Have we been too harsh on using Avios for economy long-haul redemptions?

The general mantra about using airline miles, especially those like Avios which impose hefty fuel surcharges, goes like this – ‘redeeming for Economy flights is a waste of miles’.

In general, of course, this is true. When I was looking at Lufthansa flights to Salzburg for our February holiday, it wanted over £200 in tax for an economy short-haul redemption, a truly ludicrous figure.

British Airways managed to knock this on the head for short-haul redemptions by introducing Reward Flight Saver.  By capping taxes on European flights at £35 in Economy / Euro Traveller, you will usually be getting around 1p per Avios of value.

This is ‘real’ value as you would otherwise have bought the ticket for cash – not ‘finger in the air’ value based on some notional value of how much you would pay for a business class seat.

Because many of us do not look at economy long-haul flight prices, the hike in pricing for peak season in the last year or so may have passed you by.

You also need to remember that long-haul economy redemptions using Avios points actually got cheaper in the devaluation last April as long as you choose an off-peak date.  Fuel surcharges have also come down by £60 over the last 18 months.

Today I thought I would see if we really have been unfair in dismissing economy redemptions as poor value.  (We haven’t been unfair in dismissing them as uncomfortable, of course!)

British Airways BA 787

Here is a sample of British Airways pricing from their Low Fare Finder tool.

These are the CHEAPEST economy return tickets available during August at the present time.  Remember that these flights may be at inconvenient times or inconvenient days of the week.  I compare the cash cost to the ‘Avios plus taxes’ cost.

New York – £432 or 26,000 Avios + £301

Miami – £542 or 32,500 Avios + £301

Las Vegas – £771 or 32,500 Avios + £327

San Francisco – £627 or 32,500 Avios + £327

Barbados – £566 or 32,500 Avios + £271

Mumbai – £542 or 32,500 Avios + £297

Hong Kong – £814 or 39,000 Avios + £314

Singapore – £591 or 45,500 Avios + £320

The ‘pence per Avios’ score comes out like this:

New York – 0.50p

Miami – 0.74p

Las Vegas – 1.37p

San Francisco – 0.92p

Barbados – 0.91p

Mumbai – 0.75p

Hong Kong – 1.28p

Singapore – 0.60p

OK, some of these are poor.  Getting 0.5p per Avios for the New York flight is no better than redeeming them for a hotel or wine, unless you value the ability to cancel that comes with an Avios ticket.

Some of the others are very good.  1.37p to Las Vegas, 1.28p to Hong Kong, 0.92p to San Francisco – I would be very happy with any of these.  I do say consistently on Head for Points that I value my Avios at 0.75p so I know that I will never lose money when I redeem.  I would certainly be willing to burn Avios on these routes if I wanted to travel and was faced with those cash prices.

Remember too that the prices I quote above the cheapest possible flights BA has during August. With Avios you might get a better timed flight that would cost more for cash than the prices I show.

BA, of course, has already worked out that these deals are pretty good.  From January 2017, off-peak dates are being changed.  No longer will Tuesday and Wednesday flights be off-peak every week.  I am pretty sure that there will be zero off-peak days in August 2017 even though, ironically, with no full fare business travellers the planes are already flying on low yields.

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

Double Avios points with NH Hotels - up to 900 Avios per night - and redeem with them
Bits: BA changes date for New York promo, Marriott 'cash and points' awards launched
About Head for Points

We help business and leisure travellers maximise their Avios, frequent flyer miles and hotel loyalty points. Visit every day for three new articles or sign up for our FREE emails via this page or the box to your right.


  1. Raffles – Wholly off-topic, but may I wish you, Mrs Burgess and the little Burgii a most Happy Easter. Currently in Bali but coming back this evening on Qatar’s excellent service via Doha (777-300ER and A380) which over the return provides 560 of the 600 BA tier points required to maintain Silver Status. So simple to maintain silver by taking a Qatar Asia return every second year in the window between end of tier point earning year and Silver Card expiry date. Hope you are successful in the Easter Egg hunt – too hot for chocolate here.

    • Absolutely Nick, we did trip last oct to obtain silver, with our couple of BA flights each, it’s a great opportunity, and is our ongoing plan too. Then used our cancelled KUL BA F 241 in between to Asia, then used it to bag KUL F for next Jan. It takes some planning and management but it can be done with the help of QR. Are you on a long layover with a hotel or short 2 hr one? We too had those same planes. Pure bliss….

