What I’ve actually done this month to be clever with my cash.
There are a couple of thoughts behind this feature. Often there are small things I’m doing that don’t warrant a whole article so this can bring them together! Plus, it’s a great way to show that I “walk the walk” and really do follow my own advice!
So here are the key money matters from my own life in October 2023
Using my BA Companion voucher
For the first half of October I was actually away – so there are few short things I can share with you that might be useful.
We actually went to Chile, taking advantage of my BA Amex companion voucher to save on flights. Some people would tell you that this meant I got two free flights that should have cost nearly £2,500.
But that’s not true, so it’s worth mythbusting these deals a little. I’m not saying they can’t save you money – but you need to look at the real cost.
As I previously wrote (in my January 2023 month in money article), I’m not always a fan of saving up these Avios points and vouchers to use on flights as you might be better off earning more flexible cashback instead.
That’s partly because to use a Companion voucher you need to have enough points to pay in full for the flight, rather than part pay. Obviously short haul is more achievable. Long haul can be a challenge.
The number of Avios points needed for London to Santiago is 80,000 per person in economy. That’s a huge amount we only had thanks to some decent welcome offers boosting our pot. Without those deals we’d have been well short of the total needed and restricted to much closer destinations.
And these points aren’t free. Depending on your card you will earn one or two per pound spent. I give each point a value of 0.67p (what you’d get if you swapped them to Nectar) meaning they’re actually worth £534. There might even be a fee on top for the card. And you might be missing out on a a higher rate on a different cashback card.
Since our 80,000 was made partly from welcome offers, partly from referrals and partly from spending on the card. It’s hard to accurately break this down, but I think a mix of a partial annual fee on the card and the reduced earning rate on each pound spent (versus the 1% back from Chase for example), adds up to another £100.
So already we’re looking at £634 for the flights. Not free, but still sounds good.
However this is where another of my gripes with Avios and the 2-4-1 vouchers comes in. You need to pay the taxes and fees on top of your points. And they apply to both tickets! That added another £500 on top, so in total, it meant we paid the equivalent of £1,134 for our return flights.
That’s is significantly cheaper than if we’d paid the full fair which was £2,497 for two. So it feels like a massive savings. But it’s not free.
And you won’t always find such huge differences in the value of your points and the normal airfare. I had to let the voucher and points available partially dictate our destination. Chile had been on my wish list for a while, but we picked it over some other destination because the difference was negligible. In fact, many places, like the USA and Europe, would have be cheaper to shop around different airlines and take advantage of sales.
So before you get caught up in the hype, do your research on destinations and work out what you’d need to spend to get enough points to go there, along with the taxes and charges that’ll be added on top.
Pre-existing conditions might not be prohibitive
As I told you in my last update, I’d been under the weather and also in a little pain from an injury in September. So I was concerned that if the pain got worse while I was away I wouldn’t be covered by my travel insurance. I also wasn’t convinced that the policy that comes with my Curve Black card (I don’t pay for this, it’s an old legacy plan), would be up to scratch anyway.
So I had a quick look at travel insurance policies, prepared to see the premium rocket thanks to my injury. And to my surprise, they didn’t! Now it will obviously depend on what is wrong with you and how long it’s been going on, but don’t just assume it’ll price you out of insurance.
And don’t ignore it either – as if you do get ill when away with something you’re already being treated for that you’ve not declared, the insurers might refuse to cover any of the associated costs!
Always have a back up holiday spending card
When I talk about the best fee-free cards to use when on holiday, I’ll generally recommend Chase for most spending as you’ll get 1% on the bulk of your spending (up to the monthly limits). And that’s what I used most days.
I also suggest you have a back up card. The one I’ve got is the Barclaycard Rewards credit card, which is handy when a credit card is needed. Normally that’s for things like hotel incidentals and car hire.
But this time around it was used when, for some reason or another, Chase was rejected. What was confusing was the Chase app notified me of the spending, and this appeared in the app. But the money hadn’t actually left my account. It was down as pending, and never actually went through.
