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Can you cancel the return of an Avios redemption 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. Richard says:

    Is there any time limit for changing the date of a return after the outbound has been flown. For example, could I change the return leg to be >12 months after the outbound?

    • pauldb says:

      The ticket validity is a 12 month limit from its date of issue. Now a ticket can be reissued (it has to be when you add a return to a 241, because at T-355+14nights your return is more than 365 days from the date you ticket your outbound). But I don’t believe it can be reissued after you’ve flown your outbound, so it will be a hard limit.

    • It doesn’t look like it. From the BA Executive Club Ts&Cs –

      15.16. Travel must be completed within 12months of the outbound date of travel.

    • Richard says:


    • Lady London says:

      You are possibly going to have an issue with Avios seat availability so if you’re going to change it suggest you find something acceptable to change to sooner than later and be prepared to change again if your ultimate preference comes along later.

  2. And can you downgrade a cabin when you change the date?

    • Mikeact says:

      We invariably book one ways, mostly for the flexibility of staying somewhere longer. One time we tried this, we had to come home ‘down the back’ as CE as full. It was no problem to downgrade, but was told, while changing the booking on the phone
      from Tenerife, that there would be no refund of the Avios difference etc. I never did query it……too late now !

    • Lady London says:

      Yes but pretty sure they’d never refund any if the originally paid Avios.

  3. Octopus says:

    Can the inbound route be changed after having flown the outbound?
    Eg. If the booking was originally a return from London to Tokyo, could the inbound be changed to fly back from Bangkok (which is in the same zone as Tokyo)?
    Or changed to return from an airport in a different zone such as Singapore?

    • Lady London says:

      I believe different airport is possible but only in the same zone.

    • I just did this – changed the inbound to a different airport about 150 km away and 2 days earlier when I needed to advance a return date due to illness while on a 2-4-1 redemption. I spotted the availability, called up, paid the change fee and about 8 hours later was on board.

  4. I have rebooked the return in a higher cabin. When I first booked only business out/premium economy back was available but after i’d flown the outward flight I was so impressed with business class that I checked again and business class availability had opened up for the return flight. This was flying on JAL HEL-NRT using Avios.

  5. Annabelle says:

    “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”

    Does that mean you can’t book return 2-4-1 flights on-line at 1am T-355 and get avios refunded back next day anymore? Thank you

    • No, just that you can only use the voucher for a one way or a return, not two one ways. Nothing has changed.

    • Alex W says:

      You can’t book a 241 on 2 separate tickets because the 241 can only be used against 1 ticket.

    • Don’t think this is right. You can book the return later and then call up to have the voucher applied to the return portion. They remain as 2 separate one-ways, on separate booking numbers – the return would presumably be changeable on its own, but the down side is that if you cancel the whole trip you pay twice the cancellation fee.

      • Lady London says:

        If true then it sounds like for this to work they must be putting both bookings on the same PNR. I didn’t know that worked.

  6. How could they have used a 2-1 to Australia when you can only use it point to point like to say to get as far as Australia? Is there another way to do it?

    • Alex W says:

      You can get to Oz on a single ticket with a 241 but the fees for doing so are a cool £1,852 plus 300k Avios peak or 250k off peak.

      • Mr. AC says:

        Not if they started in Jersey or Inverness…

        • Lady London says:

          Still lotsa dish though.

          Basically miles are letting you sit in J for similar cash cost as y. Yes you can get rtn to Oz for as low as £430 now but decent airlines will cost about this much for y for most of the year.

        • Lady London says:

          *dish- dosh

        • Alex W says:

          How much is it from Inv and Jersey?

      • Alex W and Lady London I have Australia booked for 2020 using 2-4-1 (F out, J back) and the taxes were £1562.04.

        • Lady London says:

          Yes. so cash cost is not too different from cash y fare of a decent airline. miles let you pay same cash yet you are sitting in rather nicer classes 🙂

  7. Andrew says:

    Agree on Rob’s point re one-way redemptions often cheaper in ET in Europe: we got 4 x ET seats to ACE for £94 in taxes and charges (return, so £23.50 each) for a week in August. Booking as one-ways also meant no need to call a call centre at 1am to add the return to an existing booking!

