Archna Luthra

Do you have any tips on maxing Virgin Atlantic reward miles?

Do you have any tips on maxing Virgin Atlantic reward miles?

Travelling is definitely a money vice for me. And while I’ve done my fair share of budget backpacking, now I’m a bit older with no real responsibilities, any opportunity to travel in style (cheaply of course) is welcome. So when I accumulated a few Virgin reward miles from a flight, I was keen to max them out as best I could.

Flying Club is Virgin Atlantic’s reward scheme – each time you fly with Virgin, you earn miles. You can also can earn when you spend at Hilton, Hertz, French Connection and Hotels.com, among others. These miles can then be redeemed on flights, upgrades and other rewards such as hotel stays or experiences.

It isn’t the most generous loyalty scheme around, but if, like me, you have miles that need using up, here are my tips on maxing your stash. Using the following process, I got an upper class flight (c.£3,300) for the cost of a premium economy one (£1,500).

Though it’s worth remembering loyalty schemes are designed to drive just that – loyalty – and loyalty doesn’t always pay.

Step 1: Boost your points stash

I knew I was planning a big trip to the Far East, so I wanted to use my points for this and if possible, upgrade my long, cooped-up flight to Hong Kong. But I didn’t have enough points to upgrade. So first, I did what I could to boost my points. It’s relatively easy to collect more in a few months, here’s how to do it:

  • Convert Tesco Clubcard points to miles – get a 30% boost if you time it right. If you’re a Tesco shopper you can convert Tesco Clubcard points to Virgin miles. The return is decent as you get 625 miles for every £2.50 of vouchers you swap.

    However, a few times a year Tesco offers a deal where you get 813 miles for £2.50 of vouchers. Plus, opt in to automatically convert Tesco points to miles and you’ll get a one-off bonus of 2,500 miles. 1,000 miles costs £30 to buy directly from Virgin, so this is a good option.

    To really up the gain quickly, look out for bonus Tesco points offers if you want to boost your stash. You can often get an extra 1,000 points with grocery or wine orders (see our Tesco codes page for the latest deals).

  • Get extra miles when you book a flight. When you book a flight and pay in cash (not miles), Virgin lets you buy extra miles at a discounted price. You can either buy the miles you’ve flown for a set price or double the miles you’ve flown for double the price. For example, fly to New York and you can get 6,916 miles for £69.16 or 13,832 for £138. See the Virgin’s Miles Booster page for more on this.

  • Collect points on everyday buys. Virgin’s Shops Away is an e-store that works like a cashback site. You simply sign into your Flying Club account and click through it to buy something. The retailer pays for sending traffic through to its site and Virgin gives some of this back to you in miles. It’s a good way to collect miles on things you’d buy anyway.

    However going via a traditional cashback site can often beat Shops Away, and don’t ever spend needlessly just to earn points. Miles can take 45 days to be added to your account, so this isn’t a quick option.

  • Earn cashback shopping, convert to Tesco points, then to miles. This is a brilliant loophole to up the gain on miles (thank you MSE Jenny for this one). Cashback site Topcashback gives you 5% extra if you convert what you earn to Tesco points. So do this, then convert these to Virgin miles and you’ll be quids in. For a full lowdown on how cashback sites work, see the Best Cashback Sites guide.

  • Buy miles with cash. Virgin lets you buy miles, which is useful if you’re a little short. Miles don’t come cheap though, so this is best left for when you really need the points and don’t have time to earn them. The minimum number of miles you can buy is 1,000 and they’ll set you back £30. But they get cheaper the more you buy, for example 10,000 will cost £165. However compared to earning via Tesco, this is still steep.

    At certain times of the year, Virgin offers bonus miles, for example, 25% extra for the same cost. But if you’ve got the time to wait for one of these sales, you’re better off trying to earn miles another way.

  • Try a Virgin credit card. A couple of credit cards give big intro points offers. You’ll need a decent credit score to get one and remember to ALWAYS set up a direct debit to pay it off in full, otherwise you’ll pay interest and cancel out any gain.

