The simple way to score free flights while you shop online

You might already be sizing up your Black Friday purchases, but pause for a moment: you could also be earning free flights while you’re at it. How? It’s called “portal shopping”, one of the most ludicrously easy ways to score free or discounted travel, and while our American friends across the pond do it in their droves, it’s a lesser-known trick in the UK.

So what is it and how can you get started? Telegraph Travel presents an easy how-to guide, along with an up-to-date round-up of the best deals on offer at the moment.

What is portal shopping?

A number of legacy airlines in the UK now reward their customers with frequent flyer points just for shopping at stores like M&S, Selfridges and Apple. Stores you may well be frequenting already. All you need to do, instead of heading straight to the M&S website, for example, is to visit British Airways’ online portal first, find the M&S logo, then click through. It will take you to the same place (M&S) but you’ll earn BA points on every pound you spend there.

You’ll need to first sign up to the airline’s loyalty program, which is free, and a good idea anyway. Then adopt it as a new habit. From now on, every time you shop at M&S (other big names include Tesco, Argos, Curry’s PC World, among others) visit the airline’s portal first to click through. Do all your Christmas shopping this way and you’ll be well on your way to cut-price flights.

Which airlines have portals?

British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and KLM/Air France are the key players in Britain, but it’s likely that more airlines will catch on in the future. And in the case of British Airways, you can spend their points on its affiliate One World carriers too, among them American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas and Qatar Airways.

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Why do airlines do it?

So that you’ll join their frequent flyer programmes, and their brand will wiggle its way into your subconscious. It costs you nothing, however, and points do mean prizes. Even if you don’t amass enough to qualify for free plane tickets, you can use them for things like upgrades and in-flight discounts.

Now’s the time to start

These programmes operate all year round, but airlines regularly run special promotions where they dole out double or even triple points per pound spent. For Black Friday, and in the lead up to Christmas, these portals are doing just that. If you happened to be in the market for an Apple laptop, for example, at a cost of £1,000, making this purchase through BA’s portal would earn you 8,000 points. Which would score you two free return flights to Paris.

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The best offers on right now…

Not all portals are created equal. The number of points you earn per pound slides around on an ever-changing scale, and airline portals compete. You’ll earn twice as many points if you shop with Apple through BA than you currently will using Virgin’s portal, for example. And you’ll earn 10 points for every pound spent at Net-a-Porter with Virgin, compared to only six with KLM.

Below is an overview of the best deals on offer from these three portals, and how far your points will get you based on each airlines’ current promoted and discounted routes.

These portals don’t just cover groceries and Christmas presents. Sign up for a new phone contract, utility service or insurance policy and the points shoot up dramatically.

Taking out on O2 monthly phone contract can earn you up to 9,000 Avios points through BA’s portal, for example; or use Virgin Atlantic’s to sign up for Sky Digital Broadband and you’ll score 6,000 miles.

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