Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Is the new British Airways ‘use more Avios points but just pay £1 of taxes’ policy a big mistake?

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During 2019, British Airways announced a shake-up of Avios pricing on short-haul flights.

Since Avios was introduced, short-haul flights have come with a flat £17.50 one-way / £35 return added on.  This was termed ‘Reward Flight Saver’ and is a contribution towards the taxes and charges due on the flight.

Our full Avios pricing chart shows these numbers.  A return flight to Amsterdam on a peak day was 9,000 Avios + £35 return.  Budapest would be 15,000 Avios + £35.

Under the new pricing system, British Airways cut the headline charges to £1 return.  In return, it increased the headline number of Avios needed.

You now see a headline price on ba.com for Amsterdam of 18,000 Avios + £1:

Amsterdam Avios pricing

and for Budapest:

Budapest Avios cost

Here is the important bit.  The old pricing hasn’t gone away.  When you click to the final payment screen, you see a range of options.  One of them will be very close to, if not the same, as the original option.

See Amsterdam here:

Amsterdam Avios pricing

…. where the 9,000 Avios + £35 option is still there, half way down.

Importantly, you will usually find that the best value deal is the one nearest to the old pricingThe £1 deal is usually a bad deal.

For Amsterdam, for example, British Airways is asking for 9,000 extra Avios (from 9,000 to 18,000) – which I’d value at £90 if used properly – in return for cutting £34 off the taxes and charges (from £35 to £1).

Avios wing 14

Has this wrecked the value perception of Avios?

When BA started offering this, I thought it could backfire.  I was sure that pushing up the ‘headline’ price would make Avios look less attractive.

And yet …. people kept telling me that the new pricing was very popular.   Perhaps this is true.  If it IS true, it simply proves that the average (generally well educated) Avios collector has the maths ability of a gnat, because the £1 deal is a bad deal.

This is why I think there is a problem.

If you are thinking about collecting Avios, the obvious thing to do is to look at some typical redemptions and see what they cost, and whether that is realistic for you or not.

So …. off you go to ba.com and you look up the price of a return Economy flight to Budapest.  The headline price you see is the one in the picture above ….. 24,000 Avios + £1.

Your brain then goes …… whoa ……:

“I need to spend £24,000 on the free BA Amex credit card to get one Economy flight to Budapest?”

“I need to spend £10,000 at Tesco to earn 10,000 Clubcard points to get 24,000 Avios for an Economy flight to Budapest?”

“I need to take 192 one-way Economy flights to/from Amsterdam, earning 125 Avios each way, to get 24,000 Avios for a return Economy flight to Budapest?”

You wouldn’t blame someone for thinking like this.  British Airways thinks that 24,000 Avios + £1 looks more attractive than 15,000 Avios + £35.  I disagree.

To me, 15,000 Avios + £35 appears a lot more achievable than 24,000 Avios + £1.

Avios wing 15

And it’s not just me.

The reason I wrote this article, and the reason I use Budapest in this example, is because of an email I received last week.  This person is perhaps not the typical HFP reader in terms of her background, but I think her thoughts are closer to the way that the average person looks at Avios than many of us.

I’m not going to comment on the email, but I’d like you to read it and then decide for yourself if British Airways is making a mistake by focusing on ‘£1 taxes’.

“I hope you are well.  I have read a lot of your advice on Head for Points, and I find it really useful.  I have now a problem though with BA and their redemption tickets.

I am a single mother on low wages with 2 kids, working hard, converting my Tesco shopping to Avios, using cashback programs to earn Avios, spending on Amex, etc.  I even bought some when they offered a 50% bonus.

My family lives in Hungary and we visit them 3 times a year. Unfortunately I am not a businesswoman with Gold status and upgrade vouchers, etc.

Until recently it cost 15,000 miles peak for a business class one way per person. So I collected and collected and now have 40,000 miles, just 5,000 short.

I logged into my account to see availability and other pricing options, and I was shocked to see that it now cost 21,500 per person for a one-way in business class? For 3 people that is a HUGE difference.

I would understand a raise from 15,000 to 17,500 miles, but to over 21,000??? I am now years away from that little treat which was within reach. I am heartbroken, I am devastated.

Is this a computer error, or the result of Covid19 or everybody is after reward tickets to Budapest?  I am sure you are busy, but it would mean a lot, if you could look into it. Can you imagine your dreams being shattered in front of your eyes? I know this is a short route, business class is not as fancy as on a long haul flight, but we don’t go anywhere else. A little treat, some excitement to collect for and look forward to. But for 21,500 per person it us no longer worth it. Unachievable.”


how to earn avios from credit cards

How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (June 2021)

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

There are two official British Airways American Express cards:

British Airways American Express card

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up, no annual fee and a companion voucher for spending £20,000 Read our full review

BA Premium Plus American Express card BAPP

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the UK’s most valuable credit card perk – the 2-4-1 companion voucher Read our full review

You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points, such as:

Nectar American Express

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

We also recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card:

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

The most generous Avios Visa or Mastercard for a limited company 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.

