There have been some major changes to the Avios scheme in recent years that have meant your points don’t get you quite as much or they are harder to earn in the first place.
But the air miles scheme isn’t worth ditching yet, particularly if you are clever about how you spend your points.
We have run the numbers and unearthed the tricks to stretching your points the furthest.
British Airways: The Avios loyalty scheme has long been popular
The first thing to consider is when to book you seat.
Each BA flight has a certain number of Avios seats reserved in advance.
Rob Burgess, editor of frequent flyer website Head for Points explains: ‘There is a guarantee of two business and four economy seats per BA flight. These appear exactly 355 days before departure when the flight opens up for booking.
‘It is very likely that more seats are released over time, including seats in First Class and World Traveller Plus, but if you absolutely must travel on a certain day the only guarantee is book 355 days in advance.’
So in essence to guarantee the seats you need to be on the ball, but keep checking in case more are released if the first lot have already been snapped up.
If you know a BA sale is likely on the horizon you may want to hold off booking, you will have to weigh up how popular you think the route is as to whether they are likely to be taken by another traveller.
Short haul vs long haul
Traditionally Avios has been a popular way for people to get free flights on European trips.
You need a minimum of 8,000 points or more for the closest destinations, such as London to Amsterdam, Paris or Prague.
This is much more achievable for low level spenders using Avios linked credit cards or those earning points on just flights than the 40,000 needed per person to get to New York or Dubai.
Plus cashing your Avios in for a long haul economy flights will usually get you worse value.
This largely comes down to the cost of taxes, which for long haul flights typically costs £300 or more. Often flyers will be able to find cheap tickets that cost less, or only slightly more than these taxes, getting you much less value in effect from your points.
A quick example:
An off-peak return to Paris booked six months in advance currently costs £109.40 (£59.40 in taxes) or 8,000 Avios points plus £35 in taxes.
Swapping your points gets you approximately 1p per Avios if you include the savings on taxes too.
Compare that to a return flight to somewhere further afield, for example New York, where our example flight cost £559.41 or £26,000 Avios (taxes were very similar for both).
On this occasion each Avios point you redeem is worth 0.7p.
Times square: It costs 26,000 Avios to buy a return BA ticket
Don’t rule out one-way trips
Buy a one-way ticket with a lot of airlines and you will pay through the nose. This is definitely true with BA on long haul flights.
Airlines usually want to dissuade travellers from flying one-way particularly long haul or on more expensive airlines as it’s easier for them to then schedule flights.
Of course if you do pay cash you can just buy a cheaper return ticket and then only use half of it in some instances.
Most airlines say in the terms and conditions that if you don’t use the outbound leg of your return they will cancel the second flight, so for this to work you must using the outbound leg and not the return.
And sometimes if you are travelling on business or visiting a string of different locations however it’s hard to avoid booking a single trip. In these cases it could actually be worth using your Avios to purchase a seat, as technically compared to the price of the ticket you are getting bumper value.
For example, buy an off-peak flight to Cape Town six months in advance and you will pay £1,673.41 (£227.41 in taxes) while a return will cost you from £677.01 (£358.01 in taxes) for the same dates.
For the same single trip, you can cash in 16,250 Avios plus £193.87 in taxes, while a return costs 41,250 Avios and £227.41 in taxes.
If you do the maths on this one, each Avios for the single trip here is worth a whopping 8.69p, while on the return trip it’s 0.75p per Avios.
This example gets you bumper value but you won’t always achieve this high a value from your Avios on all one-way trips so check the cost before you book.
On short haul flights, you may also find one-way tickets are much cheaper as BA is competing with fighting off competition from budget airlines.
Off-peak tickets save a bundle
It sounds an obvious tip, but it can have a huge impact on how much your points are actually worth.
When you go through the booking process, off-peak tickets are shown with a green mark in the corner of the calendar on the British Airways Executive Club Avios site, but to check during the planning process there is actually an calendar you can view off peak dates on the website.
It’s hard to find, but if you visit the British Airways Avios website and scroll down to the ‘working out the cost’ tab you can bring up the calendar by clicking ‘Learn more and view the British Airways peak and off-peak calendar’.
Here’s some examples from Avios however on the difference in how many airmiles you will have to hand over during peak vs off-peak times.
|8,000 Avios||9,000 Avios||Amsterdam, Paris, Prague||£35 Reward Flight Saver (RFS)|
|13,000 Avios||15,000 Avios||Rome, Barcelona, Dubrovnik||£35 RFS|
|26,000 Avios||40,000 Avios||New York, Boston, Dubai||Taxes, fees and charges|
|32,500 Avios||50,000 Avios||Barbados, Cape Town||Taxes, fees and charges|
|65,000 Avios||100,000 Avios||Sydney, Melbourne, Perth||Taxes, fees and charges|
Is it ever worth swapping Avios for upgrades?
