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Avios issues 220,000 points per minute – is that a problem?

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This week we were at Airline Information Mega Event 2023 in London – a big industry conference for the airline loyalty and ancillary industry.

Historically IAG Loyalty staff have rarely spoken at industry events but this stance appears to be thawing. This year the company gave a talk on ‘Pioneering Reward Products In Loyalty’.

There was nothing in the content that a regular HfP reader wouldn’t already know, but one detail jumped out at us during the presentation:

Avios issues 220,000 points per minute

220,000 Avios are earned every minute

Yes, that’s a lot of points.

It equates to 115.6 billion Avios per year.

We assume this is based only on IAG airlines – so BA, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling. Whilst Qatar Airways has adopted Avios, it appears to be managed as a closed loop apart from transfers to / from British Airways Executive Club accounts.

However, even spread across four airlines, this sounds like a lot of Avios.

Which got us thinking ….. is it possible to actually redeem that many Avios, or is IAG Loyalty now issuing so many points now that redemption seat availability can never keep up?

In the long run, the latter would be unsustainable: customers would quickly lose interest once they realised they couldn’t get actually redeem their Avios balances. The only way to manage that sort of growth would be to add more redemption opportunities or devalue the program on a regular basis, chipping away at the value of Avios being earned.

As it’s been a quiet week in the office, we decided to do the maths!

Avios issues 220,000 points per minute

How many Avios are redeemed on flights every year?

Avios is a complex ecosystem thanks to numerous earn and burn partners such as Nectar (two way transfers possible), various hotel groups and finance partners.

We thought the simplest way to see how the numbers stack up would be to see how many guaranteed seats British Airways makes available for Avios redemption. We could then work out how many Avios, over an entire year, could be redeemed that way.

BA guarantees that there will be four Business, two Premium Economy and eight Economy seats opened up for Avios bookings at 355 days prior to departure.

There are many more Avios seats opened up during the year as BA decides which flights will not sell out. However, it gives us a good baseline to calculate the theoretical minimum number of Avios that are redeemable on British Airways flights.

We asked aviation data analytics Cirium to furnish us with a complete list of all BA flights for a week in July. This offers a snapshot of BA’s busiest period, and takes into account flights that only operate a handful of times a week rather than daily.

This gave us a ball-park figure of around 850 British Airways flights a day across long haul and short haul – in and outbound.

We then pulled the lead-in Avios pricing for all routes, multiplied by the number of flights and the number of seats made available in each cabin, whilst accounting for peak and off-peak pricing.

Whilst not totally foolproof, this does give us a relatively good idea of the number of Avios that can be redeemed on BA flights for guaranteed seats. Drum roll please ….

Avios issues 220,000 points per minute

85.8 billion Avios per year.

Or, to put it another way, around 163,000 Avios per minute.

This is the number of Avios that would be redeemed if all of the ‘guaranteed’ British Airways availability was booked and no further Avios seats were opened up.

Uh-oh, you’re probably thinking. That’s not even close to the 220,000 Avios IAG Loyalty issues every minute.

It’s not as bad as it looks. We have made a number of assumptions:

  • Our calculation is only for British Airways redemptions, not the whole group. Add in Iberia and Aer Lingus redemptions and you can add another 40% to our capacity number. (We assume that partner flight redemptions outside IAG are offset by oneworld partner redemptions on IAG.)
  • We assume that everyone chooses the ‘most Avios, least cash’ Reward Flight Saver option when redeeming, and not one of the other price points which require fewer Avios

Of course, there are plenty of other ways to redeem Avios outside of flight redemptions. Plenty of people book ‘Part Pay with Avios’ cash flights. Many more use their Avios for BA Holidays discounts, hotel and car hire bookings, seat selection fees, wine etc. Some will cash out into Nectar.

(Apparently the ability to use Avios for BA Holidays at a terrible rate has been a huge success since it launched a few weeks ago. People will redeem their points for 0.44p each if you let them.)

Is Avios issuance going up or down?

When you drill down to the detail, issuing 220,000 Avios per minute doesn’t seem as outlandish as it sounds.

A rough estimate for Aer Lingus and Iberia redemptions, assuming they offer a similar number of seats for redemption, gets you above 200,000 Avios of capacity per minute. Add in the huge number of redemptions made for non-flight redemptions and there is no squeeze.

