British Airways trials Reward Flight Saver Avios tickets on long haul flights to New York

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British Airways has just added a new Avios option on flights between Heathrow and New York JFK.  It is reducing the minimum cash component of an economy (and only economy) redemption to £100.

The option is being marketed as ‘Reward Flight Saver’, which is a term British Airways already uses for short haul redemptions.

As a refresher, Reward Flight Saver (or RFS) allows anyone who has earned one Avios in the last year to book a short-haul reward flight with a subsidised level of taxes and charges.  These were fixed at £35 and £50 return for economy and Club Europe, respectively.

Reward Flight Saver is only available on flights operated by British Airways or its franchisees. Codeshares or joint venture flights are not included.

Although in recent years BA has been adding additional balance options for redemptions, the traditional RFS amounts of £35 / £50 have typically offered the most value on a ‘pence per Avios’ basis.

You can read how British Airways Reward Flight Saver works in this article here.

BA A350

How do you book Reward Flight Saver to the USA?

British Airways is trialling a similar concept under the same name on its long haul network. Currently, the Reward Flight Saver offer is only available in economy on British Airways-operated flights between London and New York JFK.

(So, for clarity, you cannot book this on American Airlines services, or in World Traveller Plus, Club World or First, or to any other US destination apart from New York JFK, including Newark.)

You will recognise the option when selecting flights by the RFS icon:

Reward flight saver icon

This is not an accident or technical glitch.  As you will see on this page of the BA website, the Reward Flight Savers information has been updated to include destinations in North America:

“Reward Flight Savers are our best value reward flights. You pay the Avios and a flat fee in cash while we pay the taxes, fees and carrier charges for you. It’s available on selected return flights in Europe, North America* and on southern Africa wherever you see this symbol.”

I asked the British Airways press office if they could give a little more detail on the offer and this is what they had to say:

“Last year we launched an option where British Airways Executive Club Members could book a reward flight to Europe using Avios and as little as £1 return.  Following its success, we are launching a trial on long-haul flights in World Traveller (economy) for as little as £100 return”

This suggests that Reward Flight Saver options will roll out to all US destinations British Airways flies to.  New York is simply the first to have it.

Long Haul Reward Flight Saver Avios redemptions New York

Is Reward Flight Saver with Avios to New York good value?

Let me spoil the surprise to save you scrolling down – no.

Whilst taxes have gone down, the Avios required have gone up.

Are economy long-haul Avios redemptions ever good value?  No, as this article shows.  Cutting £130 off the cheapest taxes option should make a difference, but it is accompanied by a higher Avios requirement.  In any event, New York economy flights are usually so cheap that Avios redemptions are rarely great value.

Let’s take a look at the new Reward Flight Saver option to New York.

Here is the legacy off-peak pricing you would see to New York Newark, which doesn’t yet have RFS (click to enlarge):

Long Haul Reward Flight Saver Avios redemptions New York

…. and here is the new off-peak Reward Flight Saver pricing to New York JFK.

Long Haul Reward Flight Saver Avios redemptions New York

As you can see, the big change is the reduction of the taxes and fees portion of the fare whilst the Avios requirement increases. The ‘headline’ RFS price of a return economy ticket from London to New York is 50,000 Avios and £100. This compares with 26,000 Avios and £241 without RFS, roughly doubling the Avios needed whilst halving the cash component.

If we assume a notional value of 1p per Avios in both valuations, that means that the RFS flight prices in at £600 exactly whilst the legacy flight costs £501.  The cost has gone up!

You still have alternative options under the new RFS scheme, and in some cases the Reward Flight Saver options are cheaper.  Take a look at the option for 9,100 Avios + £360 with Reward Flight Saver whilst you would be paying 9,100 Avios + £371 on the old pricing model.

Under the Reward Flight Saver scheme the value actually increases the fewer Avios you use:

50,000 Avios + £100 = £600 assuming 1p per Avios of value
38,000 + £170 = £550
26,000 + £230 = £490
19,500 + £280 = £475
13,000 + £330 = £460
9,100 + £360 = £451

…… whilst the option closest to the traditional Avios cost of 26,000 Avios and £230 is actually cheaper than it was previously.

On the whole, the new Reward Flight pricing IS marginally cheaper than the previous pricing when calculated as a total fare.

By ‘marginally cheaper’, I mean £11.  Big deal.

New York Newark = 26,000 Avios + £241

New York JFK using RFS = 26,000 Avios + £230

Economy Avios redemptions still aren’t great value

Of course, you will often find cash tickets in economy to New York for less than £450.

Let’s be frank.  You can occasionally find them as low as £250.  Redemptions are a terrible idea.

However, you should remember that Avios bookings come with low cancellation fees and the inclusive of hold luggage, which you would not have on ‘Basic’ economy fares. If neither of these factors are important to you a cash ticket will usually beat an Avios redemption on value on this route.

The ONLY people who benefit substantially from Reward Flight Saver in long-haul economy are those who are Avios rich and/or generate Avios at no cost to themselves (eg. from business travel) and so value them at nothing.  These people will see a starting price of 50,000 Avios + £100 as better than 26,000 Avios + £241.  I hope that most Head for Points readers can clearly understand that the latter is by far the best deal.