    The Virgin Atlantic White card is currently giving 10,000 miles if you open a card, or the Amex Gold charge card (which isn’t a credit card) is giving 20,000 if you spend £2,000 in the first three months. See the Airline Credit Cards guide for full details.

  • Extend points that are about to expire. Points expire three years after no activity on your account. So to keep them active, simply add to your bank of miles. This is easily done by collecting even one mile via the Shop Away store or converting Tesco points.

  • Watch out for Virgin’s special offers. Virgin Flying Club sometimes emails special deals which will help boost points. For example, just before Christmas I was offered a case of wine for £60 plus 3,000 miles. Again, don’t buy just for the points, make sure it’s a good deal in its own right. This was a good deal, as the case alone was a bargain for £60.

Step 2: Do the number crunching

Upgrades are often the best value for your points, in particular upgrades to upper class. But the key is to really do your homework and calculate all the different options to see what works for you. When doing this, bear in mind you’ll have to pay taxes and charges.

Also, if you want to upgrade, you need to make sure your ticket is the right class – more on this below.

Here’s what I found for a return trip to Hong Kong departing the UK on 14 August and returning on 27 August.

  Cheapest
(via SkyScanner)
Cheapest Virgin Upgrade to Upper Class using Virgin miles Buy outright with Virgin miles Virgin miles plus money
Economy £764 £764 £765.05 + 60,000 miles plus taxes and charges Dates not available but c. 50,000 miles plus £371 taxes & charges £688.05 plus 2,000 miles
Premium Economy £1,100 £1,308 £1,337.05 + 30,000 miles + taxes & charges (c. £160) Dates not available but c. 80,000 miles plus £532.05 taxes & charges £1,705 plus 7,500 miles
Upper Class/Business £3,062 £3,166 - 120,000 + £615.05 incl taxes & charges £3,012.05 plus 15,000 miles

Step 3: Tips for booking your flight

Booking flights through Virgin’s reward scheme is a little fiddly, as you first need to buy a ticket which is ungradeable (not all are), and at the same time check if there are reward seats for that flight so you can upgrade with miles.

You can ring the Flying Club helpline and they will usually, very helpfully, run through all the options with you and look for dates. However I prefer to plan dates myself in advance. Either way, ultimately you’ll need to upgrade over the phone.

It’s best to book and upgrade at the same time, in case rewards seats get sold and you’re stuck with a pricier ticket you don’t really want.

  • Get the right class of tickets. Virgin only allows you to upgrade on certain classes of seat. You can upgrade if you buy a full adult fare in the following booking classes: W, S, Y, B, R, L, U and M. Unfortunately most flight comparison sites don’t tell you what class you’re buying, although most don’t sell the flexible fares you need anyway. Use the Virgin flight tool to check availability and prices for the basic flight in the right class.

  • Check availability for reward upgrades. Once you have the price of the basic flight you want, you need to see if there are any reward seats on that flight. Usually you only get a handful per flight. Use Virgin’s reward flight checker and pick ‘miles’ for the payment option. This will show whether upgrades for miles are available or not.

  • Be flexible with dates. As Virgin only releases a few rewards seats per flight, popular routes get snapped up quickly. So all the usual factors apply here, popular routes are harder to book, and there’s less availability for peak times such as school holidays and Christmas. More reward seats can be released, but if you’re dead set on a certain time and destination, you’ll need to check availability often, some even check on a daily basis!

  • Try alternative routes. Try booking an alternative route if the one you want isn’t available. For example, try Los Angeles if you want to go to San Francisco, Miami instead of Orlando; JFK instead of Newark, or Johannesburg instead of Cape Town.

  • Watch out for sales. From time to time Virgin will run a sale and offer flights for a reduced number of miles. This usually only covers Economy flights, but it’s worth checking out.

If the reward seats you want are unavailable you could try booking the upgradeable ticket and upgrading nearer the time. Virgin does release more reward seats depending on how well the flight is selling, but there’s a risk you might not get what you want.

Flights, and in particular upgrades, usually give the best return on miles, but if you don’t have enough points and aren’t interested in collecting more, you can also redeem on hotel stays and experiences which don’t need as many miles.

