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I try Flybe from Heathrow to Edinburgh – a good Avios-earning BA alternative?

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Back in March, Flybe launched flights from London Heathrow (Terminal 2) to Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

As you can both earn and spend Avios on Flybe, I thought it was worth checking the service out.

Why did Flybe launch these routes?

To understand why Flybe is running what may be commercially suicidal services, we need to go back to the acquisition of bmi British Midland by British Airways in 2012.  As part of the competition remedies put in place at the time, BA had to make certain Heathrow landing and take-off slots available for competing services to Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Virgin picked up these slots and launched its ill-fated Little Red services.  These were well-run flights (I reviewed one here) but hampered by the costs of wet-leasing aircraft and crew from Aer Lingus.  When Little Red closed, the Heathrow slots reverted to British Airways but had to be made available if a new competitor came forward who wanted to run flights from Edinburgh and/or Aberdeen.  And along came Flybe …..

If Flybe runs the services for three years, it can keep the slots.  They can then be used for any destination in Europe, Moscow, Cairo or Riyadh, so we may see Edinburgh and Aberdeen disappearing.

Earning Avios with Flybe

You can earn and redeem Avios on these services as Flybe uses Avios as its loyalty programme.  Because Flybe awards Avios based on £ spent after taxes, it is possible that non-status BA passengers may earn more Avios on pricey peak time flights on Flybe than they would on BA!

If you normally only receive 125 Avios each way on a BA domestic flight to Edinburgh or Aberdeen, Flybe may be more generous.  You won’t receive any tier points however.

This HfP article outlines how to earn and spend Avios on Flybe.

The services

Flybe is running daily services to Edinburgh and Aberdeen.  I decided to try out the 11.20 Edinburgh service last week.

The flights use a Dash 8 400, which isn’t something you see at Heathrow very often!:

Services go from Terminal 2 at Heathrow, as only Termnal 2 and Terminal 5 are set up to cater for domestic passengers.

Booking and check-in

I booked my flight via avios.com.  The cost was 4,500 Avios plus £32.70 of tax for a one-way ticket.  Had I flown on British Airways, it would have cost between 4,000 and 4,500 Avios, depending on whether it was a peak day, plus £17.50 of tax.

You are immediately at a £15.20 cost disadvantage for choosing a Flybe redemption.

Because of the high taxes, Avios redemptions on Flybe are usually bad value.  However, I only booked this flight 48 hours in advance so it did work out.

Flybe’s IT is antiquated, unfortunately.  Here are a few problems I ran into:

Bookings via avios.com come with a free suitcase, yet when I looked up my booking on the Flybe website via ‘Manage My Booking’ it said it was ‘hand baggage only’.  As I wasn’t checking a bag, I couldn’t test this out.

You cannot pay for seat selection on an Avios ticket.  You get what you get when you check in, with no ability to change it.  This seems like a way of throwing money down the toilet for Flybe.  As it happens, the Dash 8 planes are 2×2 seating so there are no bad middle seats.  I was the 4th person to check in and got 15B!

Whilst you can check in via the Flybe app, you cannot save the boarding pass to ‘Wallet’ on your iPhone.  You need to reopen the Flybe app to see it.

None of this filled me with any enthusiasm before I arrived at Terminal 2.

At the airport

Security was virtually deserted when I arrived at 9.30am so the lack of any priority clearance made no difference.

I headed to the Plaza Premium lounge, getting in via my Priority Pass.  It is also part of the Amex Gold Lounge Club scheme.  This is an excellent lounge which I last reviewed here so I won’t cover it again.  It is the only Priority Pass option in Terminal 2.

In terms of design, it might be the smartest lounge at Heathrow.  It also has excellent food, potentially the best of any of the third party lounges at the airport.  The only thing it lacks is natural light, but the designers chose to make that a feature, going for as near to ‘cosy’ as a busy lounge can get.  You can buy passes here if you want to try it out.

Boarding

Here was my first surprise.  Sent off to Gate A1, I didn’t realise that I was going to be bussed:

Flybe London Heathrow to Edinburgh flight review

I should probably have guessed, given that Terminal 2 isn’t designed to handle Dash 8 aircraft.

My aircraft for the day was painted in the old Flybe colour scheme rather than the new purple:

Flybe London Heathrow to Edinburgh flight review

Leg room back in Row 15 was, as you can see, adequate:

Flybe London Heathrow to Edinburgh flight review

and

Flybe London Heathrow to Edinburgh flight review

Someone came and took the seat next to me.  However, a flight attendant soon turned up and offered me the empty row in front.  It turned out the flight had fewer than 30 passengers for a 78 seat ‘all economy’ capacity.