  8. OT but avios 2 4 1 redemptions – I managed to bag 3 x F seats from Manchester to Miami for Easter 2020 (thanks HFP!) which of course is fabulous, however the total avios cost was 218,000 avios for the outbound leg. This suggests that I was “charged” avios for the MAN-LHR connection which up to now only incurred the RFS fee. Is this new official BA policy or shall I call them and try and claw back the 18000 avios?

    • Claw them back. My parents recently paid for WTP then (after I encouraged them) upgraded return legs to Club when there was availability. I noticed a few weeks later that their domestic sector hadn’t been moved to CE despite availability so called BAEC. Took quite a fight (agent initially saying there was more to pay) but eventually moved across at no Avios or cash cost.

      • Thanks – there were no avios to pay for a similar trip we are taking next month but I didn’t know whether BA had introduced another sneaky change no-one had picked up on!

        Also, the Miami flight is from T3 – as I understand it we can use the Cathay Pacific lounge which is apparently better than the BA one?

        • Nick_C says:

          You can use any OW lounge Anna. Cathay and Qantas are the best. If you have time, you can do all four!

        • Much better! You can also use Qantas and AA lounges (although the latter isn’t that great, still better than the BA one though!)

        • Lady London says:

          Doesn’t the AA one have jellybeans? And the BA one a few decent alcohol choices? Not sure what hours the QF gin bar is open. It was closed when I was there but the obliging bartender did offer to get me anything i wanted.

          I envy your kid getting to experience First at such a young age Anna.

        • Lady London, ironically he’s not at all keen on foreign travel and keeps saying he can’t wait until he’s old enough to stay at home 😂. But yes he and his dad both benefit immensely from my points hobby/habit! Think he’s got a way to go before he’s up there with Ron’s kids though, and we generally stay in 3/4 star self-catering accommodation to keep the other costs down 😃.

        • Rob, not Ron! My phone is obsessed with Ron 😂

    • Mikeact says:

      We won’t bump into you at Miami Airport, as we go just before Easter for a couple of weeks or more, down to Key West area.
      Using Iberia out of Madrid, 2 x Business, total 170,000 Avios + £350….which seems a pretty good deal this day and age.
      RFS to position.

      • That is a great deal, but I’m very happy with what I’ve got given that there are 3 of us and we currently need to travel in the school holidays with a 2 4 1! When we’re back to travelling as a couple I will investigate Iberia’s offerings further (if avios are still a feasible option by then!) 3 seats in F with OW lounge access for the cash price of economy seats at peak time would have been an unachievable dream for us a few years ago!

  9. Lol not lying about it being quiet, Rob – seems most folks still asleep today compared to normal comment numbers by this time 😀

    Enjoy your day off, was rather amazingly 23C over the weekend but on the downside normal working Friday and Monday for many parts of Scotland!

    • We have friends visiting from Leeds and took them to the V&A and then walked along the river front for lunch at the Bridgeview Cafe. Gloriously warm sunny day for Dundee! A perfect day!

      • Mikeact says:

        We had to join 5 million others on West Wittering beach on Saturday , for two family children’s birthdays.
        Kids had a great time…… us ? We prefer going down late afternoon, early evening….say no more. !

      • Jill (Kinkell) says:

        Up here in the north,on the Black Isle, I was gardening with my fleece on! So much for record Easter Sunday temperatures! HfP and travel plotting was a far brighter occupation.

      • Lady London says:

        Er… Is there a V&A in Dundee Liz? If so I will visit my friend up there immediately!

  10. Joseph Heenan says:

    “one voucher cannot be used to book 2 x one-way flights on separate tickets”

    Even if you have two vouchers you can’t do it due to the voucher requirement that flights originate in the UK. I wish BA would loosen that restriction, it’s particularly frustrating when BA have availability only for the return portion of a trip you want to do.

    • Lady London says:

      Could you grab y going out to get the ticket done and secure the return leg whilst hoping for higher class to become available on the outbound? Either way its only going to cost you £35 either tobcancel the whole thing if the upgrade doesn’t appear or the same money to change the ticket if it does.

  11. Does anyone know if I book at return Avios flight before my 2–4-1 voucher comes through will they apply the voucher when it does to the existing booking and refund 50% of Avios used on the existing booking ?

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