What do you think? Do you have any tips on maxing air mile schemes? Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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Steve Brook

My rail fare miscarriage of justice

My rail fare miscarriage of justice

As a Londoner with Kentish roots, I often venture back to the ‘Garden of England’ to see family and catch up with friends. However, this comes at a cost.

A full-price ticket for my return journey costs a hefty £26.50. Thankfully, I invested in a Network Rail Card at the start of the year so I get a third off that price.

Before one of my recent trips back, I noticed Southeastern railway was also offering passengers 20% off on the weekend I’d planned to travel. Needless to say, I wasted little time in booking tickets.

However upon booking, I found there were planned engineering works on the line on those dates. My round trip, which usually takes just under two hours, was going to take approximately three and a half.

The 20% discount helped make this unexpected inconvenience a little easier to swallow. But while the clever marketing team at Southeastern sold it to me as a "Valentine’s Weekend Offer", I chose to look at it as deserved compensation for the disruption I was to experience.

Yet what if the train company hadn’t chosen to celebrate the day of love with such a generous (and not to mention romantic) offer? Surely it wouldn’t expect people to pay the regular price for a service which is anything but? Actually, it would.

As someone who only uses trains on weekends, this isn’t the first time I’ve been inconvenienced by engineering works. While I accept this is the most convenient time to carry out maintenance work, I resent the fact I’m often forced to pay the same price for these arduous journeys as I would for a normal service.

If an item of clothing was damaged or stained, you wouldn’t expect to pay the same price as you would for one that was in mint condition. If you were booking tickets for a show and the seats had a restricted view, you’d feel aggrieved forking out as much as those sitting in the front row.

Surely it’s unfair not to apply the same rules for rail passengers?

I’m going to go full steam ahead and call this a miscarriage of justice. What do you think? Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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Adam Cable

Have you tried to make your own standing desk?

Have you tried to make your own standing desk?

Like so many IT professionals, I lead a mostly sedentary life. So I try to break up my eight hours of sitting at a desk each day by hitting the gym at lunchtime and going running (see MoneySavingExpert runs the marathon), but I’m pretty sure us humans weren’t made for sitting all day.

In my previous job I was lucky enough to have a motorised standing desk, which meant I could raise my desk up and allow myself to stand at work. This works great, so I wanted to build a similar setup for when I work from home.

But I wanted to do it without huge expense – I’ve seen some which cost over £200!

I searched online and found a how to build a standing desk guide on the Lifehacker website that some people in the US had used.

Naturally I tried it out myself, and found myself with a standing desk which only cost me £14.

Here’s what you’ll need to make your own:

Total – £14

All of the parts I used come from Ikea, which is a steal if you have one close to home. To order online will usually cost an extra £9 for delivery, but obviously you can source the bits from elsewhere if you want to.

The assembly itself is pretty straightforward. The table comes flat-packed so you simply screw in the four legs. Then I placed the table onto my normal desk to give it height.

Once you’ve done this, you’ll be able to work out what height you need your keyboard and mouse at. Then you can mount the shelf on the side of the table using the brackets and some screws (I had some spare lying around at home).

My standing desk cost me £14

My standing desk cost me £14

Positive side effects

As well as having a fully-functioning standing desk, I’ve experienced a couple of positive side effects.

Firstly, I no longer suffer with lower back pain, which I’ve had for the past few years. It’s taken time to adjust to being on my feet for extended periods, but I’m now loving it.

Secondly, I feel more productive. When standing, I seem to have more of a natural desire to keep going. I guess it’s because it’s easy to switch off or ponder for a few minutes while sitting down.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a complete standing desk convert. But I like to have the option of using it and knowing that I haven’t forked out a fortune to do so!

What do you think about standing desks? Have you tried to make your own? Please let us know your opinions and share how you fared in the discussion below or in the forum.

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Zorica Campbell

Can technology improve the access to and usability of the law?

Can technology improve the access to and usability of the law?

I’m sure many would agree that parliamentary bills can be long and somewhat arduous to digest. But Parliament’s on the hunt for new ways to communicate these in the digital age and on Friday, myself and the MoneySavingExpert.com Forum Team gave it our views.

