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Avios dropping Eurostar redemptions – what are the alternatives for free tickets?

On Thursday I wrote about how, from January 1st, you will no longer be able to earn or redeem Avios points when booking a package holiday via avios.com.

The changes to avios.com redemptions on January 1st actually go a little deeper.  You will also not be able to redeem for:

In general, these are not a great loss.  Avios was basically buying tickets for you and charging 0.5p to 0.6p per point.  They were poorer deals than redeeming for flights.

Let’s take a look at using Avios and Amex Membership Rewards points for Eurostar tickets.  Parts of this article are based on a piece written by Nick Burch for HFP back in 2013, for which I am grateful.

Eurostar

You still have six weeks to book a ticket using Avios.  When booking with avios.com, you have to book a return starting from the UK. It can be a mixed class booking (Standard Premier one way, Standard the other) if you want.

The cost per Avios varies largely with the cash price for the tickets.  When we looked at this back in 2013, you were getting roughly 0.55p – 0.6p per Avios point.  A ‘cash and Avios’ booking, when you can get up to around 0.9p per Avios, was a better deal.

One way of getting a better deal was using the ‘2 for 1’ voucher which came with the Lloyds Premier Avios credit card.  This card is no longer available to new applicants.

Eurostar 4

How else can you get free Eurostar tickets?

Luckily there are still two options open to you if you want free Eurostar tickets.  Both involve using American Express Membership Rewards points.

Without wishing to state the obvious, there are no taxes or charges on Eurostar redemptions.  Free means free. 

Option 1: Transferring Amex points to Eurostar Frequent Traveller

Eurostar Frequent Traveller is the core Eurostar loyalty scheme, not to be confused with Eurostar Plus Points which is aimed at occasional leisure travellers.

Eurostar Frequent Traveller comes with a barrier to entry – you cannot sign up unless you have taken a Eurostar trip costing at least £250.  However, there is a way around this.  American Express will open a Eurostar Frequent Traveller account for you if you attempt to link your Membership Rewards account.  I did this back in 2013 and it worked perfectly.

Availability with Eurostar Frequent Traveller is generally pretty good, even fairly last minute.  A reader recently told me that, as long as there are physically seats left for sale, he can usually book himself on at very short notice.  I made two redemptions in 2016 – I got the exact trains I wanted on one and only had to move my preferred time by 1 hour to book the second one.

To Paris or Brussels, a one-way in Standard Class is 450 points, a one-way in Standard Premier is 900, and a one-way in Business Premier is 1,250. Further afield, a one-way to the Alps or Avignon / Lyon / Marseille starts at 500 points in Standard which is excellent value given the distance.

The transfer rate in from Amex MR points is 15 Membership Rewards to one Eurostar Frequent Traveller point, so for the 450 points for a one-way single in Standard class you need 6,750 American Express points.  Full details are here – search for ‘Eurostar’.

Tickets can be booked as singles or returns (twice the price), in any of the three classes.  This has one benefit over redeeming via avios.com which does NOT allow one way tickets.

In July 2016, I booked a one way Standard Premier back from Paris.  This required 900 points.  I already had 200 points in my account from a trip two years ago so I transferred (700 x 15) 10,500 American Express points across.  These arrived in three days.

The cost of my ticket for cash, booked two months in advance, would have been £100.  I therefore received just under 1p per Membership Rewards point.   Had I not had 200 points already in my account, it would have needed (900 x 15 =) 13,500 points which would have been 0.74p per Amex point.  This is not bad at all.

Redemptions via Eurostar Frequent Traveller are also semi-flexible which allows you to change the date or time of travel.  This is NOT the case with a redemption via avios.com or booked directly via American Express Membership Rewards points.

Eurostar 350

Option 2: Redeem Membership Rewards points directly via American Express

You don’t necessarily need to transfer your Membership Rewards points to Avios or Eurostar Frequent Traveller. Amex is able to book Standard class returns for youSee here for details on the Membership Rewards website and search for ‘Eurostar’.

The rate is 15,000 MR points for a Standard class return or 30,000 Amex points for a Standard Premier return.  Business Premier is not available.

This offers a slightly more expensive route than the Eurostar Frequent Traveller one, which requires 13,500 Amex points for Standard or 27,000 Membership Rewards points for Standard Premier.  There seems little logic in letting Amex book for you directly.

There are other negatives:

You must book 14 days before travel

One-way trips are not allowed

Mixed class bookings are not allowed

You can only book into the cheapest fare buckets. Once the cash price is more than about £50 one way in Standard class or £100 one way in Standard Premier, you can no longer book onto that service with your Membership Rewards points.

