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Thoughts about the British Airways ’14 Avios seats’ guarantee and your Avios strategy

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Yesterday we shared the genuinely exciting news that British Airways will now guarantee at least 14 Avios seats per long-haul flight.

Our full story on Avios seat availability is here, but basically on long haul you will see:

  • 4 x Club World seats – for the first time a family of three or four can guarantee enough seats for them will appear, as the previous guarantee was only two seats
  • 2 x World Traveller Plus seats – this is the first time that BA has guaranteed Avios availability in World Traveller Plus
  • 8 x World Traveller seats – the number of economy Avios seats is doubled, although these are still likely to represent poor value once taxes and charges are added
New Avios seat availability rules

A few random thoughts came up during the day yesterday that I thought were worth highlighting.

Why is British Airways doing this?

A few people asked why I thought British Airways had agreed to this, given that it is a permanent change which will outlive covid.

I think there are a few issues here.

It is true that BA will lose money on totally full flights from this move, since it is releasing seats for Avios which could otherwise be sold for cash.

However, even in the good times, British Airways never got near the 95% load factor which Ryanair regularly announced. In 2019, BA was at 83%. On the vast majority of its flights, releasing more seats to Avios doesn’t cost BA anything as those seats would be unsold anyway.

There are also fewer British Airways flights scheduled, even looking 6-9 months ahead. Expansion is restricted due to a much reduced BA fleet with no Boeing 747 or long-haul configured A321 planes whilst many people are sitting on multiple 2-4-1 vouchers and expanding Avios balances. Was there a risk that the number of Avios seats available was going to be swamped by the number of unredeemed vouchers?

It is also worth remembering that BA’s core customer is a mid 30′ – mid 40’s business traveller who is likely to have a family. Whilst the old Avios seat guarantee was better than most airlines offered, it still had little to offer such a traveller. The ability to book 4 x Club World or, as I did yesterday, 2 x Club Suite and 2 x World Traveller Plus to Barbados for October, will be highly valued.

As well as encouraging business travellers to accrue more Avios from flying, these changes will also drive more people to Avios partners such as American Express, Nectar, Barclays Premier etc. This is more important than ever at the moment, given BA’s need for cash. It is a virtuous circle if done well.

BA will also clearly be happy with the few million pounds of taxes and charges that our article yesterday generated for them.

Talking of Barclays Premier …..

Barclays Avios Rewards

The Barclays Premier upgrade voucher got a lot more valuable

The new Barclays Avios Rewards scheme from Barclays Premier has got a lot of interest from HfP readers. Read our Barclays Avios Rewards coverage here, here and here.

You can apply for Barclays Premier here.

One of the benefits is an annual Avios upgrade voucher. It isn’t really an upgrade voucher – what you do is book an Avios seat, being charged the Avios required for the cabin below you.

This article explains how the Barclays Avios Rewards upgrade voucher works.

You can’t use the voucher in First. In reality, you also couldn’t use it in World Traveller Plus very often because of the lack of availability. Now you can.

Assuming that you are happy with World Traveller Plus, it is now SUBSTANTIALLY easier to use a Barclays Premier (or Lloyds Avios Rewards, if you still have one of those) upgrade voucher for it.

It is also a decent deal. New York, for example, is only 13,000 Avios each way on off-peak dates in World Traveller. This means that, using a Barclays Avios Rewards upgrade voucher, you’d get a return World Traveller Plus seat to New York – acceptable for a six hour flight – for just 26,000 Avios plus taxes and charges. You can’t argue with that.

This HfP chart shows the Avios required for each British Airways route, by class, so you can how many Avios you would save.

Upgrading long-haul economy flights with Avios is now more likely

British Airways allows you to upgrade cash tickets by one class, subject to fare rules and availability of Avios seats in the higher cabin.

The biggest barrier to upgrading economy cash seats to World Traveller Plus is the lack of reward availability in WTP. This is no longer a problem.

You need to book certain types of economy ticket – this article explains how to upgrade British Airways long-haul economy flights – but it just became a lot easier to do because there is a better chance of finding World Traveller Plus seats.

It will also, of course, become easier to upgrade World Traveller Plus tickets to Club World now that there are four guaranteed Club World seats released for Avios on each flight. ANY World Traveller Plus cash seat can be upgraded with Avios if there is Club World availability – there is no requirement to have booked a certain fare class.

Changes to avios seat availability

Is the ‘seat release at midnight’ strategy sustainable?

There is currently a huge surge in traffic to BA’s overseas call centres at 1am BST (midnight GMT) as seats open up for 355 days time.

This call volume is now likely to triple. As well as more seats becoming available for booking at 1am, which encourages more people to try for them, you will also be getting first time calls from families and people who are happy with World Traveller Plus.

