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

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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.

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  1. Darrel says:

    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?

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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.

  5. pauldb says:

    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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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?

  8. Carole says:

    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.

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