Avios Redemption University – Lesson 1 – A Beginners Guide to Redeeming Avios

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Want to know how to spend your Avios wisely?  Starting today, we are running updated versions of our ‘Avios Redemption University’ series. 

This series of articles, which I group together as ‘Avios Redemption University’, cover some of the different ways of using your Avios.  In particular, they highlight deals which offer surprisingly good value for your points, such as redeeming on ‘low tax’ airlines.

In this introductory post, I want to run through the key principles of how to redeem your Avios points for flights.

Fundamentally, it is as simple as going to the ‘spend your Avios’ page on ba.com and putting in the dates you want to fly.  You can use the ‘Combine Your Avios’ function on ba.com to move all of your Avios from BA, Aer Lingus, Vueling, Iberia or avios.com into one account – transfers are free and instantaneous.

One of the quirks of the Avios scheme is that you may be better off booking via a different portal instead.  Sometimes avios.com or iberia.com will offer you a better deal.  I will explain why below.

There are many other nuances you need to understand. Much of it will come from experience, but here are some of the key points.

Understanding how Avios flights are priced

Following its recent revamp of the British Airways website, you can no longer see a simple chart of how much an Avios redemption flight costs.  You are expected to plug your route into this ba.com calculator.

Luckily we have a copy of the chart here.  The basis of Avios pricing is this simple grid, which prices British Airways flights based on the one-way distance flown.  This is the pricing chart introduced in April 2015:

Redemption chart 2

The zones relate to the distance flown:

  • Zone 1:  1 – 650 miles
  • Zone 2:  651 – 1,150 miles
  • Zone 3:  1,151 – 2,000 miles
  • Zone 4:  2,001 – 3,000 miles
  • Zone 5:  3,001 – 4,000 miles
  • Zone 6:  4,001 – 5,500 miles
  • Zone 7:  5,501 – 6,500 miles
  • Zone 8:  6,501 – 7,000 miles
  • Zone 9:  7,000+ miles

There are exceptions to these zones, with some routes such as Cape Town being put into a cheaper zone than their distance would suggest.

Short domestic flights in the US are priced differently – see this article

How do I know what my flight will cost?

If you want to find out the distance between two airports, the best route is Great Circle Mapper (gcmap.com).  Type in the airport codes, eg LHR-JFK, and click ‘Distance’.

You don’t need to do this, however.  There is a calculator on ba.com which will tell you miles required for any direct redemption flight.  Alternatively, and more quickly, you can find the price for any British Airways route using the chart here which I published a couple of years ago.  Note that it does not reflect recent BA route additions and cancellations.

What are the peak and off-peak dates?

Redemption costs on British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus vary depending on whether you fly on a peak or off-peak day.

The list of British Airways and Iberia peak and off-peak dates for 2018 can be found in this article.  The Aer Lingus dates can be found in this article.

BA, Iberia and Aer Lingus do NOT have the same peak and off-peak dates.

You can save a lot of points if you apply these calendars smartly.  Compared with British Airways, Aer Lingus doesn’t have an October and February peak season during the UK half terms.  The April peak season is one week shorter and there’s also no peak season towards the end of May / early June.  Redeeming via Dublin on Aer Lingus could save you a lot of Avios during these periods.

Flights with any airline other than British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia will ALWAYS price at the peak rate.

And just to add extra confusion ….

There is a second British Airways Avios redemption pricing chart for trips which use two or more oneworld carriers apart from British Airways.

This chart is rarely used but you can find it here.  A flight such as London – Doha (Qatar) – Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific) would price off this chart.  There is a permanent link to this chart under ‘Key ba.com links’ in the right hand margin of the desktop HFP site.

I discuss some uses of the Avios multi-partner reward chart in this article.  There is real value in it if you are heading to Australasia for example.

How is pricing calculated for connecting flights?