If you really do want to book directly from your American Express Membership Rewards points, first use the Eurostar website to find return services available at the cheap starting prices.

You first need to ring up Eurostar on a special number (given in the Membership Rewards website), and tell them that you want to make a booking using American Express Membership Rewards points. They’ll help you find a suitable cheap train, will make the booking, and will give you a reservation confirmation number.

With that half done, you then need to ring up American Express. Tell them your Eurostar reservation number and dates of travel, and they will deduct the points then confirm your booking.

There is little logic to going through this process, however, when you can book via Eurostar Frequent Traveller instead.  It will only become relevant if Eurostar removes the ability of American Express to open accounts for cardholders without having already travelled.

Conclusion

Whilst it is always a shame to lose a redemption option, the disappearance of Eurostar from the avios.com redemption options is not a major loss.  Amex Membership Rewards points offer an equally generous way of getting free tickets, with the added benefit of being able to book one-way tickets and – if you book via Eurostar Frequent Traveller – being able to change the time or date of your train after booking.

(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.)

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Comments

  1. Not that I’ve used it personally but this is a bit of a blow. My folks have a place near Poitiers and I called up once to check Avios prices & to make sure one could book to & from Poitiers. You can / could although my parents have tended to drive or fly. Visitors have used rail to get there from the UK previously though.
    Quite a shame :-(

  2. Depending whether you have the basic Eurostar Frequent Traveller card or the Carte Blanche (that you get by earning at least 1500 points per year), there is not the same availability for redemptions: with the basic card, you can redeem for a ticket in standard class as long as the fare is no more the 99.50 pounds, when quoting for a return ticket. With the Carte Blanche, you can redeem as long as here

    • … as long as there is still a seat for sale in the train. Very useful when booking a last minute ticket at peak time on a Friday night!

  3. Something to keep in mind with Eurostar is that the customer service is always keen to help. I was once missing 35 points to redeem for a return standard ticket (900 points). I called them and they immediately credited 35 points to my account as a gesture of goodwill. Another time, my wife’s Carte Blanche was expiring before she earned the 1500 points to renew it for a year (she was missing 100 points). I called them and they extended it by a week so she could earn the missing points on a trip she had planned for the following week. Not sure BAEC would do that…

    • Barry cutters says:

      Baec always do that. My mum was 25 points away from silver at renual date and they just renued her anyway when we asked. And there is an unwritten rule that they will extend the tier point collection year by 2 weeks. You just have to call after the 2 weeks and ask them to include them in previous years

  4. OT – apologies – Amex have added new offers, including Harvey Nichols and House of Fraser.

  5. O/T but AMEX Membership Reward points. My wife and I have 200000 MR points split across our 2 accounts. But we are due to churn. Just out of curiousity what would you all do with them? We already have 180000 avios and an unused 241 due to lack of holiday time. I’m tempted to just transfer to avios and have a big balance in there for when I want it. But at interested if there is anything I haven’t thought of to do with the MR points. Thanks.

    • barry cutters says:

      They are probably the best points to have . So much you can do with mr points . The flexibility is the key point. Issue if you are churning you will probably need to use them/transfer to another scheme. Put some in to virgin perhaps , use for football tickets via emirates , the possibilities are virtually endless. Search through the past articles on here by using search bar . Should give you some ideas. I dont them myself as I qualify for spire elite anyway but the use of mr-virgin-ihg points is a good one to do if you have an ihg balance already and want to get to spire. The 25k award makes this viable if you are 25k or less away from spire. Always good to have a few ihg points. You get very good value when booking in city’s like London Paris nyc hk etc

      • Andrew (@andrewseftel) says:

        In addition to the Emirates football tickets, if lack of holiday time is an issue, Starwood and Hilton have good experience redemptions.

      • Again OT, but I just called AMEX to transfer MR rewards from my UK platinum to US Gold so I can close out the platinum card. A number of your posts refer to transferring from UK to US at the GBP/USD fx rate, however they told me on the phone that it was a 1-to-1 conversion.

        Just wondering if you have done this transfer recently, or have they changed something?

        • Are you meaning your (UK-issued) Amex ICC Dollar card or a normal US-issued Amex? Rob has referred to the former when mentioning this before and whenever I’ve done it previously it has always worked (albeit not nearly as much benefit at the current exchange rates!). I’m not sure how they’d handle switches to normal cards held in the USA or if they even allow such transfers except for when moving country. If you are lucky enough to be able to get US-issued cards then enjoy the fee-free foreign exchange fees and far better earnings rates!!

          • I have a normal US-issued card. Your right, Rob has only referred to the ICC card, so maybe different rules, I’ll have to try again tomorrow.