In-flight

The first thing you notice is that, because the plane is short and the engines are long, most seats have an obstructed view from the window.  You would need to be at the very front or very back to get a decent view out of the window.

A Dash 8 is not the perkiest aircraft around.  Maximum speed is only 410 mph and it can only climbed to 25,000 feet.  Neither of these are a real problem on a short hop to Edinburgh.

Whilst the aircraft was clearly noisier and a little shakier than a jet, I forgot all about it after a minute or so.

Service

Flybe has buy on board.  The menus, frankly, were a disgrace.  Mine was literally falling apart and was badly crumpled.  There is no excuse for this, given the low cost of producing them.  How are you meant to excite people in your offering with a tatty menu?

Apart from three sandwiches and a tapas offering, everything was pre-packed processed food – crisps, pringles, peanuts, Itsu prawn crackers, and rice cakes, chocolate bars etc.  There was a decent selection of teas, but hardly a bargain at £2.50 per cup.  Coffee and hot chocolate was the same price.

Alcohol was more interesting, with a collection of niche gins (Caorunn, Opihr, Whitley Neill) alongside Bombay Sapphire, Gordon’s and Tanqueray.  The other drinks were also more upmarket – Pip organic juices, Fever Tree, San Pellegrino canned juices etc.  Prosecco is £6 for a 200ml bottle.

As I’d had breakfast in the lounge, I decided to pass.

Landing

At Edinburgh, I again found myself without a gate.  It had started to rain by this point and I had to cross the tarmac without cover.

Flybe London Heathrow to Edinburgh flight review

Conclusion

This is how I rate the various aspects of the flight vs British Airways for a flight FROM London Heathrow on Flybe:

Check-in / Manage My Booking – clearly a win for BA.  Flybe has a lot of work to do on its app although you can still do mobile check-in and get a boarding pass.

Terminal environmentDraw.  Terminal 2 is as pleasant as Terminal 5 and, because I don’t use it very often, I always enjoy going there.  I am also a fan of Terminal 5 but a change now and then doesn’t hurt.  Only Terminal 4 at Heathrow depresses me.

LoungeDraw.  If you can access the Plaza Premium lounge in Terminal 2, you will find it as pleasant, with better food and drink, than the British Airways Galleries lounge in Terminal 5.  Whilst Plaza Premium is about to open a lounge in Terminal 5, it will be smaller than Terminal 2.  (If you have BA status but no Priority Pass, this is clearly a win for BA.  If you have a Priority Pass but no BA status, this is clearly a win for Flybe.)

Boarding – the use of Dash 8 aircraft means that you will always be bussed to your plane, which is not ideal.  If you land in bad weather you will also get wet walking across the tarmac on arrival in Scotland.  A win for BA here.

Plane comfort – with 2×2 seating, you will avoid a middle seat with Flybe.  The Dash 8 is a far smaller aircraft than an Airbus A319/320/321, however, and the ride is a little wilder, but fine.  If the Flybe flights are always under 50% full, as mine was, it will be more pleasant than BA.   (Coming back I had a full British Airway seven-across Boeing 767.)  Win for Flybe if your aircraft is fairly empty.

Food and drink – frankly, both BA and Flybe have uninspiring buy on board menus.  Draw.

Rewards – you will earn Avios on both British Airways and Flybe, although only flights on British Airways will earn you Executive Club tier points.  Draw, unless you need the tier points.

Overall, if you have a Priority Pass or Lounge Club card to get you into the Plaza Premium lounge in Terminal 2, I would recommend giving the Flybe service a try next time you head to Edinburgh or Aberdeen.  It is no worse than British Airways, apart from the bussing to the aircraft, and it is always good to check out the competition.

The Flybe website is here if you want more information or to book.

Comments (57)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • phatbear says:

    Also worth a mention that Flybe now fly’s to Glasgow from Southend, for anyone who needs to get north of the border, and they use an Embraer erj-195r, for anyone who prefers a jet to a prop.

  • Paul Chisholm says:

    If you are flying to Aberdeen and it is raining, you will get wet with both BA and Flybe!

    • Oh! Matron! says:

      “At Edinburgh, I again found myself without a gate. It had started to rain by this point and I had to cross the tarmac without cover.”

      Written by a true Londoner… Bless 🙂

      • Save EC Rewards says:

        I think Rob is from Yorkshire originally!

      • TripRep says:

        IMHO That’s a fair comparison to BA @ LHR where you normally have a jetway.