Pricing is based on EACH individual flight, not the distance between origin and destination. This means that the Avios charged for a particular route can vary depending on how you fly there:

London to Muscat on British Airways is non-stop and 3600 miles, so costs 13,000 miles in Economy one-way off-peak and 20,000 miles on a peak day

London to Muscat on Qatar Airways (or a mix of BA and Qatar Airways) involves a change in Doha. London to Doha is 3,200 miles and Doha to Muscat is 437 miles. This means your flight will cost (13,000 or 20,000 + 4,500=) 17,500 / 24,500 Avios, one way depending on whether the BA flight is on a peak day.

The only exception is when booking a UK domestic connection to/from London to connect to a long-haul flight. No additional Avios are required for this.

Using ‘Avios and Money’

If you don’t have enough Avios for your flight, British Airways runs a scheme called ‘Avios and Money’ which allows you to use fewer Avios to book your flight in return for paying a cash fee. This is explained in more detail here (an updated version will run next week).

In some cases, it makes sense to use ‘Avios and Money’ even if you have enough Avios because the cash option is so cheap.  I explained why in this article.

What taxes are due?

The cost of your reward flight will also include a charge for ‘taxes and surcharges’. This is mainly a fuel surcharge and the UK Government’s Air Passenger Duty.

The charge vary amongst airlines. Further articles in this series will focus on low tax options with Aer Lingus and Iberia. However, going back to my example above, London to Abu Dhabi on British Airways, return, has a taxes and charges total of £278 in Economy.

This is, frankly, crazy.  You can usually pick up an economy flight to Abu Dhabi or Dubai for around £350 return on BA or one of the Middle Eastern airlines.

Unless you fly on Aer Lingus or Iberia, starting your trip outside the UK, these taxes clearly make Economy redemptions in long haul poor value for money unless you are travelling at peak times such as school holidays. This is why Head for Points usually recommends redeeming in Business or First Class on BA – the taxes will be around £500 per person, return, but this is still a fraction of the usual cash price of your seat.

Taxes and surcharges on European flights are capped at £35 for Economy and £50 for Business on British Airways flights.  This makes short-haul redemptions good value in either class.  The next article in this series looks at Reward Flight Saver in more detail.

Using Avios to upgrade

You can also use Avios points to upgrade a flight by one class on BA, Iberia and American Airlines. This is explained in a separate article later in this series (the 2015 version is here).

The key points to know are:

You cannot upgrade from the cheapest non-refundable Economy tickets

You CAN upgrade from the cheapest World Traveller Plus or Club World fares to Club World or First Class respectively

The cost of an upgrade is the difference between an Avios redemption in the class booked and a redemption in the next highest class

You can upgrade at the time of booking or later, it makes no difference

You can only upgrade if there are Avios redemption seats available in the higher class

For example, upgrading a return World Traveller Plus ticket to New York will cost 48,000 Avios off peak and 40,000 Avios on a peak day.

(Yes, another idiosyncrasy of the Avios reward chart is that Club World upgrades are cheaper on peak dates and more expensive on off-peak dates!)

How did I calculate this?  A Zone 5 Club World redemption is 50,000 Avios one-way off-peak.  A Zone 5 World Traveller Plus redemption is 26,000 Avios one-way off-peak.  The cost of the upgrade is therefore (50,000 – 26,000 x 2 for a return =) 48,000 Avios.

You will still earn Avios and tier points for the original cash ticket you booked which reduces the net cost of the upgrade.

Which airlines can I redeem on?

A full list of the 30 (!) airlines which let you redeem Avios points can be found here.

This list has shrunk over the last year as airberlin and NIKI went into receivership and Monarch (also now in receivership), Aurigny and Air Malta were dropped as avios.com partners.

On ba.com:

British Airways Executive Club lets you redeem for all 14 airlines in the oneworld alliance plus Aer Lingus, Flybe, Comair (South Africa) and Alaska.

Aer Lingus redemptions CANNOT be booked online at ba.com and there is no 100% certain way of checking availability before you call.  Anecdotal evidence says that there is less availability than you can book online – with far higher taxes – via the avios.com website.  A later article in this series will discuss Aer Lingus in more detail.

If you have British Airways Gold status, you will find more economy availability on British Airways flights on ba.com than avios.com.  This is because BA opens up additional economy reward seats to its Gold members.

