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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.

  • Drew says:

    I used to fly this service from City. From memory, you can’t book seats as they need to balance the weight distribution due to the size of the plane. This is also why as 4th person checked in you were in such a random seat! The don’t fill the plane in a sequential order.

    We used to joke about chugging up to Edinburgh on these. I quite liked the wee plane – but now I’ve gold BAEC, doubt I would use this service.

    • Stu N says:

      Steps aren’t that unusual at Edinburgh and the BA LCY flights quite often have a short bus transfer.

      Might be tempted to use this northbound at some point, a change of scene, a go of Plaza Premium T2 and a Whitley Neil and tonic would swing it for me.

  • Chris says:

    I flew this service to and from Aberdeen last week. I rather enjoyed the experience. I took the second flight of the day on the way up. The plane was less than half full and I had a row of 2 seats to myself. Very pleasant flight and cabin crew on both flights. Like Rob, I used my Priority Pass for lounges at both ends (and the lounge at ABZ was rather nice). So, food and drink on board was not an issue. I noticed that there is an arrivals lounge at LHR T2 as well. If I’d had time, I would have popped in there to check it out. A word of warning, when the “Boarding” sign comes up at LHR, what they really mean is that passengers are boarding the bus to be transported to the plane. As far as I am aware, they only do this bus trip once, so you could be waiting on the bus for a while if you “board” early. On the other hand, if you miss the bus …

  • Andrew says:

    I fly LHR-EDI at least once a month. There are negatives to both BA and Flybe on the LHR-EDI route. In the old days I always flew BMI and I do still miss their service.

    The downside with BA on a domestic is the full flights made up mostly of Silver & Gold cardholders and max-size cabin luggage – it can take 20 minutes to get off the plane if you are stuck at the back and they are only disembarking from the front. The boarding can be just as bad with regulars holding up the queue whilst they insist on placing their BoB order with the crew.

    With Flybe you are guaranteed a window or aisle seat, stupid sized cabin luggage goes in the hold at the gate, at EDI the door is open with no wait for the air bridge and can make the dash from the Dash to the Tram. T2 is very convenient for the NCP’s “Flightpath” car park.

    Not forgetting the little smile when an International passenger just off an Upper Class seat sees the little bus with wings that will take them onward to EDI.

    Now, I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but I’ve been told that the Q400s have to be meticulously pathed by Heathrow ATC due to their limits with altitude and speed – meaning less circling and prompter landings. I’m sure someone here will know for sure if it is accurate or not.

    • JamesB says:

      Any American smiles you saw were more likely because they thought the DASH 8 was a big bus with wings, many of them grew up with a minibus with wings like the BAe Jestream on flights last an hour or so.

    • Alan says:

      Good summary of the issues on BA, Andrew – I too miss bmi on this route! Also enjoyed the Gold seat block that seemed to work the vast majority of the time, plus great crew. Also still remember being one of the last (if not THE last) flight out of Edinburgh during ‘Hurricane Bawbag’ a few years ago. BA had cancelled everything but bmi kept going. No bags loaded as the cargo doors would have flown off, but max power and off we went, great fun!

  • David says:

    I’ve never flown FlyBe from Heathrow, but I’ve flown Birmingham – Edinburgh twice, and London City – Edinburgh once.

    I’m really not a fan of their little prop planes – they’re noisy and this is exacerbated by the tendency to move passengers around (apparently the smaller plane makes it more likely they’ll have to do so for weight-balancing reasons) which has resulted in me getting a noisier seat than booked; and the fact they still have a no headphones rule for take-off and landing, which other airlines relaxed some time ago.

    Now if they were to use the Embraer jets from Heathrow, I’d consider them,

    • Alan says:

      Agree, no headphones for take-off/landing is annoying. Mind you Brussels Airlines did that on their jet a couple of weeks ago as I was in the exit row! At least once able to be used the noise-cancelling headphone make it much more tolerable.

  • Fraser says:

    Yeah, the best thing about Little Red was getting a Gold FC card.

    The one other difference you don’t mention is the flight duration, the prop is obviously slower but it means about 1h30 instead of 1 hour IIRC.

  • Chris Lang says:

    Interesting review, Rob. I’m quite a regular on Flybe as am quite close to BHX where they are the only option for many destinations. As others have commented, I believe your thoughts on their strategy at LHR are supported by their use of the Dash 8 – the cost of operation for these is much lower than equivalent sized jets. However, Flybe have noted recently that they have had to spend more than expected on maintenance of the Dash 8 in order to increase their reliability – I have certainly fallen victim to reliability issues with these.

    If you’ve never flown on one of Flybe’s Embraer E175 or E195 they offer a much better experience than the Dash 8s – wider seats and still decent legroom, quieter, still 2×2 seating, higher liklihood of a jet bridge for boarding! If you’re used to A320’s then I guess the Dash 8 is a nice novelty, but it does wear off after a while. I find they get quite stuffy and uncomfortably hot at times. I have repeatedly bemoaned Flybe’s increased reliance on the Dash 8, but they seem to be here to stay. Definitely recommend flying the Embraer jets though.

  • Save EC Rewards says:

    For Avios redemptions I’d say it’s a clear win for BA as long as you’ve got a decent Avios balance. You can get Club Europe for less than the taxes of BE.

    When I was silver (briefly) I tried Little Red and did agree at the time that the T2 Plaza Premium lounge is better than Galleries Club, but as a gold I’d say first wing + Galleries First is much better combination.

    The BoB menu seems more expensive than BA (and for those who want soft drinks the Coke is £1.50 and served in the small mixer cans, the BoB Coke on BA is the 330ml cans) and of course the option to pay with Avios isn’t there.

  • HWEA says:

    Getting avios posted by flybe is very hit or miss. They mostly don’t appear, and unless you claim within a 9day period, you can say goodbye to earning avios with them. I find flights generally packed and the aircraft noisy. I’m not a fan.

    • the real harry1 says:

      you can’t earn them on BAEC, only on avios.com

      would that be it? 🙂

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