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  1. memesweeper says:

    They are not allowing you to apply a ‘companion voucher’ to this long-haul RFS. That’s not how it works short-haul and, assuming that’s not a short term blip while they short out the IT, it looks to me like a violation of the companion voucher T&Cs.

    ‘The Companion Voucher allows the main British Airways American Express Card Account holder, when making a flight booking using Avios, to book another seat on the journey for a Companion without having to pay the Avios flight price for that Companion.’

    Except, with the RFS, you can’t.

    • Didn’t spot that, thanks.

    • mr_jetlag says:

      Have you tried calling (easier said than done atm)?

      • memesweeper says:

        No — not just because of the queues but mainly because I don’t want to book to JFK right now… I did a dummy booking to see how it handled the companion voucher.

        If long haul RFS is rolled out to a destination and class I want to fly I’ll try and book, and then call and complain, and if necessary raise a complaint. IMO it’s against the T&Cs.

  2. You aren’t even comparing like for like though… cash fares for as low as £250 are generally hand baggage only, non-refundable/changable and during off-peak times etc. Whereas RFS are cancellable/changeable and comes with check in no?

    Why don’t you do a comparison for full flex tickets with baggage and then opinionate whether this is good value or not. The answer may still be no for some.

    A quick look on say virgin cash fares to NYC in the middle of august; economy fares for the 3 options are £498, £586 and £716.

    BA for the same time is £594

    Both O class tickets so no refunds but changeable from memory.

    When you price this against the new RFS it is broadly fair value but you’ll have full flex + £500 CASH to spend in NYC!

    • …which is why we wrote “However, you should remember that Avios bookings come with low cancellation fees and inclusive of hold luggage, which you would not have on ‘Basic’ economy fares. If neither of these factors are important to you a cash ticket will usually beat an Avios redemption on value on this route.”

      • You may have made that comment but you still concluded it wasn’t a good value. Lol… It is basically not good value based on the specific parameters you chose to compare it against.

        • Callum says:

          What proportion of cash tickets sold are fully flexible?

          The vast majority do NOT buy fully flexible tickets so no, it’s not necessary to only compare it with the fully flexible cash price. The comparison only makes sense if you want to pay for a fully flexible ticket – most people do not.

          • avstar says:

            if you are not pricing in the added flexibility that comes with such redemptions, then you are not playing this game optimally. that option at the very least has 0 value and pure upside

        • How else can you.possibly asses value other than under a specific range of parameters?

          I mean it isnt value at all if you don’t want to go to NYC either, should that have been factored in?

          Find me an example of someone looking to buy full flex Y economy cash tickets for themselves (eg not for employer) to NY? There many of those you think?

    • Baji Nahid says:

      Even with a basic economy ticket, check in agents are very lenient in checking in baggage, I’ve chanced it every time with the basic ticket whilst asking politely and they do it without no issues.

  3. The Savage Squirrel says:

    Most of the time this will be a bad option.
    However it’s not at all hard to find a few scenarios where it would be an extremely useful or even a valuable option.
    Therefore it’s definitely something to welcome.

  4. Lady London says:

    I will reserve judgment until I see RFS offered on other North American destinations.

    New York was the wrong one to start with. I’ve regularly seen offers ex-EU that worked out to £140-180 cash to there over quite a long period now.

    If BA wants to show me what they’ll do with this on YVR SEA PDX SFO LAX then they may get the rest of my avoid off me. Alternatively I’ll be flying with other airlines that are much cheaper for those.

  5. the_real_a says:

    From a cash-flow perspective I dont understand the timing – the new options are actually cash negative – BA are subsiding fares. I dont think Avios are even a liability on the balance sheet so no cash benefit from reducing the number in circulation!

    • I was thinking that, and moreover I’m sure there must be a devaluation in the pipeline!

    • No taxes due until the flight, though…

      And I suspect the thinking is this may at least attract forward bookings – not a lot of leisure travelers looking to book a weekend to covid central right now…

    • Mr(s) Entitled says:

      They have to be a liability on a balance sheet somewhere.

      They simply be of the view point that otherwise planes would be half empty so they may as well fill them somehow. They are going there anyway so the cost is fixed.

      • The Savage Squirrel says:

        This. They always want availability to NY as even in Covidworld you never know when a group of investment bankers will pay to fly over tomorrow to close a deal, but the back end of the plane is going to be dead space without measures like this.

  6. Azlozi says:

    Anyone know what the impact is for connecting flights in the UK?

    E.G. will a flight from ABZ to New York via London be a free connection as it would for a long haul trip. Or an extra £35 plus avios for a normal RFS connecting trip?

    • Seems to be included as per the usual long-haul rules.

    • the_real_a says:

      Connecting flights for long haul were never charged at RFS – you paid the full amount of “tax” for that segment (but free avios). So for example, my connection to LBS was about £50 extra each way. It seems that the cash element in the new option is also increased by a similar amount.

  7. ChrisC says:

    This might get Avios off BAs books but they will lose cash because on a return economy ticket between LHR and JFK the government taxes and airport fees are approx £150.

    APD alone of £80 and LHR passenger fees just under £50.

    So for every booking of these RFS they will have to spend £50.

    • mr_jetlag says:

      As someone else said, fills up the back of the plane for a route they can’t realistically cut, and gets Avios off the balance sheet.

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