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

Comments (137)

  • Anna says:

    This lady can’t be that badly off if she visits Europe 3 times per year. My mum was a single parent and when I was a child we stayed in a relative’s holiday cottage in Wales each summer which they let us have free because they felt sorry for us and we wouldn’t have had a holiday otherwise! (Not wanting to sound too Monty Python, I don’t recall many of my friends having foreign holidays either).

    • Anna says:

      Having said that my first CE trip was to Budapest and it opened our eyes to the experience of premium cabin travel so I hope she now knows that the old option is available! I agree CE isn’t that exciting after the first couple of times but certainly if you’ve never used the lounge before and been served champagne on board it feels like a treat. I’ve used avios to take my friend and my sister to European cities and they thought it was fabulous (especially as we travelled from T£ and got to use the Qantas and Cathay lounges).

    • Rhys says:

      She visits family, so I imagine except for the flights the costs are fairly low – staying with people for free, parents/grandparents potentially treating them etc. It’s very difficult to judge someone’s financial situation from one letter 🙂

    • Rob says:

      She is Hungarian, I believe, and the trips are back home.

      • Anna says:

        Yes, I gathered that. Maybe a better example is my son’s best friend at school. He is from a large Polish family and the parents can’t afford to fly them all back to Poland so each summer they make a 70 hour journey by car to see their family. (With the dog as well, I’m told!)

        • Rhys says:

          Is your argument that there are people who are worse off? Because that is always true of pretty much everyone, anywhere 🙂 This comes to mind….. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=26ZDB9h7BLY

        • J says:

          No family of 3 is finding it cheaper to go by car/train/bus than by RFS. Out of interest, how much is that train/car (petrol, servicing, depreciation) journey to the Welsh cottage these days?

          • Anna says:

            You can’t get to Wales by RFS! But the 120 mile trip would be much cheaper by car than 3 RFS flights once you factor in all the associated costs.

          • J says:

            Nice way to pretend to misunderstand what I was saying, the RFS comparison was clearly for Hungary/Poland. Although London to Wales coast by train is showing up as £85 return per person for me – hardly out of line with RFS

    • marcw says:

      When I moved to London from Spain in the middle of the economic crisis… I used to work for Pret. I was still able to go back home 3 times a year in peak times. This was before I knew Avios existed. So when you only consider the flights, going “back” home is not that expensive, as you “save” on accommodation. You only have to pay for flights.

      • Optimus Prime says:

        When I moved to London before the crisis I used to fly LCY-MAD for £94 return. Outbound on Friday evening after work and back on Sunday evening – most expensive flight times for a weekend break. I don’t think I can get those prices today even on LCC’s.

    • Ken says:

      I never understand this type of comment.
      Even 3 lots of return flights for 3 using Ryanair or Wizz would be cheaper than a week at Butlins in the school holidays.

      It would cost more to drive and take the ferry for 3.
      Could do it by coach maybe if it’s a competition- although they probably prefer to do an extra shift and fly.

      Pretty important for both grandparents and kids to see each other.

      • Anna says:

        What type of comment? It wasn’t criticism, just an observation. The family already travels to Hungary 3 times a year so it’s not the end of the world if they can’t get a trip there in CE – although it sounds as though they actually can if they select the appropriate avios option.

  • AJA says:

    I think there is a perception issue with all loyalty schemes (not just Avios) that they are great value until you try to redeem the points. Then you rralise that either availability is difficult to find or you need a lot more points than you thought or you also have to pay cash in addition to be able to redeem.

    Thanks to HfP and FT I now am aware of the various tricks of the trade in collecting and using Avios more wisely.

    I treat the Avios earned via credit card spending as a bonus on the basis that I’m spending anyway but when you sit back and think that even on the BAPP card you need to spend £10,000 to ‘earn’ enough Avios at the old 15,000 + £35 rate for a one-way business class trip to Budapest which at its most expensive will cost around £500 for a return ticket it’s a wonder any of us bother.

    I think some hotel schemes are even worse value and I have never redeemed any for a hotel stay, simply because I never had enough for more than a couple of nights and so never had any loyalty to any particular chain, choosing instead location, facilities and price every time rather than on hotel brand. So even holding the Hilton Barclaycard hasn’t helped. I had been using them to keep my Aadvantage miles from expiring until the association ended earlier this year.

    Now of course for many their Avios come from flights paid for by their employers which is how I first joined BAEC, as I was flying a particular route a lot. So in those situations it really is easier to collect and isn’t costing anything.