In fact, a quick look at the IAG Loyalty accounts for 2022 suggests that ‘only’ 83 billion Avios were redeemed in total in 2022 – a rate of just under 160,000 Avios per minute (spookily, very close to our calculation). Even pre-covid, redemption levels peaked at under 180,000 Avios per minute.

Many more Avios are being issued than are being redeemed. Some simply disappear into the ether as they expire or people simply never use them, whilst others are hoarding larger and larger balances.

(Contary to popular belief, loyalty schemes don’t like expiring points. They want you to redeem – making that first successful redemption is what solidifies belief in the programme.)

Of course, IAG Loyalty isn’t content with issuing 220,000 Avios per minute. The business is on an aggressive growth trajectory.

That said, in this article ex-IAG Loyalty Chairman Robert Boyle calculates that Avios issuance in 2022 was only at 73% of the 2019 level.

For all of the noise made around points issuance by third parties such as Amex, the majority of Avios are still issued by the IAG airlines and the majority of these are issued to Business Class passengers – many of whom are still AWOL.

The real challenge for BA is not opening up enough Avios seats, but opening them up to destinations where people want to fly. Avios seats to Cape Town, Sydney, peak season Barbados etc are virtually always booked up 355 days in advance, whereas anyone wanting to go to Lagos or Accra has a lot of flexibility.

One solution (or just a PR distraction, you decide) is British Airways trialling a number of ‘Avios only’ flights, where every seat is available for redemption. We would love to see more of these flights on routes that are extremely popular, such as those listed above or the Maldives. We know that more of these flights are on the way, but we don’t know where.

Conclusion

The Avios juggernaut continues to plough on although it will take a full recovery in business travel for levels of Avios issuance to hit the levels of 2019.

The sale of points to third parties is far more lucrative and is what makes the headlines in the IAG accounts. From the point of view of members chasing available seats, the lower overall level of issuance and the high number of guaranteed Avios seats means that tickets should continue to be available.


How to earn Avios from UK credit cards

How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (May 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 – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes 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

You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios 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 (42)

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

  • Save East Coast Rewards says:

    Out of interest is the company officially Avios Group Ltd or IAG Loyalty Ltd? I thought AGL became IAG Loyalty but some recentish developments like Wine Flyer still mention AGL in the T&Cs

    • daftboy says:

      From a look at their most recent accounts on Companies House it seems it’s “Avios Group (AGL) Limited (trading as IAG Loyalty)”

      Also from those accounts, which run to end Dec 21 (paraphrasing slightly): “The company achieved revenue for the year of £377m and a profit before taxation of £88.9m”…close to 25% profit margin in simple terms

      • Rob says:

        You need to be wary about the accounts. For a start, since BA accounts for the majority of Avios issued, the internal charge between BA and Avios (both to buy Avios and to buy redemption seats) is the single key determinant of profitability.

        The 2nd key factor is the breakage rate. They can easily add or remove 1% to the % of Avios not expected to be redeemed to increase or decrease profits as required.

        More obviously, ‘revenue’ is only recognised when points are redeemed. The sales line has no relation to sales in the accounting period, except to the extent that a £100m Avios sale to, say, Barclaycard could be split into a £20m fee and £80m of points, with the £20m being recognised now.

        • daftboy says:

          Good points all! And I realise of course that a lot of this is wooden dollars etc

  • Dwadda says:

    More Outbound availablity than Inbound? Why?????

    If you check reward flight finder you will see that there is much greater availablity outbound than Inbound (easily 10x greater). This is the case for N America and I believe other long haul destinations. How can this be?

    Is it possible that BAs reward seat availability guarantee only applies to outbound flights?

    It really is dissuading to use Avios for flights if you can’t fly home.

    • Rhys says:

      No, it applies to all flights.

    • Rob says:

      If you mean BA’s Reward Flight Finder then that has been broken for weeks – we ran an article about it. Easy to prove by searching for 2 x one way flights rather than a return.

    • Bagoly says:

      If you are looking at Business, also remember that the vast majority of BA traffic is TATL, with very few daytime flights eastbound, so Premium Economy westbound and Business eastbound is a very logical approach.

