Can you cancel the return of an Avios redemption after flying outbound?

Sometimes I get asked a question by a reader where I am so sure that I know the answer that it genuinely surprises me when I look for confirmation.  This is such a case, and it made me think that other readers may not know this either.

A reader recently flew to Australia with his girlfriend for an extended trip.  They have now decided to stay for an even longer period and no longer needed their return flight.

The couple had paid 250,000 Avios for a Club World redemption to Sydney, using a British Airways American Express 241 voucher.

(Don’t ask how he managed to snag the seats, given how tough Sydney is.  He didn’t say!)

The outbound had been flown.  They wanted to cancel the return flight and get 125,000 Avios back.  The BA agent said ‘No’.

Sydney Opera House

Was this correct?

My first thought was that the agent was wrong.

Return Avios tickets were notoriously inflexible once the outbound was flown, which was silly as there were rarely savings to be made booking 2 x one-way versus a return.

About five years ago, however, BA changed their policy.  You can now change the date or time of your return Avios flight after the outbound has been flown.  I have done this myself.  It is a handy feature if a better-timed flight opens up at the last minute, or your trip is going very well or very badly.

It seemed logical to me that full cancellation would also be possible.  I was wrong.  You cannot cancel the return leg of an Avios ticket, after the outbound has been flown, for a refund.

When should you book an Avios flight as a return?

So, you may well ask, what is the point of booking Avios flights as returns, given that I have less flexibility?  Here are a few reasons:

Because you’re using a BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher, so you don’t have any choice – one voucher cannot be used to book 2 x one-way flights on separate tickets

Because you are flying to a country where BA has higher fuel charges than the UK – the USA is a prime example.  Booking 2 x one-way flights means that you pay a mix of the UK and US fuel surcharges and, overall, you pay more than booking a return starting in the UK.

Because – and this is a niche one – you are booking a mixed class redemption and want the higher baggage allowance on both legs.  If you book one leg in Business and the other in Economy, the Economy leg retains the Business class baggage allowance.

In other cases, book 2 x one-ways – you may even save money

For simplicity, booking a trip as 2 x one-ways gives you added flexibility to cancel or change the return leg.

Something many people forget is that it is often cheaper to book European redemptions as two one-way flights.

Why?  Because British Airways has removed fuel surcharges from European redemptions:

Almost all of the ‘taxes’ you still incur are charged on the London leg of your journey.  Some overseas airports do not levy any airport charges.

As the Reward Flight Saver fee of £35 in Eurotraveller and £50 in Club Europe is halved on one-way flights, you may be overpaying if you book a return flight from London instead of two one-way tickets.

The lesson is, before booking a RETURN European redemption, check out the taxes if you book the trip as two separate one-way trips.

A return to Luxembourg incurs Reward Flight Saver fees of £35.  If you book it as two one-ways, the fee is only £17.50 outbound plus £3.50 inbound, for a total of £21.  You save £14 per person.

Some destinations have no savings on economy flights but are good value in Club Europe.  For Hamburg in Euro Traveller, for example, you save nothing by booking two one-way flights.  In Club Europe, however, the saving is £3.80 per person.

Even if you thought that you may end up cancelling your trip, it is still cheaper for Euro Traveller flights to book such a trip as 2 x one-way flights because (for online cancellations) the £35 cancellation fee is capped at the lower of £35 or the tax paid.

For Club Europe, there is a risk that you will end up paying a higher cancellation fee.  With the Hamburg example, you would pay £46.20 to cancel (£25 on the outbound and £21.20 on the inbound, ie the total of the tax you paid) rather than £35.

If you remember the points above, you may save a few pounds on your next short-haul redemption.   Don’t try this on long-haul though, as the fuel surcharges are markedly higher in the majority of cases.

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  1. Hingeless says:

    Another option if you are short on points is to book outward 1 way with a 241 and the return for cash as it is often possible to get reasonable 1 way flights into the uk.

    Or do this twice rather than a points return and a cash return if you have 2x 241.

    You lose some protection but gain on availability.

  2. Can you cancel a return leg on a 241 booking before you fly the outbound and get your miles back?

    • It’s an Avios redemption – no different to the subject of the article

      • Misread your Q. Before outbound you may have to cancel the whole booking and rebook the outbound leg. Risky if the award seats don’t go back into the inventory.

  3. Mikeact says:

    We have always booked one ways for the reasons above. And it has been useful on two occasions, both related to sickness. We were also fortunate to book Avios replacements which I accept was lucky.

  4. Late last year we were on a 2-4-1 to Bangkok where we then flew down to Phuket, while we were there a bomb had gone off in the tourist area, so we decided to cut Thailand short and rung BA, they changed to return leg of our 2-4-1 to F from Hong Kong instead. We then used Avios between Bangkok and Hong Kong and paid the extra Avios to come back from there.

    In the original posters case, would it have made sense to change to a location closer for another date to get a chunk of Avios refunded?

    • You can only change to another airport in the same Avios cost zone. So whilst you could change from Bangkok to Hong Kong as they are both in the same zone, the person affected could not change from Sydney to either of those places (I think he couldn’t change at all as Sydney is in a region of its own, not that I have checked). What I think he could do though is change from Club to World Traveller and get a chunk of Avios and cash back and then just not take that flight.

      • Following on behind says:

        I had a first outbound to Sydney and economy return on 241. Spent months waiting for a J/F seat to come up on the return to switch but didn’t happen. Decided to take F back from Singapore instead and BA had to cancel the entire booking, releasing my F outbound due to Sydney / Singoaore being in a different region.

        I was very nervous I would lose the F outbound when rebooking but I didn’t. Set off in February, so now I just worry about being downgraded!

