Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

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

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… 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.)

Comments (20)

  • Susan says:

    Oh BMI and the ANA tool, we miss you so

    • Rob says:

      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!

  • Worzel says:

    Raffles?

    • Rob 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.

  • Worzel says:

    Raffles,

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

  • 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.

  • 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 Avios.com 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.

    • Rob says:

      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!