Is getting more Air Miles for your money just a flight of fancy?
SOMEONE EARNING pounds 35,000 a year could gain the equivalent of an extra month's disposable income every 12 months by collecting and spending their Air Miles wisely - or so the incentives company claims.

Amanda Mackenzie, Air Miles' marketing director, says: "If you were to take the usual amount of money you spend every day, then spend all of that money in outlets where you can collect Air Miles, the difference is quite significant in terms of what it means for your monthly salary."

Air Miles reckons a pounds 35,000 salary translates to about pounds 2,000 a month take home, after tax. Once you deduct average mortgage, grocery and utilities bills, that leaves a monthly disposable income of pounds 718.

The company claims that concentrating your spending on suppliers which give Air Miles, and then "spending" your Miles with those companies which give collectors the best deal, will save you pounds 735 a year (see table).

Making savings on, say, hotel charges or car rental, depends not on collecting a lot of Miles, but on utilising the special discounts that even small collectors qualify for. Ms Mackenzie says: "We get extremely good rates in hotels, which you wouldn't be able to access if you weren't an Air Miles ciustomer. We also have a huge volume of passengers travelling and taking out car hire. Consequently, we get a good deal."

Yet Tess Sullivan, a senior researcher at the Consumers' Association, is unconvinced the Air Miles research will prove of real use to shoppers. "There are so many particular circumstances in there that I can't really see how anyone could achieve those figures," she says.

Indeed, taking full advantage of your Air Miles may not be quite as simple as Ms Mackenzie suggests. Nearly half of the 1,836 Air Miles which the company says it should be possible to earn each year depend on buying your groceries at Sainsbury's. If your most convenient supermarket is a Tesco or a Safeway, then you must either forfeit 900 Air Miles or go out of your way to shop. While Sainsbury has 415 stores in the UK, Tesco and Safeway between them have close to 1,000.

Ms Sullivan says: "In research, we've found that people go to their local supermarket irrespective of who runs it. People want a convenient shopping trip, and they're not going to choose one store over another if it means a much longer journey" - however many more Air Miles they might earn.

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