My thoughts on the recent BBC TV piece on Avios award availability

If you have ever sat in your overseas hotel room watching BBC World News, you might have seen Fast Track, their travel programme.  This weeks edition included a six-minute piece on frequent flyer award availability.

You can watch the video here:

There are three specific cases mentioned.  One was a British Airways member trying to get to Cyprus and Sydney.  The second is weirder example from a Singapore Airlines Krisflyer member, who ends up paying more in taxes (and to buy some additional miles) than a cash ticket would have cost.

In general, I have sympathy with people who struggle to redeem their miles.  Since my kids started school, and my ability to go away when we want has disappeared, I have even more sympathy.

However, it can be done – we have 4 Club World seats down to Dubai over Christmas (which may be cancelled, unfortunately) and four over October half-term.  In October, though, we are travelling down via Abu Dhabi – not a massive inconvenience, but still an inconvenience.  Coming back – although I am hoping for late availability to open up on a direct route – we are ticketed on Royal Jordanian (an Avios partner) to Amman and then Club World Amman to Heathrow.

I was also able to snag an airberlin business class ticket from New York to Germany for next week when I needed one, when I had absolutely no flexibility on dates.

The reality, of course, is that BA could open up every seat on certain flights for Avios availability at the start of the school holidays and would still not be able to meet demand ….

I have slightly less sympathy with the guy in this programme, thoughA BA Gold holder, for example, can always fall back on ‘guaranteed Avios availability’.  I admit that it is poor value, at 200% of the normal Avios points and with no 2-4-1 vouchers allowed, but it is an option.  Cyprus in peak Summer season is also a route where you would expect to struggle to find seats.

(It would have been more interesting if he’d been wanting to fly to the US and the BBC had shown the vast gaps in Avios availability over the next few months.)

I WOULD have sympathy for him if he had followed Simon Calders advice, though!  Because it is NOT possible to buy the cheapest possible Economy ticket on BA and upgrade it.  Economy tickets must be semi-flexible or flexible before they can be upgraded, and these are substantially more expensive than non-refundable tickets.  (World Traveller Plus and Club World tickets CAN be upgraded if they are non-refundable, though.)   And, of course, availability for seat upgrades comes from the same ‘box’ as normal Avios seats, so if you can’t do one then you can’t do the other.

This story does remind you of one key point, though.  A loyalty programme which frustrates the majority of its (casual) customers is far worse than having no loyalty scheme at all.  And, whilst it is easy to criticise the man in this clip for not putting in the time to learn how to exploit Avios properly, in a perfect world he wouldn’t need to.  (If he’d asked me, I would have routed him on Royal Jordanian via Amman!)

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  1. Stephen Meyer says:

    Brilliant post! Like your good self I personally tend to fall into both camps (New York on BA Miles in half term with a bit of jiggling) but TV only makes TV cos it makes ‘good TV’ and it ain’t always that good…..In other words, they’ve GOT to have a story to tell otherwise it wouldn’t make ‘good TV’ until you have someone like our good man here to unravel what’s behind it for real. Well done Raffles….another case solved!

  2. Mr Bridge says:

    i meant 4p per avios

    • Haha I was wondering for a minute there, that was seeming too low a number!

      241 doesn’t work with upgrades using Avios, just straight redemptions. Although UuA requires the same redemption availability I find it great value for money – as Silver or Gold BAEC you also end up earning back the vast majority of the Avios you’ve spent on the underlying WTP fare! My last trip to the US cost only around 5k net, and I actually made a profit on Avios after some compensation for IFE issues 😛

      • Even if you’re not a BAEC Silver or Gold I often find I get about half the Avios back on an upgrade, by the time I take into account that I get 3 Avios/£ spend with BA on my BAPP card.

        If you manage to combine a WTP sale fare with CW upgrade availability it can work out better value than using a 2for1, particularly when you take the Tier points into account (though realistically I’m never likely to get more than bronze status unless I end up travelling for work on a regular basis again, and bronze status is of limited value).

        Our trip to Dubai earlier in the year in CW worked out at just under £800 plus a net 10K Avios each. To me that’s better value than paying £500+ in taxes plus effectively 40K Avios each on a 2for1, and allowed us to use our 2for1 on something else.

    • Sir Stamford says:

      Based on the first scenario you described, I would value Avios on the following basis. I have based my illustration on the current CW price in May 2014. I have also assumed that you place no value on tier points.

      Cash price = £4,714 (for 2 CW tickets)
      But you would earn 26,016 Avios in total for the two passengers for this cash booking even as the lowest Blue BAEC member.

      Opportunity cost of Avios = 100,000 Avios (using a 2 for 1) plus 26,016 = 126,016.
      Taxes paid = £1,020 for two passengers.

      Cash savings = £3,694.

      Valuation per Avios using a 2 for 1 = 2.9p each
      (Without the 2 for 1 = 1.6p each based on 226,016 Avios)

      Sir Stamford

      • I’d calculate things the same way – always important to remember the lost points from cash when doing a redemption too, something I’m quite aware of on hotel redemptions. As you say though there’s also a potential value to TPs (or equivalent) that may shift the balance. I find UuA strike a nice balance between earning and burning.

      • But then you are back to the question of whether you’d pay £2,300! I have never paid more than £1,900 for a Club World ticket, with clever use of ex-EU departure points or using a BA sale. And if you were paying cash, you may be more amenable to flying another (cheaper) airline in Business Class as well.