    • Easter egg hunt on the beach at 1pm (1 hrs time)!

    • Just be careful of discount J fares that book into R instead of I. Looks like these may not earn TP’s when crediting to BAEC.

    • Nick,
      My understanding is that BA Executive Club Silver status costs 600 Tier Points. Once flown and on the date that the 600th point reach the account, Silver status is given for 12 months from that date.
      Is my understanding correct?
      You say ‘every second year in the window between end of tier point earning year and Silver Card expiry date’ you take a trip, presumably earning 600 points to maintain Silver status. What I don’t understand is that you say every second year. What is it that you are doing to effectively get Silver status for two years by earning 600 Tier Points every other year?
      Or have I misunderstood?

      • When you are promoted you get that status for the remainder of your membership year AND the whole of the next membership year. So if you are promoted near the start of a.membership year that’s nearly 2 years in that status.
        When you’re demoted it’s a “soft landing” so you only drop 1 status per year if you don’t have enough tier points to retain status. But your plastic card remains valid for another month after you lose your status so you can still access lounges etc for another month.

  2. I haven’t seen anything about changing the peak-off peak calendar next year. What have they announced?

    • +1

      • Haven’t seen an announcement but an example is 1/2 term in Feb ’17 is all high peak.

        Noticed this recently doing my off-peak CW redemption to Maldives, planning revisiting again next Feb/March.

        btw approx 3.8ppA of value (with BAPP companion voucher)

        • Genghis says:

          Is that 3.8ppa opportunity cost?

          • Not sure what/how opportunity cost is defined.
            However just realised I didn’t include number of Avios it would of earnt.

            I calced as follows, EDI-LGW-MLE rtn in CW.

            Cash price is £3195 x2 + (7940×2 x2 Avios)
            £560 x2 + 125000 Avios.using companion. BAPP cost of £140

            So my maths are;

            So correct ppA is 3.27 inc BAPP cost, 3.36 without

            Sound about right???

            • Genghis says:

              The maths looks about right. But would you pay £3195 cash for those tickets? On my most recent redemption to China I got nearly 4ppa using this method of valuation but I would never pay £3.5k cash per ticket. I would however pay around £1k ex-EU with a ME carrier if I was paying cash. This makes an opportunity cost IMO of about 1ppa value.

            • Hmmm, what other lie flat beds do I get to choose from?

              No I wouldn’t go £3k+ for cash, I’d of done an Econ rwd, kicked myself for missing out on a CW red, but grinned n bared it.

      • +1

  3. Erico1875 says:

    I used 30k Avios for £400 off 2 economy flights Edi-LHR-Bom. Ended up £398 each which I though was good value over Easter holidays. 1.33p of value

  4. Metatone says:

    Being small business people, our personal cashflow, like our business cashflow tends to fluctuate. Sometimes it’s just really good to have to front up less cash for a flight to go see the relatives, even if it’s not great value.

  5. Chris healy says:

    Interesting article, I only redeem in economy as I place value in very low fares using as little Avios as possible. Used it for San Francisco?and San Diego last year, then for Tokyo next month. Always for two people. I currently have about 70,000 Avios left and if I wanted to go Business Class to Tokyo that would be down to almost zero now I think. I’ve a decent record of getting exit seats as well which makes flights comfortable.

    Don’t get me wrong if I had more Avios then perhaps I’d use for business class, but I don’t just collect Avios as I also use hotel credit cards to boost them accounts.

  6. I’m being relocated to Chicago for a couple of years and need took me back to the UK for a friend’s wedding over the Independence Day weekend. The cheapest direct economy flights (even giving days of flex either side) are over £1200 return, and close to £3000 in biz. Even indirect is over £820 economy, so I’ve booked a one way Avios redemption in economy ORD-LHR for 20,000 Avios + £182 and will work out how I get back in the coming weeks, see what sales come up. Would plan to cancel of something better comes up (great benefit of the redemption being refundable) or upgrade it if better seats open up closer to departure.

    It appears to be cheaper doing DUB-ORD in biz than the reverse (appreciate different markets and no reciprocal pricing) so might just book the return leg as the first half of a DUB-ORD and plan the other leg as the outbound for my next trip home.

