Over the last few months, a new way of redeeming for Avios for long-haul business class flights has been taking shape – with Air Italy.
In late 2017, Qatar Airways acquired a 49% stake in Italian airline Meridiana. Meridiana was a slightly bizarre airline, to put it mildly, being part-owned by the Aga Khan and having a weird route network primarily flown by old McDonnell-Douglas aircraft. To add to the oddness, Meridiana used Avios as its reward programme but refused to take part in ‘Combine My Avios’, meaning that you couldn’t move points into or out of their scheme.
Qatar Airways rebranded Meridiana as Air Italy, using the typical Qatar Airways colour scheme, and moved its hub from Palermo to the more practical choice of Milan.
The Air Italy website is here.
Air Italy’s long-haul route network
Using a number of A330 aircraft leased from Qatar Airways, until newly ordered Boeing 787 planes are delivered, Air Italy has expanded its long-haul route network in recent months.
It now offers flights from Milan Malpensa to:
- New York
- Chicago (starts May 2019)
- Los Angeles (starts April 2019)
- San Francisco (starts April 2019)
- Toronto (starts May 2019)
The Air Italy Business Class cabin
On Air Italy’s A330 you will find the old Qatar Airways seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. These aren’t the best business class seats in the world, to put it mildly, as they angle downwards towards the floor.
(For the benefit of younger readers, these seats were very common until just a few years ago. They allowed airlines to fit in more business class seats per cabin than a fully flat bed allowed, and also created a point of difference with First Class. The majority of leading airlines have now abandoned this model, luckily. They weren’t known as ‘wedgie’ seats for nothing.)
You can read a full review on One Mile At A Time here which is far more positive than I would have expected.
How to book Air Italy with Avios
The good news is that Air Italy business class seats can be booked on ba.com with Avios.
The other bit of good news is that Air Italy appears to be following the Qatar Airways pattern of opening up FOUR redemption seats in Business Class.
Here is the bad news:
Flights come with BA’s crazy surcharges attached. A business class return redemption from Milan to San Francisco comes with £588 of taxes and charges, for example.
Because Milan to North America is further than London to North America, some routes require more Avios. San Francisco is 180,000 Avios in Business Class vs 150,000 Avios on BA from London on a peak date. New York is 150,00 Avios vs 120,000 Avios on a peak date from London with BA.
Flights to India price up at 120,000 Avios – the same as BA charges – but of course you need to factor in the cost of getting to Milan.
The one minor upside I can see is that one-way taxes TO North America are not bad. A one-way business class redemption to New York from Milan requires £210 of taxes on top of 75,000 Avios. This compares to £446 + 60,000 Avios for a one-way peak date Club World redemption direct from London on BA. The cash saving is wiped out by the extra Avios needed and the cost of a one-way flight to Milan, however.
Air Italy seems, unfortunately, to be a bit of lost cause for UK residents looking to spend their Avios.
The combination of:
requiring more Avios on many routes compared to flying direct from London
having to position yourself in Milan to connect to your Air Italy long-haul flight, and
the stupidly high taxes and charges being added by BA
…. come together to mean that it is unlikely that you would ever look at booking such a redemption unless you specifically had to be in Italy beforehand. Realistically I can only see it being useful if you are travelling at short notice and this is the only availability you can find.
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