How to turn your supermarket shopping into nearly free flights in 2021

Feb 4, 2021

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Simply doing your weekly food shop is one of the best ways to rack up miles, getting you well on the way to your next holiday.

The catch? There isn’t one. Let me explain.

Loyalty programmes aren’t restricted to airlines and hotels. Many popular high street supermarket chains have branched out into the world of loyalty in an effort to keep their customers coming back.

Related: 6 loyalty programme changes I want to see in 2021

Among the supermarket loyalty programmes out there, there are two that allow you to turn your points into flights through their partnerships: Sainsbury’s Nectar and Tesco’s Clubcard.

The rewards hugely outweigh the minimal effort required to reap them. First thing’s first — all you need to do is enrol in the programme. Regardless of where you do the majority of your shopping, we recommend enrolling in both — they’re free, after all. Then, each time you shop at the respective shop, use your membership card to ensure that you’re earning valuable points on your purchase.

Related: What are the differences between Tesco Clubcard points and Sainsbury’s Nectar Points?

But when it comes to redeeming those points earned from your shop on flights, they differ. Here’s an explainer of how each of them works.

Sainsbury’s

In January 2021, Sainsbury’s announced a new partnership with British Airways. The two brands have come together to enable to the supermarket’s points currency — called Nectar points — to be converted to British Airways’ point currency — called Avios. If you elect to transfer your Nectar points to Avios, you can then redeem them for flights.

You can transfer 400 Nectar points to become 250 Avios. Alternatively, you can transfer 250 Avios to become 400 Nectar points. The first time you convert 1,600 Nectar points to Avios, you’ll receive a one-time bonus of 500 Avios.

Related: When does it make sense to transfer Avios to Nectar?

To maximise your earning potential, consider making the most of Nectar’s other partnerships. For example, you can earn multiple Nectar points when spending at around 300 retailers including JD sports (2x Nectar points per pound), Booking.com (3x Nectar points per pound), Argos (10x Nectar points per pound) and hundreds more. In this regard, the Nectar programme is so valuable because you can rack up your account balance at a number of retailers outside of Sainsbury’s.

Meanwhile, when shopping at Sainsbury’s, you’ll earn 1 Nectar Point for every £1 you spend. However, where the Nectar programme really shines is with its promotions. By downloading the Nectar app, you’ll be targeted for promotions to earn bonus Nectar points on your supermarket purchases. For example, we’ve seen up to hundreds of bonus points offered for purchasing select produce at Sainsbury’s. Before starting your shop, be sure to look through the Nectar app to ensure you’re not missing out on any bonus offers.

You can start converting your Nectar Points into Avios once you’ve collected 400 Nectar Points, for which you’ll get 250 Avios.

For a worked example, I’ve been sitting on a pile of more than 8,000 Nectar Points for a while. By redeeming them on Sainsbury’s purchases, I’d get £40 in credits. However, by transferring them to BA, I got a total of 5,000 Avios — that’s enough for a one-way flight to Europe. In fact, based on TPG U.K.’s most recent valuations, those 5,000 Avios are worth £55 — getting me about 27% more in value than if I were to redeem them on my shop at Sainsbury’s.

(Image courtesy of Nectar)

This was the first time I’d ever made a transfer of Nectar points, and I was pleased to see they arrived in my BA Executive Account immediately.

(Image courtesy of BA)

Let’s take another worked example of one month of spending at Sainsbury’s. Let’s say that you spend £250 on your weekly shop for your family of five. At the end of one month, you’ll have spent £1,000 at Sainsbury’s — therefore collecting 1,000 Nectar points at the standard rate of 1 Nectar point per pound. You can then convert 800 of those Nectar points to a total of 500 Avios — worth nearly £6 based on TPG U.K.’s most recent valuations.

However, the real value comes from the added promotions, as mentioned above. By coupling that standard earning rate with the various promotions the Nectar programme frequently offers, you could easily walk away with double, triple, quadruple — or more — Nectar points for those same purchases.

Then, you can double-dip on your point-earning potential by coupling your Nectar point membership with a rewards-earning credit card. For example, if you have the Nectar Credit Card from American Express, you’ll earn 2 Nectar points for every pound spent on the card. For that same example above, you’ll add on an additional 2,000 Nectar points, which can be converted to an additional 1,250 Avios — worth £14 based on TPG U.K.’s valuations.

Alternatively, you would find better value by you use your British Airways Premium Plus Card from American Express on those Sainsbury’s purchases. You’ll earn 1.5 Avios per pound spent with the card. For the month’s shop at Sainsbury’s in the example above, you’d earn an additional 1,500 Avios. Although the earn rate is lower, you’re earning Avios without having to convert them, meaning you might be best off using this card rather than the Nectar Card on your Sainsbury’s purchases. That is, if you’re looking to transfer them to Avios. If you’re looking to bolster your Nectar balance for another redemption, the Nectar Card will be your best bet.

