Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Odd things are happening when you add a return to a one-way British Airways 2-4-1 flight ticket

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British Airways seems to have tweaked its rules on how you can book a return ticket using a British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher, assuming you want to book as soon as tickets are released.

Let me recap the position for the benefit of readers who are not fully familiar with it:

Unlike most airlines, BA guarantees to release 2 x Club World or Club Europe seats and 4 x World Traveller or Euro Travellers seats on EVERY flight as soon as booking opens up at 355 days before departure.

Many more seats, including First and World Traveller Plus, are usually made available over the next 355 days.  However, if you absolutely MUST travel on a certain date to a certain place, your only guarantee of Avios tickets is to call an open BA call centre at midnight (1am during BST) 355 days before departure and grab some of the six guaranteed seats.

The reason you need to call – even though the seats also appear online at midnight – is that call centre agents can put tickets on hold during the payment process.  If you book online, it doesn’t matter if the seats are in your basket or not.  They are not yours until you’ve filled in all the passenger and payment details and hit ‘Pay’.  You have usually lost them to a call centre agent by that point.

The obvious snag with this process is that you can only book your outbound flight initially.  You need to wait 7-10 days (or however long you plan to be away) before the return flight opens up.

So far so good.

The historic position for booking your return flight was this:

You would call British Airways and tell them you wanted to add a return flight to an existing one-way booking

The call centre would do this and charge you the additional Avios and the difference between the taxes you paid and the total taxes for a return flight

BA even waived the £35 per person change fee

However, in the last year or so BA has allowed you to do something else:

You book the two return flights online for full Avios (this requires you to have enough Avios to do this) and full one-way taxes

At your convenience, you call British Airways.  The two bookings are merged into one – leaving you with just one booking reference – and you are refunded the additional Avios you used for the return flight and any excess taxes paid.

I think the reason BA wanted to encourage this was to reduce the volume of calls at midnight.

British Airways Premium Plus 241 voucher

What has changed?

According to reports from HfP readers and Flyertalk users over the last few weeks, BA is now implementing a new position if you book your return flights online and try to merge them with an existing outbound flight.

When you call up:

BA refunds you the extra Avios you used for the 2nd ticket to reflect the fact it is ‘2 for 1’

You do NOT get your outbound flight merged into your inbound flight.  This means that you retain two separate booking references.

You do NOT get any excess taxes and charges refunded.  You are stuck with paying 2 x one-way taxes and charges rather than the taxes and charges on a return flight.

Why is this is a problem?

The taxes and charges on 2 x one-way flights are NOT the same as those for a return flight. 

This is because BA manipulates its charges based on what the local market will bear.  In particular, tickets which start in North America incur substantially higher charges than those which start elsewhere.

Here’s an example:

Return Club World Avios redemption to San Francisco:  £662.57

One-way Club World Avios redemption TO San Francisco:  £440.37

One-way Club World Avios redemption FROM San Francisco:  £485.90 (+ £440.37 = £926.27)

People who have been booking their return flight separately and asking BA to merge it into an existing 2-4-1 redemption are now having to pay an additional £527.40 (£263.70 x 2) in taxes and charges for a couple.

How can you avoid this additional cost?

If you need to contact British Airways to add a return leg to an existing 2-4-1 one-way booking, do NOT book the return online and call BA to merge the two flights together.  You are likely to end up overpaying your taxes and charges.

Instead, call up British Airways and ask them to book the return seats and add them to your existing booking.  Your wallet will thank you.

You can learn more about how the British Airways American Express 2-4-1 voucher works in this ‘Avios Redemption University’ article.

PS.  There are a couple of places where this trick could work in your favour.  Some countries cap the charges that airlines can add to their tickets.  Some ban them entirely.

Here is an example for Hong Kong:

Return Club World Avios redemption to Hong Kong:  £576.37

One-way Club World Avios redemption TO Hong Kong:  £377.37

One-way Club World Avios redemption FROM Hong Kong:  £34.50 (+ £377.37 = £411.87)

In this case, you SHOULD book the return leg of a 2-4-1 online and call BA to have half of the Avios refunded.  As long as they keep your two bookings separate, a couple will save £329 (£164.50 x 2) in taxes and charges.

How to earn Avios from UK credit cards

How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (December 2023)

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!

In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.

You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:

Barclaycard Avios Plus card

Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard

Get 25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £10,000 Read our full review

Barclaycard Avios card

Barclaycard Avios Mastercard

5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £20,000 Read our full review

There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up and an Economy 2-4-1 voucher for spending £12,000 Read our full review

You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points. These points convert at 1:1 into Avios.

SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive 30,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 30,000 Avios) with American Express Preferred Rewards Gold. You receive 25,000 points if you spend £3,000 in three months and a further 5,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.

SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive a huge 100,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 100,000 Avios) with The Platinum Card. You receive 75,000 points if you spend £10,000 in six months and a further 25,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 30,000 points (TO 9th JANUARY), FREE for a year & four airport ….. Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express

Crazy 100,000 points (TO 9th JANUARY) and a huge range of valuable benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Run your own business?

We recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

Get a 10,000 points bonus plus an extra 500 points for our readers Read our full review

You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios Read our full review

There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points bonus and an annual £200 Amex Travel credit Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.

Comments (99)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Nigel Thompson says:

    I’m currently 6 hours behind the UK so apologies for being late to the party!
    I booked a one way outbound flight from LGW to Antigua with a 241 +65000 + fees just 10 hours ago , in the expectation of doing what we have all done for some time about the return trip i.e. snag two tickets in about a fortnight (I’m retired so somewhat flexible on dates) and then get BA to merge them. I’ve done that for years courtesy of initial advice from HFP. I was really hacked off to wake up only this morning to find the rules have changed. Like Neil Donaghue, I don’t have enough points to make two fresh bookings for the return leg so it seems I may have to cancel the original booking and hope to get both inbound and outbound flights on line when the original dates have gone back on the system. High risk I know. That risk is made even worse however by being dependent on my ~Avios being refud after the cancellation.
    Question 1: Anybody got experience of how long points from a cancelled booking take to be returned?
    Question 2: As my wife has a 241 voucher, could I book the inbound leg using that; get BA to merge the two bookings and get either mine or my wife’s 241 voucher back?
    Question 3: Perhaps I’ve had too many rum punches to understand the new rules fully, but can I just ring BA to book the return leg (as opposed to doing it on line) and ask them to merge that with my existing booking for just another 65000 points and the adjusted fees (as of old)?
    My apologies if this all sounds naive to the more experienced of you!

    • Harry T says:

      Nothing has changed really – you can still ring up and add the return leg at t-355 if you’ve already booked the outbound.

      If you do cancel an Avios booking, I find the Avios return to my account immediately.

    • Anna says:

      IME BA’s fees on flights returning from the Caribbean are nothing like as swingeing as those for the US (hence we often travel into the US and back from GCM), so you may not be too badly affected. You can check the charges on Reward Flight Finder to see if it’s worth it.
      You can’t use your wife’s voucher for the inbound as trips have to start in the UK.

      • Anna says:

        Just looking at RFF – cash element of return CW booking is £513. Do it separately and you should have been charged £350 each for the outbound, and the inbound should be £195 each. So to secure your inbound booking at T-355 online you’ll pay a bit more but not loads. You might feel that this works for you – this is what I usually do, as I think the value of the seats is worth the slightly higher cash amount.

        • Anna says:

          Apologies, by phone, not online!

          • Nigel Thompson says:

            Thank you all for your very helpful comments. They are really useful and I am very grateful. I shall ring in a fortnight when the return flights become available and (hopefully!) grab the two tickets we need – and pay the extra fee, which is actually not that bad compared with the saving of using a 2-4-1 voucher.

    • Carole Karp says:

      I cancelled a flight in F return to Australia. I used 55K Avios. These were refunded within about three days, however now 20 days later I still have not had my money refunded (around £5K). When I call they say it’s in the queue as they are very busy with refunds and if I don’t hear by 1st week of December I should call again! Definitely not good enough but I hope this answers your Avios refund query.

  • Grimz says:

    What happens when you have not used a 241 and bagged the outbound T355 days out. It must be the same for a single ticket that you can add in the return leg onto one ticket and not pay the higher taxes of two single tickets.

  • Grimz says:

    I guess another way is to book the flights at 12 and then cancel the booking as you are on the phone to BA in the morning. Its free to cancel and the flights become available to book again.

    • meta says:

      If you cancel Avios booking there is no guarantee that seats will return to award inventory, especially for popular routes with limited flights! Some good agents warn you about it.

  • MarioC says:

    Anyone knows if this works with Virgin Atlantic? Interested in redeeming a 241 voucher, flying to Miami, returning from Sao Paolo. If I book as 2 one ways, I would save about £300 in taxes.

  • Anthony Biddulph says:

    Guessing if you use a GGL joker for 4 to travel in Club you can’t avoid calling BA as there will never be 4 club seats available for Avios at T+355

  • Darren says:

    Just called to change an existing return to HKG using a 241. I wanted to change the return to SIN -LHR, I was told that this isn’t possible on the same booking as SIN is from a different zone. So I’d have to cancel everything, hope that the HKG seats reappear and book again.
    Not ideal.

    Is there anyway around this?

    • pauldb says:

      No there’s no way around that.

      Interesting to wonder if, had you book it as two one-ways as this article explains, you could have cancelled your inbound only and made a new voucher inbound from a different zone: not having had to cancel the outbound? In other words does the online inbound method also give you some flexibility.

  • David says:

    As another newbie in this process, when I look up the BA Avios phone numbers, they seem to be open only from 6am or 7am. Is there another number where you can phone at midnight, as you suggest?

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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