The frequent flyer scheme you are most likely to get an award seat with when you want is ….

… oddly, the Avios redemption partner airberlin!

According to this survey from US consultancy IdeaWorks, you will have the best chance of getting a seat on airberlin than with any other major global airline!

airberlin flat seat

Obviously such surveys should always be taken with a pinch of salt, but the results are interesting nonetheless.

During March 2013, IdeaWorks searched for award availability for a randomly selected flight on 25 different airlines.  An average of 300 searches per airline were carried out – this was a serious bit of research.

Travel dates searched were June to October 2013 (ie 3-7 months ahead) using “top routes” for each carrier.

A seat was counted as “available” if two Economy seats were available on ANY flight on that particular day on the route searched.

The key here is the searching of economy seats – if the survey had looked at two business class seats the results would have been different.

British Airways scored 66% availability.  This is a drop of 13% from 2012.  (Remember, with an average of 300 searches per airline, these results are statistically valid.)

This is presumably down to low short-haul availability.  One upside of BA’s high fuel surcharges on long-haul Avios seats is that seats are not so tricky to get (although in many cases you’d be a mug to redeem for them instead of paying cash).   Short-haul availability is – at least as far as I have seen – fairly tight on some routes except for 2-3 weeks in advance.

Ironically, this is the opposite of what the survey found overall.  On searches for flights up to 2,500 miles, it found availability in 85% of cases globally.

The most astonishing result was for US Airways.  The survey could only find 2 Economy seats on 4% of long-haul (2,500+ miles) routes operated by US Airways, a truly shocking figure.

It is worth noting – as I have written anecdotally on Head for Points before – that Lufthansa / Swiss / Austrian has substantially better availability.  The survey found 2 Economy seats on 82% of the routes they checked, a full 17% higher than British Airways.

My personal view is that British Airways has lost the plot a little when it comes to award availability.

Let’s take my own experience over Easter.  Three weeks before Easter, we bought 4 Club World return tickets to Dubai in a BA sale, for school holiday days, for £1,200 each.  When we used these tickets, we earned back a substantial amount of Avios points and OnBusiness points for future use too.

An Avios reward flight on the same route would have been 80,000 Avios points + £500 of surcharges, with no points earned back.

If they were so desperate to fill the seats that they were selling them at £1,200 each, they should have put them up for Avios rewards.  (BA would have got in £500 of cash in surcharges, got 80,000 Avios off its liabilities and saved itself from paying out more Avios and OnBusiness points on a cash ticket.)

And yet, reward flights to Dubai over Easter in Club World remained unbelievably tricky to get, no doubt frustrating many loyal BA flyers in the process.

We also now have the weird situation of Avios seat being opened up at the last minute, allowing people who have (expensive) cancellable tickets to cancel them and rebook a reward seat instead!  Again, it makes little sense – there are few people who are looking to book a holiday on Avios with 3-4 days notice.

Even the ‘guaranteed availability’ for BAEC Gold cardholders is a bit of a joke, requiring double Avios points and refusing to accept American Express 2-4-1 vouchers.  Would any Gold member really pay 640,000 Avios plus £2,000 of tax to take four people to Dubai in Club World?

Some change needs to come, because the current system isn’t really working well for anyone.

(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.)

Win 5,000 Avios to celebrate Head for Points reaching the UK's top 5,000 websites!
Virgin Flying Club improves 'Miles Booster' - apologies for being hard on it yesterday!
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. Mrtibbs1999 says:

    My sentiments exactly. Last week I needed to get to Berlin. Cash Price for 2 seats in business £2400. The flight was so full carry on luggage was being taken and put in the hold as people boarded. I paid 40k avios plus 80 quid. Conversly I want to go to Thailand in F later this year. The flights are almost empty and selling for peanuts but there is no availability. Seems to me BA want to minimise revenue.

  2. Worzel says:

    Good Morning Raffles,

    You mention BA’s liabilities-80k in the example you’ve highlighted.

    Would you know whether or not Avios liability is shown on the BA balance sheet?

    If we were to value Avios at 1p I imagine that you’re in for about £20,000 and me about £2000.

    Thank you.

    • Mrtibbs1999 says:

      From The Anuual Report

      Revenue recognition – customer loyalty programmes
      The Group operates two principal loyalty programmes. The airline’s frequent flyer programme operates through the airline’s ‘Executive Club’ and allows
      frequent travellers to accumulate Avios that entitle them to a choice of various awards, primarily free travel. The fair value attributed to the awarded
      Avios is deferred as a liability and recognised as revenue on redemption of the miles by the participants to whom the Avios are issued.
      In addition, Avios are sold to commercial partners to use in promotional activity. The fair value of the Avios sold is deferred as a liability and recognised as revenue on redemption of the miles by the participants to whom the Avios are issued.

  3. Economy availability with BA is actually excellent if you are lucky enough to have a gold card – they open up additional availability and one has the pleasant experience of being able to pick and choose; a sharp contrast to the experience when looking for long haul seats!