    As an aside, the ex DUB fares to the US aren’t great either currently so holding out for a sale as we get closer. Any ideas when the next one of those should happen? The cheapest at the moment seem to be Virgin UC long hauls with Aegean/Athens or BA/Aer Lingus/DUB tacked on, interestingly.

    [Writing this from Boracay, as part of a pre-devaluation 2 for 1 BA First redemption, out to Tokyo and back from Hong Kong. Thanks Raffles!]

    • Genghis says:

      Be sure to try the lechon and if you’re feeling brave, balut.

      • Thanks for the tips, just looked them both up and will definitely try the lechon… but will definitely shun the balut!

        • Lechon was delicious when I tried it in the Phils. Balut was certainly different. The one I tried was rather soft but I wouldn’t try it again!!

  7. Or you could put your finger firmly in the sky and blow a shedload of avios on cathay pacific first to Australia 😀 excited isn’t the word!

    • Imbruce says:

      Hey James, well done.
      How did you manage to do that booking?

      • Just through BA.com. Called up and tagged on a domestic MAN – LHR to kick it off afterwards.

    • RIccati says:

      There are some brave among us!

      I will thoroughly miss Avios redemptions on Cathay.

      • Why are you going to miss them?

      • Barry cutters says:

        They are not going to my knowledge, I booked Hkg-Shanghai the other day – out on Cathay. Back on dragon . Also did the Royal Jordanian business class from Hkg-bkk. All were v-good, although will just use in Eco from now on as my ba gold status means I have the lounge . And I can handle Eco on short haul 2h flights . So much avalability on these short haul Asia fares.

  8. Interesting analysis, definitely some sweet spots there, although sadly on the longer flights!

    The always off-peak Tues/Wed setup did seem a bit nonsensical, not too surprised it’s being changed.

    Sadly RFS pretty poor value for many now, remember £35 is only for those with easy access to London airports, for the rest of us it’s £70 plus double the Avios which makes it £200+ at the 0.75p valuation (that I use too)

    • Chris healy says:

      I never really got to fully maximise that as much as I’d liked to as only got into this fairly recently, apart from a trip to Milan.

    • Was it a BA oversight to offer all Tuesdays/Wednesdays off-peak or is it a forward planned marketing strategy to have less and less off-peak options available so maximise the revenue? I think the latter.

  9. I’ve just done a Virgin redemption for my daughter who starts studying in South Carolina in August. Ended up with premium economy to Atlanta, she will have a night there then a cash flight to Charlotte the next day. A single ticket unless via Norway was very expensive.

  10. Yes. Late availability can really help…. Even if only in Y.
    Although not useful to many, BA soon return to Inverness and the charging structure is lower for Highland airports.
    An example of this … Single from Inverness to Thailand (BGK) is 19500 Avios + £ 162 off peak.

    • That’s pretty useful for me in ABZ, leaning towards thinking it could be worth starting a journey in INV if I could rtn to ABZ, any one know if that kind of open jaw is possible? Do BA need you to return to your start airport when on a redemption?

      • Genghis says:

        Not at all. Either book as two singles or if using a 241, call them up to book the open jaw

    • Inverness. Great! As I can only book via Avios and only BA flights to make use of the upgrade voucher (Loyds Amex) leaving from Inverness long haul will be very cost saving.

  11. On avios.com I booked BHX-BOD for the Euros. Cash ticket was £188 iirc. I got it for £35+4,500

    • Irons1980 says:

      This might be controversial but I don’t put huge amount of monetary value on my Avios – I earn them all though flying and I am Gold… What has been fantastic is the gold availability in economy which meant I got 5 seats in economy LH for about 100,000 on exactly the dates I wanted for just around £600 (there’s no taxes for my 3 kids). Business would’ve have been impossible. And I have already earned the points back in three months since booking…

    • Eshaq Choudhury says:

      How did you do this? What airline?

  12. Guesswho2000 says:

    This goes for VS too. Last August, we fancied going to Vegas, but started looking a bit late and cash fares were around £1,000 in Y LGW-LAS, about two months out. Settled on 42,500 VS miles and about £190 each in Y. I’d planned to use them for Upper class at some point, but that value stacked up for us at the time!

