One of the troubles with Nectar is there's no 'exciting' rewards, all points do is to give you money off stuff. Decent loyalty schemes allow you to redeem a number of points for a particular benefit. For example East Coast Rewards let you redeem 255 points for a standard class trip anywhere served by East Coast. This reward would be worth a lot more than approximately £2.50 that a similar spend would get you with Nectar.

One thing East Coast Rewards was no good for was those who wanted to book spontaneously. You needed to book 7 days in advance officially (although sometimes it allowed you to book closer to the time) but it was still a great scheme for most leisure travel when you can book ahead.

Although Nectar just has weaknesses, other loyalty scheme have their strengths and weaknesses. A great strength of the British Airways Executive Club scheme is the way you can spend Avios points at fixed rates for flights within Europe (Reward Flight Saver). The number of points required depends on the distance travelled but the cash required on top of the points is fixed at £35 return in economy and £50 return.

As I've amassed quite a large number of Avios it means that I can travel within Europe for £35 return, this wouldn't be possible without points. The Avios Reward Flight Saver fares even include things that BA now charges extra for including seat selection and a checked in bag. The best thing about Avios for me though is how they open up availability at short notice if the flight has space. Even if flights have been showing as no availability you can often see availability open up a day before the flight. The best thing if you're an impulsive type is that you can even book Avios reward flights the same day. Just make a booking and travel a couple of hours later.

Some examples of where I used the Avios Reward Flight Savers:

  • I was working overseas for a while and had a meeting in London, when I landed at Heathrow I received a text saying the meeting had been cancelled. I opened up the BA app, checked rewards availability to Amsterdam and booked myself on the next flight out to Amsterdam. Even booked the return leg into London City Airport so I was closer to home when I got back to the UK.
  • No plans for New Years Eve, on 30th December decided to look at availability for popular New Years destinations. Managed to get three Avios tickets to Edinburgh on the 31th December. Even managed a free hotel stay using Hilton points, at a time when hotels were also very expensive.
  • Many weekends away have been booked on the Friday afternoon using this technique, although in 2015 this didn't happen as much as I was concentrating on using up my East Coast Rewards points.

Some other examples of where I've benefitted from other loyalty schemes:

  • When Air France/KLM decided they were going to devalue their loyalty scheme Flying Blue I decided it was time to cash out the points earned before the devaluation took place. I had enough points for two first class returns to Hong Kong which meant I got tickets that were going for over £5000 each for just a few hundred pounds (the taxes, fees and charges). The Air France First Class lounge in Paris is an excellent experience (much better than their business class lounges) and the first class cabin on the aircraft only had four seats ensuring that everyone received excellent service. It was something I would never have experienced if it was not for points.
  • The InterContinental Hotels Group runs a promotion called 'Pointbreaks' which allows you to stay in one of their hotels for 5000 points per night. The typical rate for InterContinental Hotels are 40,000-50,000 points per night so a participating hotel can give between 8-10 nights for the points normally requred for 1 night. These promotions have been used for trips to Amman, Athens and Nairobi, all trips that were booked only because of this special offer.
  • British Airways long haul allows you to use Avios to upgrade. I've upgraded a number of flights from World Traveller Plus (premium economy) to Club World (business class), once again an additional touch of comfort I'd not have if it wasn't for points.

So just because Nectar is poor and East Coast Rewards has gone don't dismiss loyalty schemes altogether. If you're interested in making the most of travel loyalty schemes check out Head for Points. As well as earning points when you actually travel, you can earn points through everyday spending on credit cards and through partner retailers. Unlike Nectar loyalty points in a decent scheme can be used for truly great things. It has up to date tips that I like to check out regularly.