So, you listened to the advice and maximised your Avios earning by signing-up for the BA Amex card, switched all your spending to it, got angry with small shops that won’t accept it, booked your last BA holiday on it and even converted all your Tesco Clubcard vouchers to Avios. The hard work is done and now you’ve got 100,000 Avios in your Exec Club account and a 2-for-1 companion voucher. Time to find an Avios reward flight!
This can be when disappointment sets in
You fire-up the BA website and search for a reward flight to Miami leaving in 6 weeks’ time. Nothing. Not even a measly economy seat for one person, never mind two! You change your search to a month later, still nothing. You then change your airport to Fort Lauderdale. Nothing. Orlando. Nothing. Reality dawns that the trip isn’t going to happen in the next couple of months, so you decide to look at when there would be availability. You eventually find two Business Class seats available in 4 months’ time, but it’s now hurricane season and you don’t want to go to Miami then. On closer inspection, you also notice there are no return flights for following 3 weeks!
Before you become any more despondent, let us assure you that you are not alone and this happens to every BA Exec Club member at one point or another. The good news is it doesn’t mean all your hard work was for nothing. We’ve fallen into the Avios redemption pitfalls a number of times and would like to share our experiences so you don’t have to.
Tips to help you book that elusive Avios reward flight
We’ve successfully used up our Avios and companion vouchers several years in a row; here are the tips and tricks we picked up along the way.
Use the Reward Flight Finder feature on the app
The BA mobile app has a nifty little feature that allows you to quickly find which destinations have Avios reward flight availability, and when. If you’re trying to use a companion voucher, remember to search for 2 adults, as while there may be one reward seat showing as available, there may not be two. There needs to be two reward seats available to use the 2-for-1 voucher.
Check the cash price
Before you book an Avios reward flight, be sure to check how much a cash ticket on the same flight would cost you. As well as using your avios you will also need to pay for the taxes, fees, and surcharges on top. While these are only £35 for short-haul European redemptions, they can be as high as £600 for long-haul redemptions on premium cabins. We value our Avios at 1p each, so 100,000 Avios is effectively worth £1,000. It rarely happens, but we have found cash flights that are cheaper than reward flights. Search for the flight you’re trying to book on Google Flights. If the the price coming up is anywhere near your quoted Avios price x 0.01 + taxes, fees & charges, you should probably just book it all with cash and save your Avios.
Example: A return from London to Sydney in economy for 2 people for 82,500 Avios + 2-4-1 voucher + £998 in taxes. A trip total of £1,823… You could both do the same trip on Qatar Airways or Emirates for £1,500 and keep your points. Which leads nicely into…
Economy redemptions are really bad value
While you may not be bothered about flying business class, you should know that Avios reward flights in economy (World Traveller) and premium economy (World Traveller Plus) usually represent bad value for points.
Business vs. Economy at a 1p Avios valuation
A return economy ticket to Chicago off-peak is 26,000 Avios. If we value Avios at 1p each, that means the ticket is £260. You then have to pay £267 in taxes on top. The total fare is £527. Shockingly, the equivalent cash ticket retails for £330 – so with an Avios redemption you’d effectively be paying £197 more!
In business class the Avios fare rockets to 100,000 avios and £671.12 taxes. Total £1,671.12. The same flight retails for £2,045, if paid entirely in cash. That’s a saving of £373!
Can you see the difference in value?
Flip it round and calculate the Avios value from the fare
Another way to look at it is to value the Avios based on the revenue fare price, so the 100,000 business class redemption above is valued at the equivalent £2,045 cash fare. 2045/100000 = 2.04p per Avios.
For the 26,000 economy fare: 330/26000 = 1.2p per Avios.
Whichever way you do the maths, the outcome is still the same – Business wipes the floor with economy in terms of value for your Avios. The numbers get even more impressive for reward flights in First, so consider looking at those seats too.
Companion vouchers cannot be used on codeshares
If you were hoping to use your 2-for-1 voucher to fly you and your favourite person to Hawaii, you’ll need to adjust your plans. Companion vouchers can only be used on BA-operated flights, not Oneworld partners and codeshare airlines. You can still go to Hawaii, but BA only fly as far as Los Angeles or San Francisco on the companion voucher. You’ll get from LA to Honolulu on a separate Avios booking with American Airlines or cash booking with any other airline.