As an aside, I have never booked an Avios redemption 355 days in advance because of the inability to get four seats in a premium cabin. This has now changed and I may be fighting you on the phones.

How is BA going to deal with this? The IT restrictions imposed by Amadeus mean that times cannot be staggered.

The real value of this new strategy isn’t visible yet, but it will be

I mentioned this briefly yesterday but I want to highlight it again today.

British Airways is, at present, like a start-up airline. The current schedule is a fraction of what it was. In the Autumn I can see 1 x daily flight to Dubai compared with 3 x Dubai and 1 x Abu Dhabi in 2019.

Slowly but surely, routes and flights will be restored. On the day a new flight launches, those 4 Club World seats will pop up for every date in the schedule.

Nothing is off the table now for redemptions. Even deals you might have considered impossible – say, 4 Club World to the Maldives over Christmas – are now very possible. It is 90% certain that BA will be adding more Maldives flights as the year goes on, and as long as you’re reading Head for Points on the day they are announced, you will be able to jump in and scoop them up.

Once BA is back to its usual schedule this won’t be possible, but there should be literally 100+ occasions over the next year when BA will add back a long haul service to its schedule and those 14 Avios seats per day, every day, will be bookable.

Conclusion

There is a lot to like about this move by Avios, especially if you have a family. As I point out above, it may lead to changes in how you earn and redeem.


How to earn Avios points from UK credit cards

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

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

There are two official British Airways American Express cards. Both have increased sign-up bonuses until 2nd November 2021:

British Airways BA Amex American Express card

British Airways American Express

10,000 Avios for signing up, no annual fee and an Economy 241 voucher for spending ….. Read our full review

British Airways BA Premium Plus American Express Amex credit card

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

40,000 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 – 30,000 points, FREE for a year & two airport lounge passes Read our full review

American Express Platinum card Amex

The Platinum Card from American Express

60,000 points and an unbeatable set of travel benefits – for a fee Read our full review

The 30,000 points bonus on Amex Gold runs to 9th November 2021. The 60,000 points bonus on The Platinum Card runs to 2nd November 2021.

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:

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

The most generous Avios Visa or Mastercard for a limited company Read our full review

You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies. This card has a limited time offer of 60,000 Avios when you sign up:

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express card

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

60,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios 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 (138)

  • Mouse says:

    Could also mean fewer seats released between D-354 and D-0, putting the pressure on people to book at exactly D-355?

    • Yuff says:

      That has always been the case for school holidays and popular destinations, can’t see this changes that and just makes it much easier for families.
      240k Avios and £2.5k in fees to middle east isn’t the great deal it used to be. Unless you’re silver, or higher, and want to sit together it’s even more.
      London to Dubai, via Auh, on Etihad next week was £5k for a family of 4

    • Rich says:

      Exactly, whilst this is good news for those who book at t-355 and especially families, for all the fanfare about the guarantee there is nothing to say that the total average Avios seats released per flight will increase because of this move. And no complete assessment of the commercial reasoning behind this decision can be made without knowing that. As Rob says, it certainly helps with the cash position and helps improve the brand perception but beyond that only time will tell.

  • Callum says:

    Did BA tell you there’s a “huge surge” at 1am? It sounds like one of those things that seems obvious until you realise that HfP doesn’t represent the typical user. When people are doing this are they being kept on hold for a significant amount of time?

    I’m not sure many new families are going to be doing this either.

    • Phillip says:

      My one and only attempt at calling an overseas office at 01:00 was that they outright refused to “service my booking” because they only serviced bookings from members based in the respective country. And despite being an “overseas office”, the agent was based in the U.K. call centre!

  • pauldb says:

    Amadeus may open the flight up at midnight T-355, but there’s no reason for BA to load the avios seats at launch. Just like flights often first appear with only the expensive seats available (J9I0).

    But then again I prefer it as it: at least you can have a certain level of hope of being able to get the seats you want, compared to it being a totally random release.

    • BJ says:

      It gets quite demoralising when you feel that hope evaporating night after night. Those like Rob who have not made a T-355 booking due to the family thing are about to come down to earth PDQ when they try. Trying online they are already a disadvantage simply due to the extra seconds or two it takes to select the four passengers as opposed to one or two. Even when they think they have got them they will then more likely than not face the disappointment of the payment process spinning and then failing at this final hurdle because somebody else confirmed the seats they thought they had.

      • cinereus says:

        Plenty of autofill scripts to make that process instantaneous.

        • BJ says:

          Yeah, I’ve got everything optimised, nothing missing in proife to speed through it as quickly as possible and it is still a problem at times.

      • pauldb says:

        I’ve done the midnight thing maybe thirty times and have not missed out even once. Sydney, half terms and others included.