    Added to that, a horrendous outbound delay + EC261 made the net cash cost zero (actually, I ended up about £50 better off).

    • This is exactly what I’ve done. Premium out and economy back pricing up at £1300 cash – or 56,000 points and £308.

      1.85p per point – if my calculations are correct?

  13. The rates per avios for Hong Kong are even higher than quoted. Always book two one way tickets if using points and not a return one (applies to all bookings, not just economy). The reason is the taxes are much lower due to the Hong Kong government fixing taxes that originate out of Hong Kong. With BA the taxes would be £209 for the LHR-HKG leg and £10 for the HKG-LHR leg to make a total of £219. This gives a figure of 1.52p per avios using Rob’s ticket price.
    However to maximise your avios rate, you could use CX on the outbound and pay using points and cash of 10,500 avios and £264 and use BA inbound of 19,500 and £10. This gives a total of 30,000 and taxes of £274. The saving on Rob’s ticket price is £540, working out at 1.8p per avios. CX also gives better award availability and that you do not need to book the CX leg on a non peak day, any day will give you the same rate.

    • True, I should have adjusted for that.

    • I came to the site to see if anyone had made that point. You did it better justice than I was going (forgot the CX part).

      If flying CX you might also consider going from say Amsterdam or elsewhere in Europe on the outbound if you fancy a subsidized stopover. Reduced uk taxes could well more than cover the flight to AMS/wherever. I sometimes do this to sneak in a catch up with friends “for free”.

    • CX only has better availability because it has 5 flights per day (soon to be 6)…

  14. The economy valuations of the Avios was very interesting any chance of listing best values for business class .I t would be very useful for us leisure travellers.Thanks Raffles.

  15. I too, missed the January changes, and I can’t seem to find them on BA. More information please.

  16. Sorry slightly off topic here but have been trying to register for Ba on business but its looping me back to the beginning of registration the whole time? Anyone one else had this issue. Tried all browsers(chrome-safari-ie) no luck.

  17. Anyone know why taxes on Avios.com would be vastly different to BA.com? I am looking at HND-LHR one way, and BA.com is £63 while Avios.com is £213!

  18. One thing this blog has taught me is that when I’m evaluating potential Avios redemptions, not to look at the cash price of the same flight, but to look at how much I would have paid for that journey – whether it be getting the train, or flying on another airline etc.

    So for Hong Kong instead of comparing the Avios redemption with the £814 BA cash fare, surely the real comparison is the £450 fare I could get with another airline (flying indirect, but would I ever pay £814 for a BA economy flight to HK) ?

    This post seems to have abandoned the usual excellent advice.

    • Barry cutters says:

      Actually unless you are booking miles out the standard price for a return direct flight to Hkg on cathey ba or virgin is always about £600-800. The £500 fares are usually with Qatar /Emirates and for me personally it’s worth paying the extra £200-300 to get a direct flight reduced flight time , and earning double avios/extra bag/ lounge access. -but obviously that’s personal preference. August is also an expensive month (Nov normally being the cheapest) so £800 is really a fair example

  19. When doing a comparison, shouldn’t one also account for the AVIOS earned if paying cash?

  20. Your Hong Kong example is unfair. The £810 price might be what BA charges, but I can fly with KLM or Virgin Atlantic from Leeds or Manchester for about half that price on a random date in November.

    • Barry cutters says:

      Yes November for a random date when booking 8months in advance-correct. the point of this is that August is a premium month-it always has been. £700-900 is the correct price for a direct oneworld flight to Hkg in August

  21. What Avios redemptions are great for are one ways.. For example Antigua to UK, after an Atlantic crossing (in an Oyster or Swan of course). You don’t know exactly when you will arrive so flexibility is important. The price of a last minute, one way is pretty dear so Avios redemptions are great value. The fact that Gold members have access to V class bucket as a redemption is probably the only real benefit remaining for Golds since BA removed changes for free.

    • Yes, and I’ve used economy redemptions before now when I wanted one-way in economy and the overnight return in business class. Booking the economy leg one-way for cash would have been ridiculously expensive.

    • LondonFoodie says:

      Is Gold increase for short haul only or also long haul?