Book early on limited routes
Some routes don’t have daily flights, so can be highly in demand. If you have aspirations of flying to Costa Rica or the Maldives, you need to start searching for reward flight availability 355 days before you plan to go – BA release reward seats at 00:00 GMT 355 days before departure. BA guarantee to release a minimum of 2 business class seats on every flight, but they do not guarantee to release any availability for First. They may not release any further seats once initial release of reward seats have been booked. If like us you’re not willing and able to make plans a year in advance, now’s the time to accept you’re most likely paying cash for those trips and your Avios will come to good use against another destination at another time.
Bank holidays and school holidays are in high demand
The early bird really does catch the worm. These are peak travel periods, so even if you’re early (and lucky) enough to find availability, you’ll be stung by BA’s peak redemption rates. Saying all that, cash (revenue) fare prices also go up massively during these periods. If you bag a reward flight, you’re likely to be getting a lot more value for your Avios.
Try to be as flexible as you can with your dates. If you absolutely must travel during published holidays, aim to book as soon as the seats are released – 355 days in advance.
Be flexible with dates
There may only be departures on a Tuesday and there may not be an available return flight in 14 days, although there might be in 10. Reward Flight Finder is excellent for finding a trip length that’ll suit your plans.
Routes with multiple daily flights have more availability
Take New York for example: BA operates 15 daily flights between London and New York. With 2 business class seats guaranteed on each flight, that’s at least 30 Club World seats available on any given day, or 210 per week.
Meanwhile, BA only flies to Lima, Peru, 3 times per week. That provides guaranteed availability in business class for a mere 6 seats per week.
I’m sure you can guess which one you have most luck in booking an Avios reward flight and using that hard-earned companion voucher.
Try a different departure airport
If you’re using a companion voucher, you have to start your flight in the UK. That doesn’t mean you have to start in London. The following airports are all in the UK and have flights that will connect you to BA’s Heathrow and Gatwick hubs:
* have much cheaper taxes than other airports
If you’re using Avios without a companion voucher, there are no restrictions on where you can start your journey. As UK airport taxes and fees are more expensive than most other European countries, you can save a lot of money starting your BA Avios reward flight in Dublin, Paris or Amsterdam – all just 45 mins flying from the UK.
Try mixing the cabin type
If it’s a day flight, consider flying in World Traveller (Economy) or World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy), then come back in Club World (Business) of First. Or do our favourite: do the day flight in First and the overnight sleeper flight in Club. Being willing to fly in different cabins on your outbound/inbound will increase your chances of finding availability.
Try flying back from a different airport
When we last went to South America, we flew into Lima and out of São Paulo. Flying back from a different airport to the one you arrived at is called an “open jaw” ticket. You’ll need the call centre for this, as it can’t be booked online and they will waive the telephone booking fee. That was all done with Avios + a companion voucher. The only rule is the return flight has to be equal or less distance than the outbound – no flying out to Prague and then back from Shanghai!! Also remember you have to get yourself to departure point for your return flight, so check the price of that before booking.
You can change anytime!
Unlike cash bookings, booking with Avios and 2-for-1 companion vouchers can be cancelled right up until 24 hours before the flight, for small £35 fee. Your Avios and companion voucher will be returned to you in full – although the voucher expiry date will remain unchanged.
Bookings can also be changed for the same £35 fee. You can use this to your advantage: If there’s availability in economy but not in business class, book the economy seats then call to make the change to business when you see seats appear. It’s a good idea also to call when upgrade availability doesn’t open-up.
Don’t let the companion voucher expire
You worked hard for that voucher, make sure you use it! You have to take your outbound flight before your companion voucher expires, but it can expire before your return flight. If it’s looking unlikely that you’ll be able to do your preferred trip before the voucher expires, take advantage of high availability and dirt-cheap redemptions closer to home. BA has an extensive network throughout Europe meaning there’s always somewhere new to visit. You also benefit from the Reward Flight Saver scheme, where taxes are capped at £35 and are sometimes as low as £1. We don’t believe in letting companion vouchers go to waste, even if that means they’re used on short-haul destinations.
Use the BA call centre
Not everything that’s possible is achievable online. The contact centre can help you do things like:
- Check availability for newly released seats that aren’t yet showing on the website or in the app
- Book “open jaw” reward flights
- Make changes to existing bookings
- Advise on general reward seat availability
The number for BA Exec Club is: +44 (0) 191 490 7901
Get in touch
If you’re despairing about being sat on a pile of Avios and it seems like you can’t find an Avios reward flight, let us know. We might be able to help.