        Yep, Rob is originally from near Doncaster/Rotherham/Sheffield area, like myself.

  • Lumma says:

    Enjoyed my flight on a flybe dash 8 from City Airport to Amsterdam (great flight for a window seat if it’s taking off in the right direction), but it would have to be significantly cheaper than the train for me personally to consider it due to it taking almost as long when you add on the travelling time the airports and clearing security.

    I remember seeing a few people struggling to get full sized carry on luggage into the overhead lockers on the dash 8 as well.

  • JamesB says:

    I think that the aircraft being used tends to confirm your speculation on the reasoning behind Flybe operating these flights. It seems odd that they are not operating them with E190s given landing fees at LHR and the fact that other airlines have no difficulty filling a320s on the routes. However, it also seems odd that they might think they can do better deploying the slots elsewhere in Europe where they would face more competition from other carriers for premium passengers. At least with their current routes they have political and business passengers with only BA to compete with into Heathrow unless the problem is that BA has that market largely tied up in corporate deals. Presumably though they can lease or ‘sell’ the Heathrow slots after three yeas? If so, that would explain everything.

    • the real harry1 says:

      if Flybe last the three years and can switch to European routes using their slots, can they switch terminals?

      I wonder why Virgin didn’t think it was worthwhile persevering – were they really losing such huge amounts of money or was it that ‘selling’ the slots would have been difficult/ and they don’t have a European strategy?

      • Rob says:

        Virgin only did it for long-haul feed, but the need to get passengers from T2 to T3 meant it wasn’t hugely beneficial.

        • Oh! Matron! says:

          The demise of Little red was much bigger than you imagine.

          I used it primarily to see the parents in Manchester and loved that, just a few days before the flight, I could book it for around £100.

          Try doing that with BA…

          • Rob says:

            Of course, the reason it was a £100 is that the flight was empty!

            Towards the end they were status matching BA pax who flew it to drum up custom. I got a Virgin Gold card for flying a one way to Manchester for £50. Quite a few other readers did the same.

          • Alan says:

            Yep, that was my first time at VS Gold, then got it again earlier this year – thanks to BA Gold once more 😛

        • ChrisDev says:

          ..and that’s exactly what I did. Earned Virgin Gold by switching all my US bound flights over to Virgin when I flew from EDI with them. The bus from T2 to T3 wasn’t such a big deal since they had dedicated transfer buses at the gate waiting.

        • Stu N says:

          Wasn’t it the old T1 Domestic bit they used – the long cold corrugated tunnel of doom?

  • TripRep says:

    Nice to see this covered, I would consider it if needing a fight at short notice and cash prices were high.
    Also another consideration is how easy is it to connect from a FlyBE flight at T2, if your long haui is with any covered here it maybe worth it.
    https://www.heathrow-airport-guide.co.uk/terminal-2.html
    .

    • Alan says:

      If on a cash ticket you can codeshare with Flybe to both Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic. Sadly not an option on redemptions, which is a pain for me on the way back in Jan (just having to do a long connection and go from T2 to T5) and was frustrating when flying to Boston, as Virgin Red used to let you book redemptions with free connections. Virgin’s service was far superior, quite a shame it went.

      For me the Flybe one is handy if BA redemptions full, but not so much otherwise.

      • TripRep says:

        Alan, thanks for that, Its a real shame they can’t do the same PNR mixing a VS award with a cash FlyBE ticket, would be an attractive option for INV-MAN-MCO in UC to avoid APD

        • Alan says:

          Absolutely – plus would be nice just for check-through luggage too! Due to lack of SIN-FRA availability I was contemplating going back MEL-SIN-LHR-FRA-EDI but would have broken the max segment rules (given O/B of EDI-FRA-SIN-AKL) so just stopped at LHR instead and have booked RFS LHR-EDI. Thought they might not let me do it as effectively double open-jaw (EDI-AKL, MEL-LHR), agent seemed to managed to get it through their manager though 😀

  • John says:

    BA doesn’t always use jetbridges at EDI, I got soaked on my last trip there

    • Andrew says:

      It’s very regular on the BA domestics to EDI to exit from the front and back of the plane

    • RussellH says:

      I have never understood why anyone would choose to fly between Edinburgh / Glagow and London rather than take a train – unless, perhaps, they wanted to travel from Western Hounslow to Newbridge or Paisley. Even with lounge access (which I do not normally have) avoiding an airport is always something worth paying for, IMHO.