    Now I no longer travel for business so it’s far harder to collect Avios. I tend to use them for short haul RFS flights and instead either upgrade using Avios on long haul or reduce the cost using Avios even though I know this isn’t the best value. But at least that way I earn TP and Avios to maintain status.

    I do hope Rob answered the email and pointed out that the old option is still there but a wiser plan would be to either do a RFS return flight in economy or just use cash to buy 3 return flights in business and use the Avios to reduce the cost.

  • Steve says:

    Short haul and a 2 for 1 expiring. I can get Athens for c.27,500k Avios for 2 people and the price of a lottery ticket. I’m not willing to throw away £70 of cancellation fees but can live with £2. It’s about 9.5k more Avios to not put £70 as risk. Sees good value to me given the ease of earning 9k (referral / supplementary card holder)?

    • pauldb says:

      Not so fast! Unless something has changed recently, BA appear to have spotted a 241 is the one case where the new pricing works in your favour and close the opportunity: with a 241 you are forced to pay the old pricing.

    • meta says:

      You can’t use Avios+Money on 241 voucher!

    • Anna says:

      For what it’s worth I would use a 2 4 1 to go to Athens in normal times – the length of the flight would make it worth it (though not so much if you’re only getting a Pret sandwich and a bottle of water).
      We had a week in Athens for my 40th – it was an amazing trip and flights with Easy Jet were £90 each return!

  • zaza says:

    Arguably a greater threat to the longer term Avios brand is … HeadForPoints! (sorry Rob).

    Whilst I am prepared to adjust my spending habits to play the Avios game, picking up bonuses and directing spending etc, many people including others in my family are not. They see the scheme as an opportunity to pick up a “free” flight with casual usage, and expect to do so maybe every couple of years. For them, making the flight genuinely closer to cash-free is an improvement.
    However, my family are surely not alone in ditching Avios entirely, Covid notwithstanding, for the simple fact that there’s no availability unless you want to go to Wuhan or Bangalore or sit on the phone until 4 in the morning a year out.
    Avios has been taken over by people who are prepared to be organised, read the websites, jump on opportunities, find the loopholes, and then hoover up the flights. It makes it a game for a small number of people to travel more frequently in a higher travel class and frustrates the casual user.
    Is this necessarily a problem? Not really – as long as BA feel it’s a profitable enterprise for them and as long as people are inclined to compete for the points and availability, then it’ll keep running. But if the perception is that it’s a perk for a narrow customer base who pick up a load of points by flying with business anyway and not something that the everyday user will get any value out of, then they will struggle to attract the high street applicant, which for longer-term viability will more often than not lead to a steady decline.

    • paul says:

      I think I agree with you. I have done very well out of my 241, playing the game, mileage runs and ex EU ticketing etc however I have become more and more frustrated at the lack of availability (despite all the nonsense about x or y seats on every flight.
      This view is compounded by recent experience of other airlines to whom I defected for cash tickets. One example is TK who seem to have seats on every flight, every day. Out of the UK the charges are mad but ex the USA they are very reasonable and the value is great. Another irritant is that while BA never seem to have seats they then advertise that Cathay or one of their other partners do have availability on the same day, often with multiple premium seats available. This would not be so bad except they still charge their outrageous fees masquerading as taxes even when the operating carrier has none.
      I have now moved permanently to the “cheapest premium cash fare” camp of travelers and my loyalty to any brand is at an end. As a leisure passenger comfort food and service trump convenience every time.

      • Aston100 says:

        I agree with this.
        Relying on Avios availability for specific destinations is always going to be a turn off for those who are quite casual.
        Like if you only wanted to go to South Africa or Thailand or Australia etc hoping to use your Avios and a companion voucher. Almost no chance of getting those flights during peak summer or Christmas holidays.

    • Rob says:

      You know there are 5 million active Avios accounts in the UK and our core readership is around 50,000 people?

      • memesweeper says:

        > Avios has been taken over by people who are prepared to be organised, read the websites, jump on opportunities, find the loopholes, and then hoover up the flights. <

        I’m sorry, that doesn’t match my experiences. Outside of this forum, TLFL and FT (and their respective social events) I’ve never met anyone IRL who is behaves as you describe. I know a few of frequent flyers and they absolutely squander their Avios and other perks in my experience. Most Avios collectors are not frequent flyers and are just casual collectors, as Rob describes. Those casual collectors, the huge numbers carrying the BAEC Amex or cashing in ClubCard vouchers, they are the ones BA stands to loose with unattractive Avios pricing.

        • marcw says:

          But these “casual avios collectors”, there’s really no alternative to Avios. BAEC knows that.

          • memesweeper says:

            There absolutely is. Dozens of alternatives for cashing out of Tesco clubcard/t-c-b, and although the number of rewards credit cards is diminishing, there’s plenty of choice in the Amex and non-Amex space. E.g. the Amex c-back and John Lewis Partnership cards are both solid non-travel options.