Hosted by the Parliament Digital Outreach team, we headed to Westminster for the very first #ParliTeaCamp meeting where we were joined by other online communities including We Nurses, Arrse (Army Rumour Service), Sustrans (a charity promoting sustainable transport) the Environment Agency and Our Diabetes.

A tea party isn’t a tea party without tea of course, so we were obviously supplied with fresh brew to help keep the ideas and discussion flowing.

We’ve all worked with the Digital Outreach team at Parliament in various capacities over the past year, helping to publicise certain bills and announcements on issues for our various areas and for our audiences.

On the MSE Forum, for example, we have an official Parliament representative who posts information and talks to our community on topics including changes to the disability living allowance, the annual Budget and on the Consumer Rights Bill.

This event was all about a new initiative – Digital Democracy (@digidemocracyuk) – under which Parliament wants to hear people’s views on whether technology could improve the access to and usability of both legislation and the law-making process.

Spearheaded by the speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, we were asked how best to achieve this and on what we thought about the campaign itself.

We think providing people with options on how they can receive information, and making things more straightforward to understand, would be a positive step for the future.

Tour of Parliament

We were also fortunate enough to be taken on a tour of the Houses of Parliament themselves, including the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Our tour guide shared some interesting historical facts about our country’s political and legal traditions – for example, did you know you’re not allowed to sit on the seats in Parliament unless you are an MP?

And that anyone can apply to be a member of the House of Lords simply by downloading a form from Parliament’s website?

If you’re interested in doing a tour of Parliament you can do so for free by contacting your local MP. More information on this can be found on the Parliament website.

What are your thoughts on Parliament’s Digital Democracy? Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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Andrea Hirai

Join our help-clear-your-debts 'party' every Friday

Join our help-clear-your-debts 'party' every Friday

Inspired by our huge, fantastic community of Debt-Free Wannabes, we hold a motivational, help-clear-your-debts "party" every Friday evening from 8.30pm on our forum Twitter account – @MSE_Forum.

It’s all about MoneySaving the fun and supportive way. We talk about tips and ideas on how to pay off your debts, share success stories, celebrate when someone’s cleared their debts (let us know!) and discuss anything else that keeps you motivated. It’s not about telling the world how much you owe (unless you want to, of course).  

Past conversations include slow cooker bargains, Saturday night "fakeaways" (home-made Chinese, curries and more for under a fiver), and even games you can play with dice for free and educational kids’ entertainment!

It’ll be great to talk to you – the more the merrier.  Of course, it’s all free, so it’s a very cheap Friday night in while saving money too!

Why should I do it?

If that hasn’t motivated you already, read our fabulously inspiring Debt-Free Roll of Honour. We started it several years ago, and it’s become the holy grail of MoneySaving – where our fantastic forumites come to shout out loud and proud when they’ve finally cleared their debt.

We’d love to see you join it!

I don’t use Twitter, it sounds fiddly

It’s not at all – here’s how you do it:

  • Read the past tweets to see the discussions we’ve had. They’ve been really inspiring, especially when people who have cleared their debts told us their stories.
  • Then if you’d like to join in on Friday, log into Twitter at 8.30pm and click the #dfwbloggers link above.
  • To reply to @MSE_Forum and other Debt-free Wannabes on Twitter, just type what you want to say, remembering to include the #dfwbloggers hashtag in your tweet.
  • As Twitter limits you to 140 characters you may need to write more than one tweet, but that’s fine!

Do I need to be an MSE Forum user?

No, not at all.

We’d love you to join the forum so you can create your own Debt-Free Diary and join in with other Debt-Free Wannabe Challenges, to save even more money and pay your debts off more quickly. But it’s not essential.

It’s called #dfwbloggers, do I have to be a blogger?

Nope, it’s just the name we gave it. All you need to be is somebody trying to clear their debts. If you do have a debt-free or MoneySaving blog, or a Debt-Free Diary on our forum, we’d love to see it – but it’s not essential.

Will you be joining in with our Debt Free Wannabe Twitter party on Friday? Please let us know your opinions in the discussion below or in the forum.