        • Yes, fair comment- probably more of an issue for premium flight redemptions than hotels (or economy flights) but a good one!

        • Sir Stamford says:

          I agree – valuing Avios based on BA sale price is a valid comment. I have used the current cash price for ease of valuation.

          As much as I am a great fan of ex-EU fares, I won’t use it for the purpose of valuing Avios as it is not a like for like comparison. If you MUST base your Avios valuation on the cheaper ex-EU fares, then you should also include the extra expense of travelling to the EU destination and factor in the time value of money for the additional travel time which is, of course, rather subjective.

          Using a cheaper competitor fare to value Avios is an interesting idea but again it is not a like for like comparison. For instance, both BA and EasyJet fly to DME from London. Since Easyjet and BA are not directly comparable even if you are flying in Economy, I am not sure you can base the theoretically cheaper Easyjet fares to value your Avios.

          Sir Stamford

  3. luckyjim says:

    “Well, the problem is most people don’t have the mindset …”

    One could argue that ‘the problem’ is that more and more people DO have the mindset to exploit the system. How many people are there churning credit cards, jumping on Tesco giveaways and using bots to alert them to availability? One could also argue, that sites like FlyerTalk and HFP are part of ‘the problem’. Just a thought.

  4. Chris C says:

    I pointed out the Calder advice about booking the cheapest economy fare on another website and the response was ‘he didn’t have time to go into all the ins and outs’

    My response was that he gave out totally inaccurate information and he should know better.

    The couple who spent money on miles deserved some sympathy but essentially it was their own fault for not checking the price of a normal fare first.

    Mind this is not the first tine he has given incorrect advice and no doubt won’t be the last – he regularly says things like ‘EU261 will cover you …’ when clearly EU261 doesn’t cover everything.

    • Even worse, I got the impression the SQ couple were well aware of the cost of the cash flight, they just didn’t read the booking pages properly to work out what the total amount was that they would be paying and instead only noticed the miles purchase price!

      Agree Calder was misleading – it wouldnt take much to say ‘full-fare economy’ or ‘premium economy’

  5. andy21 says:

    For me, as I’m not a big Avios earner, the upgrades from WT+ to CW represent excellent value. I took advantage of the A380 launch fares in WT+ and got LHR-HKG return in CW for £980 plus 30K Avois – pretty good considering it’s one of BA’s longest flights. I did similar last year to Dubai for about £750. Just seems to add value to my Avios, especially as I may not have enough for a full redemption.

    • Mark Smith says:

      That is a decent deal, and in fact even better than that when you consider that you’ll get a big chunk of those Avios back when you’ve completed the flights. 🙂

  6. Eric OMara says:

    Its all about education. Knowledge is power. HFP really helps to address that. We cant always get where we want,when we want. My wife works in education, so even though our lot have left school, we are still tied to school holiday dates.
    AVIOS have allowed us to fly, maybe one way and maybe Ryanair or Easyjet it the other.
    In the last 12 months we have been to Tunisia, Morocco and Costa Del Sol for less than most people have spent on 1 return flight.

  7. Why go through the hassle of BA’s system – just fly KLM/Air France. There is always seats available. If you book a week in advance you naturally have to pay up additional miles than month before but you’ll still get a seat on that particular plane.

    • In my case it’s because (a) their intra-Europe redemptions are eye-wateringly expensive (both in points and cash terms), (b) their earning rates are pitiful, so it’s very difficult to build up a decent balance and (c) their actual product in C isn’t as good as most of the competition 🙂

  8. The issue for me here is that on all the nice glossy Avios and BA adverts promoting the scheme, there is little or no mention of the very, very limited availability and the time consuming researching and scrummaging needed to redeem flights.

    Unless you are very lucky, you often need to go to a destination you don’t want to go, OR at a time you don’t want to travel OR in a class do don’t want to travel in. In the worst case scenario you may have to do all three!

  9. Thunderbirds says:

    If you don’t have a basic level of flexibility as to where, when and in what class you travel then perhaps collecting Avios is NOT the thing to do. Get a cash-back card instead and buy tickets in one of the regular sales.
    I’ve recently passed the 1 million Avios spending milestone, and yes it can be a little tricky but it doesn’t take that much luck..! My travels have included New York, San Francisco, Sydney, Bermuda and next year back to Sydney. All of these were using 2-4-1 and in First so effectively 2 million Avios. I’ve also used MFU and part cash-part Avios depending on the state of my Avios balance.
    The most difficult time I’ve had so far is for my next trip to Sydney where I’ve had to break in Singapore and book World Traveller from Singapore to Sydney (F seats available return to Singapore if you plug that in first). I’m hoping to upgrade the Sydney leg between now and the actual flight.
    I have little sympathy for the businessman who clearly thinks that Avios should be treated the same way as cash. The airlines wouldn’t run these programs if that was the case.

    • Mark Smith says:

      I think these schemes can either be ‘easy’ from a hassle and availability perspective, or lucrative to the determined participant who is prepared to book a way in advance and be flexible on destination, especially if there are a reasonable selection of non-flying options to build up a points balance.

      We can’t reasonably expect to have it both ways – any airline that attempted to do so would probably be out of business very quickly.

      I’d say BA is in the latter category, and as far as I’m concerned long may it stay that way.

      • Thunderbirds says:

        I agree, though the taxes & fees element of Avios is beginning to bite as the majority of my Avios travel is 2-4-1 and therefore has to be on a BA plane.