return, you earn 25,000 Avios for spending £3,000 or more in the first 3 months. In addition, you get a Companion Voucher which essentially allows you to double up on the number of Avios you have by getting a second redemption ticket for free. More about that later.
Once I was signed up, I invited my partner to join. That single click paid me a bonus of another 9,000 Avios when he was approved for the card.
Whilst we couldn’t pay our builders with our newly acquired American Express cards, we could pay for materials. After all, our builders needed to buy their bricks, 2×4 wood and sand and cement from somewhere. We asked our builders where they would be buying their materials and whether they would allow us to buy the materials for them and deduct this from the total amount they were charging us. They gracefully agreed and we investigated whether the Builder’s Merchants our contractors were using accepted payment by American Express. Fortunately, all but one either accepted American Express directly or they accepted Paypal which is a back door to paying by American Express.
Our contract with the builders was for all the labour and build materials up to “first fix”. All “second fix” materials such as switches, sockets, pre-finished oak doors, bathroom fittings and tiles was on us. We discovered that British Airways run the Avios E-Store which allows you to go to most websites through British Airways. This works in a similar way to Quidco or Top Cash Back but instead of getting “cashback” you get Avios. So, as an example, buying appliances from AO.com earned us 5 Avios per £1 spent in addition to the 1.5 Avios per £1 spent on the American Express Card. Screwfix were also offering 2 Avios per £1 spent although that was during a promotion period. The standard rate at Screwfix is only 1 Avios per £1.
After a lengthy 6 month build project, we had amassed a fortune of Avios. By paying for materials, we earned just over 180,000 Avios from the British Airways Credit Card and through the Avios E-Store. When combined with the 25,000 bonus Avios we each got for spending £3,000 within 3 months and the 9,000 Avios bonus I got for referring my partner to the card, we had about 240,000 Avios.
This voucher is probably one of the best perks of having the British Airways card and also the feature which justifies paying the £195 annual fee. A return business class (Club World) ticket to Dubai costs 100,000 Avios per person plus the taxes. With the companion voucher, you get two return Club World tickets to Dubai for the same number of Avios.
Now for the hard part. There are 5 of us. Our children are 13, 11 and 8 and therefore none of them would qualify for infant rates. You can probably see where this is going- we were 5 people but only had two companion vouchers.
The choice was between (a) the 4 of us living it up in business class and punishing our least favorite child by sending them to back of the plane to spend 7 hours alone in economy or (b) figure out something that would allow us all to travel up front. Fortunately, British Airways allow you to upgrade from World Travel Plus by paying 40,000 Avios. Hallelujah. We were a few Avios short, but British Airways allows you to top up 1,000 Avios for £31. To find out more about how this works, read this article:
So, by building a house extension, the 5 of us will be flying to Dubai in Business Class for just under £3,000. Considering these tickets would normally cost anything between £1,500 (in a sale) and £3,000 a ticket, our extension saved us as much as £12,000 on flights!
You might think that my raison d’être is to sell travel products to my clients rather than teach them how to by-pass me. This couldn’t be further from the truth! I have many clients who collect points and love to use them for upgrades and redemptions. My clients will however always require someone to arrange an element of their itinerary.
With a booking like this, we will still need hotels and will probably want to book a day at Aqua Venture and Wild Wadi as well as a desert safari. We also need to book the flight for the 3rd child in Premium Economy. To debunk a popular myth, British Airways tickets booked by a travel agent are often cheaper than booking direct on BA.com and are upgradeable with Avios. My clients might not need me for the flight element of their journey but they know that I can take care of everything else!
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