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Can you cancel the return leg of an Avios redemption flight after flying outbound?

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As it was a slow news day yesterday, 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 Avios 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.

Sydney Opera House

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’.

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 seven 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.

Can you cancel one way Avios redemptions

In other cases, consider booking 2 x one-ways – you may even save money

Booking a trip as 2 x one-ways gives you added flexibility to cancel or change the return leg.

It can, in some cities, also save you a substantial amount of money.

Hong Kong, for example, has banned airline surcharges on trips which depart from the city.

If you book a return redemption from London, BA adds surcharges to both legs.  If you book as 2 x one-way flights, you only pay surcharges on the oubound.

This is how it works in practice, saving you £164:

Return Club World peak redemption London – Hong Kong:

  • 180,000 Avios + £592

2 x one-way Club World peak redemptions London – Hong Kong:

  • Outbound: 90,000 Avios + £393
  • Inbound: 90,000 Avios + £35
  • Total: 180,000 Avios + £428

Note that, due to a BA website bug, the £35 charges figure for the return leg only shows on the final payment screen.

But don’t forget ……

Booking a redemption as 2 x one-way flights has one snag.

If you need to cancel, you will be hit with double the cancellation fees.  The Hong Kong ticket above would cost £70 per person to cancel rather than £35.

You need to take a gamble on whether the saving in surcharges – or the ability to cancel your return flight without having to fix a return date – is worth the risk of doubling your cancellation fee.

Comments (49)

  • lcylocal says:

    Is a change of airport within the same zone possible after the outbound has been flown, if the availability is there? Say you were booked New York to London, but fancied returning from DC instead?

  • Leo says:

    Rather OT – but would you expect a BA flight sale anytime soon, Rob?

  • Axil23 says:

    You can still cancel a return leg before flying the outbound right?

    • Rhys says:

      Yes, up to 24 hours before departure minus the £35 fee.

      • Axil23 says:

        Thank you

      • pauldb says:

        I don’t believe you can strip the inbound leg out of the booking, in case that’s what you meant. You have to cancel the whole return booking.

        • David says:

          Correct. Cancel the whole booking and then book two one-ways; if starting in the US, you save some tax. I’ve just done this using a 2-4-1. HOWEVER, currently you have to wait weeks before BA refund the original fees and taxes, although they refund the Avios the same day; they also charge you the fees for the new tickets immediately, so you’re considerably out of pocket for some time.

  • MKB says:

    In 2018, I had a 2-for-1 Club World Avios booking from London to Nairobi where we were staying for one week.

    A week before the outbound flight, we decided we would return one day early, but the new date had availability in World Traveller only. It was possible that Club seats might be released very close to the return date.

    I was unsure of the rules as to whether a date/class change had to be made before flying outbound. Googling revealed differing opinions. The BA terms and conditions also gave contradictory and unclear information. So I called BA to ask.

    The BA agent confirmed that I could change the date and class of the return leg now, or wait and do it after flying the outbound, and receive a refund of the difference in Avios, provided there was still at least 24 hours until my return flight and award seats still available. I ended the conversation with “So there is no downside to my waiting until two days before my return flight to make this change, provided there are still World Traveller award seats available at the time?” I was told that was correct.

    48 hours before the earlier return date, no Club seats had become available, so I called to do the date change with a downgrade to economy. I went through three agents, who all started by saying this was fine, only to get a “computer-says-no” response in each case: yes, you can change the date and class, but no, you cannot have a refund of the difference in Avios after you have flown the outbound sector. All of the agents were unaware this was the case until they tried to do it.

    It took six months of stressful wrangling, and the threat of legal action, before BA refunded the difference in Avios.

    The other thing I learned is that, contrary to what they say, not all calls to BA are recorded and telephone agents do not make contemporaneous notes to record the advice they have given the passenger. They had neither. I had to do a data-access request to discover this.

  • Darren says:

    Hi Rob ,
    I missed my outbound flight last year and I was unable to retrieve the Avios for the return flight , was that information correct.
    I have since always been buying single tickets , as I know what I am like 😂😂😂

    • Rob says:

      Good question. I think you lose the lot on this basis, unfortunately.

      In the BMI days you could cancel up to 1 hour before departure which saved my bacon once in a similar situation.

      • Darren says:

        Yes , I nearly made it on time , checkin had closed 5 minutes earlier and I actually managed to create a cancellation before take -off , which generated an automatic response , to which I thought all would be ok.
        Later to find out not ((((
        Anyway that’s my mistake and why personally I hate morning flights

  • JR says:

    Does anyone know if Iberia allows modification of the return leg after the outbound is flown? They generally have a NO policy towards anything customer friendly , but any experience would appreciated

  • Jonathan Purvey says:

    My wife and I are also using Amex 241 companion flights to Sydney in Club World . You have to snag them the day of release, 355 days before your outbound and then add a return, again 355 days before. As we are cruising from Sydney to Singapore our return is from there 1 month later. Was meant to be Apr 2020 but rescheduled for Mar 2021 with no problems, just £40 in taxes. May have to push to 2022 at this rate as cruise was main part of holiday.