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

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Do you 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.  In reality there is a lot more to it.

You can use the ‘Combine Your Avios’ function on ba.com to move all of your Avios from BA, avios.com (for Aer Lingus, Vueling or Flybe) and Iberia 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.  The other articles in this series will go into these topics in more detail.

How to spend Avios

Understanding how Avios flights are priced

Following the last 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 – click to enlarge:

Cost of Avios reward flights redemption chart

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 in Avios?

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 Avios price for any British Airways route by using the chart in this article.

How to spend Avios

What are the peak and off-peak Avios 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 2019 can be found in this article. The Aer Lingus Avios peak and off-peak dates can be found in this article.  The full chart for 2020 should appear around June 2019.

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.

To add extra confusion …. there is a multi-partner Avios reward chart

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.

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 to spend Avios points

How is Avios 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.

How to use ‘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 of that article 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 and charges are due?

The cost of your reward flight will also include a charge for ‘taxes and scharges’. This is mainly a BA ‘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 British Airways – the taxes will be around £550 per person return (£650 for US flights) 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.

How to redeem Avios points

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 2018 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.

How to spend Avios

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.  Flybe is leaving on 30th April 2019.

Redeeming Avios 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 Avios.  These are called Gold Priority Rewards and I explain how to book them here.

Redeeming Avios 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, although Flybe will not be available after 30th April 2019.

Redeeming Avios 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 Avios:

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 at midnight but a telephone agent will have reserved the seats before you can make payment online. 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.  This article explains the Avios cancellation rules and fees.

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 on all dates

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 about how to maximise your Avios redemptions?

Keep an eye out for further updated articles in this series over the next few weeks.

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Comments

  1. Article doesn’t mention tax/fee differences when doing UUA. I was charged £400 extra when UUA from WT+ to CW R/T to San Diego for 2 people last year. I was caught by surprise as articles make you think that only cost of UUA is avios difference.

    • There are specific articles on this. Best way around it is just to book an WTP revenue flight and upgrade it within 24h so that you can get a fee-free refund if CW availability disappears before doing so.

      • I booked WT+ outright and then afterwards upgraded to J. I was still hit with a £400 bill for increased tax/fees.

        • ^ to clarify, I didn’t upgrade during booking process.

        • Odd, never had anything like that before. Await feedback on more recent experiences from others.

        • TokyoFan says:

          Yes, that’s what we had too. In fact, taking the upgraded J flight tonight JFK-LGW. Originally booked WT+ and they charged £100/person/sector to upgrade along with the additional avios. Bit of a scam if you ask me (though the overall cost of cash and avios was acceptable to me – especially as I’m in the Conrad on a BA holidays deal 🙂)

      • You always need to pay any tax/fee difference when upgrading, which is zero between J and F but not others.

    • I just upgraded MIA-LHR from PE to J using Avios and the extra charges were £50.

  2. Andrew says:

    I tested this using a one way upgrade from PE to Bus on the return leg. The PE price was £900. With the one way UUA the price jumped to £1,500. It can’t be an extra £600 in charges for one way, so does anyone know the reason for this? I assumed it was switching me to a higher category PE flight, but this article says any PE flight can be upgraded.

    • See my comment above, avoid using the ‘book and upgrade’ option.

      • It used to work fine when I did it that way before, did something change? Also on one way from the USA I think the YQ charges vary by cabin and can be pretty massive so that may explain the difference when going from WTP to CW.

    • Alex W says:

      Book the PE ticket online then call BA to do the upgrade. If you call within 24 hrs of booking and availability has gone, you can cancel the original booking with full refund.

  3. Mikeact says:

    Not to mention the advantages of booking Avios as two one ways on a round trip booking, ie cancellations, homeward ‘charges’ etc.

    • Bigger cost for USA though as they load the charges ex-USA given how many more miles they have there.

  4. Richard says:

    Re the infants under 2 paying 10% comment (and in case anyone finds it useful) – if your child turns 2 between flights on a multi flight itinerary, then they get a seat for the flights after they are 2, but you still only pay 10%. We’re starting a 2-4-1 in CW to scl with a man-lhr leg, then continuing it 6 months later (after baby is 2) with the lhr-scl leg. It needs an lhr-man positioning flight, but worth it for the saving.

  5. Noggins says:

    I was hoping to see the answer to a question I have had in my mind since failing to find x2 CW seats to New Orleans in October. Instead I have booked a BA flight to Miami and then, for an extra 30k avios, x2 seats on AA for a flight to NO. Did I need to spend the extra 30k avios or can I ask for them to be refunded as the same number of avios would have got me to NO if availability had been there….?

    • Chances of a refund are zero.