  • Andrew says:

    I’ll be sticking to my strategy to burn Avios at Sainsbury’s and buy cash tickets in the bi-monthly BA sale, where seats aren’t limited to 4 per flight. Price works out the same, and you earn tier points and more Avios back for Sainsbury’s. So really don’t get why anyone would bother with Avios flights anymore, but I know people enjoy the thrill of the chase and the midnight call to book them.

    • roberto says:

      Depends on how much and when you fly. If you’re happy to pay huge flight costs for half term ski trips or to trips to Barbados over Xmas good luck to you. I prefer to save a shed load of cash myself.

      Plus I like the flexibility that (in no covid times) that avios flights give me.

      Each to their own, I fly 100 times a year often at the last moment , don’t shop in Sainsbury, do earn loads of avios from my cards and 2 x 241 vouchers – Its different strategies and do make you right or wrong , it’s what works for you.

    • DT says:

      Ok

    • BJ says:

      For me it is flexibility and Xmas NY flights. We’re it not I’d be doing same as you Andrew. I’ve been pushing the point on here for years that too many people book reward flights when paying for them makes more sense. Fortunately the exEU fashion of recent years has made many people more astute in this respect but there remains a problem with avios delusion, especially amongst newbies.

      • Polly says:

        Yep, with you on that point. Now tho we may not have the flexibility of those wonderful ex eu J flights in the future. Avios offer us full flexibility. Even today, hadn’t been able to get a CX J to HKT, next day from the HKG flight we booked yesterday. Was able to book a Cx J flight and just changed it to the date after we arrive in HKG. Point being, no J seats available on avios, they must have given us 2cash seats. These are currently selling for 100’s in Y let alone J. Was amazed by that flexibility for starters. So def works for us as opposed to Nectar.
        Still hope to do one ex eu Asia J deal every 2 years to keep silver.

    • P4D says:

      Price might work out similar through a sale vs outright avios bookings without a voucher.
      But I don’t see sales matching long hall companion (or barclays upgrade) voucher costs

    • Richie says:

      Many Avios collectors like to travel at peak times and maximise additional trips around bank holidays. Flights around these times are never on sale.

  • BJ says:

    I have trouble buying into the upbeat nature of this analysis. Much of the circumstances and opportunities presented are the result of covid restrictions and their easing, nothing to do with BA strategy for the long term or permanent change. What BA has done might be little more than moving their existing furniture around and window dressing. While this will bring welcome advantages to some those advantages may be more apparent than real in the practical and/or absolute sense. They may make little difference or make things even worse in the long term. We do not know if the total number of award seats released in a year will remain broadly the same or if they will increase. Perhaps in the short term they will increase as we emerge from covid, perhaps in the longer term they might actually decrease despite a guarantee on the number of seats released per flight 355 days in advance. All the excitement about four seats for ila family is overhyped, let’s face it, all but one family (if even one) is in reality going to be very disappointed one minute after midnight or 1am for the most popular destinations, or any destination at the most popular dates. This change has brought benefits but let’s not get carried away with their significance.

    • BuilBackBetter says:

      That’s still better than all families being disappointed?
      And I think this is better even if total award seats are lower. Atleast people know seat release with certainty.
      It looks like savvy travellers are disappointed that they have to slum it with families 😉

      • BJ says:

        Nope, give me the families any day. Seen more problems with adults on flights than I ever have with kids, including babies. Obviously it’s better if you get your flights but it’s soul destroying if you repeatedly fail. I imagine even more so for families trying to take their annual or aspirational holiday. The one time Y rewards can make sense is on the most desirable school vacation dates so perhaps we are overlooking the value if tge increased Y availability. Granted it isn’t premium but if you want to get a certain place on an expensive date it has to be welcome.

        • Erico1875 says:

          I’m struggling to see how anyone can see a negative in this move by BA.
          As Rob pointed out, in the near future, typical -85% load factors , and post pandemic frequency increases should ensure there are more reward seats overall.

          • BJ says:

            I’m not saying it is negative, just that it is not huge and groundbreaking as portrayed here and elsewhere. @Meta raised potential negatives yesterday; all remains to be seen and is dependent on wider award seat availability. Uf reward seats become even rarer than hens teeth within T-355 then conversely we might in time argue that this is a huge negatuve.

          • BuilBackBetter says:

            “How dare they allow more people to get better value from avios?”
            “How dare they reduce my bragging rights?”

          • Rob says:

            More importantly, with fewer high paying business passengers, the gap between ‘max price we could get selling this seat for cash’ and ‘what Avios will pay us for it’ shrinks substantially. If BA knows that no-one is going to pay £4k for a Business seat and their best hope is a leisure passenger paying £1500, it makes sense to push more out to Avios where they get a similar sum.