  22. Discount mike says:

    Something that I don’t think has been mentioned on the site is the good value economy Japan Airline redemptions. Flew Tokyo to Bangkok oneway for £22 + 10500 avios, cash price about £400. Domestic flights are £1 + 4500 avios. Impeccable Japanese service on these flights.

    • Genghis says:

      Yes. JAL are great value domestically and internationally within Asia due to the high cash costs involved

  23. wetboy1uk says:

    I always redeem on economy but then I never pay for avios in the first place. It is still value to me as I am getting a flight cheaper than a cash redemption. PLus I can have two flights in economy as opposed to one in premium – again value to me. I have noticed there is very little on this site in respect of economy flights – sorry I don’t attach the same snob value to premium/upper class etc

    • For many/most it’s nothing to do with snob value, just getting more value out their Avios given the high fees that BA charge! As Rob has pointed out here though, the reduction in these on economy flights has changed the equation somewhat recently. Personally I have found great value in them for economy QF and AA short-haul redemptions and used to love them for RFS but they now cost double in the regions and no longer have free changes (except for GGL) which has made them poor value again.

    • Plenty of us regulars are getting tips for RFS flights ie Europe in economy = ET.

      No point (for me) going Club when it’s a 2 hr flight, horses for courses but there’s a good reason FTSE100 cos often say Business is for flights over 4 hrs, even for senior mgrs.

      There’s loads here for economy flights, which is why I’m an Avios millionaire @ 0.5p/ point :)

    • Barry cutters says:

      I’m not a snob but maybe you are not 6″5 like me

      • Same seats in Europe, Business vs Economy, same pitch

        • Genghis says:

          You’re much better off in an ET exit row seat than CE

          • I regularly fly one of the longest short haul routes to Larnaca and believe me the only substantive onboard difference in my view between ET and CE is whether I drink Champagne or bloody Mary’s! Only ever take up CE via a redemption when there are no economy seats left

        • Barry cutters says:

          Yes agreed, I only fly euro traveler in Europe. May think about this differently if I didn’t have lounge access

  24. I want to say that it is generally good value to redeem economy shorthaul — 2p and sometimes longhaul to London, i.e. 3p on a trip from HKG to LHR off peak.

  25. If ‘pence per Avios’ is the right measure, you’ll do even better with an “Avios & money” mix:
    For San Francisco, you can opt for 11,400 Avios + £487, improving the score from 0.92p/Avios to 1.23p.
    That doesn’t save you a lot of cash flow (£140) … perhaps better to thing of it as: if you must travel at a peak times, sprinkle a few Avios and get a more bareable cost.

    • But these don’t earn any avios back, which changes the calculation significantly.

  26. Tilly71 says:

    Still thinking E on Avios holds some great value, we’re looking at tickets to book tomorrow, 65k avios saves nearly £700 off the cash price on BA.

  27. planeflyer says:

    I needed to book a relatively last minute Muscat-London trip last year. I ended up booked on BA in Y for 7800 Avios + £103….a complete bargain for my date, especially with the new 789. Some longhual Y redemptions are excellent, especially if you are only looking for a one way.

    • 2bad4ya says:

      how do you get 7800+£103 – cant work that out on the reward flight calculator?

  28. I have just booked my trip to Australia. The economy return flights from Heathrow to Sydney require approximately 100,000 Avios + £537 in airport taxes (depending on airline).

    I wanted to break up the journey and am chuffed with the savings I have made.

    Heathrow to Helsinki – 7,500 Avios + £17.50 airport taxes
    Helsinki to Bangkok – 25,000 Avios + £110.60
    Bangkok to Sydney – 25,000 Avios + £29.70
    Sydney to Hong Kong – 25,000 Avios + £45.00
    Hong Kong to Heathrow – 19,500 Avios + £10.80

    TOTAL 102,000 Avios + £213.60

    I will be spending 2-3 days in each stop off. I am planning to take an old coat and warm jumper to Helsinki and leave them behind at the airport as the average April temperature is 4 degrees in Helsinki but 31 degrees at the next stop in Bangkok.

    I will be staying mainly in the Sydney area visiting my family. However, I will use Avios to fly to Melbourne. Approx. 9,000 Avios return + £16 taxes.

    I have booked HG hotels in Helsinki and Bangkok to complete my Accelerate bonus and will use the points to pay for a hotel in Hong Kong.