      • TGLoyalty says:

        Thought partner redemptions were refundable with BA?

        Or have I misunderstood the OP

        • Noggins says:

          I just remember Rob mentioning once something about your avios were good for the full distance of their eligibility – if that makes sense. Or because I have had to mix airlines does that negate it?

      • Wrong frequent flyer programme. If you’d booked via 95% of other programmes, which price purely on origin to destination, you would have paid the same number of names irrespective of direct vs connecting. BA doesn’t do that.

  6. OT but avios – has anyone else noticed that BA “missed” a day releasing award seats over the weekend? Availability now showing for 28/2/20 when it should be 29/2. I can only assume this is because of the extra day as 2020 is a leap year.

    • Paul Stevens says:

      The BA IT system doesn’t work for my friend because he has the audacity to have an apostrophe in his name. I think it is wishful thinking to assume it can handle a leap year.

      • Shoestring says:

        an extra day for leap year wouldn’t mean that flights don’t get released @T-355

        every day there’ll be a new T-355, as time doesn’t stand still

        if somebody bothered to count it up on their fingers, BA probably moved to T-356 through some IT error (connected with the leap year, sure) and at some future stage BA’ll have to release 2 days’ worth of flights in one go to get back on an even keel

        or is that even 3 days’ worth/ 2 days’ worth, on 2 different days?

    • I had the same question! But it seems that the system is only trained to subtract 10 days from a full year hence T-355 becoming T-356 in case of a leap year

  7. I’ve found trying to book married segments online either via Exec Club or Iberia a nightmare. Good side only come across one phantom award and BA were very apologetic about it.

  8. BrianDT says:

    Are Avios tickets the same as regular….valid 12 months from issue, as long as unused ?
    I have an Avios ticket coming up to use shortly, but want to change it to next November…same destination, details etc.
    Thanks.

    • Yes, as long as you pay the £35 change fee plus any difference in taxes from when you originally booked.

      • Sussex Bantam says:

        Really ? I can change an Avios ticket to one in the future for £35 change fee ?

        Presumably only if there is Avios availability on the date I want to change to ?

      • Darren says:

        But if using a 241 then the timescale will be 2yrs from issue presumably? (BA black card)

  9. Michael says:

    I can never get book and upgrade with Avios to work on the BA website. It’s so buggy and throws me out before showing me the price.

    • Have you tried it on Chrome ? Much more stable …

      • Spurs Debs says:

        That’s good info I’ve been kicked out 3 times on iPad this morning trying to look at prices. After reading it’s better to buy PE then phone to upgrade I wanted to check for myself.
        Never occurred to me to change browser.

      • SpursDebs says:

        Tried it on Firefox,safari and chrome just won’t work. Tried BA app on phone,iPad and lap top.
        Nothing zilch it just kicks me back to my points page

  10. Alex Walker says:

    Avios related – The postman has just been and I have received the letter re changes for Lloyds Avios Reward credit card. 60 days until the Amex goes. Earning rate of 2 Avois for every £5 on Mastercard. No annual fee and 2.95% on foreign with double Avios.

    • Had to happen eventually, I guess. I have quite a bit of foreign travel in April and early May, so at least I’ll be able to use the Lloyds Amex on those trips (not that Europe is that great for Amex acceptance). I’m going to the US in July but it was always going to be too much to hope that these cards would last until then.

    • Doug M says:

      I wish you hadn’t posted this, I’m happy in my denial it’ll ever happen 🙁

    • I’ve cleared everything else and used the Lloyds card for a balance transfer in anticipation of this. I’m assuming that the Ts and Cs at the time I did the balance transfer will be honoured until I pay it off?

      • Jonathan says:

        This has happened to me this week, got my 60 days notice over Xmas time. Your fine until the statement after your 60 days so that is more likely 65-70 days and the new cards take 3 weeks after that to arrive.

      • No it’s a balance transfer from another credit card for 3 years, though I intend to pay it off sooner than that.

        • Brian W says:

          @Liam I think you’re referring to the balance transfer offer on the old Duo cards which is much more of a money spinner. As you say it’s 0% fee and 3.8% for 12 months. You receive 1,500 Avios for each £1,000 transferred.

          I’ve been paying off my Amex cards every month using this route for about 3/4 years. I then pay the money to my Lloyd cards within 48hrs of the balance transfer acceptance and pay less that £2 interest on each statement. Nets me about 6k Avios a month for virtually no effort.

          Gutted this is ending now.

      • Just so I’m clear, you’re saying you’ve transferred a balance to the Lloyds Amex/Mastercard account and will pay it off from there? Will you get Avios for the balance transfer as you would for purchases?