            AFAIK most Avios do not get issued to frequent flyers for flying, they are issued to partners for promotions, and the vast majority go to credit card partners. These are, on the whole, collected by what I’d call casual collectors who are quite likely getting stiffed by the change in the default offering.

      • Doug M says:

        1 in 12 UK people have an ‘active’ Avios account. That’s hard to believe, or no?

        • Peter K says:

          I don’t think it’s an unreasonable number. Some of those will be there courtesy of family members who do it for them (I do my family’s).
          Others have a a vague idea of what they want and will patiently collect. A friend of mine collected about 1k avios a year via the old TSB mastercard that gave something like 0.2 avios per £ for 8 years or so.

        • Chrisasaurus says:

          It’s very hard to believe imo

          It’s also relevant that the bulk of the redemptions, in terms of seats on planes, are from the 50k and their equivalents, not from the masses. There could well be seven figures of active members with tiny balances that genuinely may never even get redeemed…

    • Mingus says:

      Lots to think about here. There are definitely insider/outsider incentives. For example, it’s advantageous to me that *I* know the tricks, but it’s probably equally valuable that others do not. It’s in my interest that people redeem points for 0.01p, so my 2p of value doesn’t trigger devaluations. It benefits me that _fewer_ people know about the T-355 day rule (I want those seats!). On the other hand, if the majority of casual punters ignore the scheme, all value is lost for the full-time players. Delicate balance: a bit like 3V cards writ large.

  • jack bloggo says:

    24,000 is worse than 15,000. but the examples just highlight how poor the return is for someone collecting avios the hard way.

    substituting the normal cost for the 24K cost….

    I need 15K to get a flight to Budapest, thats £15000 of amex spend, or £6250 of spend at Tesco, or 120 one-way AMS flights, and for each of them I then need to add £35 . And thenn I need reward availability. If i need to be picky on availability I may as well pick a date when a LLC is doing it for just the £35, and forget about the hassle of collecting avios altogether.

  • Doug Eaton says:

    Why does your correspondent need to travel Business Class?!

    • Rob says:

      A rare one-off treat to herself which she had been planning for some time.

      • Anna says:

        But she has 2 kids so unless one of them is under 2 she is relying on 3 CE seats becoming available which may not happen, especially at peak periods. The downside of collecting avios is that you quite often have to take what’s available and may well not be able to use them for your first (or even 2nd) choice of destination.

        • Chrisasaurus says:

          Plus aircraft dependant you may well find yourself in two different rows depending on seat allocation and full or mini middle seat. No mention of age of children but I wouldn’t be leaving either of my youngest in a row on their own!

      • Lady London says:

        And because she probably knows about all the LCC’s that flynto Budapest cheaper in Y. What she wants is ‘luxury’ otherwise she’d be on an LCC. Plus she possibly wants the cachet of flying J if mentioned to family being visited.

        Why else would someone willingly overpay?

  • Herb says:

    I have hundreds of thousands of Avios points that just keep on increasing. I cannot be bothered to jump from one scheme to another. BA flies wherever I want to go in Europe then lets me book a car and hotel. I get a thrill from literally spending nothing [except for £2 for tickets]. BA offers something to everybody. Yes, it is true that I cannot always go exactly where and when I want but then free is free, and free usually involves some small element of sacrifice. Keep it up BA, you are running a great scheme. And whilst BA may not be Emirates, it sure beats WIZZ or RyanAir!

    • Lashious says:

      Hiya Herb, how do you get your thousands of points? I’m more like the correspondant in terms of using mine as a treat, so please give me some clues..many thanks, Lashious

  • Fraser says:

    I totally agree, if you don’t know how the scheme works they are not making it appear attractive.

    The BA Free Amex still advertises the following;
    9,000 Avios
    One return flight from London to 50 European destinations*4

    25,000 Avios
    One return flight from London to 140 European destinations OR a one-way flight from London to anywhere in the USA, Caribbean or Middle East*4

    *Terms, taxes, fees and carrier charges apply.

    But if you look for a basic London to Paris return in Economy, they quote you 18,000 Avios + £1.

    However, clicking on “other pricing options” not only reveals the advertised 9,000 Avios + £35, but also 5,000 Avios + £95.

    Surely the lowest mileage redemption with highest cash element should be the one to advertise as a benefit of the credit card, eg “One return flight from London to 50 European destinations from as little as 5,000 Avios*” makes it seem much more attainable.

    Of course the detail is in the fine print and there may be an element above or below the £35 which can’t be classed as taxes and surcharges, or we might see dynamic pricing introduce flights from as little as 1 Avios!

    At least the letter writer doesn’t need to pay the same again to connect from elsewhere in the UK to begin with, which doubles the fare.

    • Alex W says:

      That is Amex’s advertising, not BA’s. Amex is not always good at advertising the benefits you get!

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