Can you cancel the return leg of an Avios redemption flight after flying outbound?

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As it is a quiet Bank Holiday today, I thought I would dig out an interesting story which we first ran a couple of years ago and which highlights a quirk when it comes to cancelling reward flights.

A reader had flown to Australia with his girlfriend for an extended trip.  They decided to stay for an even longer period and no longer needed their return flight.

The couple had paid 250,000 Avios for a Club World redemption to Sydney, using a British Airways American Express 241 voucher.

(Don’t ask how he managed to snag the seats, given how tough Sydney is to get.  He didn’t say!)

The outbound had been flown.  They wanted to cancel the return flight and get 125,000 Avios back.  The BA agent said ‘No’.

Sydney Opera House

Was this correct?

My first thought was that the agent was wrong.

Return Avios tickets were notoriously inflexible once the outbound was flown, which was silly as there were rarely savings to be made booking 2 x one-way versus a return.

About five years ago, however, BA changed their policy.  You can now change the date or time of your return Avios flight after the outbound has been flown.  I have done this myself.  It is a handy feature if a better-timed flight opens up at the last minute, or your trip is going very well or very badly.

It seemed logical to me that full cancellation would also be possible.  I was wrong.  You cannot cancel the return leg of an Avios ticket, after the outbound has been flown, for a refund.

When should you book an Avios flight as a return?

So, you may well ask, what is the point of booking Avios flights as returns, given that I have less flexibility?  Here are a few reasons:

Because you’re using a BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher so you don’t have any choice – one voucher cannot be used to book 2 x one-way flights on separate tickets

Because you are flying to a country where BA has higher surcharges than the UK – the USA is a prime example.  Booking 2 x one-way flights means that you pay a mix of the UK and US fuel surcharges and, overall, you pay more than booking a return starting in the UK.

In other cases, book 2 x one-ways – you may even save money

For simplicity, booking a trip as 2 x one-ways gives you added flexibility to cancel or change the return leg.

Something many people forget is that it is often cheaper to book European redemptions as two one-way flights.

Why?  Because British Airways has removed surcharges from European redemptions:

Almost all of the ‘taxes’ you still incur are charged on the London leg of your journey.  Some overseas airports do not levy any airport charges.

As the Reward Flight Saver fee of £35 in Euro Traveller and £50 in Club Europe is halved on one-way flights, you may be overpaying if you book a return flight from London instead of two one-way tickets.

The lesson is, before booking a RETURN European redemption, check out the taxes if you book the trip as two separate one-way trips.

A return to Luxembourg incurs Reward Flight Saver fees of £35.  If you book it as two one-ways, the fee is only £17.50 outbound plus £3.30 inbound, for a total of £20.80.  You save £14.20 per person.

Some destinations have no savings on economy flights but are good value in Club Europe.  For Hamburg in Euro Traveller, for example, you save nothing by booking two one-way flights.  In Club Europe, however, the saving is £5 per person.

Even if you thought that you may end up cancelling your trip, it is still cheaper for Euro Traveller flights to book such a trip as 2 x one-way flights because (for online cancellations) the £35 cancellation fee is capped at the lower of £35 or the tax paid.

For Club Europe, there is a risk that you will end up paying a higher cancellation fee.  With the Hamburg example, you would pay £45 to cancel (£25 on the outbound and £20 on the inbound, ie the total of the tax you paid) rather than £35.

If you remember the points above, you may save a few pounds on your next short-haul redemption.   Don’t try this on long-haul though, as the fuel surcharges are markedly higher in the majority of cases.

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  1. Eugene says:

    But similar subject.I have a return to Shanghai next month with the infamous Iberia 90,000 points deal. anybody changed flights to other dates( before first leg )but post the 1 Dec cut off for making a booking?

  2. Can you book one ways online or do you need to call?
    Can you return from a different airport on the one way or return leg back? Looking at a multi trip flight.

    • One ways can be booked online.

      An ‘open jaw’ needs to be done on the phone though.

      • Yorkieflyer says:

        But is this true if you book the return open jaw online and ring up and ask for the 50% Avios refund applied with the 241?

        • If the outbound was on a 241 already then, yes, reports suggest they will do this – but I never have.

