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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.


how to earn avios from credit cards

How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (July 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

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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

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

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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 (49)

  • Catman says:

    On a similar note….I have a return flight from Bangkok to London at the end of October using a Lloyds upgrade voucher (so ticket paid with avios, taxes and the voucher from Avios.com which BA treat as a travel agent so no future travel voucher). I was seriously thinking of postponing it to sometime next year given all the travel restrictions and, in particular, the difficulties of getting back into Thailand. Is this going to be possible?

    • Pablo says:

      BA appear to have cancelled all BKK flights until 25 October. I would wait for BA to cancel before doing any changes to the ticket.

      • Lady London says:

        Several airlines including BA have cancelled most of their routes through until 25 October or may be only running 2 or 3 days a week one flight only. The cancellations really kicked off the day it was announced the airlines don’t have to keep using unneeded slots – this has been extended (cf Rob’s article of about 5 days ago).

        However 25th October is the first day of the new winter season.
        I think the cancellations so far were just a shutdown of the rest of the summer season till 25 October.
        I fully expect airlines are not going to fly again in the winter, until peak Christmas season (2-4 weeks max) and quite probably February school holidays season. the rest I think we will see the same flying pattern, or less, as we have in October.

        If there is good news by end November this might improve. But otherwise we’re waiting and hoping there is enough good news for them to keep flying after the February school holiday, through Easter in April and into some sort of reasonable summer.

        Here’s hoping.
        So expect more cancellations folks! even through after 25 October.

  • Kevin says:

    I believe the ban on surcharges from Hong Kong was lifted about two years ago. Not to say that BA have added them back on, but there was a change in the rules.

    • Ed says:

      Yeah this was my understanding as well.

      VS also continue to still only charge the small amount of fees on a HKG departure as well.

  • flyforfun says:

    The big killer is the inability to benefit from this when using the 241 voucher.

    If you did the unicorn and got a Sydney flight and booked via the 1st leg 1st, then the return when the outbound became available method with the 241 voucher, does that still count as a return journey or 2 1 way legs?

    • Anna says:

      If you call to add the inboud leg on a 241, it will be one booking. If you book the inbound online then call to get the avios refunded, it remains 2 separate bookings.

    • Aliks says:

      Nope, BA will no longer merge the return journey onto the same code as the outbound, so your trip will still look like two one-way legs.

      The total Avios cost will be adjusted downwards (ie if you are using Lloyds vouchers) but the “taxes” and fees component will not – and the fees for two singles will usually be higher than one return.

      • Anna says:

        Rob did an article on this a few months ago and the consensus was that if you call to add on the return leg, rather than booking online and calling to have the extra avios refunded, BA does adjust the taxes/fees.

        • Aliks says:

          You are correct, if you book the return on the phone to an agent, you will have the flights on a single code, with the lowest fees.

          However, at midnight when the flights are first released, you might struggle to find an agent. If you fear there is a danger that someone will snaffle the seats you want, and you use your remaining avios to book 1-way flights for your inbound leg, then you are stuck with higher fees as BA will not merge the tickets.

        • Rob says:

          No, last we heard BA was not adjusting the taxes but WAS refunding the Avios.

          On Hong Kong this works in your favour of course!

          • Definitas says:

            Hi Rob. Does this mean that the higher taxes are now payable for adding the return leg to a Transatlantic 2-4-1 (as if you were booking a single US-UK leg)? If that is the case it amounts to a serious devaluation for Transatlantic 2-4-1s which make up 90% of my bookings

          • Rob says:

            This is how they were doing it before March, yes. Whether this continues next year when the US reopens is a different question. However, I doubt you’ll need to worry about booking 355 days in advance to secure seats for a few years.

  • Louie says:

    For completeness, neither can you get a refund if you downgrade your (return) class of cabin rather than cancelling the return, if the outbound has been flown.

  • Alex says:

    Regarding travel cancellations but OT: we had flights London-Mexico City with Aeromexico, booked via Ebookers, initial T&C allow changes but not cancellations. Aeromexico has just cancelled the flights for our dates so I wanted a full refund. I called to Ebookers and they refused to refund saying – contact Aeromexico and ask. I’ve done this and Aeromexico said they have nothing to do with this, contact Ebookers. Contacted them again and they refuse to refund saying they can only issue a voucher for future flights. Am I right that they are breaking the law as in case of cancellations we are allowed to get the full refund? What would be the best for us to do – would this be a chargeback request via credit card or can I keep pushing Ebookers saying this is against the law, or anything else?