So always have more than one card on you that won’t charge you a fee, just in case. I’d also keep it in a separate wallet – ideally locked in the hotel safe or a locked suitcase, incase you are pickpocketed or lose your card.
More holiday bits and pieces
Some quick holiday extras.
As I’ve said before, I tend to only book hotels that could be cancelled even if they’re a little more expensive. It was lucky we did this again as we first of all had to rearrange our itinerary (in order to be in the Atacama desert outside of the full moon – it impacts the stargazing), but also one location informed us there was construction going on and we opted to switch to an alternative hotel.
I booked via a variety of sites, but my favourite is quickly becoming Hotels.com. Not only do you get a free night after 10 stays based on the average price of those nights (so effectively 10% back on each booking), you can also earn decent amounts on top via TopCashabck and Quidco. But I also used Metro to book at Booking.com for some high value gift cards, as well as going straight from the cashback sites themselves. It all adds up!
We also took a few Ubers around Chile and I was surprised to find I earned cashback on my spending via the Cheddar app. It was only 66p in total, and sadly it doesn’t look like that’s still an offer, but good to know.
And when I got back, I straight away sent my passport off for renewal. It had six months on it which previously wouldn’t have been that pressing, but since Brexit you need to have at least six months on a passport to visit Europe.
I was also concerned about the horror stories from earlier this year of huge delays, but as it happens the turnaround was really fast. I was also able to use a photo taken on my phone rather than pay for proper passport pics from a machine.
Second class is probably fast enough
You might have read that 1st class stamps went up in price in October – that was the second hike this year. They’re now £1.25 a pop.
Now I don’t post much, but I did have to send a card, and being a money saver I wanted to use the cheaper 75p 2nd class stamp. So I sent it a little earlier than perhaps was needed to ensure it arrived in time.
And it arrived the very next day. Of course that won’t always be the case, but I’d certainly encourage you to do the same with anything you’re posting.
A bargain gig and a CD
I used to go to a a lot more live music than I used to – and a big part of that is the cost of tickets nowadays. However I did manage to see 90s legends Ash (one of my favourite bands) for £12 (the cost of their new album) thanks to an in-store show.
The show was pretty lo-fi, so it’s not the same as the full concert experience, but I was closer than I’d ever be at a normal venue (maybe 5ft away), and I also have a signed copy of the CD on top.
it’s well worth checking out your local record stores to see if they have a schedule of gigs coming up – perhaps even trying out some bands you don’t know. Here are some more tips to save on gigs.
And the rest…
I can’t remember everything but a few extras in brief…
- I got the second part of my £75 TSB Switch offer from earlier in the year. It was a faff to make five debit card transactions every month for six months, and I was worried my Plum direct debit wouldn’t count as it didn’t actually deduct any cash – but all was fine
- I tried Too Good to Go Again a few times from rail station coffee shops. It was £3.99 for a bag worth £12. But I ended up with three huge sandwiches when I only really needed one. As before a mixed bag and I’m still not convinced I wouldn’t be better off just buying what I want at full price
- We went to Newcastle – another £30 Premier League away game ticket to catch Crystal Palace – a bargain if you ignore the score
- Something we do save up for as a treat is the occasional luxury restaurant experience on special occasions. In Newcastle we went to one that had been recommended – House of Tides. Sadly it was a huge disappointment. It was perfectly good, but it wasn’t exceptional, and for the price we paid you don’t want to still feel hungry. Fortunately we found a Tesco Metro and I bagged some yellow sticker cookies to see us through
- A reminder that “cheap” items are only a bargain if you use them. I didn’t manage to use one of my £1 Vue tickets (from the now finished Telegraph Extras offer) before it expired, so that was £1 lost rather than £6 saved
- Finally, I picked up four Chocolate Oranges for free thanks to an Asda Reward deal stack – be quick and you can hopefully get them too
Listen to Cash Chats, Andy’s award-winning podcast. Episodes every Tuesday.