        Sorry if I’m missing something here.

        • It used to be the case that you get Avios on balance transfers. I did it a year and a half ago from then MBNA Miles&More card and got some Avios. I think the earning rate is different. I paid it off quickly though, so double dipped there…

        • Just checked, the earn rate is 1.25 avios per every £5 transferred. Not much, but still something.

        • Ok, good to know. So if I have a balance on a different card, transfer it to my Lloyds card (with 0% fee offer that’s currently showing), and pay it off straight away, I’ll get Avios at that rate and pay no interest on it?

    • It’s a very sad day. Rob – Are there any rules on grandfather rights or are those days gone? After having this card since 2013, it has been a fantastic run.

    • BA-flyer says:

      Lloyds charged me the annual fee in December 2018. Does the letter refer to refunding the fee (or part of it)? I’m also on the way to another upgrade voucher, but 60 days might not be enough to trigger it.

      When Barclays closed their IHG card I got £300 compensation for the missed free hotel night. Wonder how Lloyds will handle this?

      • Yes, the letter says “if you’ve paid an annual fee in the last 12 months we’ll refund part of it”.

      • is it possible to book hefty (but fully refundable) item, hit target, get voucher, invoke refund?

    • Lev441 says:

      Got my letter through today as well as my old folks. Interesting that the spend towards upgrade voucher is valid until jan 2020… so in theory can hold off on spend and have upgrade vouchers that expire jan 2021 for travel up to dec 2022!

      • Alex Walker says:

        I think the upgrade spend is only to your old annual renewal date. My letter says spend to September included, but I have already triggered the voucher

        • I would agree mine is ” Spend until 20 July 2019 will count towards upgrade voucher.”

          Lev441s renewal date may well be Jan 2020

        • Letters differ by person

        • Lev441 says:

          @xcalx – yes that makes a lot of sense. Looked at the letter my dad got and he’s got until April 2020 so he’s just about made the cut off date for one more voucher!

        • Octopus says:

          Received the letter today too. They’ll be replacing the existing Amex/Mastercard in ‘just over 2 months time.’ My new card membership year will start soon by the end of April and any annual spend will count towards another upgrade voucher until end of April 2020!

      • Nick_C says:

        That is fantastic news, and unexpected. My Lloyds account year started in early Jan, and I only need to spend £500 to trigger the upgrade voucher. I had been expecting to have to trigger the voucher at short notice. Still not got the letter.

  11. fivebobbill says:

    O/T sorry.
    We’re a party of 4 travelling BA Business to TLV in Sept, arriving at 05.30. It’s a bit early to be turning up at our accommodation, and probably could do with a freshen up anyway, does anyone know of any lounge facilities available to arriving BA Business passengers?
    Many thanks.

    • The Lord says:

      Guessing no. My understanding was that LHR is the only place where BA offers arrival facilities?

      • fivebobbill says:

        I see Anika has a topic covering an arrivals lounge in Madrid over on another page, I probably should have posted over there – will paste it over. Thanks

    • Rob recently did an article on Virgin TLV flight which included link to (paid for) arrivals lounge.

    • fivebobbill says:

      Thanks for this guys, however I’ve just changed to the earlier flight after realising the red eye was an A321 with standard up front seating in Business!
      Earlier flight is a 777, hardly Qatar, but anything’s better than that BA Airbus!

  12. BlueHorizonuk says:

    OT – Does anyone know what’s happened with the BA digital tags? Thought it was launching in Jan but BA page still says coming soon with no other information.

  13. Drolma-la says:

    I booked a couple of one-way economy internal US flights on AA using Avios. When I went to chose seats, I was shocked to discover I’d been booked into Basic Economy. BA let me cancel. But the BA portal doesn’t warn about Basic Economy.

    • This needs to be clear at time of booking as presumably if you’d taken these flights you would have had to pay not just to check in your suitcases but also any cabin baggage bigger than the small piece which will go under your seat? It was $25 per piece when we flew with AA last year so this could really add up! We booked our redemption seats just before Basic Economy was introduced, fortunately.

    • Whenever I have booked internal flights on AA using Avios, as a BA Silver/Gold member, I have been able to select Main Cabin Extra seats and also have Oneworld Sapphire/Emerald baggage allowance.

  14. As I understand it you can get EU compo on 3+ hours delayed flights even if booked with Avios. Anyone successfully claimed?

  15. Mycity says:

    O/T but Avios related, just received a letter from Lloyds this morning, informing me I will get a new Avios earning mastercard in two months, Amex stops, partial refund of the £24 fee and earning for the upgrades ends 13 August this year, free non sterling transactions ends.

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