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Nick Durrant

You can get up-to-date magazines directly onto your smartphone

You can get up-to-date magazines directly onto your smartphone

I know public libraries have moved into the digital era by loaning out e-books (see our Free e-Books in Libraries note) and even MP3s for no charge, but I recently discovered that many offer another digital delight.

A couple of months ago, I was wiling away a Tuesday afternoon in my local library in a vague attempt to apply for jobs (at the moment I’m an editorial intern at MoneySavingExpert.com), when I came across a leaflet saying I could get up-to-date issues of digital magazine subscriptions delivered to my mobile or tablet for free.

My first thought was I’d probably only be able to get titles which don’t really appeal to me, such as Country Woman or Spreadsheet Enthusiast (OK, that second one’s not real). But my devotion to MoneySaving got the better of me, and I went on a quest to see what was available.

I found nothing on my library’s website (Surrey County Council), bar a brief press release from months beforehand that gave no useful information about where to begin. All that seemed to exist was a Pinterest page showing what magazines were available to members of my library.

After calling a few local council helplines I eventually got put through to someone who was actually aware of the service and could give me the information on how to set it up. Apparently, this was more of a secret than I first thought.

How to get free e-magazines

This is where it gets a little complicated, and where the process may well differ between councils. I needed an online library account, which was straightforward to set up.

Then I was given a link to a page, which asked for my library card details, after which I was asked to create a Zinio account which would be linked to my library login.

Zinio is a magazine distribution service which allows subscribers to access content via their computer, tablet or smartphone applications. If your library is signed up, you may able to access it too.

Once this was done, I had up-to-date issues of magazines being fed directly to my smartphone – including The Economist, National Geographic and Total Film.

Unfortunately, the magazines haven’t been well-formatted for small smartphone screens, so it can be slow navigating between sections. Even on my Mac it wasn’t that smooth and it seemed like the magazines had been directly ported from the paper issue – not particularly digitally-friendly.

Hopefully, as more people start using the service it will gradually improve, but it’s a bit of a shame as the content itself is excellent.

It’s available at other libraries too

Other councils offering the service include Edinburgh, Cumbria and Westminster. It’s best to give your local library a call to find out how to get started, as the process varies in some areas.

It’s a massively under-advertised service yet our councils are paying for it, so if you’re a magazine lover (or think you could be), I’d encourage you to find out if your local library is participating and see what it’s got to offer.

What do you think about accessing e-magazines via your local library? Should libraries focus on ink publications rather than digital media? Please let us know your opinions and share how you fared trying to get access to the service in the discussion below or in the forum.

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Adam Cable

My top tips for getting cheap hotel rooms

My top tips for getting cheap hotel rooms

Living in Ipswich means I have a fairly long and expensive commute to central London, so I often stay in hotels in the capital. Ever since I joined MoneySavingExpert.com in April 2009, I’ve been trying to find the cheapest ways to stay over, so here are some of my tips.

We all try to live by MoneySavingExpert values here in the office. Our weekly email is the lifeblood of our company and I, for one, particularly love to know the latest hotel deals coming up.

Because of my frequent hotel stays and eye for a good offer, I now have a bit of a reputation as someone who can find those elusive hotel deals.

My mainstay is Travelodge, so here are my tried, tested and trusted methods to finding a good deal in the budget hotel chain. You can also read our Cheap Hotels guide for more tips.

1. Plan ahead.

It’s plain and simple – the best bargains are those that are booked way ahead. Travelodge lets you book for up to a year in advance, so if you can, book 10-11 months ahead for the lowest prices.

2. Be flexible.

Staying midweek is substantially cheaper than staying at weekends. You can also save cash by picking hotels away from the city centre. If you’re looking for a London stay, for example, search for the postcode of where you want to stay rather than just selecting "London" – as you’ll typically find a better range of prices. Saving £50 on a room is worth the bus fare and a 15-minute ride to where you want to be.

3. Don’t miss free upgrade possibilities.

I’ve found Travelodge likes to hide the ability to grab a better room for the same price. See this image where a ‘double room’ is available for £64 – the same price as a single room, but double the bed!

