British Airways' Avios scheme: One year on - is the loyalty plan better than Air Miles?

Avios rewards are a year old. Should we celebrate? Simon Calder adds up the  benefits – and costs

Avios, the frequent-flyer points scheme from British Airways, is one year old this weekend. The controversial “single currency” replaced Air Miles and BA Miles. A year on, what are the optimum ways to spend Avios – and what are the pitfalls to avoid?

Q Air Miles had been with us since 1988.  Is it much missed?

A By some collectors, yes. Air Miles was a retail reward scheme rather than a frequent-flyer programme, and, for at least part of its lifespan, it had the merit of offering completely free flights. With Avios, you have to pay “taxes, fees and carrier charges”, adding £300 to a New York return flight.

Yet there are some notable advantages of Avios. Crucially for travellers starting or ending journeys outside London, Avios bookings allow for a free connection from Aberdeen, Belfast, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester or Newcastle to Heathrow (with some services also to Gatwick and/or London City). You can also book one-way or “open-jaw” tickets, eg out to LA and back from San Francisco.

And for the first time, passengers who earn Avios flying on BA can combine these with points collected through the Tesco Clubcard, Shell service stations and Lloyds TSB Duo credit cards.

Q I’ve saved some Avios. How do I calculate how far they will take me?

A The world is divided into nine zones. Zone 1 covers flights as far as Prague, and costs 9,000 Avios; Zone 9 (100,000 Avios) is Sydney. New York and Dubai require 40,000; Hong Kong is 60,000. For journeys in premium classes, apply the following multipliers: Premium Economy x 1.5, Club World x 2, First Class x 3. If you do not have enough points, the company has a points-plus-cash option.

Q But don’t taxes, etc, sometimes add up to as much as a flight on a rival airline?

A That can happen if you pay the full whack for flights within Europe. But Zones 1-3 are covered by the “Reward Flight Saver” deal: pay a flat £30 return in economy and £40 in Club (or half this for one-way flights). To qualify you need to have collected at least one Avios point within the past year.

Q I’ve got enough points – but none of the days I want is available.

A This is the big problem. Paying real money for tickets, there is almost always a seat for you. On busy flights the price increases to take account of demand. But with Avios, each destination has a flat fare in terms of points, and therefore supply is managed instead – with “black-outs” that exclude Avios redemption from particular flights and routes. The most extreme example: if you want to fly in Club World to Sydney and back next year, you must depart Heathrow on 20 August and return on 22 October – the only dates available at present in business. The last outbound date this year in Economy is 28 November. And there are only eight days in 2013 on which you can get a Premium Economy seat. But these may change: availability is turned on and off according to demand from “cash customers”. Barbados also looks tricky; on the Avios map (, you can see that the last day this year with redemption seats is a Gatwick-Bridgetown flight is 12 December; the first date back is 6 January. Cape Town looks even worse.

Q That’s discouraging. Is there anywhere I can actually go?

A Yes. To New York, there are only a few black-out dates in 2013. For shorter hauls, on routes with multiple frequencies, you can usually secure space on the day you want – but often only on less popular departures. Flying to Nice on Maundy Thursday is a good example. This is a day of peak demand, and “Reward Flight Saver” seats are available only on the dawn flights from Gatwick and Heathrow (with only one place left on the latter). Availability is sometimes finessed by allowing some flights to be booked at a reduced Avios rate but with a higher cash contribution.

Q Do I have to book weeks or months in advance to get any chance of a seat?

A No – and that is where Avios are at their most valuable. Flying tomorrow to Bermuda for a three-night stay, the return cash fare for short break is £1,656. Yet there is plenty of availability at 40,000 Avios and £316 in charges, making each point worth about 3.5p. For a one-way business flight last Monday morning, booked at short notice, Heathrow-Frankfurt is yours for 4,500 plus £15 “Reward Flight Saver”, rather than the £350 cash fare. About the only way to squeeze more value from Avios is to buy a cash ticket and upgrade using points. Book an Economy ticket to Chicago or Dubai through, and you can spend as little as 20,000 Avios on an upgrade to Club World. The tax demand rises by nearly £100, but this is the optimum way to sneak your way into business.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Ashdown Group: Print Designer - High Wycombe - Permanent £28K

    £25000 - £28000 per annum + 24 days holiday, bonus, etc.: Ashdown Group: Print...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

    £20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager

    £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer and Brand Manager required for ...

    Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator

    £25000 - £35000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator A...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent