Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Holiday lessons (1): Avios is not always the answer

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I am back in the UK after 17 nights in the Middle East over Christmas and New Year. We stayed in seven different rooms in five different hotels (long story ….) but luckily for you I am not planning to review it all.

I had to use a variety of techniques to get the cost of this trip down, since we booked at short notice and hotel costs were not far behind what you would pay in the Maldives or Barbados. Instead of reviewing each stage of the trip, I want to focus on lessons worth sharing.

Avios is not always the answer

I am starting at the beginning – flying from the UK to Dubai. Let’s call today’s topic:

‘Avios is not always the answer’

Is Avios the best frequent flyer scheme?

I would imagine that 75% of the frequent flyer coverage on HfP is Avios-related. Virgin Flying Club is probably 15% with everyone else fighting over the remaining 10%.

This is logical, given that Avios is the dominant UK frequent flyer programme and this is a UK-focused site. If you are a heavy credit card spender, however, you have a lot of options to collect miles in other airline schemes via:

….. and of course Virgin Atlantic, via its credit cards, Tesco and many other partners.

Are BA Avios the best air miles scheme?

In general, I don’t recommend building up pots in second-tier air miles schemes speculatively. If you are forced to choose, Avios is the logical home due to:

  • a large number of non-flying partnerships in the UK
  • the ability to redeem for both short and long haul routes

You don’t need to speculatively build up balances in other schemes. With the exception of the Lufthansa credit card, where you are obviously tied in, you can hold your points in Membership Rewards, HSBC Premier points etc and only convert when you know you need to book.

My example …..

No single frequent flyer scheme will ALWAYS offer the best deal on every route in every class.

Every scheme has sweet spots. These are partly caused by the way different countries are allocated to different zones for pricing purposes. Schemes have varying deltas between economy and business pricing. Some have special deals for children. Taxes and charges can vary greatly. Availability is also an issue.

If you are certain that you will be flying a particular route at a certain time, or on a regular basis, you should investigate whether other programmes offer better value.

Swiss Boeing 777

Why did I choose to redeem Miles & More miles on SWISS?

We flew out to the Middle East using Lufthansa Miles & More miles, flying in SWISS business class.

I will come to pricing in a bit, but there are various reasons why I like doing this trip on Lufthansa or SWISS:

  • there is a 25% mileage discount on tickets for children under 12
  • Star Alliance has multiple options between the UK and Middle East, mainly SWISS and Lufthansa but you can add Turkish and Egyptair to the mix
  • it is easy to get four Business Class seats during UK school holidays, because Swiss and German school terms rarely match UK ones

Let’s compare this with Avios:

  • I can earn Avios more quickly because of the number of partners. Miles & More can’t win there.
  • Avios has no discounts for children
  • with Qatar Airways still banned from flying to the UAE (although this should change soon), British Airways is the only realistic Avios option. Finnair is also an option as, from April, will be Royal Air Maroc via Casablanca.
  • British Airways availability on this key leisure route is hard to find during UK school holidays

How does pricing compare?

None of this would matter if Miles & More pricing was out of line. However, on Middle East routes, it is Avios pricing which is out of whack.

If you have a BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher to use then this doesn’t necessarily matter. My preference is to save my 2-4-1 for another trip during the year, however, so it never comes up as an option for me here. Even if it did, availability is a problem.

This HfP article looks at the most and least expensive Avios route per mile flown. The best routes – Cape Town is top overall – need just 10 Avios to fly 1 mile in Club World. The Middle East routes are amongst the worst at 14-15 Avios to ‘buy’ a 1 mile flight in Club World.

Here is some sample business class pricing:

  • a one-way Avios flight to Dubai is 50,000 or 60,000 Avios, depending on date
  • a one-way Lufthansa or SWISS flight to Dubai from the UK is 29,000 Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles
  • a one-way Emirates flight to Dubai is 62,500 Skywards miles (although a return flight is only 90,000 miles if there is ‘Saver’ availability)
  • a one-way Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi is 62,500 Etihad Guest miles (but this requires ‘saver’ availability which seems to have been pulled entirely at the moment)
  • a one-way Etihad flight to Abu Dhabi is 42,500 American Airlines AAdvantage miles

This list only looks at a few frequent flyer schemes – there are more options out there. Note that in some cases the price for an identical flight varies depending on whose miles you book with.

For simplicity, I haven’t factored in taxes and charges. If you were doing this research for real you should do that by making dummy bookings online. Emirates has particularly low taxes following a recent change.

You’ll notice that I didn’t choose the cheapest option

If you look at the list above, you may be wondering why I didn’t book my Dubai flights by using Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer miles.

After all, the one-way cost of 3 adults + 1 child is 131,250 Miles & More miles or just 116,000 KrisFlyer miles, to take the same Lufthansa or SWISS flight.

The reason is in how I earn the miles. Given my circumstances, the only way I can get hold of lots of KrisFlyer miles is by transferring American Express Membership Rewards points. I generally earn those at 1 per £1 on my spend.

There are LOTS of good uses of Membership Rewards points though.

My Miles & More Mastercard earns 1.25 miles per £1. This makes Miles & More the better deal as it requires less card spend.

More importantly, I have a strong preference for putting my Visa / Mastercard spend into Miles & More and keeping my Amex points for other hotel or airline partners.

There is no discussion of seat, food or service

To keep things simple, I didn’t consider the quality of the seat, food or service in this analysis.

In truth, when flying with my family, I tend to push these factors down the agenda. I save ‘indulgent’ flying for when I am travelling without children.

Conclusion

For the majority of people in the UK, Avios is most valuable frequent flyer scheme to use. You can’t beat the long list of partners, BA’s strong network and the value from the BA Amex 2-4-1 voucher.

For particular routes in particular cabins, there may be better value to be had elsewhere. If there are places you visit on a regular basis it is worth looking at where you may find best value.

There is a PS ….

PS. Whilst I didn’t want to make the discussion above more complicated, there is a caveat to this story.

I never return from the Middle East using Miles & More miles. All of the Star Alliance flights leave around 2am and that’s not my idea of fun, especially with children and especially as I would need to connect too. I would rather pay a mileage premium and return on British Airways, Emirates or Etihad on a day flight.

In this case, we flew back with Emirates on Sunday afternoon at the civilised time of 4pm. It required a big slug of Membership Rewards points. I would have chosen BA if availability was there, but your chance of getting 4 x BA Club World seats on the day before schools reopen is always going to be tiny.

In the next part of this series, I visit the Burj Al Arab hotel ….


How to earn Avios from UK credit cards

How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (June 2024)

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

In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.

You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:

Barclaycard Avios Plus card

Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard

Get 25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £10,000 Read our full review

Barclaycard Avios card

Barclaycard Avios Mastercard

5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £20,000 Read our full review

There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up and an Economy 2-4-1 voucher for spending £15,000 Read our full review

You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points. These points convert at 1:1 into Avios.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 30,000 points (TO 16TH JULY), FREE for a year & four airport ….. Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express

40,000 bonus points and a huge range of valuable benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Run your own business?

We recommend Capital on Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.

Capital on Tap Business Rewards Visa

10,000 points bonus – plus an extra 500 points for our readers Read our full review

There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points sign-up bonus and an annual £200 Amex Travel credit Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and FREE for a year 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.

Comments (97)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Chris Heyes says:

    Rob Another excellent article. i agree wholeheartedly even though doesn’t apply in our case we 99% Always travel off peak (the 1% is next Aug 21) Always use Avios (and BA never flown any other airline)
    Cost is totally irrelevant to us, Avios is currency to us we never or have never paid cash for a flight (that’s part of our game)
    we do use 2-4-1s plus don’t take it down to pure Avios use RFS for Europe flights
    when it was Airmiles there was no cost at all, plus children reduced Airmiles
    Was a cultural trip when we took kids out of school, with no come back from school 40 odd years ago

    • Chris Heyes says:

      Should probably add we have flown between islands or from one part of America to another part using other (AA) or private planes
      just not from UK to Holiday destination
      Added for clarity lol

    • Harry T says:

      BA charges a lot of “tax” on long haul redemptions, so I’m sure you’ve parted with plenty of cash for flights!

      • Chris Heyes says:

        Harry T OOOooo Yes plenty of cash been parted with over a lot of years since the birth of Avios (Airmiles was brilliant no cash element)
        Always either 1st going or Business plus Business back.can and has been as high as £1800 each (3 of us) in 1st
        Although usually only £50 Club short haul
        Lots of Avios needed as well 3 of us travel
        Wouldn’t like to work out what it would have cost paying full price ? lol
        Was 2 long haul flights a year (or 2 years) now only 1 a year (or 2 years)
        We keep Avios down by flying for at least 3 weeks a trip sometimes 4 weeks, just stopping a week or two in one place
        Cheaper in Avios than someone having 3 separate weeks
        Been retired 23 years now (retired at 50) so off peak travel Avios reasonable and hotels cheaper

        • Harry T says:

          I’m really glad you’re enjoying retirement in style :). Good point about off peak savings!

  • Pete M says:

    Really interesting article, thanks!

  • David S says:

    It was a surprise to hear that everywhere (decent) was full especially as many other countries are on lockdown so it will be interesting to hear an update from Rob on the nationalities travelling.

    • Alan says:

      I suspect lots of Brits TBH… https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-55546760

      • Steve says:

        Yeah more examples of selfish people who are only interested in their own gratification and not how it may impact other people.

    • Blenz101 says:

      Hotels are generally still operating at a limited capacity to comply with local Covid restrictions so not quite “full”.

      Biggest issue is the need to keep rooms empty for 24 hours following each guest stay and I would guess the majority of stays are for short periods by residents who have been kept the hotels afloat through staycations.

      Prices over the Christmas and NY peak reflect this.

  • Leo says:

    A laymen’s question – surely airmiles of different schemes have different (estimated) monetary values.
    As such, the fact that something costs “twenty” does not necessarily make it cheaper than something that costs “thirty” (ie $30 is still less than £25).
    Such comparisons come up on HfP every while, and i always ask myself whether the figures are compared on a ‘like to like value’ assumption?
    (or did I get this completely wrong?)
    PS thanks Rob for a great article!

    • NC says:

      You did not get this completely wrong at all! Some people may find it easier to earn 60k Avios than 29k Miles&More miles. That’s also a relevant factor.

    • marcw says:

      That’s totally true. It all depends on how easy you obtain your points/miles.
      How you value your points/miles is also personal and very subjective. Some take the face value of the flight. Others use a “how much am I willing to pay for this flight”. You also have to value the flexibility of redemptions – which tend to be way more flexible than cash flights. This changes from program to program.
      But if your chunk of miles/points are from MR conversions, then you may well realise that indeed “1USD = 1GBP” – as the cost of converting 1 MR to Avios is the same to, let’s say, KrisFlyer, but on some routes 1 KrisFlyer miles gets you more than 1 Avios (like this particular case to the ME).

    • The Savage Squirrel says:

      Leo, both you ane marcw are quite right. You can see standard valuations of each mile or point for different schemes on this and other sites. It gets more complicated still. As the article points out with the example of Rob’s preference to use Miles&More points rather than Amex MR, valuations are NOT standard for individual people. Particular points may be especially valuable to you if they allow you to fly/stay in particular locations that are useful or desirable to you, or are harder to come by.
      For example, for me there is a certain Hilton group hotel that due to particular convenience I use quite a bit and without miles would pay the full cash rate – almost whatever its cash price. In contast, Virgin availability for what I need/want is very poor. Therefore FOR ME ONLY, converting any Virgin miles I have to Hilton points does not lose value; I’m converting something useless into something useful, even though you lose quite a bit of value using the “standard” valuations.
      Never be afraid to work out what is valuable to you, don’t base your decisions just on figures worked out using the average person.

  • mr_jetlag says:

    I like the larger point being made about always having options whether it’s MRs / HSBC, but at some point you have to admit that life is short and optimizing for the best value runs into diminishing returns. Where that point is will vary per person of course.

  • ashraj says:

    Great article. Would be interesting to know what hotels you stayed at and the points / reward nights used.

  • Dominic Barrington says:

    Fascinating – such a helpful reminder of the need to look for different ways to skin a cat, let alone work out whether it is a cat or something else which should be skinned in the first place! Very grateful, Rob.

  • Kevin says:

    A very enjoyable read! I am also developing an interest in civil aviation. Does anyone know why Star Alliance flights leave Dubai at 2am?

    • Rob says:

      The sensible time to fly from Europe to Dubai is 10-12, landing very late evening. You then have two choices – leave a $200m aircraft sitting on the tarmac for 8-10 hours, which is financial suicide, or turn it around immediately and leave at 2am. If you are BA and doing three per day you can stagger them, but for airlines doing just one per day the market seems to have decided that the current situation is the most suitable.

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

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