Using Avios points to book Eurostar – is it a good deal?

This is the second part of our Eurostar series this week, written by Nick Burch.  Part 1, comparing the two Eurostar loyalty schemes, can be found here.  Tomorrow he will look at using American Express Membership Rewards points to book Eurostar train tickets.

The premise seems simple enough – for 9,000 Avios and no fees, you can travel from the heart of London to the heart of Paris in just over 2 hours. No need to pay to get between city centres and airports and no need to spend £35 on Reward Flight Saver fees – it sounds perfect! What’s the catch though…? Let’s find out.

The biggest thing to know is that the Eurostar Avios prices are *from* prices, not fixed prices. Unlike flight redemptions, the costs can and do vary! We’ll come back to this a little later though, as it’s a bit complicated…

Next, two other things to be aware of. You can’t book online, and this is only available to avios.com members (see the Eurostar page here).  It can’t be booked directly from your BA Executive Club account.

To move your points over to avios.com, log into your account, then find the link to Combine My Avios. (For BAEC, it’s under Manage My Account.  Enter the details of the scheme you’re not already logged into, and select the number of points to move and the direction to move in.  A minute or so later, and they’ll be there!

Eurostar 4

How to book

It is not possible to book Eurostar tickets from avios.com online.

When you want to book, you’ll need to ring the 0844 number listed on the avios.com Eurostar page and pay your phone company a small fortune (especially from a mobile) for the privilege. Alternately, head over to saynoto0870.com and find one of the “real” phone numbers for avios and call them on that! The menus are fairly clear on what to go for, and you’ll normally be through to a person in a minute or two.

But before you do that…

Go to the main Eurostar website, and search for regular cash tickets for the day(s) of interest. You MUST book a return ticket starting from the UK – it isn’t possible to book a one-way or a continent-originating Eurostar ticket through Avios.

(You can, though, book a through-train which connects to a TGV or Thalys train.  Nice, for example, is possible, as is Marseille, Lyon etc.)

Look up the times, work out when you want to go, and use the section below to figure a rough price.   The standard rules to remember are:

  • You can book for multiple people as long as you’re one of the travellers
  • You can only book in Standard or Standard Premier, not Business Premier
  • You can book mixed classes
  • You can only book non-flexible, non-changeable tickets

With your ideal trains selected, and your Avios transfered over if needed, give them a call and get a price.

A rough guide to prices

The avios.com Eurostar page lists starting prices for the various journeys that Eurostar offer. They also give some ideas of the different part-cash, part-Avios rates available, which can offer the best value. However, all the numbers on the website are *from* prices, and the final amount of Avios you need can, and often is, higher.

The cheapest cash tickets for a standard class return are £69, and the cheapest Standard Premier ones are £159. That’s for a journey from London, Ashford or Ebbsfleet to Lille, Brussels or Paris – it’s all the same starting price. Journeys on the Winter weekend ski trains start at £149 return, and the Summer Saturday services to the south of France are much the same.

Here are the headline Avios prices:

Standard class return Lille / Paris / Brussels:

£69 or 9,000 Avios or 7,000 Avios + £20 or 2,000 Avios + £50

Standard Premier return Lille / Paris / Brussels:

£159 or 20,000 Avios or 12,000 Avios + £50 or 2,000 Avios + £120

Standard class return Alps / Avignon:

£149 or 25,000 Avios or 15,000 Avios + £60 or 2,000 Avios + £140

Standard Premier return Alps / Avignon:

£229 or 38,500 Avios or 15,000 Avios + £150 or 2,000 Avios + £220

The headline *from* Avios prices are only available when the cheapest headline cash fares are available. Once those sell out, the Avios price rises too. You’ll also notice that the cash + Avios rates don’t scale directly with the Avios, and so can offer better rates.

As you will see below, I ran some experiments and the cheapest *from* Avios prices offer the best value for money.  It starts to slip slightly (but not hugely) as the cash price for the Eurostar ticket increases. 

On both the standard class and Standard Premier returns, at the lowest Avios rates you’re only getting about 0.8p / Avios in value.  On a part Avios, part cash booking for when the cash price is lowest, you can get about 0.9p / Avios in value on cash + Avios booking. Once the price has started increasing, it drops to about 0.6p/Avios.

Eurostar 5

Looking at some real numbers, as I found from a long phone call with Avios.com asking for lots of different options, I managed to draw up this table:

  • Eurostar.com price || Avios rate || Equiv || Cash+Avios || Equiv
  • £69  ||  9,000 Avios || 0.8p / Avios ||  7,000 + £20 || 0.7p / Avios
  • £110 || 18,500 Avios || 0.6p / Avios || 11,000 + £50 || 0.5p / Avios
  • £120 || 20,000 Avios || 0.6p / Avios || 12,000 + £55 || 0.5p / Avios
  • £159 || 20,000 Avios || 0.8p / Avios || 12,000 + £50 || 0.9p / Avios
  • £174 || 29,000 Avios || 0.6p / Avios || 17,500 + £75 || 0.6p / Avios

(I believe the cash + Avios value on higher cash components are better value, but there was only so long I could spend on the phone asking for different pricing options…!)