      (I did fly EDI-LHR – not connecting to something else – once, probably over 20 years ago. It was a bank holiday w/e and rail fares were sky high, but I was able to get a totally free, one-way ticket with Air Miles, as they were called then. We were all served an afternoon tea with clotted cream on that flight, 🙂 but the plane landed at LHR on the edge of Staines, with a loooong bus journey to T1, and then another looong walk to the underground. 🙁

      • Will says:

        If you want to travel during the week, the train is ridiculously expensive.
        The times don’t work particularly well either – if you need to get to either city for a 10 am meeting, then the train doesn’t really work.

        • RussellH says:

          If I had to be in a meeting at 1000, and the travel time was more than about 100 minutes, I would stay the night before. Fighting through an airport at 0630, no way!

      • Genghis says:

        I’ve never taken the train between London and Edinburgh, always flown. For quite a while I was up at 5.20, taxi at 5.45 to then get the 7am flight from LCY, arriving into our Edinburgh office around 8.50. No way would I have sat on the train.

        • ambient says:

          I guess RusselH’s company travel policy is more generous than the usual I experience! 10am meeting in Edinburgh? …. 4am alarm call for you sir!

        • the real harry1 says:

          when I had to do motivational/ distribution stuff in the States, I would often time the meetings for Monday/ Tuesday so that I could fly over on Friday/ Saturday and get a weekend in and get over any jet lag, see a bit of the USA

          NY, (Ann Arbor), Houston, Dallas, Miami, Detroit, San Fran, LA etc – the strategy was to distribute in the metropolitan centres so I saw some great cities on a weekend

          had a very reasonable boss who always signed it off, probably saw it as quid pro quo

        • RussellH says:

          Certainly, my travel policy was determined by me – I was self-employed until I sold up at the end of 2013. And while I created and sold holiday packages, I seldom had to do business travel.
          Couple of trips to London a year (from the Lake District) for WTM and at least one other (much smaller) trade show. At least two trips a year to Germany / Austria; flights from Manchester or rail travel from London provided. I was able to do several very pleasant long distance rail trips – Leipzig to the Lake District in a day, Vienna to the Lake District in two days, with an overnight in Frick, about 30 mins before Basel, though that did require a train at around 0820 from Frick.
          For myself, I would much rather spend 4 hours on a train than 80 mins on a plane, but it is airports that I really hate, unless it is somewhere like Bologna in the early 90s, on our first ever Air Miles redemption. Plane taxied almost to the (only) door of the terminal; while we waited (not long) for our luggage we saw the one immigration officer come out of his office still doing up his tie and adjusting his uniform.

      • Michael Jennings says:

        I can leave my flat in Bermondsey 60 minutes before the departure time at LCY and make the flight easily. Then I have a nice little tram ride into Edinburgh. It’s much faster than the train. Other airports and other starting points in London will be different.

      • Andrew says:

        It’s all very well suggesting the train, but unless you are within walking distance of Kings X or Euston and Edinburgh or Glasgow – it just isn’t practical.

        For me, it’s actually quicker to drive from Edinburgh or Glasgow to Oxford than taking the train.

        I do wish that an airline would resume the London-Oxford to Edi services – it was very civilised.

      • Alan says:

        Train is often very pricey, also if leaving after work or trying to get down for a morning meeting (without doing sleeper) then timings on the plane still tend to work better.

        • Genghis says:

          Has anyone done the Caledonian sleeper? Thinking of taking it to Fort William next year…

          • Alan says:

            Done it a couple of times, last about 6y ago. Novel experience, main issue I found was it got me into London too early in they morning! New rolling stock was also due, might be worth checking when it was due to arrive.

        • RussellH says:

          It is many years since I took a sleeper between London and Scotland. First couple of times I took it direct from London to home in Dunblane, but once I realised just how early the arrival in Dunblane was I switched to London-Edinburgh and took the connection home. I was still an employee in those days, but had no difficulty getting in to work for 9 in the morning.

          • Alan says:

            I’ve done it a couple of times in to London but found it arrived far too early & I hadn’t had enough sleep – esp when they woke us up with breakfast only to say we were delayed a couple of hours, would have much preferred to have longer asleep!

  • Alan says:

    Flown from Southampton to Manchester and guernsey more times than I’d care to remember! Although it’s now an even worse ATR to guernsey.

  • Tracey says:

    I have screen shot the flybe boarding passes in the past, rather than download from their s-l-o-w app.
    The earning rate for Avios is so small, I recall earning just 144 avios on a domestic middle priced flight.
    Downside for me is the vibration and noise of a propeller plane.

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