          • Be interested in hearing how you get on, although I’m jealous you’ve got a US issued card, would love to be able to get them for their earnings rate compared to here! The Hilton one is particularly good.

          • My understanding was that Amex treats all transfers between national schemes in the same way and that the way the IDC / ICC cards are handled is not unique. Could be wrong though …. I have only ever transferred to an IDC Amex, the last time I did it I got a 1.58 mark-up which shows how long ago it was!

          • Yeah those were the days, wish I’d moved more across then!

          • Ok so the first person I spoke with on this matter yesterday said “it’s 1-to-1 transfer, and that’s the way its always been”. I called earlier today and the person said it wasn’t possible at all to transfer between accounts. Finally spoke to someone now who knew exactly what I was talking about, and confirmed that it would transfer at the current exchange rate. She also noted that it would take about 2 weeks and can be done once every 12 months.

            Thanks for the help on this guys, as is usually the case you just need to persist until you speak to the right person. By the way, for those of you who replied and do have a US amex, there is currently a bonus when transferring to Iberia, at a rate of 250:300.

          • Excellent – thanks for feeding back too. They can do them within a day if they want to – I used to have a contact on the Amex Twitter team (when it was one person, she was amazing!) – manually pushed in through in no time for me! Haven’t used it in a while, wish I made another transfer before June tho :(

        • I transferred from a UK Gold card to my US Premier Rewards Gold card late last year and got the FX uplift but they may have changed their policy since then.

          When I first called they didn’t understand what I wanted to do and I had to escalate – it’s possible the person you spoke to didn’t actually know how it worked?

          • I think the latter. Amex is used to having cardmembers relocate between countries and this deal works in both directions – eg if they stopped uplifting by the FX rate, whilst it would hit UK people it would be a bonanza beyond belief for any US cardholders who moved to the UK.

    • KrisFlyer miles are also good, pretty decent availability on Singapore with an excellent business and first product. Watch out for three year expiry though.

    • Consider transferring your Amex MR points to Virgin. If you don’t use them for flights you can transfer Virgin to Hilton or IHG for hotel stays

    • thanks everybody. SPG could be the way for me.

  6. But when you book with avios, you get frequent traveller points on your booking.

  7. I disagree. I think it’s a huge loss.

    – eurostar seats were super easy to book, with almost no availability issues. the same cant be said for flights to say the least…
    – because there is no tax to pay on top of the ticket, eurostar was basically the only short-haul redemption which made sense (tax on a BA flight from/to europe is often more expensive than full easyjet flight…)
    – and finally, avios are so much easier to earn than amex points (gate365, surveys…) that the amex point alternative is almost not relevant.

    Did avios mention WHY they stopped their partnership with eurostar!?

  8. What is the minimum required to keep the frequent traveller account active? – is it sufficient just to do a minimum AMEX transfer every 12 months (if for some reason you don’t find the opportunity to use the points for a while)?

  9. O/T. Home insurance renewal now due. Anyone know if Tesco have any new codes (or whether ones from earlier this year still work)? Thanks.

    • Nope, no Tesco Bank offer at the moment unfortunately.

      • Thanks for letting me know. Bad timing!

      • the real harry says:

        you should look at the whole market

        it suits our needs to build up cashflow at the moment

        Tesco Bank is offering interest free credit cards (ie purchase cards) where you don’t pay interest for 28 months

        we’ve both applied and got £20K of free credit

        not too many points – I guess 1 per £8 – but loads of cashflow

        so we have to pay the minimum amt each month but get £20K of cashflow

  10. OT: there’s speculation APD will be cut this week – do airlines refund this if flights booked but not yet taken?

  11. slightly OT but yday i travelled business to Paris and when booked through the company site there was no way to add a points plus or frequent flyer number to the tickets. How do I go about obtaining points / if at all possible? Seems ludicrous not to try if you earn 1250 which is effectively a free standard return to paris! thanks

    • I think you can join up and retrospectively credit a trip you’ve taken.

    • There should be a settings tab on your corporate travel agent website which allows you to put in your FF details. It was like that for me with HRG previously and Hillgate now.

  12. Off topic, I was on the phone earlier to Avios, hoping to purchase DLP tickets. The gentleman on the phone said they stopped this service only last week. Quick search of their website and there’s no mention of this. Have you heard about this Rob?

    • No, not heard. I know they are stopping DLP hotels from 1st January.

      On the upside, this was a sh*tty redemption because of how it works. We did it, I know. They don’t send you tickets, they send a paper voucher. We had to queue for 45 minutes at DLP to exchange the voucher for tickets BEFORE joining another long just to get in the door!

  13. absolutely disgraceful. with just a month’s notice. Avios obviously don’t give a damn about their loyal users.

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