    • Richie says:

      What are your Avios availability hopes from November 2022?

      • BJ says:

        Mine is 2x longhaul F or J exINV to Asia per year with amex and Barclays vouchers. If I can realise that long term I’ll be more than happy.

  • TimM says:

    Of least interest to solo travellers.

    • Mark says:

      Why is this the case? More guaranteed seat availability is a good thing regardless of how many of these extra seats you will need

      • Andrew says:

        And a reminder to me how lucky I am not to have kids and needing to chase a load of seats in school holidays.

        • Roger W says:

          All families I know could never contemplate Business Class seats Long Haul. Trying to refer to friends finds them all living month to month with credit card bills on minimum payments or different CC strategies. May have the aspirational jobs, cars and houses but hardly a pot to p..s in!

          However I think it is great news. Never book hols in school holidays and usually seem to get flights we wish. Can only improve.

        • Genghis says:

          Or unlucky? There’s more to life than travel.

        • BrianW says:

          Incredibly unlucky in my view @Andrew I’m sorry to say. Kids are a much more integral part of your life than travel will ever be. Furthermore, they grow to cherish your own love for travel and, before long, share this with you, embellishing every trip you make together.

          Avios can be redeemed for many things but kids will never be one of them. I wouldn’t change having my three girls for the world, they enhance every CW Avios trip we take together, despite the fight for seats which has just become much less of an issue.

        • TimM says:

          It is best to live in the place you would most like to be during the school holidays and travel outside of them.

      • Doug M says:

        But is it more Mark, or is it just changing when they’re released. The next 355 days looks good with a big splurge of seats released, but overtime will the usual additional releases dry up. We have to wait and see.

      • Polly says:

        Solo travellers have an even better chance now of using that Barclays upgrade ticket. Win win. The number of times, l have seen just one seat available…

  • Matthias says:

    The reason the BA are doing this is that the enormous ‘carrier charges’ they add on make a redemption booking nicely profitable for them, assuming the cabin isn’t sold out.

    Club to NY, the ‘carrier charge’ is £400 return I think – not as good as someone buying the seat for £1000-2000 (or indeed £5000 as it ised to be), but much better than keeping it empty. Plus, they will have made money on the Avios being used, particularly from partners.

    In a world where demand is likely to remain subdued this makes complete sense overall.

    I would be very interested to see what the annual ‘carrier charge’ revenue for BA adds up to.

    • BJ says:

      You need to look at the big picture to reconcile yourself with the surcharges…you are getting a flexible ticket, you can create your itinerary using one way flights and different cabins if desired providing further flexibility, if you live near LHR you have direct flights to most places you might want to go, avios are very easy to earn in the UK, BA burning rates are far from the worst in the industry.

      • Doug M says:

        Agreed. I work part time and travel alone, so have a lot of flexibility. But in different circumstances the flexibility of Avios tickets is really good. I like others will offer comparisons to an ex-EU cheap business fare, but I’m always aware that whilst it works for me, its just not a like for like.

  • Ian McDowall says:

    I’d say it’s all in the cooking pot and we’ll have to wait and see how it works out.
    I am a bit confused as to why people are calling at 12/1am to an overseas call centre.
    Every time I’ve booked an outbound with a companion voucher I’ve always got what I wanted. These include, johannesburg, Rio, Buenos Aires, Montreal, and on top of that I call at 6am for the return flight and always got what I want. All flight in club world.

    • Andy says:

      I’ve missed out many times at 1am often on the flight back which has led to problems! i guess it’s likely the destination and time of year though as iv’e been going for popular routes

    • BJ says:

      It’s because the CSA can hold the seats until ticketed which helps if many people are online trying to grab rhem. Until about a year and a half ago I was successful online for BKK but it has become very difficult in high season.

    • Doug M says:

      All about destination. You’ve been lucky to always get what you want.

      • Rob says:

        Only 3 routes really need a 1am call outside of Christmas and Easter – Cape Town, Maldives, Sydney.

      • BJ says:

        @Rob, that’s total nonsense. You clearly don’t know because you haven’t tried, and there is no point trying right now to prove your point since we have just been flooded with availability.

    • David S says:

      I booked the return flight from BKK via the call centre and at 5 mins past 1am the agent said she expected that the flights would have gone already, but luckily they were still there. My tip is to call a few minutes before the due time not on it or afterwards

      • BJ says:

        Good result. I tried every night to get the last week in April and failed, that is how hard it can be. I finally got two seats when this extra availability was released on Thursday.

        • Polly says:

          Well done, we should have gone to bkk instead of hkg. Thought it might still be difficult getting to hkt from bkk, if nos rise again on the mainland.

      • Memesweeper says:

        Agreed – BKK is (was) very tight for Club availability

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