The benefit of upgrading is difficult to measure. Buying a flight with airmiles gets you something for nothing, where as spending the points on upgrading a flight you have already booked in cash, gets you a slice of luxury.
To determine the cost of upgrading using Avios, the formula according to British Airways is: Number of Avios for the cabin your wish to upgrade to – Avios for the cabin you make your booking in = Avios required for the upgrade.
Travelling in style: Using your Avios to upgrade your seat can get you good value
There are a few rules though – you can only upgrade your ticket with Avios up one class, so economy to premium economy or premium economy to business class.
According to Burgess there are more seats in business class than premium economy so you are more likely to find seats in this class.
You can only upgrade an economy ticket if it’s standard economy, not the cheapest tickets – basic economy. These more expensive tickets come with seat reservations and a luggage allowance.
Here’s a quick example:
Book six months in advance and you can fly to New York and back from London in for £559.41 in economy or £1,165.91 in premium economy.
Both include taxes of £361.41 and £451.91 respectively.
The Avios costs are 26,000 (£373.30 in taxes) or 52,000 Avios (£451.09 in taxes).
If you take taxes out of the equation as they are fairly similar, your 26,000 Avios are worth £606.50 – that’s much as 2.3p per Avios.
Parisian adventure? Using Avios to travel to the French capital gets you just over 1p per point
Pay for part of your ticket with Avios rather than buying extra
It’s incredibly frustrating when your Avios pot is just shy of the amount you need to cash in for your flights.
In these instances you have a couple of options, either use your Avios as part payment or buy a bundle of Avios to top up your pot and give you enough for the full flight.
When This is Money checked on a flight to New York you could pay for £190 of the cost of a flight with 37,000 Avios or the smallest part payment available was 20,000 Avios for £20.
On a short-haul flight to Paris the options were slightly different – between £150 off for 29,000 Avios and £10 for 1,000 points.
So the value on this is a between 0.5p-1p off your flight per point redeemed.
So what about buying extra points?
Rob Burgess at Head for Points explains the cost of buying bundles of points.
He says: ‘The standard price is a shocking £31 for 1,000 (this includes a flat £15 handling fee which bumps up small purchases) through to £1,615 for the maximum 100,000.
‘At standard rates, the price is 3.1p when buying 1,000, 2p when buying 5,000 and 1.6p when buying 35,000.’
Whether this is worth it will therefore depend on how much value you are getting per Avios point when you redeem them, but it’s certainly not great value.
TRICKS TO ‘BUY’ AVIOS FOR LESS
According to Rob there is a clever trick for anyone with an American Express credit card linked to its Membership Rewards scheme.
He explains:’ This is a neat little trick for anyone with an American Express Platinum, Gold or Green card. Whilst this is not described anywhere on the Amex website, you can buy up to 10,000 Membership Rewards points per year for 1.5p each. These can be transferred across to Avios at 1:1 so you effectively buy Avios for 1.5p each.
‘For relatively modest quantities, this is a far cheaper option than buying directly. The only downside is that it will take a few days for Amex to transfer the points across to Avios.’
Even better, shop through TopCashback and you can swap your cashback like for like into Avios, with a 5% bonus. So £5 per month would be worth £6,500 Avios in a year.
You can earn cashback when shopping online simply by clicking through the site before you buy from the retailer as normal, and it’s available on anything from switching your energy provider to shopping in M&S or Argos.
Sparkling idea? Avoid using your Avios to buy wine or champagne, it offers much worse value compared to flights
Is it good value to reserve a seat using Avios or buy wine?
British Airways Executive Club lets you use your Avios to pay for other things such as wine, hotel bookings, seat reservations and car rental.
These tend not to offer great value, around 0.55p off per point exchanged according to Burgess.
Here’s a couple of examples.
The prices depend on the seat you are reserving but when we checked the cost of reserving seats for a return flight to Florence, it cost £21 per seat or 7,650 for a couple one way.
That works out at 0.55p.
When we checked out the options for buying wine with Avios points, it was offering a case of 12 bottles for between 16,000 and 22,500 Avios. These are all selections of different wines which made them hard to compare the price.
However to give you an idea of the value it sells a bottle of Dom Perignon for 22,900 – the cheapest price for the same vintage online is £120. That’s a value of 0.52p per Avios.
Similarly when This is Money looked at hotels in Paris for three nights six months in advance we found a five-star hotel costs 144,500 Avios – online you could book the same hotel on the same nights through Booking.com £792.
That’s 0.55p per Avios.
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