Don't miss free upgrade possibilities

Don't miss free upgrade possibilities

4. Go early for the sales.

Travelodge typically advertises a sale as "starting Boxing Day". This normally means it’ll release a tranche of prices at 5am that day. I appreciate it’s not a convenient time for many, but it’s important to get in first if you want to grab a good deal.

5. Compare Travelodge prices with other local hotels.

Laterooms is a cracking website for comparing hotel rooms, but also don’t forget to cover all bases by phoning other hotels in the area, especially those which aren’t part of a chain. Hotels normally love getting someone into an unoccupied room, even if it’s only for a single night.

For more extravagant rooms I love Priceline’s ‘name your price’ feature. You name your price for the star rating and location – the gamble is you can’t see what hotel you’re bidding for before it’s booked – but you can get some rock-bottom rates.

If you’re searching for rooms in London, for example, with Priceline you have to specify specific areas. So if you’re looking for a £50 room in Hammersmith, you might try a £40 bid first of all. However, if you don’t win a room at that price straight away, you have to change the star rating, the amount you’re willing to pay, or add in other areas in London to search for more rooms.

One trick to get round this is to add in expensive areas you don’t want to stay in as you know you’ll never get a cheap room there anyway, and if you do – lucky you.

6. Split bookings.

If you’re staying at a budget hotel such as Tune Hotels or easyHotel, any added extras cost, for example room cleaning. So if you’re staying more than one night, simply split your booking into single nights and you get your room cleaning for free.

7. Record your savings.

Although I’m not quite as graph-obsessive as Martin, I do record all of my stays into a spreadsheet. You could do this to see if there’s a pattern about what hotels tend to be cheapest and when, or just do it for fun. Here are some stats about my bookings over the years:

  • Number of nights booked: 205
  • Average price/night: £30.53
  • Cheapest rooms: Hoxton Hotel for £1/night, followed by Tune Hotel for £1.51/night, with Travelodge (Kew) in third place at £10/night.
My hotel savings

My hotel savings

What are your thoughts? Do you have any tips for bagging cheap hotel rooms? Please share your thoughts in the discussion below, or in the forum.

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Richard Barber

Big change is needed from travel insurers before they can be trusted

Big change is needed from travel insurers before they can be trusted

I’ve just successfully claimed on my travel insurance, but the experience left a bitter taste in my mouth. I had an arduous battle with my provider where it nearly got away without paying me for a legitimate claim, and it’s made me think a big change is needed from insurers before they can be trusted to act fairly.

On a recent mini-break (I was abroad for 32 hours), I was robbed of my mobile phone as I tried to find my way back to my accommodation.

Fortunately, I wasn’t hurt. All things considered, it could have been a lot worse.

When I returned to the UK, I rang my travel insurer and told it what had happened. It immediately asked for the police report on the robbery, but I explained I hadn’t been to the police as:

  • I didn’t know the location of where the incident took place. I’d been trying to find out where I was on my phone when it got stolen.
  • I couldn’t give a description of the perpetrator as it was dark and he hit me from behind.
  • I was abroad for such a short period, I didn’t want to waste my valuable holiday time faffing around in a police station.

The claims handler said she’d speak to her bosses and come back to me.

‘No IMEI number, no claim’

I received an email a few hours later telling me that because there was no police report, and I didn’t have an International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number for my phone – which is stored in the settings, or engraved onto the back of some phones – it was rejecting my claim.

We then exchanged a number of emails where I pointed out the insurer was relying on the small print to reject my claim. In my view, it was a breach of its obligations under the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) Treat Customers Fairly policy.

I also added that the manager at the hostel I stayed at was aware of what had happened.

After several conversations and emails, my insurer agreed it would reinvestigate the claim providing the hostel manager confirmed my account of events. But even then, it still wanted my IMEI number.

By this point, I felt very frustrated. It seemed my integrity was being questioned, and that the insurer was doing its utmost to reject my claim on any basis it could.