  5. I have a 241 there are three of us. This is my first time using it.

    If I book three tickets with the 241, will I be able to cancel 1 of them completely if needs be, before flying if they are all made on the same booking? Or would I be better booking them separately?

    I am rather anxious that if I book one, when I go back to book the other two, the others might have been snagged during the booking process.

    • Yes but in two stages. You would first need to call and separate the one from the 2-4-1 onto a different booking. Then you could cancel it.

    • I don’t think you can book a 241 and a paid flight on the same booking.

      However, BA has a 24 hour cooling off period for flights booked online so if there is a problem you can cancel and get refunded in full.

      I guess I’d do the paid booking first in case there are problems with getting the voucher and avios back immediately.

      • Will be on separate booking ref so may cause a problem with being seated together

  6. A reminder that if you are flying from Rio or Hong Kong, book this flight as a one way. Both Hong Kong and Brazil do not allow airlines to add their fees to tickets originating there. However, if you book these flights as part of a trip originating in UK, ticket originates here and these fees are added.
    We recently saved £165 each on a BA club redemption from Hong Kong (using a Lloyds upgrade voucher rather than the BA Amex 241).

    • Correct for HKG by Rio has now changed it’s rules and airlines are again allowed to fleece their customers. I believe Tokyo is regulated too but haven’t checked the effect on fares.

      • I just looked at one way Rio-London in business for next March. Shows 36.49$ International Embarkation Tax, Brazil No BA fees.

        • Hi Zark,

          Did you see this quoted fare on the BA website? Only that I’ve been looking to book Avios redemption tickets to/from Sao Paola/Rio de Janeiro and it still charges the carrier imposed charges on the return leg – I don’t see just Brazil International Embarkation as you’ve stated …

          Kindly clarify!!

          Thanks (:

        • Genghis says:

          Are you booking as two singles?

        • @Ghenghis

          Indeedy two singles – but it still doesn’t show up without the tax on BA website. Tried it on and surprisingly it did just not on BA … Wonder why?!

  7. the real harry1 says:

    O/T neither my wife nor myself can log in to – anybody else having difficulties?

    tried password reset but no email received

    • the real harry1 says:

      odd – went to CMA, logged into to do dummy combine & usual password worked fine – & at least my a/c hasn’t been hacked

    • Refresh the page after the initial error, log in (fails), refresh again and log in again then it should work.
      At least that’s how I’ve been doing it for the past 7 days

    • Waribai says:

      Go to a different browser. Clear your history then immediately ask for a password and username reminder. This should work.
      Failing that chat with one of the live agents provided you are confident that your account is clean etc.

  8. Peanutuneap says:

    I have a 241er, what is the best place to use it for best value? I would like first class all the way for as long as possible, nice lounges are required to.

    • the real harry1 says:

      try Sydney

    • sounds like somewhere you fly during the day.
      Also be careful that to some destinations some flights have first and some do not on same day due to different aircraft types e.g. 788.

      • Peanutuneap says:

        I do not understand. why do I have to fly in the day???

        • I think it was more being suggested so you were able to make the most of the First experience. Certainly for east coast US trips I’d enjoy F during the day but overnight I’m only going to get on and fall asleep so biz would be perfect.

    • Peter K says:

      A good place to start is deciding where you want to go. Do you want beaches? Do you want a city holiday? Culture?

      Then make a list of places that cater for what you want that BA to. Added to this, if using hotel points, where you can get a decent hotel as well.

      You can then check on Skyscanner what flights cost and get an idea of value gained per point. Rob did an article listing places BA for to and the Avios cost to fly in each cabin to check numbers.

      Remember that going somewhere you are going to love is “worth” more than somewhere you are getting more value per avios.

      • Peanutuneap says:

        thank you I have lots of friends at hotels so that is not a problem for me. i would like to get best value from 241er so thing longs flights if F class is best. what routes offer F class as some I see only have the poor bisiness seats.

  9. Is it not the case that booking two one ways would incur two change fees should you find yourself in a position where you need to change or cancel both legs? If so, this is an important consideration when weighing up the pros and cons.

    • On long haul, yes, it’s a problem. On short haul, no, because the canx fee is the lower of the tax or £35. As the tax is £17.50 each way max in Economy, it makes no difference.

  10. Had a broadly similar situation a few weeks back. I had to make changes to my return leg while on the trip. I found alternative flights and the new flight had both J and F availability ( i was originally on an F return) so i asked for Club World and they said i could have it but i couldn’t get a refund of the additional miles, so i’d fly J but still forfeit the miles for F. Needless to say kept my F seats – lesson learnt

  11. I also got caught by this, I was attempting to change the inbound of an avios booking having flown the outbound and anticipated being incapicated (read too hungover!) later. I couldn’t do it online and because I was rapidly nearing the 24 hour window I cancelled it online.

    Later it was still showing so I called in to confirm it was cancelled, and to book my new return. I casually asked when the avios would be redeposited… was given the good news that they wouldn’t be coming back. I was transferred to the silver line who then said that my original ticket though technically cancelled hadn’t gone from the system yet, they re-instated it, and moved it to the date I wanted for a £30 change fee. Fantastic agent and very very happy with the outcome.

    Lesson learned, if you’re doing something a bit unfamiliar and the website isn’t playing ball, put the last beer down and call in!

  12. A different thread but I don’t know how you start one! I want to book a 241 & if flights available, intend to book outbound (Barbados) & return (Miami) on same day then when the dates I actually want for my return leg are released, can you change and what is the admin fee for this? To make things easier I shall book that so the miles & taxes are already worked out. If I can’t do this or there’s no availability on days required then I’ll cancel & pay cash. Travel agent can get me Club world return for 2, total cost £2600, which is amazing price & did consider if worth not using 241, as I’d get BA tier points & earn Avios. Any thoughts?