    I notice BA often open up 2 seats in each class 350 odd days out but its very hard to get more than that. Different routes seem to operate different policies and for some reason Singapore and Hong Kong appears to be more generous at times. I can’t complain anyway – managed to get 4 Club seats to Singapore next Easter using a double 241. The other benefit of Gold (aside from the Flounge) is the lack of fees when booking Avios redemptions – so you can book something that perhaps sub-optimal in the hope something better will turn up.

  4. James67 says:

    Interesting observation on BA. I can sense your frustration as I’m sure many others will to. I’m oftentimes perplexed by the erratic nature of award seat release. Have fpund myself searching for seats for weeks without success and ended up using other carriers only to find days or weeks later BA has reduced a whole flurry of seats that would have suited my needs. Worse though, is the decision as to whether a BA award represents value for money/avios when compared to revenue tickets on BA or other airlines for same route/date at times of booking. The high fees from BA generally, coupled with UK APD for flights departing UK in particular often leave me wondering why I bother collecting avios at all. Apart from RFS from regions and MfUs I don’t find BAEC great value. Or am I missing something?? Perhaps it would be useful to do a future post on ‘best valueroutes’ for BAEC to tap into collective wisdom of our community? I know you have addressed specific ways of improvong value through for example air berlin and aer lingus Raffles which is great. But it would be useful to get some ideas on pther good value routes, and also cheapest ways to get from one region to other. For example, from Europe to se Asia etc.

  5. Worzel says:

    Mrtibbs 1999 -thank you.

    As Raffles says- it’s a Hobby(!).

  6. BritBronco says:

    I wonder what the results would look like for business redemptions.

    On the face of it that US Airways stat is alarming, the impact of their entry to OW may not be good

  7. the key is that unlike Raffles airlines don’t value miles on their balance sheet at 1p – more like 0.0001p. Which of course makes sense because most people don’t redeem at all, redeem for pointless economy class tickets or simply redeem for an otherwise half empty flight where the amount of surcharges is enough to make BA better off.

    • Mrtibbs1999 says:

      i’d love to know the valuation figure they use, although I suspect it is very low like you stated. I think that almost all non RS flights are revenue generating as opposed to expenses as the surcharges are so high that they cover all marginal costs at the very least.

  8. Nao Amur says:

    I hear you on the fuel surcharges but like you say it does mean more availability long haul. I also understand about the Dubai story. For me though mostly flying to Japan and HKG I can usually get a couple of seats in F or J. Even after accounting for the surcharges the 120/180k in avios + £800 in tax/surcharges represents good value vs a cash ticket which in summer can be £3000+ in J

  9. Susan says:

    Oh BMI and the ANA tool, we miss you so

  10. Please see “Don’t Be Fooled By the Flawed Award Seat Availability Study”

    • Thanks for the link Gary, very interesting. I don’t think anyone would seriously switch loyalty schemes over a survey like this – and the existence of the alliances means that individual airline availability is less important in the scheme of things. It is, though, worth comparing BA with Lufthansa / Swiss, as I did, and shaming US like that really can’t do any harm!

  11. Worzel says:


    • I thought Mr Tibbs answered the point nicely and had done me a favour by saving me the trouble of finding the same paragraph for you 🙂

      AFAIK, there is no breakdown of the exact Avios liability figure in the accounts, it is merged in with other numbers.

  12. Worzel says:


    Thank you for your response-much appreciated along with everything else!

  13. Clive J says:

    I was looking for Virgin Atlantic in the survey as I have had differing experiences. In 2011 I was looking for a reward flight to Hong Kong (albeit in PE) but after much frustration and many phone calls I gave up and paid with BA.

    Then earlier this year I had the chance to visit Las Vegas with a couple of mates and was able to find availability very close to their dates. In fact I burned a load of miles and went UC both ways.

  14. Brian Taylor says:

    Two things need to be said in (semi) defence of BA and their reward flight availability. First, I’ve found that when there is no availability on BA, there is sometimes on for the SAME flights and since UK residents can easily open up both kinds of accounts and transfer miles across, that helps.

    Secondly, the reason why BA has poorer availability than other airlines, e.g. Austrian/Lufthansa must at least partly be due to the attractiveness of their reward flights. I have been based in Vienna for a few years so have been able to see how expensive reward flights are for Austrian Airlines flights. A return flight from Vienna to London will set you back 30,000 miles (unless you happen to get one of their special offers for 10,000) PLUS at least 150 Euros in taxes. I don’t know if the taxes vary – I expect they do – but I’ve never seen them for much less than that. Given that you can easily buy a return flight for cash only for less than 150 Euros, if you book relatively far in advance, that makes it a bad deal. Compare that to 15,000 Avios plus £30 (soon to be £35) for a BA return and you’ll see why people are much more likely to snap up any available reward flights on BA than on Austrian. And it’s not that it’s any easier or quicker to earn Miles & More points than Avios.

    • I agree. Actually, after I wrote that response to Gary Leff I had the same thought. It is hardly surprising that LH short haul has good availability, at 35,000 miles and £120 tax for an economy return to London from Germany!