A BA Gold member can also get an Avios seat on ANY BA flight if they are willing to pay double AviosThese are called Gold Priority Rewards and I explain how to book them here.

On avios.com:

You may at times want to book on avios.com.  Whilst they do NOT offer oneworld alliance partners except for Iberia and American Airlines, they do offer seats for online booking on Aer Lingus.  However, taxes are higher and availability worse on Aer Lingus when booking online via avios.com instead of over the telephone via British Airways Executive Club.

Flybe availability can also differ between avios.com and ba.com.

On iberia.com:

Long-haul redemptions on Iberia have SUBSTANTIALLY lower taxes when booked at iberia.com.  You will save at least £300 per person.  I will discuss this in a stand-alone article on Iberia later in this series.

Iberia Plus also has access to flights from Vueling, Royal Air Maroc, LEVEL, Iberia Express and others which you cannot book at ba.com.

Key facts to know when redeeming:

Availability opens up 355 days prior to departure for British Airways and most other airlines

At least four economy and two business class seats will be available immediately on BA flights.  There is no guarantee of World Traveller Plus or First Class seats being available at 355 days out.  Further seats will usually open up at random in the months approaching departure, depending on sales of cash tickets.

If you want a ‘high demand’ route such as Sydney or Cape Town in Club World and want to travel on a BA plane in order to use a British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher, you should be prepared to book the outbound flight as soon as it becomes available.  This means at midnight (1am BST) via an open BA call centre (US, Japan) 355 days before departure – it will also drop onto the website a couple of hours later but it may be too late by then.  When the return becomes available a few days later, you need to call BA and have it added to your existing outbound ticket.

Avios redemption tickets can be changed or cancelled for a £35 per ticket fee, deducted from the refund of your taxes.  All cash and Avios are returned, the Avios usually come back instantly.

You can change the return even after you have flown the outbound, subject to Avios seats being available.  You cannot cancel a return flight once you have flown the outbound.

Infants (under 2) who do not need a seat pay 10% of the standard Avios and 10% of the standard taxes

You can fly into one airport and out of another without penalty as long as you follow the rules in this article. These redemptions can only be booked over the telephone, unless you book them as two one-way redemptions.

It is OK to mix airlines when booking a redemption – you can fly British Airways to Doha and then Qatar Airways on to Mumbai, for example, on the same ticket.

Flights on airlines other than BA, Aer Lingus and Iberia will be charged at the peak rate

The ba.com website often struggles to offer all possible options when looking for redemptions to North America which involve a connection in the US.  A good tip is to search via the American Airlines website at aa.com – you don’t need an account with them.  Any reward seats which show as ‘sAAver’ flights on aa.com can be booked using Avios points – if you cannot get ba.com to bring up the flights then you need to call BA.

Want to learn more?

Keep an eye out for further updated articles in this series over the next few weeks.  If you found this useful, you can share it with your friends via the social media buttons below.

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

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  1. Great article, thanks for going through the basics with us novices- a long time reader.

  2. Lottietiger says:

    Really useful having a lot of the links in the same place and a good memory refresher..thanks.

  3. Has the map with available avios redemptions been deleted from Ba website? can’t find it anywhere.

  4. Optimus Prime says:

    Thanks for running these again. I’ve been reading this blog since April and still making rookie mistakes.

    Rob – Will you update the Alaska Airlines article (#15 from the 2015 series) and add the ‘opposite’ point of view? I mean using Alaska Airlines miles to book partner reward flights. The option to add in a stopover for as long as you like seems very attractive.

    • Probably not, to be honest, because that is really a different set of articles eg should you credit BA flights to another programme?

      • Optimus Prime says:

        Fair enough. It’s a pity we don’t have an Alaska Airlines credit card in UK (except for SPG Amex but its sign-up bonus is not as good as other Amex cards). I wish Amex bumped the MR->SPG ratio to 1:1…

  5. Looking at the chart dies that mean it’s cheaper to use avios for an upgrade in peak times rather than off peak?

    • Yes, it’s a strange anomaly! Might be explained by having to use more avios for a peak journey in the first place. But it can be useful!

