I am no longer actively blogging on this website.
Collecting air miles and hotel points is hobby of mine and I’ve been doing it for quite a few years. The strategy behind the hobby is simple – collect as many miles/points as you can – then redeem them as effectively as possible. Last month I suggested some ways that you can collect air miles through your business – but collecting air miles is only half of the story – to get the most out of this hobby you need to be smart with how you use your miles.
My recent trip to Moscow in First Class was a textbook example of how I maximised the value of my miles and points and I have decided to write a blog posts to detail how I did this, along with some pictures of the trip itself.
The London Heathrow (LHR) to Moscow Domodedovo (DME) route is a ‘sweet spot’ for Avios (BA airmile) redemptions. On every other First Class route operated by British Airways, you must pay all taxes with cash, on top of the airmiles to pay for the flight. But because LHR to MDE is under 2,000 miles it is within the ‘Reward Flight Saver‘ zone, which means the taxes are subsidised by BA. The taxes were just £55 per person, which is pretty amazing when you consider how much the flights would normally cost:
I booked the flights using Avios. London to Moscow is 60,000 Avios per person, however, I only had to pay for one person because I used a Companion Voucher which I earned via my British Airways American Express Premium Plus Credit Card.
There was one additional cost – we had to buy Visas to visit Moscow – these were £130 each.
I found an offer on Groupon for airport parking ‘Meet and Greet’ Service. We dropped the car off just outside Terminal 3. Once we had checked our bags in, we fast-tracked through security, which was free because we were travelling on a First Class ticket. That being said, I often wonder if “Fast Track” is a myth – the line was shorter but it was full of children and wheelchair users – which probably took longer than the normal security line.
Once we passed through security we decided which lounge to go in. The two lounges at Manchester Terminal 3 are the Escape Lounge and the British Airways Terraces Lounge. I have a Priority Pass which grant me access to the Escape Lounge but opted for the British Airways Terraces Lounge because it has better food, better seating and generally feels more ‘exclusive’. Unlike the Escape Lounge, you can’t pay for entry – you must be either on a Business or First Class ticket or have Silver or Gold status with BA. The food and drink selection in the lounge was great and I fuelled up on whiskey and coke before the flight to London.
The flight down to Heathrow was relatively uneventful. The plane had the new interior which BA implemented earlier in the year which looked pretty stylish. The headrests fold out so you can rest your head on them – an inspired idea.
Half was through the flight I went for a pee. I took a picture of the galley at the back of the plane which I tweeted when I was back on the ground. This sparked an unexpected conversation with the Head of Media Relations at Airbus.
We stayed over at Sofitel in Heathrow on the first night. We paid for this with cash – £179. When I made the booking I got £16 cashback via TopCashBack and I registered for a couple of hotel promotions, which earned me a total of 4,976 Avios from the stay. I value Avios at 1p each so this effectively saved me a further £49.76, bringing the cost for the hotel down to £113.24.
To my surprise, I was upgraded to a Superior Room and given executive lounge access when I checked in! I’m not sure why this is because I don’t have any kind of status with Accor (although I used to hold Platinum status so it might be this, maybe?). Either way, I didn’t complain; a room with lounge access normally costs an extra £50, so I felt like I’d paid £113 for a £229 room. I do love a bargain 😀
The executive lounge access gave us free food and drinks which we took full advantage of. Having not spent anything on dinner we decided to spoil ourselves and had a very special round of drinks from the bar before we went to bed – I had a double Johnnie Walker Blue Label. It was a very luxurious start to the holiday.
We woke up on Tuesday morning slightly hung over and checked out of our hotel at around 06:30. The Sofitel is the only hotel inside Heathrow Terminal 5 so it wasn’t far to walk to the airport. Under different circumstances I would have been feeling a bit ropey but I was so excited about flying First that I didn’t even notice.
I had never travelled First Class with BA before (or any airline, for that matter) so I was intrigued to see what the experience was like. It began by using a dedicated First check-in area. After this we “fast-tracked” through security (although it was pretty much a repeat of the experience in Manchester and I doubt it was any faster than standard security). We then made our way to the Concorde Room.
The Concorde Room is BA’s flagship airline lounge. We had breakfast there – service and food both excellent. I had pre-booked a complimentary massage at the Elemis Travel Spa but cancelled it while we were eating breakfast because I didn’t want to rush. The other notable lounge at Heathrow is the Galleries First lounge. I passed this when we were leaving the Concorde Room so we nipped in for a quick look. It was very impressive, as was the Concorde Room. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the lounges.
The flight to Moscow Domodedovo was amazing. I was blown away by the level of luxury we experienced in the air. The service, food, comfort – everything about the flight was perfect. It was the only flight I’ve ever had when I didn’t want to get off the plane when it landed!
As soon as we boarded the flight attendant introduced herself to us and showed us to our seats. When we said it was our first ‘First’, so she said she would go out of her way to make the flight one to remember. We ended up spending a long time talking to her about all aspects of her job and British Airways.