  • BA Flyer IHG Stayer says:

    If people are redeeming avios for 0.4 pence per avios then that’s down to them for not calculating the rate beforehand on the different options. But I do see the attraction when you see a large cash figure for lots of avios versus a small cash figure for not that many.

    My floor is getting ~0.8 pence per avios. For the holidays I’ve booked since the change there is usually at least a couple of 1p redemption rates then an 0.8p then a rapid drop off to 0.4p to cash out all your avios (or at least the maximum BA will take)

  • Man of Kent says:

    Fascinating article, thanks very much. Interesting that these schemes are still called loyalty schemes since they seem to be anything but. Most people (including me) are members of multiple airline and hotel schemes but don’t show much loyalty given the discussions around where the best deal can be had. In a way they are promoting disloyalty as once you have joined your first scheme you then join others to see what they can offer in real terms.

    Not sure I entirely agree with the statement about loyalty schemes not liking expiring points given BA closed my OH’s BAEC account due to inactivity (in accordance with the T&Cs) without warning her it was about to close – surely if they wanted a redemption they would have encouraged her to make one.

    • Mr. AC says:

      Don’t see it this way. Shopping around on Google Flights for the cheapest / most convenient option is the default for people, so 0 loyalty. I’ve definitely started flying predominantly with BA once I got sucked into their loyalty program. Not that I’m complaining! Based on my calculations I’ve saved closed to 10k quid over the last 5 years, mostly thanks to often needing flexibility and booking last minute: Gold Avios economy seats + RFS are brilliant in this case. I’ve recently flown for ~10k Avios out of Gatwick while a mate had to fork out 250 quid to WizzAir for the same destination (he didn’t ask me, otherwise I would’ve booked an Avios seat for him as well).

    • Rob says:

      BA send warnings when accounts have Avios about to expire. I have had multiple re old avios.com accounts which were turned into BAEC accounts for family members but with such tiny balances there was no point doing anything with them.

  • ankomonkey says:

    I suspect some routes at some times of year wouldn’t see all the reward flights made available get booked by someone.

  • Jack says:

    Very interesting article indeed thank you Rhys and whilst 220,000 a minute is a lot, considering the many flights flown by IAG airlines and the amount who redeem them, it works out that they do end up giving all that many out once these calculations are made but people do not use them or redeem them on various things not only flights . It is reassuring to see this explained and also broken down into context. Would also be interested to see what further Avios only routes appear maybe somewhere like Sydney or Joburg in the future . I try to redeem often and normally can find enough availability to do that with

  • BJ says:

    Great article! The sort I like best on HfP but I’m too much on holiday to give it as much thought as it deserves. My first thought was that the amount of avios going down the drain will be into the double digits, 10% probably even conservative. The comparability of those issued versus estimates of those redeemed is certainly interesting but I would guess an overestimate getting into double digits as a %age too. I think if we take a random week even in July the number of reward seats that have gone unredeemed is likely higher than we imagine but I am not sure to what extent those might be additional seats released as opposed to guaranteed releases. I see estimates as reliable only for the most popular routes while for many other routes it would not surprise me if up to half available reward seats went unredeemed depending on route. What would be really fascinating to know is what proportion of avios are actually redeemed to what we in the HfP community would consider wastage; I’d guess that’s a lot higher than we might think too. I continue to be baffled that articles like this on HfP can generate only 40 comments while articles highlighting 40 bonus avios could generate 400 but I hope it does not deter you from writing them.

    • Blair Waldorf Salad says:

      I think it has been appreciated but suffered from bank holiday weekend mode

  • Tom R says:

    I redeem the majority of my Avois on non IAG carriers. Recently 9000 Avois (+$5.40 tax) for a one way ticket on AA in North America that would have cost $565 otherwise. Add in that if you have the option to redeem in North America (and some other airlines) you are not paying the absurd taxes and carrier imposed surcharges BA charge. Another steal a few years back was 15,000 Avois on Cathay J from JFK-YVR which would have run at $3,000 one way. Taxes were about $30 IIRC. I think I’ve only redeemed on BA once or twice in the last 10 years. So that’s something you didn’t factor in here, granted sometimes AA availability can be tough, but other times I’ve found dozens of available seats at short notice and of course AA run 5000+ flights a day

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