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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 (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 (42)

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

  • Phillip says:

    Do we know how many Avios expire each day? I know that for most in this community that is an unfathomable thought but there are many with small pots of Avios who do lose them!

  • R001 says:

    Great article. And a bit re-assuring

  • Tim P says:

    It has been said that airlines are banks which fly aircraft on the side. Interesting to compare the finances for airline reward schemes (which are well guarded) with those for their flying activities.

    • Rhys says:

      BA is a pension scheme with some planes on the side…

      • Rob says:

        Sone upside for IAG shareholders from the news that UK life expectancy is going backwards then!

        • RussellH says:

          Not, I suspect, among frequent flyers.
          Life expectancy is still increasing among the wealthy.

        • Bagoly says:

          But for the pension scheme it’s life expectancy of the employees and ex-employees which matters.

        • ADS says:

          Funnily enough at a Royal Aeronautical Society talk in Waterside a couple of months ago, an aeronautical doctor (former BA employee) mentioned that BA pilots live longer than the British average !

  • James Wyatt says:

    Fascinating article. What is key to using Avios wisely is generally to book as far ahead as possible. Some routes are tricky. My success rate on LHR/CPT is about 50%. Tries Singapore recently at midnight…lots of others were clearly faster than me!!

  • Adam says:

    Fascinating Rhys, enjoyed this over breakfast in Baku. Of course a redemption trip (back via Doha to Dublin). Figures are absolutely staggering. Had a discussion with my wife on the way here on the true value of Avios for us, we love using BHD-LCY. cash price has become ridiculous of late and yet is always plenty of redemption available. I’m still holding on to my companion voucher in hope that Qatar suddenly allow use.

  • dougzz99 says:

    Interesting stuff. Didn’t it get announced that earning from flying was changing to £ related rather than a fixed ratio to distance dependant on status level? I wonder how that will change things. I’m certain most of my Avios come from flying rather than CC spend.
    That’s always worked well for me as primary travel is USA and the constant schedule changes from AA seem to often mean being rebooked into more expensive buckets than the original I class fare, and consequently a lot more Avios, nice for me and I’m sure a rounding error for the airline. Then in a similar vein there’s he earning from redemption flights rebooked after schedule changes that often divvy up too.

    • Rhys says:

      Yep – still haven’t heard when/how that will work for BA, however!

    • Jack says:

      Hopefully they have seen some sense from the many saying it won’t work and scrapped it was always a awful idea

  • Vit says:

    Nice one Rhys. I think this is the type of article which distinguishes HfP from the rest.

  • BSI1978 says:

    Echo other comments on this piece Rhys, nice work that man.

    Does give one things to think about; note your final comment ref. more Avios only flights. I am not expecting you to have any insight on this (that you could share!) but am holding fire on a couple of redemptions to see which are the next routes to be released/trialled.

    Do you have any sense that BA may include at least 1 ‘popular’ route….?

    • Save East Coast Rewards says:

      LHR-GVA is a popular route at that time of year for the ski traffic

    • Rhys says:

      No idea!

      • Bagoly says:

        How do the calculations look if one sums the Avios (+ “taxes and fees”) for a full load, compared to what they might expect from an ordinary flight?
        The risk is cannibalising ordinary sales.
        But a one-off route would presumably incur other costs.
        How about a non-stop to a place they usually fly with stops (Caribbean?) once the stopping service has sold out?

    • Richie says:

      My guess is off peak Malaga flights may appear.

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