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When did BA hike the taxes on long-haul US economy redemptions?

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18 months ago I wrote an article which tried to debunk the myth that long-haul Avios redemptions in economy / World Traveller are always a bad deal.

I compared the cash and Avios pricing for flights in August, five months ahead.  Yes, there were some dud deals in there, but there were also some good ones.  You were getting 1.37p per Avios to Las Vegas, 1.28p per Avios to Hong Kong and 0.92p per Avios to San Francisco.  I would be very happy with any of these.

I was never going to be able to recreate those numbers.  When I last did this analysis, in 2016, half of August was classed as off-peak for Avios redemptions.  This is no longer the case.  Whilst prices surge in August on holiday routes, you are now committed to paying peak rate Avios.  Even without a tax rise, economy redemptions would never be as good value.

I decided to rework the exercise this week.  What I found surprised me.

British Airways has aggressively hiked the charges on World Traveller Avios redemptions to the United States over the last 18 months.  US destinations have seen a whopping £70 rise in ‘taxes and charges’.

Other destinations have also seen increases but not by as much – usually £20 – £30 return.

Some of this increase will be linked to the fall in the value of Sterling, of course, but not all of it.  Redemptions to Barbados, where the currency is pegged to the US$, have hardly gone up at all.

This is at a time when headline fares have actually come down.  Put these two factors together and long-haul economy Avios redemptions again look like a complete disaster.

(Short-haul economy BA redemptions in Euro Traveller remain a good deal thanks to 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.  That’s OK.)

This is what I found:

Here is a sample of British Airways pricing from their Low Fare Finder tool.

These are the CHEAPEST economy return tickets available during June 2018 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 and charges’ cost.

New York – £389 or 26,000 Avios + £370

Miami – £461 or 32,500 Avios + £370

Las Vegas – £908 or 32,500 Avios + £395

San Francisco – £592 or 32,500 Avios + £396

Barbados – £508 or 32,500 Avios + £278

Mumbai – £492 or 32,500 Avios + £318

Hong Kong – £507 or 39,000 Avios + £340

Singapore – £618 or 45,500 Avios + £347

The ‘pence per Avios’ score comes out like this:

New York – 0.07p!

Miami – 0.28p

Las Vegas – 1.58p (but the cash price seems oddly high compared to SanFran below)

San Francisco – 0.60p

Barbados – 0.71p

Mumbai – 0.53p

Hong Kong – 0.43p

Singapore – 0.60p

These results are all very, very poor.  Las Vegas is the only possible exception but a cash price of over £900 for June 2018 seems weirdly high and I would expect it to come down.  I do say consistently on Head for Points that I value my Avios at a very conservative 0.75p but even at this level there is no point in redeeming for any of the routes above.

Part of the reason why these deals are now a lot worse is due to the increase in taxes.  This is how the ‘taxes and charges’ compare with quotes obtained in March 2016:

New York – was £301, now £370

Miami – was £301, now £370

Las Vegas – was £327, now £395

San Francisco – was £327, now £396

Barbados – was £271, now £278

Mumbai – was £297, now £318

Hong Kong – was £314, now £340

Singapore – was £320, now £347

For completeness, I should remind you that there are two caveats to this analysis.  First, the prices I quote above are the cheapest possible flights BA has during June 2018.  With Avios you might get a better timed flight that would cost more for cash than the prices I show.

Secondly, Avios tickets can be cancelled for a £35 fee with the Avios and taxes refunded.  There are scenarios – I have been in them myself – where you may accept getting a poor deal for your Avios because you want the flexibility to cancel or change your flight for some reason.

In general, however, long-haul World Traveller flights have again become very poor value for money.  At least Head for Points readers know this and will avoid them.  The bigger problem is the bad image that this gives to newcomers to the Avios programme, because the first thing they are likely to price up is a long-haul economy flight.

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Comments (116)

  • the real harry1 says:

    O/T breaking news (sorry Mikeact) – the Harrys might actually not be going to the place in the sun @ February half-term!

    My dearly beloved wife has basically wielded the ‘boring’ ‘knife’, I’m going to ‘kill’ you unless you accept my position at me and I might reluctantly have to blow the cobwebs off the credit card.

    Somewhere hot, Europe, in February?

    • Genghis says:

      Good luck! You’ll be competing with Raffles on the Dubai flights! Worst nightmare?

      • the real harry1 says:

        they’d probably arrest me for bad PR 🙂

        • the real harry1 says:

          seriously, I got warned I’m not allowed back in Qatar – it was a small matter about my car but you can’t trust these people – read a story the other day about a guy who used a false Scottish £20 note in UAE – completely innocently – and now he’s in prison for 2 years until the trial comes up

        • Genghis says:

          … but “it’s legal tender”!

      • Rob says:

        We’re off skiing! Well, not me, because I don’t ski, but I get to write HFP with a nice view of mountain out of the window.

        • the real harry1 says:

          I’m guessing Sevilla might work if the sun gods shine

          anybody got AirBNB tips?

    • Anna says:

      Canaries are the only place with guaranteed weather. We have been to Marbella in February when it was a very pleasant 20 degrees but it can be hit and miss.

      • the real harry1 says:

        Drove down to Sevilla in my spanking new BMW in 2001 with my new-born son aged about 2 months – we looked for the sun then found it Cordoba/ Sevilla 16-17C in February – willing to try it again

        I speak pretty good Spanish (well, better than 99.9% of you 🙂 ) so love spain

        reading some Hemingway recently set it all off again – please try him if you haven’t so far – he didn’t win the Nobel Prize for Literature for nothing, start with For Whom The Bell Tolls or
        Fiesta – The sun Also Rises as they are both Hemingway @ his best – both Spain

        • Genghis says:

          Stay in Hotel Parador in Ronda, overlooking the valley below while reading your Hemingway

        • the real harry1 says:

          Would be good if people read these days, judging by my kids, they don’t – I force/ incentivise them

  • Hugo says:

    Have you included “unearned Avios” in the calculations Raffles? ie the avios you would get from flying on a normal ticket, would probably make the NYC one negative