I’d already provided a screengrab showing the model ID of my phone from Google, and that it was last seen when the attack occurred, but the insurer was still demanding the IMEI number – a piece of information I’ve never worried about keeping a note of before.

‘Finally my claim was accepted’

I then remembered Google may have stored this information for me as Android phones are linked to Google accounts. After a bit of searching, I managed to find it on Google’s Dashboard.

So I wrote back to the insurer with the IMEI number and also asked my insurer that anyone else with an Android mobile claiming insurance in future should be directed to Google Dashboard.

Finally, my claim was accepted and I was promised my money back. It took three days and a lot of stress to resolve. My worry is that without my knowledge of IMEI numbers and the FCA’s rules on treating customers fairly, I may not have been so successful – at least not without it taking months via the Financial Ombudsman Service.

What are your thoughts? Have you struggled to claim on your travel insurance after your mobile was stolen or lost? Please share your thoughts in the discussion below, or in the forum.

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Zorica Campbell

Using the internet is safe if straightforward steps are taken

Using the internet is safe if straightforward steps are taken

Internet safety is vital, but it’s not something many of us pay a lot of attention to when we’re online. This is worrying, given we may often unwittingly share a great deal of our personal information online – information which, if it ended up in the wrong hands, could be used for unscrupulous purposes.

The Cyberstreetwise campaign was launched last month to make us more aware of just how much of our information is on the web, and the potential hazards of not protecting it sufficiently,

It’s been created by the National Fraud Authority, and MoneySavingExpert.com helped it with the project.

Together, we discussed and identified some of the common issues people overlook when using the internet. And, as a lack of online safety can often have financial consequences, we also talked about how best to warn people.

The end product is Cyber Street, a virtual street illustrating the common dos and don’ts of safe internet use.

You may have already seen posters depicting scenarios you’d avoid in real life, such as throwing your personal documents out of the window onto the street.

The online equivalent could be entering your personal details into a website which you haven’t checked is secure, or by not having privacy settings set up on social media.

Fittingly, today is also Safer Internet Day 2014 (search for #SID2014 on Twitter), which is promoting the safe and responsible use of online technology and mobile phones for children and young people.

Protect yourself online

Using the internet is perfectly safe if very straightforward steps are taken, such as making sure that when you shop online, it’s via a secure site and that you don’t leave yourself signed in, especially when using shared computers.

Here at MoneySavingExpert.com, we ask our forum users to always use the latest internet browsers and to ensure their passwords are strong enough. We also recommend that everyone should try to change their passwords regularly, and ensure they are complex enough so they’re difficult to guess. It’s also wise to use different passwords for different online accounts.

As well as Cyber Street and UK Safer Internet Centre, which runs Safer Internet Day, you can also see our Free Antivirus, Phishing and 25 Ways to Stop Scams guides for help on protecting yourself online.

What are your thoughts? Are you confident you know how to use the internet safely? Please share your thoughts in the discussion below, or in the forum.

Comments

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Charlotte Burns

Magazines should take more caution over the cost of products listed

Magazines should take more caution over the cost of products listed

I love the free magazines given out at stations, especially Stylist. My favourite section is the ‘top picks’ – a page of dresses, make-up and household items, all beautifully presented and all of it ridiculously expensive. I often look at it and think "one day, I’ll be able to afford this". But in reality, I’ve NEVER been able to afford items listed in magazines.

I’ve always being attracted to shiny, pretty things. As a young ‘un, there was nothing more exciting than buying a girls’ magazine to read. Girl Talk and its pictures of puppies, anyone? Yes please!

I remember looking with envy at the models with their sparkly nails, pretty dresses and sleek and shiny hair. Back then, my thick, frizzy hair rivalled Hermione Granger’s – if only my mum would buy me that £12 serum and those £100 hair straighteners featured in the mag… but there was ZERO chance I’d ever dare ask her.

So I remember thinking I’d buy it all when I turned older and had the money. Sound familiar?

Of course, magazines are a business. But I really think those aimed at young girls who only have pocket money, or possibly a weekend job, should take more caution over the cost of the products they feature.

It’s simply not a realistic lifestyle being promoted, and their teenage readers don’t fully understand the value of money.