  6. I can’t remember if it’s covered in one of the other redemption uni lessons or not, but always worth mentioning the free tag-on flight from the regions for non London starts on long haul only but not short haul anymore. This gets you a CE connection ticket including lounge access etc from the regional airport down to London. I believe you can also “add it on” with the call centre later as at T-355 the London flight will show but the connection might not.

    • (gets you CE when connecting to CW or First, not connecting to economy)

      • Thanks for the reminder…people might have assumed it had been stopped due to CE not benefitting any more. Nice holiday treat to start your trip in CE and lounges.

    • Free in terms of Avios, but there is an additional cost in the ‘fees & surcharges’. Around £50 I think, for a long haul.

    • “I believe you can also “add it on” with the call centre later as at T-355 the London flight will show but the connection might not.!”

      Yes, with an overnight return, you can book (say) SFO – LHR at T-355 for that flight. The LHR-EDI/GLA/MAN flight won’t be available at that point, but you can call back the next day and add your domestic connection. Last time I did this I wasn’t charged a change fee or telephone fee for doing this as it wasn’t possible online and wasn’t possible at time of booking. If the agent doesn’t waive it anyway, they usually do it when prompted.

  7. Michael_s says:

    I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you once again for in-depth research that goes into hfp and for helping us save so much on travel. I wish I could calculate but over last 3 years I follwed this site, I’m confident I saved £££££ thanks to all these tips I learned from this site (avios peak-off peak pricing, ex-UK departures, aggressively using 241 for LH business, alternating credit cards, buying avios cheaply and tons of other tips I can’t even remember now). You’re the best Rob and Anika! Happy new year!

  8. Richard J says:

    Echo the comments above – great site and great house style of contact and engagement!

    As BA gold but just relocated to NYC – how do I find availability and pricing for redemptions? The Ba site doesn’t offer much – and I don’t understand the AA system / it’s different. Any good practice or suggestions out there?


    • Search on the American Airlines site which is better (because it understands connections better). Anything which shows as a ‘sAAver’ redemption can be booked by BA on Avios – if you can’t get ba.com to bring up the same options, perhaps due to the number of connections, then call. I don’t think Alaska is an AA partner so if you want rewards with them you need to call BA and take pot luck – not sure if Alaska offers BA the same redemption availability they offer their own members.

      • When I booked Alaskan via BA with Avios they could only book flights on Alaskan 737 but many short flights are on small subcontract aircraft.

  9. Tom Cook says:

    Anyone had any experiences of avios posting for a transaction not made and then more going back than was posted in the first place?

    I have had Office Shoes post 500 avios into my account (when I haven’t bought anything recently) only for the transaction to be immediately reversed to the tune of 600 avios!

  10. any estimate on when “Dynamic” pricing of BA Avios redemptions will start.

  11. OT (no BIts today) – MBNA just offered me another 5000 miles for £1k spend on Virgin White Amex – 2nd time trying to close it and 2nd time they’ve made me that offer!

    • Thanks Alan, good to know. Did you take them up on it again? How long do they give you to spend the £1k?

      I’m tempted to try to cancel my white Amex too and see what is offered.

  12. Mikeact says:

    Can I just mention that in general, I feel it better to book a return journey as two one ways. We got caught out a couple of years back when my wife needed to return home. As we were away the return half was ‘lost ‘ , incurring additional costs, ultimately picked up by our travel insurance. And further, return taxes can be a lot lower as I also found out.
    We’ve just booked, short notice, to get out to Tenerife next week, RFS out, but booking through Iberia as a paid BA flight back, (as there are no awards available,) and using Avios to discount the price , about €50 for both of us. This proved to be a good, cost effective way to use Avios ,and we earn Avios on the way back !
    Safe travels to all in 2018.
    ps Why is it that there always seem to be far more flights going out than coming home, or is it me ?

    • I seem to recall the “2 one ways” trick doesnt work out cheaper on long haul unless you’re going to Hong Kong or Brazil?

    • No, I have also seen routes where there are more reward seats in one direction. I think it happens when one flight is badly timed so corporate travellers mix and match airlines.

