Over the past five years, Rob Burgess has flown business class to Abu Dhabi, Boston, Calgary, Cape Town, Las Vegas, Moscow, New York and Singapore.
The 45-year-old took his wife, Conny, and two children, Molly and Max, to Dubai during half-term last month.
Next year they’re off to Japan.
You’d assume this kind of jet-setting would mean splashing out thousands of pounds on flights. Those business class return tickets to Dubai, for example, would normally cost £6,000.
Vacation tip: Run by British Airways, Avios gives you points for each mile you fly and money you spend in shops on a dedicated credit card
But apart from unavoidable flight taxes, the Burgess family have not spent a penny on air travel since 2011.
Their secret? Airmiles, now known as Avios reward points.
Rob is one of more than six million people who collect the points — and he’s a master of getting the most from them.
Run by British Airways, the scheme gives you points for each mile you fly and money you spend in shops on a dedicated credit card. You then use the points to get hefty discounts on flights.
It was a generous deal until the Avios terms were overhauled in April 2015.
An economy class London to New York ticket would have given you 3,458 points before the changes — now it’s 864.
But you still need 9,000 points for an economy return flight to short-haul destinations, such as Paris or Prague.
Though it is harder to earn rewards, Rob, 45, who started his Airmiles hobby more than a decade ago, is such an expert that he and Conny, a shipping banker, still travel for next to nothing.
‘The secret is being organised and using the points in the right way at the right time,’ he says. ‘Once you get your head around a few of the tricks airlines play, you can really start to cash in.’
Globetrotters: Robert Burgess, pictured with his wife Conny, has flown business class to Abu Dhabi, Boston, Calgary, Cape Town, Las Vegas, Moscow, New York and Singapore
Rob has spent more than ten million points in the past decade and runs headforpoints.com, a website offering tips on how to get the most from the scheme. He set up the site after losing his job in the City five years ago.
He says since last April’s changes at Avios, spending on an Airmiles credit card is the best way to collect points.
Avios offers its own credit cards through TSB and Lloyds that give you up to 1.25 points per pound.
But others, particularly American Express, offer even better deals. For instance, the BA Premium Plus credit card comes with a 25,000 bonus point sign-up for spending £3,000 in 90 days.
You get 1.5 points for every £1 spent. And if you put most of your usual purchases on it and spend £10,000 in a year you get a two-for-one flight voucher.
This can be tricky, though, because not all shops accept Amex. The other downside is the £195 annual fee.
Rob also has an American Express Preferred Rewards Gold card, which is free for the first year, but costs £140 annually afterwards. It gives one point for every £1 spent.
If you spend £2,000 in the first 90 days you get a 20,000-point bonus. And if you were planning to buy a new sofa or book a holiday, you could really cash in.
Be quick off the mark: BA releases only four economy and two business class seats per flight
The 20,000 points can be converted into 40,000 Hilton points — this means a free eight-night hotel stay.
Rob has a ruse to boost his points. He’s discovered you can collect the sign-up bonuses multiple times. As long as he waits six months after cancelling a card, he can apply again and get another bonus. Conny has her own card, too.
Another way to boost points is to shop with Avios partners such as John Lewis and Tesco. So, if you buy £75 of Lego at Tesco you get a 3,600 boost. You need to use the Avios-branded card, though, rather than the American Express cards.
Once you have enough Avios points for flights, redeem them via the ba.com ‘spend your Avios’ page or by going to the avios.com site, which offers flights with 37 airlines.
There is a calculator here that will tell you how many miles and points you need for a particular flight.
You need to work out if you’re flying at peak or off-peak times. Find out at avios.com
Avios points don’t spare you taxes such as the fuel surcharge or air passenger duty. These are capped at £35 for each economy flight in Europe and £50 in business class. They are higher for long haul.
Racking up points: Avios offers credit cards through TSB and Lloyds that give up to 1.25 points per pound
And so the minimum needed for a return to Amsterdam at off-peak periods, such as January and March, is 8,000 points, plus £43 taxes. If you were flying long-haul — say South Africa — you’d need at least 32,500 for a return, plus £219 in taxes.
You need double points for World Traveller Plus seats, three times as many for business class tickets and four times more for first class.
Rob says BA offers the best value on redemptions. Flybe lets you pay for flights partly in cash and partly in Avios points. But 1,500 points equal £7.50, or 0.5p per point.
BA releases only four economy and two business class seats per flight. These are offered 355 days before travel, so it’s vital to be quick.
‘Your chances of flying free to Orlando in school holidays is slim due to the large number of people chasing the seats, so I try to pick unusual destinations — hence our trip to Japan next year,’ Rob says.
More Avios seats are often available in the months before departure, depending on ticket sales.
BA has a last-minute section on its website ba.com, typically offering 50 per cent off for Avios.
It’s offering weekend return flights to Edinburgh for 4,000 points in January, down from 8,000, and return flights to New York for 13,000, down from 26,000 points.