Need to use up air miles? Here’s how you can spend them… on a trip to space! 

Need to use up air miles? Here’s how you can spend them… on a trip to space! 

Every week our Holiday Hero Neil Simpson takes an in-depth look at a brilliant holiday topic, doing all the legwork so you don’t have to. This week: spending unused air miles.

Collecting new air miles this year has not been easy, but there are plenty of ways to spend your existing points before they expire – including jetting into space at three times the speed of sound.

If you have a real sense of adventure – and at least two million Virgin Atlantic Flying Club points – you can enter a draw for a coveted seat on Sir Richard Branson’s long-awaited Virgin Galactic service when it finally takes to the skies.

Up for grabs: Enter a draw for a coveted seat on Sir Richard Branson’s long-awaited Virgin Galactic service when it finally takes to the skies

Up for grabs: Enter a draw for a coveted seat on Sir Richard Branson’s long-awaited Virgin Galactic service when it finally takes to the skies

Back on Earth, if you’ve built up Emirates or Etihad points flying to the sun in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, you can cash them in through the airlines’ online shops.

Etihad focuses on high-end brands, including Versace perfumes and Ray-Ban sunglasses, as well as gadgets such as Fitbits and Beats headphones. If you don’t have enough miles to claim an item outright, you can pay for most things with a mix of miles and money.

Emirates adds a dash of humour in its shop with ‘If it’s not Boeing I’m not going’ baseball caps and coffee mugs shaped like jet engines.

Singapore Airlines has a similar website for those who’ve collected air miles on its flights from the UK to the Far East and on to Australia. As well as fashion and scent, there’s a focus on homeware with Bodum coffee pots, Banyan Tree candles, Villeroy & Boch china and more on offer. Delivery fees apply, but the goods are free with enough points.

Frequent fliers who collect points with British Airways and Virgin have to try harder to spend loyalty points, as neither airline has a big online store for scheme members. But BA’s wine store is worth a look, with offers such as six bottles of prosecco from 14,000 points –called Avios.

Experts in loyalty points at travel firm The Points Guy say it also pays to focus on the core benefits of air miles schemes: achieving free flights or upgrades. They say that combining several smaller collections into one larger account is a good first step towards free travel.

Families who enjoy Virgin Atlantic flights can transfer points into a single household account before searching for free flights in economy (in most cases, taxes still apply) or for upgrades to its swanky Upper Class seats

Families who enjoy Virgin Atlantic flights can transfer points into a single household account before searching for free flights in economy (in most cases, taxes still apply) or for upgrades to its swanky Upper Class seats 

With BA, there is no cost to change any number of its points, called Avios, between accounts at the same address. For a small fee you can also transfer Avios to those who live elsewhere. The ‘Book a flight with Avios’ section on BA’s website lets you see how far you can go (and how good a seat you can buy) with your miles.

Or when you book a flight or holiday with the airline, you often get the chance to knock £50, £100 or more off the price by using points. Book ahead as far as next autumn and Avios bookings qualify for flexible change policies, just like ordinary bookings.

Families who enjoy Virgin Atlantic flights can transfer points into a single household account before searching for free flights in economy (in most cases, taxes still apply) or for upgrades to its swanky Upper Class seats.

Virgin’s points can also be used to pay for a chauffeur to get you to the airport in style.

You could do good with excess points from most loyalty schemes by donating air miles to your airline’s charity partner (which also helps to compensate for this year’s collapse in on-board spare-change collections).

You’ll find details on each airline’s loyalty scheme website.

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