Roughly speaking, once the very cheapest tickets have sold out on eurostar.com, count on getting about 0.6p per Avios in value, which isn’t amazing.  Without a conversion bonus, that would still mean £37.50 of Tesco Clubcard points getting you a £69 Eurostar ticket, so there is some merit to this, but you might find better uses for your Avios in other places.

How easy is it to get the £69 return tickets, and hence the 9,000 Avios price?

A week out and you’ve basically no hope, even on the less popular London to Lille trains (Paris seems to be the most popular, then Brussels, then Lille). Two weeks out mid-week and there are some, three weeks out and you can find the odd weekend one.

If you book 2-3 months out (booking horizon is 120 days) you ought to be able to get pretty much the train you want! Eurostar do offer a “Flexible Dates” search, which shows the cheapest price each day for a month, which can be a big help in finding them.

Is it worth spending 9,000 Avios to save £69? That’s one for you and you alone… Certainly it looks a better bet at 9,000 Avios + £0 than 9,000 Avios + £35 on a BA Flight, but if the cheapest seats are still there on the train you want maybe consider just paying cash!

by Nick Burch (@Gagravarr)

Tomorrow:  Using American Express Membership Rewards points for Eurostar redemptions

(Want to earn more Avios? Click here to see our latest articles on earning and spending your points and click here to see our list of current Avios promotions.)

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Comments

  1. Thanks for this Nick. Need to book soon for a party of 3. Is the hotel + Eurostar package ever a good option?

  2. I travel London / Paris on Eurostar out on Friday PM, back Monday PM each month. Booking 120 days in advance on the release of the return leg gets me the £69 fair almost always (exceptions are usually around start / end of school holiday periods, particularly Paris ones, and like next weekend of October 4th-7th, when the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe takes place and thousands of UK racing fans go over).
    I have tried a number of times to book the 9,000 Avios fair when there is plenty of £69 availability. Avios tell me that this is a ‘promotional’ fair and have always quoted me 12,000. They say there system won’t allow them to search for 9K fares, but only by the date / times I give them.
    I believe the premise that if £69 fairs are available, then you should be able to find 9K Avios fares, is generally not the case.
    This is my experience.
    Would like to hear from anybody with actual success in bagging a 9K Avios deal with any insight as to how / when they succeeded.
    PS
    On Avios web-site :
    Not in the UK? Call 00 44 1925 848 693
    You can call this number while in the UK by dropping the 00 44 ….

    • Thanks Zark, very useful.

    • Nick Burch says:

      I did get them to offer me a 9k avios return on a couple of train combinations that were showing £69 return on the main Eurostar website. I didn’t actually want to travel though, just write the article, so I didn’t try to book them… I was asking them about mid-week trains, if that matters, as that was what gave enough of a variety in prices to build up the numbers!

    • Nick Burch says:

      When I tried the “official” number from outside the UK, it dropped me into the wrong part of their phone tree and I couldn’t work out how to get to Eurostar booking from there. If you do know the right number sequence, please let us know :) Otherwise saynoto0870 have some other 01925 numbers which do start you at the root of the phone menu

  3. Chris Sutter says:

    Surely the sweet spot (if you can get that rate) is on Standard Premier then:

    Standard Premier return Lille / Paris / Brussels:
    £159 or 20,000 Avios or 12,000 Avios + £50 or 2,000 Avios + £120

    2000 Avios gets you effectively a £39 discount off the cheapest Standard Premier return, that’s practically 2p per Avios…

    • Remember that you effectively get 6.67% ‘cash back’ via the Eurostar Plus Points scheme (EPP) explained by Nick Burch yesterday. Factoring that in your consuming Avios at 1.42p.
      Personally, would never travel Standard Premier paying an additional £90 round trip over Standard (£159-£69) or 20K Avios etc. Bigger seat for a couple of hours and rubbish food and a glass of wine + tea or coffee don’t do it for me.
      Rather like paying or using Avios +RFS to fly business class short-hall around Europe.

      • It’s all a trade off, though. If you are Avios rich (and using the ‘you can’t take them with you’ approach) then its worth doing. Although it does grate that I got a First Class seat from York to London for £26 on Sunday, food and wine included, which on Eurostar would cost £150 for the equivalent trip!

