GOING FOR GOLD • November 2020
In this, our new spotlight on the highest tiers of the British Airways Executive Club, we get to the bottom of what it takes to make it the top. To kick things off, Gold Member Tim Drewitt busts the biggest myth: is Gold possible without business travel?
I joined the Executive Club back in 1994, but it’s only in the last few years that being a Member has taken on any sense of purpose.
Back in the 1990s, I was a member of numerous schemes and got no value from any of them. In those days, I tended to fly somewhere using the destination country’s national flag carrier and would only choose British Airways if that country didn’t have its own airline, or the state carrier had a bad reputation. At one point, I had membership cards from British Airways, Lufthansa, KLM, Aer Lingus, American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines. As a result of this somewhat scattergun approach, I was adding very few miles or status points with any of them.
Then, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I worked for two different US-based organisations, which is when I started to appreciate the benefits of focusing on a specific frequent flyer scheme. Then it was the Star Alliance, as United was the most convenient airline. I quickly rose through the tiers to Star Alliance Gold and, to help maintain that status, I moved my European and Far East travel to those airlines in that alliance network.
A World Traveller trip to Singapore just before the end of my tier point year took me to Bronze. That’s when I ‘got the bug’
Then, back in 2016 – having seen probably more of the US than most Americans and now firmly back working in the UK – I started to explore Europe and Australasia more, this time with British Airways. I was Blue in the 2016/17 Tier point year and took a handful of flights – all in Euro Traveller. But it was a World Traveller trip to Singapore just before the end of my tier point year that took me to Bronze. That’s when I ‘got the bug’.
During the next 2017/18 Tier point year, I started to fly with British Airways even more and began to book some trips in Club Europe, taking advantage of the cheaper prices during the fare sales. I also noticed that, with the amount of competition in the market, today’s Club Europe fares are often not that different from what you used to pay for a Euro Traveller ticket in the 1990s. I also upgraded the return leg of a World Traveller trip to the Caribbean to World Traveller Plus. By the end of this year, I had achieved Silver status. So began the race for Gold.
Club Europe flights to short-haul destinations such as Dublin keep Tim topped up on the Tier front
In my 2018/19 year, I made a conscious decision to travel mostly in Club Europe and started to wise up to which short and medium-haul routes earned the prized 160 Tier points. I also discovered the ability to use Avios points to upgrade World Traveller Plus tickets to Club World, which earn more Tier points still. And this was the year when I learned that switching to a oneworld airline – accepting a change of plane en route – could significantly increase the number of Tier points earned. As a result, by the end of this year, I had comfortably attained Gold status.
Fuelled by a love of travel, in 2017/18 I was away ten times in total, then in 2018/19 I made 14 trips. At this time, I was working in The City and discovered the British Airways network out of London City, which offered many opportunities for quick weekend breaks. Finally, last year (2019/20) I was away 15 times.
Of the 14 trips I made in this Tier year, three were in Euro Traveller (Rotterdam, Malaga and Barcelona), earning a small number of Tier points, though I was upgraded to Club Europe on the way back from Malaga. Most of the rest were in Club Europe (Innsbruck, Rotterdam again, Aberdeen, Frankfurt, Tallinn, Stuttgart, Dublin, Granada and Funchal), with a trip to Barbados in World Traveller Plus – upgraded to Club World with Avios – and a business class trip to Australia with oneworld partner, Qatar Airways, with internal economy flights on Qantas (also oneworld).
During the most recent Tier year, three of my 15 trips were in Euro Traveller (Edinburgh, Riga and Copenhagen), two were in economy with oneworld partner Aer Lingus (Cork and Belfast), seven were in Club Europe (Hannover, Funchal, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Nantes, Munich, Jersey and Malta), with another World Traveller Plus (upgraded to Club World) trip to the Caribbean (pictured above), this time Grenada, and one long-haul business class trip to Phuket in Thailand with oneworld partner Finnair.
My favourite routes
Malta and Madeira both earn the prized 160 Tier points for a return trip and both are great destinations that often have good sale fares. They’ll both regularly feature in my travel planning. Luxembourg is another destination I keep my eye on. It was one of the places I travelled to most frequently when working toward Silver. The 80 Tier point route regularly offers some of the cheapest Club Europe fares in the network, and the location itself is an ideal jump-off point for trips around southwest Germany.
With a bit of planning – roll out the AV Geek Tier point spreadsheet – I’ve found it possible to retain my Gold status without too much trouble
The dreaded drop
I haven’t dropped a Tier yet and, with a bit of planning – roll out the AV Geek Tier point spreadsheet – I’ve found it possible to retain my Gold status without too much trouble. And I’m now very grateful for British Airways extending my status until 2022, what with the pandemic halting most travel. Should I ever find I’m not able to maintain my current status, I won’t be overly concerned. Having now made the transition to travelling mostly in Club Europe, I know that I’ll always get some form of lounge access and priority boarding (when things get back to normal). And, of course, both those things still come with Silver status, anyhow.
My best trick
One of the handiest discoveries I’ve made since immersing myself in the Executive Club scheme is the ability to pay for a World Traveller Plus ticket, but to use some Avios points to upgrade one or both legs to Club World. You still only earn the appropriate number of Tier points for the World Traveller Plus fare, but these are always significantly more than your standard World Traveller fare would earn. So far, I’ve used this approach for my trips to the Caribbean and each time I’ve earned 180 Tier points per trip. Had Covid-19 not scuppered my 2020 travel plans, I was due to fly from London via Singapore to Sydney in Club World doing the same thing. That trip would have earned me 300 Tier points.
Golden hour: Madeira is one of Tim’s favourite 160 Tier point routes
Three biggest Gold perks
Over the last few months, having a priority Gold telephone line has been the biggest perk. With so many trips needing to be cancelled, being able to speak quickly to an adviser has been a big-time saver. Also being able to use the Gold Wing at Heathrow is another useful perk. The regular Club lounges at Heathrow and Gatwick are very good, but the fast track access to the Gold lounge is a real timesaver. Finally, being recognised as a oneworld Emerald member has been a great perk when travelling with British Airways’ partner airlines. In particular, Finnair really rolls out the red-carpet treatment when they know you’re on board.
If you don’t mind changing planes en route to your destination, jumping on a oneworld partner airline mid-journey is a great way to build up your Tier points. For instance, my trip to Thailand via Helsinki with British Airways and Finnair earned me 440 Tier points, while my trip to Australia via Doha with British Airways and Qatar earned me 600 Tier points (i.e. what you need to qualify for Silver). Not only can you earn more Tier points but, due to how the fare calculations can work out, you’ll often be paying far less for your business class ticket as well.
Another tip would be to learn which of the European routes earn you those 160 Tier points in Club Europe and to factor those in your plans. Currently, as well as Malta and Funchal, these include Athens, Bucharest, Sofia and Tenerife.