  13. Great article Rob!
    Any advice you can give on using Avios via Iberia Plus to travel on Alaska Airlines from mainland USA to Hawaii? Is this a possibility? I’m hoping the tax levels could be lower than using Avios through BA.com, although as it’s US domestic I’m not sure.

  14. A useful updated article from Rob but I didn’t see any mention anywhere of how late before departure you can book a redemption flight on the various different schemes.

    One really quite significant difference between booking redemption flights on the BA Executive Club and the http://www.avios.com sites is that the former website and scheme lets you book Avios redemptions under 24 hours and on the day of the actual flight right up until when check in closes if Avios redemption seats are still available (in the past they generally weren’t available that near the flight date but now they often are as over the last two years BA has adopted a strategy of releasing unsold seats for Avios redemption in the last day or two before the flight departs) but by contrast the avios.com website simply refuses to let you book a redemption seat with less than 24 hours left to go before departure, even though that seat probably still remains unsold and unbooked on the aircraft.

    I think this is a point that is worth mentioning in your Avios University article both for those who are natural late bookers like me and also especially because this is when Avios points can normally achieve their highest possible cash values upon conversion. For instance in Zone 1 (UK and European destinations that can be as far away as Nice or Turin) a very last minute booking under 24 hours to departure can often result in a return cash Economy fare of as much as £1,000 but only either 8,000 Off Peak Avios or 9,000 Peak Avios plus £35 are required for the booking. As a result this can sometimes value each Avios point at just over 10p each (equivalent to £1 per Air Mile in the former currency of the scheme before the 10 for one devaluation several years ago).

    Its worth noting that comparable last minute bookings to these same destinations with Easyjet or Ryanair would probably not usually exceed a cash fare cost of £500 vs BA’s £1000 or more but the point to bear in mind is clearly that Easyjet does not fly out of Heathrow while many people also find Heathrow a more local airport and also a significantly cheaper airport to reach via public transport (due to the low cost fares on the tube compared to the extortion like gouging fares to Gatwick or Stansted on mainline rail).

    I appreciate that many of you who are Avios collectors do have young families and can’t make spontaneous last minute bookings in the way I so often do (for instance I just travelled on a flight at 7.25 pm flight on New Year’s Eve to Prague that I booked at 4pm that same afternoon after my sister and her family decided to push off home at 3pm that day so potentially leaving me High and Dry for The New Year) but having made quite a number of them now I can assure you that this is when by far the highest theoretical conversion value for each Avios point redeemed is nearly always achieved.

    • Interesting, thanks. I will work this in.

    • the real harry1 says:

      fair comment

      not that useful for me unless my MIL croaks it, but worth remembering

      just checked flights going out to our place in the sun for the next 10 days & there is good availability for Reward flights in both Economy & Business, so Julian seems to make a valid point

      I suppose January COULD be a very slow month for Avios redemptions but I stuck in 3 passengers and it looked pretty good all the way through, not every single flight but most

      more likely January is a slow month and BA has offered up RFS flights as suggested

      • Might be useful for me, as my MIL is due here on Monday for a week-unless she croaks it! 🙂 .

  15. imsmart says:

    The avois in Aer Lingus could be combined into ba now?

  16. Excellent article! Is there any “getting points” university article? My company os relocating me in the UK, so I’m trying to understand how this works in there.

  17. Managed to book the two Avios Business Class seats LHR to Sydney yesterday on an Amex 2-4-1 voucher by staying up till midnight. The seats were available on the BA website at a few seconds past midnight. We had a four day window to book seats but was pleasantly surprised to see them online immediately.

  18. I’m trying to work out peak/ off-peak for January 2019. Flights for 7th January were just released at midnight and were peak, and when I followed the link to the availability calendar, it seemed to indicate that the whole of January was peak. This seems strange, as in previous years off-peak seems to have kicked in again a couple of days after New Year. This could mean I need to rethink my booking so any advice on this would be appreciated.

    • School hols finish later next Jan then goes to off peak…

      • Thanks I’m hoping that’s the case, but it does look like the whole of January is displaying as peak at the moment. So long as BA aren’t trying something new…

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