    • Anna says:

      As your flight originated in London, I would have thought EU261 would apply here?

      • Alex says:

        Exactly what I thought but Ebookers refused and I do not know what’s the next best step.

        • memesweeper says:

          It’s your right under EU261. Write letters to both parties giving 14 days for a refund and threatening legal action if they don’t pay. Take both to MCOL as joint parties if this does not suceed.

          • Lady London says:

            +1 go for it. This is a standard runaround even with relatively decent OTA’s like ebookers. Seriously, this is just a rougher version of the same runaround BA gives you when you’re fully in the right, to wear you down and hope you go away.

            Do as @memesweeper says. Your contract is probably with ebookers (unless they have the deal some agents have where ebookers only charges you a booking fee and the airline bills your credit cards direct) but to get the right answer, when you do your moneyclaimonline dot gov dot uk (MCOL as mentioned by @memesweeper), make sure you name both ebookers and the airline as defendants and let the court sort out who is responsible to pay you.

            You could also try chargeback, or better, if booked on UK credit card, claim from your card under Section 75 – which would mean you can claim for consequent losses, additional costs and reasonable market price at replacement time, of new ticket even if higher.

            Do we need to say strenuously avoid booking with any OTA again unless you have a really strong reason to do so?

          • Lady London says:

            PS don’t forget to add statutory interest to your claim at the official rate of 8% p.a., calculated daily up to the date the money reaches your bank account from 7 days after the flight was cancelled which is your right.

            In your final communication with ebookers and the airline (email them jointly just in case) you can mention you will be adding this cost to your refund if not received within 14 days, as is your statutory right.

    • Mikeact says:

      Another good reason to book direct with the airline.
      And you try calling your TA out of hours back in the UK if you need to change/amend your ticket. The airline won’t be interested and will refer you back to your TA. I got caught once like this years ago…never again.

  • Geoff says:

    This is not true – ‘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’.

    You can book outbound, using the voucher, then book inbound when available. If you call up, the voucher benefit will be applied to the inbound leg, as if it was a return, but they remain as 2 one-way tickets. This can be good for taxes and flexibility in moving one or other independently but less good for cancellation as fees apply to each ticket.

    Single tickets retain the 241 protection even when changed. We have a current trip, booked as 2 one-way 241 redemptions, and have changed the ‘return’ sector several times – all within the umbrella of 241.

    • pauldb says:

      What have you changed about the return leg – date / route (band) / class?

      • Geoff says:

        Changed route from open jaw to back from the destination, and subsequently changed dates when availability changed. Same band. All I am saying, is that there is no worry about 2 singles booked this way not being able to remain within the 241 voucher.

        • pauldb says:

          Indeed. I was just wondering if booking 2 parts to the 241 gives further flexibility. If you want to change bands of the inbound on a 241, you have to cancel the whole lot and risk losing your outbound seats. With a split booking, I wonder if it’s possible to cancel just the inbound and then book a new inbound again benefitting from the 241.

          I also wonder who’d notice if you make a split booking, then “forget” you’ve used the inbound part and add a second leg to the first outbound booking? 🙂

    • cinereus says:

      Very useful info!

  • Mikeact says:

    Forgetting the 241 discussion, I’m my opinion, always, always book Avios one ways. Far more flexibility regarding changes to your itinerary, particularly if you are Avios heavy, and can afford to maybe book 2/3 journeys back home because you want to stay longer somewhere.

    • Geoff says:

      Agree for short haul and RFS – but for USA in Club you would be about £500 worse off in taxes for 2 singles vs a return – in fact, the taxes on the US-UK single are higher than the UK-US-UK return.

      • ChrisC says:

        Bit of accuracy please. The issue isn’t proper government taxes it’s BA surcharges.

      • Mikeact says:

        Agreed, the US is the odd man out, but then we come back usually Delta care of KLM.

  • High grade says:

    I had to cancel the return leg of a reward flight, LHR to NCE in August when they added France to the quarantine list. We rushed home to avoid restrictions. To get home we quickly booked single one way tickets to make sure we could secure availability rather than amend the reward flights. When I got back BA gave us a flight voucher for the full value of the return leg, including the cash element. Only restriction was that each voucher is specific to that passenger (there were 4 of us). Not a refund but a result we were more than happy with.

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