A Beginners Guide to Using Avios Points (Avios Redemption University, Lesson 1)

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How do you book flights using Avios points?  How do you book flights with partner airlines?  And is it worth redeeming Avios for hotels, wine, car hire or experiences? 

Starting today, we are running updated versions of our ‘Avios Redemption University’ series.

The “Avios Redemption University” series is a good starting point for beginners, although I hope everyone will learn something from it.  Click here to see the other “Avios Redemption University” articles.

This series of articles covers 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.

How do you book flights with Avios?

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 ‘Book A Flight With 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 your Avios from British Airways, avios.com (for Aer Lingus and Vueling) 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 and in more detail in future articles.

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 do you book flights using Avios points?

How do I know how many Avios are needed for a flight?

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.  Unfortunately, it is current unavailable and has been for some months.

Luckily we have a copy of the chart below.

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, and applies to British Airways and Aer Lingus flights.  It also applies to most Iberia flights – we will look at the differences in another article. 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.

How many Avios are needed for flights on partner airlines?

Flights on British Airways partners are priced differently.  For flights on Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Japan Airlines, LATAM (until 30th April), Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Air Maroc, S7, Sri Lankan and Royal Jordanian Airlines, this chart applies:

BA reward flight avios redemption prices on partner airlines table

As you can see above, short domestic flights in the US are priced differently.  This HFP article looks at Avios pricing for US domestic flights.

All dates are peak dates when pricing partner airline flights.

How can I work out the length of a flight?

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, although it is currently unavailable.

We have an alternative though.  You can find the Avios needed 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.

BA, Iberia and Aer Lingus do NOT have the same peak and off-peak dates.

The list of British Airways and Iberia peak and off-peak dates for 2021 can be found in this article.  We do not yet have the 2021 calendars for Aer Lingus or Iberia.

You can save a lot of points if you apply these calendars smartly. Compared with British Airways, Aer Lingus does not have an October and February peak season during the UK half terms.  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, although Aer Lingus has a very limited long-haul network.

Flights with any airline other than British Airways, Aer Lingus and Iberia do not have peak or off-peak dates.  All partner flights are priced from the separate chart above which is valid 365 days per year.

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

There is a third 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 on ba.com here. A flight such as London – Doha (Qatar Airways) – 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.

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.

The Avios charged for a particular route can therefore vary depending on how you fly there.

London to Muscat on British Airways is non-stop and 3,600 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 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 (20,750 + 6,000=) 26,750 Avios, one way.  All dates are peak dates when flying on Qatar Airways or other partners.

Be careful here.  Do not necessarily think that the British Airways direct flight to Muscat is cheaper because it requires fewer Avios.  You may find that the taxes are lower on partner airlines, making the partner option better value overall.

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.  We explain how ‘Avios and Money’ redemptions work in this ‘University’ article.

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 ‘Avios and Money’ can often be a great deal in this article.

What taxes and charges are due?

The cost of your reward flight will also include a charge for ‘taxes and charges’.  This is mainly a British Airways ‘carrier surcharge’, which goes directly into BA’s pocket, 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.

Let’s go back to my example above.  London to Muscat on British Airways, return, has a taxes and charges total of £258 in Economy.

This is bad value, unless you need the flexibility to cancel that an Avios ticket offers.  You can often pick up an economy flight to the Middle East 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 points to upgrade flights

You can also use Avios points to upgrade a flight by one class on BA, Iberia and American Airlines.   We explain how to use Avios points to upgrade British Airways flights in this article.

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.

(That is not a typo.  An idiosyncrasy of the Avios reward chart is that Club World upgrades from World Traveller Plus 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 28 (!) airlines which let you redeem Avios points can be found here.

This list has shrunk over the last year as LATAM is leaving oneworld on 30th April and Air Italy has gone bust.

Redeeming Avios on ba.com:

British Airways Executive Club lets you redeem for all 14 airlines in the oneworld alliance plus Aer Lingus, Comair (South Africa) and Alaska Airlines .

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 Executive Club 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 British Airways 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.

Taxes are higher and availability have historically been worse on Aer Lingus when booking online via avios.com instead of over the telephone via British Airways Executive Club.  I have had variable reports on this over the last 12 months, however, so you may want to get a taxes quote via both sources.

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 discuss how to redeem Avios points on Iberia flights in this article.

Iberia Plus also has access to flights from Vueling, 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 on how to book an Avios open-jaw flight 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?

You can see the full list of all 15 articles in the ‘Avios Redemption University’ series here.

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

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Comments

  1. Mikeact says:

    An excellent refresher guide as is the whole series.

  2. Geoff says:

    The article header mentions wine and experiences but they are not discussed later. I have seen that BA wines is on hold due, in part, to ‘an unprecended number of existing orders’. Lots of people checking out their avios maybe? Experiences is also limited to hotels and cars.

    • This is just part 1 in an extended series!

      • Does this response still stand?

        • Yes, we published 15 articles in this series this month!

          • I realise that, I have read them. The original point was that the first article header mentioned wines and experiences but then didn’t cover them – neither, I think, have those topics been covered in any of the other articles. And the other point was that those items are not available on BA and was interested whether that is a temporary inability or a significant change.

  3. Maxine says:

    I booked three Avios flights however couldn’t use them due to the Corona Virus. British Airways is being very difficult. Miami to Antigua which I spent 24,000 Avios, Antigua to Tobago for 33,000 Avios and Port of Spain to Miami for 33,000 Avios. It is for me, one adult, my 12 year old son and my 10 year old daughter. Please help me know what I can do because British Airways sent me 3 vouchers. These allow me those amounts for 3 flights. Thank you.

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