A MoneySaving couple have used Avios points to buy two first-class return flights to San Diego over Christmas, paying just £600 each in taxes – about the same as it would have cost them to fly economy. What's more, this will be the second time they've done this in two years, showing how if you max your Avios earning and spending you can travel in luxury for less.

Sales support manager Darran Burr and his wife Eileen, a Post Office clerk, caught the Avios collecting bug a few years ago when they first read MoneySavingExpert.com's Boost and Max Avios guide.

While their success is far from unprecedented, it shows the scale of savings you can make using Avios reward points – which can get you money off flights, and be traded in for hotel stays, days out and more.

The couple, from Stockport in Cheshire – pictured below on their first-class trip to San Diego last Christmas – have done everyday spending on an Avios credit card for the past few years. They use their points stash, plus 'companion vouchers' earned via credit card spending, to bag cheap luxury flights.

Darran and Eileen on their previous trip to San Diego in December 2016

Darran spent 200,000 Avios on the two return flights to San Diego next Christmas, plus £1,200 to cover taxes. If the Burrs had booked two first-class returns without using Avios points it would have cost them about £16,000 – an eye-watering amount, but it is for the peak festive season. By contrast, an economy flight to San Diego at that time of year was about £600ish when we checked.

The Burrs are also using points to take an internal return flight to Hawaii from San Diego as part of the same trip.

Darran said: "We fly out in December 2017 – we're really looking forward to celebrating the festive season in paradise. We did the same in December 2016 to San Diego in first with BA, all possible thanks to MSE's Avios pages!"

How the Burrs did it this time

Here's how Darran and Eileen amassed their points stash and bagged their latest pair of first-class flights:

  • Darran applied for a British Airways Amex Premium Plus credit card a few years ago. It comes with a pretty hefty annual fee but allows you to earn points as you spend, and more when spending with BA (see full details below). He used it for normal everyday spending and big purchases such as a new car and windows for his home – in about 18 months he collected just under half of the 200,000 points.
  • He also earned a 'companion voucher' for spending more than £10,000 a year on the card. This allows you to take someone with you, in the same cabin as you, without needing extra points – you just pay the taxes.
  • He and his wife earn points flying on Qatar Airways – they take advantage of offers to fly business-class to South Africa once a year on 2for1 deals. Qatar Airways is part of the OneWorld alliance – you can earn Avios points on flights with any airlines in this group.
  • They convert their Tesco Clubcard points to Avios.
  • They earn points when buying fuel at Shell garages.
  • They convert cashback earned via Topcashback into BA Avios points.
  • To spend their points they pounced as soon as seats went on sale – for BA, that's 355 days before departure. A limited number of reward seats (they're seats which you can book using Avios points) are released then, but they go quickly – others are added up until the departure date, but it's pot luck as to when.

It's also possible to amass Avios without spending so much, by milking intro bonuses – see MSE Guy's 'I'm flying business-class to New York for half the price of an economy ticket' blog.

How to boost your Avios

The British Airways Amex Premium Plus*, which the Burrs used to collect points on everyday spending, comes with a £195 annual fee (it was £150 when Darran applied). Yet if you fully use the perks it comes with, the card can pay for itself. (A card like this is only good if you repay IN FULL every month, otherwise the 22.9% interest will dwarf the gains – it's 76% rep APR including the fee.)

You earn one-and-a-half Avios points per £1 spent on the card, boosted to three points per £1 if you spend with British Airways. Plus, if you spend £10,000 or more a year on the card, you'll be sent a companion voucher. For other airline loyalty scheme credit cards, see our Airline Credit Cards guide.

There are lots of other ways to boost your Avios stash too – and to really max the benefit, as the Burrs did, you may need to try a few. For a full list of how to get additional points, including with Tesco Clubcard points, Topcashback earnings and buying fuel at Shell, see our 31 Tricks to Boost and Max Avios guide.

On first and business flights, the taxes aren't that different to what you'll pay on an economy fare. It's the price of the actual ticket that really bumps up the cost – which makes paying for luxury flights in Avios points one of the best ways you can spend them.