I’ve flicked through a few teenage magazines over the past few weeks – the ones you can buy in your local corner shop. Here are a few things I wouldn’t pay for, and I’m an adult with a full-time job…

Bliss:

  • £319 iPad Mini
  • £85 Viva La Juicy Luxe Limited Edition parfum, Juicy Couture
  • £75 handbag, Paul’s Boutique
  • £68 shoes, Red or Dead
  • £55 onesie, Yumi
  • £45 glitter heels, Office
  • £42 eye and cheek colour set, Paul & Joe Beaute’s
  • £40 boots, Heelberry.com
  • £39 slippers, Ruby and Ed
  • £16 lip balm and hand cream, L’Occitaine

Shout:

  • £85 coat, Miss Selfridge
  • £80 jacket, River Island
  • £32 handbag, Accessorize
  • £27 slippers, Rocket Dog
  • £25 highlighting wand, Smashbox
  • £17 moisturiser, Clinique
  • £15 lipgloss, Benefit

Top of the Pops:

  • £42 shorts, Topshop
  • £35 necklace, Lizzie Burns (Asos)
  • £32 T-shirt, Red or Dead
  • £28 skirt, Motel Rocks
  • £11.50 nail polish, OPI
  • £10 bubble bath, Burt’s Bees
  • £7.25 shampoo, Lush

We Love Pop:

  • £49 Nicki Minaj Pink Friday perfume, The Perfume Shop
  • £40 multi-coloured faux fur lapel, River Island
  • £29 vanity case, Debenhams
  • £29 oversized shirt, Miss Selfridge
  • £22.50 sleep-in rollers, SleepInRollers.com
  • £13 body butter, Body Shop

Things are even worse if you get hold of a copy of US Teen Vogue. I saw some Gucci glasses advertised without a price, so I looked them up online – and found they cost £435!

The value of money

Now I’m older, I know magazines sell aspirational lifestyles, and I know my wage and the products featured in magazines aren’t compatible.

You may not be able to stop your kids seeing magazines. So instead, explain a magazine’s job is to make money. Why are these products there? Celebrities might be paid to wear something, or the magazines might get it free. It’s probably not because it’s a ‘must have’ item.

Children don’t have to buy into this myth. I’m an adult with a full-time job and I can’t afford what’s in magazines either. I have to save up and budget for things I want.

If your child’s still after the latest ‘must have’, encourage them to find a similar but cheaper alternative elsewhere, or explain they’ll have to save up their weekly pocket money for it – that way they’ll learn the value of money. (See our Teen Cash Class guide for more.)

What do the magazines say?

I contacted all of the above magazines to get their thoughts on this issue. Peter Hart, editor of BBC Top Of The Pops Magazine was the only one to respond: He says: "The shopping pages are our readers’ favourite section of BBC Top Of The Pops Magazine and we regularly speak to them to find out how we can improve all aspects of our content.

"The overwhelming response is that they’re happy with the mix of items we include in the fashion and beauty pages. Part of the promise we make to our readers at the front of each issue is that ‘all our fashion and beauty is appropriate and affordable.’ We go to great lengths to stick to this promise each issue, often featuring items starting at just £1 or even less.

"However our readers also aspire to own more expensive products, so we also feature things that can be purchased if they save up their pocket money, or ask for something as a Christmas or birthday present. With the average teen’s pocket money currently at around £6 a week, it wouldn’t take long for someone to save up for that £11.50 polish or £35 necklace if they really wanted it.

"It’s all about having a great balance of products for them to look at, and only a very few are priced at the higher end of the affordability scale. We’ll continue to consult with readers and, where appropriate, their parents, as well as our Editorial Advisory Board, to ensure that all content is appropriate for our target age group of 10-14 years old."

What do you think?

What are your thoughts on magazines selling a certain lifestyle, particularly to teenagers and children? Have you used it as an opportunity to explain the value of money? Please share your thoughts in the discussion below, or in the forum.

Comments

This is an open discussion; anyone can post. Please report any spam, illegal, offensive, racist, libellous posts (inc username) to fbteam@moneysavingexpert.com