  4. An interesting point to note is that, because Avios redemptions go up in ‘price’ as cash fares to, it can sometimes be cheaper to get STandard Premier redemptions than just Standard ones. I needed three returns to Paris recently, not that far in advance, and the Avios advisor told me this. For the dates I needed, Standard Premier was the cheapest option, and I actually got the cheapest prices Nick quotes above, so I paid 36,000 Avios plus 150GBP for three tickets. Given that the cash fares for the same trains would have been been about 600 pounds, I was getting 450 pounds of value for 36,000 Avios, which isn’t bad. Admittedly, I could have got Standard tickets for less, but I think even then the cost of three Standard returns was about 470 pounds.

    Given that it’s only a 2-hour journey, I doubt whether Standard Premier is worth paying over the odds for, but if it’s cheaper, then why not? And the Eurostar experience is so much better than flying, especially since you go from central London to central Paris.

    • The standard seats on Eurostar are a bit squeezed – although no worse than standard class on UK inter-city trains.

    • Nick Burch says:

      Out of interest, did your tickets show a cash price on them? And if so, was it basically the same price that the main Eurostar website was showing? (That might tell us a bit more about how the Avios booking process actually works under the hood)

  5. Is the same true for Flying Club – that the miles prices are ‘from’? My Mum has about 40k Flying Club miles and as she would want to travel with my Dad (who does have any VS miles), I couldn’t think of a good use of the miles on VS metal that they could use together so thought maybe Eurostar would be a good use for them. Otherwise perhaps the hotel transfer option is a good one.

    • I would imagine so. They are either ‘from’ prices or they will only let you book if super-cheap cash seats are available.

      Remember that Virgin lets you book one-way flights. ALL Virgin destinations (except Sydney) even Tokyo etc, cost 22,500 miles or less for a one-way Economy ticket (plus taxes). That would be a decent redemption, assuming you have some Avios or other miles to book them a flight back! Spend table here – http://www.virgin-atlantic.com/gb/en/flying-club/spend-miles/reward-flights.html

      • Thanks Raffles – good idea – they do have a shed load of Avios grandfathered from Diamond Club so maybe they could book VS economy out and BA First back. I’m assuming that the authorities don’t have a problem with you arriving on a one-way ticket for visa-waiver purposes?

        • It is always best to have a print-out of your return eticket just in case. I got a grilling in Cape Town last year for arriving on a one-way ticket, and had to produce the paperwork showing I had got a return booked before they would let me in.

  6. Nick Burch says:

    You might be able to get Eurostar Frequent Traveller points on them, but I think if you can you’d need to do a retrospective “missing points” claim for them. Would be interesting if someone could try and report back!

    • Nick,
      I very much doubt you could get Eurostar Traveller points for an Avios booking – I seem to recall somewhere in their T & C’s that points can only be claimed against cash fares and traveller points are awarded based on value of the journey, as you know.
      Even if you could get these points, assuming the equivalent of a 9K Avios booking is £69 cash , this equates to 15*2 =30 points. You need 30 round trips to get 1 free one (900 points). That is , however, a minimum 3.33% return, but would be higher given that booking the 900 points trip has built in flexibility around availability (you can book most of the time & shortly before travel, when cash fairs are high) and you can modify once.
      Incidentally, all a far cry from the 50 Eurostar Traveller Points minimum per journey =100 round trip which existed before until, like with so many organisations, Eurostar got their ‘business’ analysts to ‘upgrade’ & ‘enhance’ their Frequent Traveller programme to penalise loyalty. This happened in February 2011. Also hit for 6 Carte Blanche renewal (need 1,500 accumulated in 12 months),so no more lounge use , but Amex Platinum can take care of that.

  7. Thanks for the report, Nick. As suspected, value is not great as most comments agree.

    Add to that the general lack of 9k availability and the pain to go through all the available price options and seats over the phone, and it’s barely worth it. As commented on yesterday’s article, I find it quicker door-to-door to fly, and I’d far rather be doing changes and getting up and moving around when doing transfers when travelling light (more frequently the case) than sitting in a seat for 2hrs straight!

    Also, it’s much easier to book and check the various flight redemption options online and there is loads more availability, even last minute sometimes. Plus the redemptions are set prices so you know what you are paying/getting up front.

    All-in-all, it’s less hassle, in most cases less cost despite the £35 fee + transfers and possibly less travel time to redeem for a RFS rather than Eurostar.

    • Just a tip to add for those of you with young kids like Raffles and I, an advantage of Eurostar over flights if travelling with the wee ones is that kids 4 years and under go completely free! When you factor that in, it could well make the train a cheaper option whether paid or redeemed (depending on total cost of course), and with kids it’s more likely you’ll want the least changes/transfers which the train gives.

      That said, I’ve only ever done a single trip with 1 of my kids by train and it was barely cheaper, so for the majority of trips/people, refer to previous comments re flying.

  8. This is great info but I’m curious if you have had in luck trying this with US BAEC members? I can’t create a proper avios.com account because I don’t live in the UK. Any help?

    • You can make up a UK address, that will allow you to transfer to avios.com. Transfers do not match addresses, they only look to match name, email and date of birth.