There were loads of special elements to the flight. Apparently the film selection was amazing but I didn’t watch TV once. I did, however, select some of the best food and drink I’ve ever experienced from an à la carte menu. Naturally, I tried all the champagne: Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle, Palmer & Co Blanc de Blancs Millesime 2007 and Michel Forget Rose Premier. I also drank more Johnnie Walker Blue Label 😉
We were both given a box of chocolates, free pyjamas, slippers, amenity kit and offered a turn-down service which transformed the seat into a bed – I wasn’t tired but I opted for it anyway purely because I could. You can’t tell from the pictures but it was very comfortable.
Here are a couple of pictures from the flight:
I should say, it doesn’t pass me by that flying in the circumstances we did is bad for the environment. The carbon footprint must be enormous. I will pen a blog post about my view on capitalism some time (it might surprise some people) but the long and the short of it is: if you can’t beat it, join it. Apparently, the unused bottles of champagne from the flight have to be thrown away, which is criminal when you consider they cost over £100 a bottle (although our flight attendant told me they don’t necessarily go to waste – the crew sometimes give themselves a ‘champagne hand wash’ – apparently this is good for your skin!?).
Naturally, a luxurious flight had to be followed by a luxurious hotel, so I converted 70,000 American Express Membership Rewards Points into 210,000 Club Carlson Gold Points, which got us 3 nights at the Radisson Royal Hotel in Moscow. Again this was another example of maximising the value of my points*.
(*this isn’t strictly true. Club Carlson is normally one of the best uses of Membership Rewards, however, the current sanctions imposed on Russia have caused the value of the Ruble to plummet over the past few months. As the Ruble has been falling in value it has changed what would have been a great use of points into a mediocre one).
Back to the hotel, The Raddison Royal Hotel was stunning. It’s a 5* hotel on the bank of the Moskva River and one of the best properties I have ever stayed in. It’s very spacious, has fantastic facilities and the service was amazing. There are 500 rooms spread across 34 floors plus 5 restaurants, loads of shops, a health centre and an Olympic size swimming pool. The hotel also operates a fleet of ‘Ice Breakers’ – sightseeing boats which run daily trips along the river.
Here are a few pictures from Moscow:
The journey back from Moscow started with the most terrifying taxi journey ever. We checked out of the hotel just after 1 (normal check out is at 12 but I extended this to 1 as I am a Club Carlson Gold member) then booked a taxi via concierge to DME. We had the options of a ‘regular’ taxi or a Mercedes. We opted for the regular taxi which turned out to be am Audi S3, though it may as well have been a go-cart given the manor in which we traveled, weaving in and out of traffic with inches either side of us.
Once that hair raising experience was over we arrived at DME (alive, just about) and checked in. We passed time before the flight in the BA Navigator Lounge which was spacious and nicely located but the food and drink offerings were crap.
As soon as we were able, we boarded our flight and returned to the mythical bubble which was First Class.
The flight back was just as impressive as the flight out. Again, the service and food were superb. This was an afternoon flight so the menu was different, which meant we got to try different things to the previous flight (which was in the morning). One tip I would give to anyone flying First Class would be save space in your stomach for a three course meal. If you’re travelling with a companion I also recommend eating opposite one another using the ‘buddy seat’ (which is basically your footrest).
Something else worth mentioning is the seat selection. Depending on the type of aircraft you are flying in there are different seat configurations. We flew on a Boeing 777-200. As we wanted to make the most of the experience, we decided to try a window seat on the outbound flight (seats 1A and 2A) and middle seats on the return (1E and 1F). While I have no regrets trying different seats, I thought the window seat were better.
The seats themselves are identical. The middle seats are designed with couples in mind – they have a retractable dividing wall between the seats and the ‘buddy seat’ is slightly more spacious. Having said that, the window seats feel more private and you get a larger amount of storage close to your seat. You also get windows. Obviously.
Because we had a connecting flight to MAN we were able to use the First Class lounges in Heathrow for a second time on the return leg. I had pre-booked a private Cabana to relax in while we were waiting for the next flight.
The Cabana was effectively a mini hotel room, with a comfortable bed/sofa, TV, desk and bathroom. It really does feel like you’re in a hotel – you completely forget that you are in an airport. I had a shower in the Cabana and it was great (although the drain does make a slightly unnerving gurgling sound!). There is a button to press for someone to come to your room to take an order for anything you might fancy off the complimentary food and drinks menu. There is also a free telephone, although I didn’t use it. I’m glad we tried the Cabana but I am not overly fussed about using one the next time I fly – I’d be just as happy in the lounge ordering drinks from the bar. At least I can say I’ve done it.
This time I managed to grab a quick picture of outside the Concorde Room as we were leaving.
The last leg of the journey back to MAN was as expected. I spent most of the time on the last flight wondering where to go next. The First Class product from BA was better than I imagined it would be and I have vowed that all my future airmile redemptions be spent on flying First. One thing is for sure – my next destination needs to be a lot further away than Moscow. At the moment I’m thinking somewhere in the Far East, like Singapore. This will be dictated by how many airmiles I can save up between now and whenever it is I go.
If you want to pick my brains about earning and burning airmiles feel free to contact me. It really isn’t hard to collect enough miles to do what I did in this trip. For further information about using Avios check out the Flyertalk Gide To Spending Avios or read my favourite blog, Head for Points. If you have a First flight coming up check out this thread on Flyertalk for loads of tips to maximise the experience.