        • Annabelle says:

          This is what I’m hoping to do for an open jaw 2-4-1 next April to reduce taxes from Hong Kong to London. Booking on – line T-355 at 1am and then calling BA office to apply voucher and refund 50% avios. Outbound is London to Tokyo. Anyone had experience of this type of booking or safer to suck up the higher taxes £160pp!! ) and call at 1am? Thank you

        • I did that sort of thing for next year. Bagged J to SIN at t-355 using a 241, then F back from HKG two weeks later, again at t-355 but using full Avios. I rang the next morning and half the Avios for the return were refunded with no tax recalculation.

    • Annabelle, yes, just done this very thing. Booked outbound to Tokyo with the voucher, then booked inbound from Hong Kong this morning at 1am using full avios. Have just called up to have the voucher applied to the return and half those avios returned. NB doing it this way means they stay as 2 separate one-ways, which is good for the return leg change option as described in the main article, but less good if you need to cancel everything as it is double the cancellation fee.

  3. Bob123 says:

    O/T My recent flight to CPT was delayed 12hrs (BA – tech fault). BA just emailed and offered 25k Avios – is this instead of me claiming the £520 under EU law? Has anyone taken more Avios rather than the cash? FYI – I was flying using Avios in F.

    • Lady London says:

      I’d accept with a note to them saying its on the understanding that you will additionally expect what is due to you under EU261. Check there’s no small print anywhere on the offer that could restrict this.

    • You get both. EU law does not allow airlines to let passengers sign away their rights.

  4. I’m guessing that you can only change the time/date of the return flight if reward seats are available?

    For Sydney almost impossible so how did they manage to get back?

    • Lady London says:

      The article didn’t say they got back yet. Perhaps they’re still stuck out there in Oz… perhaps they never made it back after foolishly releasing one of the few air miles tickets from Oz back to Europe ever to be found:-)

  5. James Whitehead says:

    Obvious-ish point here but not mentioned explicitly above – if you need to cancel the whole trip or maybe change the dates of the whole trip – then you’re doubling the fees needed to do so. Definitely a reason to consider *not* booking 2 x 1 ways.

  6. O/T (ish!). I wondered if someone would be kind enough to clarify exactly what I need to do to book our outbound flights as soon as they are released using an Amex 2 for 1 companion voucher and avios, and then add on the inbound when they are released? I’ve got myself a little bit confused as never done it before, but don’t want to risk losing the outbound seats whilst waiting for inbound to be released.

    I know I can either phone at the appropriate time or go online to book the outbound seats. However, when the time comes for the inbound to be released, do I need the amount of avios available as if there weren’t a 2 for 1 voucher available, then have half the amount refunded when they sort out adding the 2 for 1 to the return journey as well? If that’s the case, I don’t have enough avios to be able to do it that way, so will just need to risk waiting for both flights to be released and hope everything is still available.

    Not sure I’ve explained it that well, hope someone gets me!

    • Annabelle says:

      Jodie, book the outbound as soon as they’re released and then you’ll need to call BA offices ( 1am T-355 days ) to add your return. You’ll only need the avios for one person.
      If you did have enough avios you could book the return on line at 1am on launch day, pay two persons avios then and call BA to refund 50% avios back. Only time that doesn’t work out so well if flights for US where taxes higher booking it separately. Hope you understand what I’ve written! 🙂

  7. Can’t believe I forgot the European 2 x OW thing. D’oh!

  8. Kirsty Moody says:

    We recently found out about the lack of return of Avios during a trip to the Far East. We had used a 2-4-1 Companion Voucher to travel with BA to HKG with a Cathay redemption to Cebu. On day 2 of the holiday my Mother was admitted to hospital very suddenly and we were advised to get home asap! Fortunately we did make it back in time, but sadly it was to say our final Goodbye. I spoke with BA whilst travelling home and they explained that they could not refund the ‘unused’ Avios, but they did agree to refund half the taxes we had paid, “in view of the circumstances”.

  9. really timely article – I have just been trying to do the same. It is a Lloyds Avios voucher upgrade return, and I am being told flat out no by the Avios rep that the inbound cannot be changed since the inbound has been flown. Is this correct?

  10. *inbound cannot be changed, since outbound has been flown

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