It’s worth noting that members can manually convert a maximum of 80,000 Nectar points or 50,000 Avios per calendar month. The cap is separate for both debiting and crediting — as in, 80,000 Nectar points debited and 80,000 Nectar points credited — per calendar month. Additionally, members can automatically convert a maximum of 40,000 Nectar points or 25,000 Avios in a calendar quarter.

The limits on both manual and automatic point conversion are independent of one another. So, you could transfer 40,000 Nectar points automatically each quarter and then an additional 80,000 manually each month.

Tesco

Tesco partners with the other major long-haul U.K. carrier, Virgin Atlantic. Since British Airways suspended its partnership in Tesco in January 2021, Virgin Atlantic is the sole airline partner of the Tesco Clubcard programme.

By collecting Clubcard points, you can transfer them to Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club. Be sure to scan your Clubcard each time you shop at Tesco. Every pound you spend converts into 1 Clubcard point.

Then, you can transfer them. 250 in Clubcard points can be converted to £2.50 in Clubcard vouchers, which can be converted into 625 Virgin Points. Note, too, that by setting up automatic conversion, you can earn 2,000 bonus Virgin Points.

Related: Earn 2,000 bonus Virgin Points for automatically converting Tesco Clubcard vouchers

(Image courtesy of Tesco)

To give you a working example, say that you have a family of five who spends £250 per week at Tesco. Over the course of the month, they would earn 1,000 Clubcard points. Those could be converted to 2,500 Virgin Points if you transfer them to the Flying Club. Based on TPG U.K.’s most recent valuations, those Virgin Points are worth £30— not a bad return on purchases you’re making regardless.

Personally, I switched to doing the majority of my food shopping at Tesco at the end of summer 2020. Since then, in the period from August 2020 to February 2021, I’ve earned a total of 4,125 Virgin Points. That’s doing weekly food shops for one person. Imagine the potential earning for a family of four.

Consider, too, if you double-dip this earning potential with a rewards-earning credit card. For example, the Tesco Clubcard Credit Card where you’ll earn 5 Clubcard points for every £4 you spend in Tesco. In the one-month shop example above, you would earn an additional 1,250 Clubcard points for a total of 2,250. Those could be converted to give you a total of 3,125 Virgin Points — worth £38 based on our valuations.

(Image courtesy of Tesco)

That’s all very good to know, but you’re probably wondering how far that’ll get you on a plane. The cheapest one-way economy redemptions from the U.K. start at 9,000 Virgin Points to Israel and 10,000 to India, as well as the Northeast U.S.A. and the Caribbean.

Related: Unlock incredible value with Virgin Atlantic Flying Club

How do I decide which supermarket to shop at?

It all boils down to whether you’re particularly loyal to Tesco rather than Sainsbury’s, or British Airways rather than Virgin Atlantic.

I only ever fly one of the airlines

If you only ever fly with one of the two airlines, then it would be worth doing all your food shopping in either Tesco if you only fly Virgin or Sainsbury’s if you only fly BA. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to register for both loyalty programmes in the case that you find yourself picking something up.

I only shop at one of the supermarkets

If you’re a die-hard loyal fan of one of the supermarkets and have done your shopping there for years, then it might be worth having a rethink. For example, if you’ve always shopped Sainsbury’s but you only ever fly with Virgin for holidays to the Caribbean, then it might be time to leave those Nectar points behind and start earning Clubcard points at Tesco.

You will then be rewarded for your shopping by being able to turn your Clubcard points into flights to the Caribbean — and beyond. Remember to turn the existing Nectar points you have into Avios first, though, so they don’t go to waste.

I don’t mind where I shop

If you shop at both supermarkets regularly or you don’t have a preference, it’s important to sign up for Sainsbury’s Nectar, Tesco’s Clubcard and both the British Airways Executive Club and the Virgin Atlantic Flying Club. That way, you’ll earn miles no matter at which of the two supermarkets you shop.

Bottom line

At first, it might seem like a lot to get your head around. But really, the most time-consuming part is signing up to the loyalty programmes — and that shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

Then, all you need to do is sit back, watch your Clubcard and Nectar balances go up and convert them to the respective miles. The magic that you’ll be getting rewarded for spending that you would be doing anyway — so why not make the most of it?

As with anything in the miles and points hobby, a little bit of research and targeted spending goes a long way. Of course, once you’ve found the availability for a reward flight, you’ll still have to pay the taxes and fees on the ticket — hence the “nearly” free flights.

Featured image by Chris Radburn/PA Images via Getty Images

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