You might have considered getting a credit card that gives you Avios points, which you can redeem when booking flights. But points are not the same as pounds and you need to decide whether collecting Avios is the best option for you. In any case, you need to spend them wisely once you’ve earned them. We asked Rob Burgess from website Head For Points for advice.
“If your job involves in a lot of flying with British Airways and you accrue a lot of miles because your employer is sending you around the world, then it’s something for nothing,” says Rob. “If on the other hand you’re getting your points by using an Avios-earning credit card, you need to compare the value against other cards that might offer cashback or vouchers for John Lewis or M&S,” he cautions.
Tesco gives the option to convert their Clubcard vouchers into Avios points, but Rob says there’s an ‘opportunity cost’ associated with that – you could use the vouchers to go shopping or for something else like a meal. You are effectively buying your points. You have to be sure that what you are redeeming the Avios for is worth more than the alternatives. It’s not cash and you shouldn’t treat it as that.
Rob says making the most of your Avios can be complicated. Flights from the UK are subject to Air Passenger Duty, which is levied by the government, and you’ll have to pay that in ‘real’ money, not Avios points. So he says it could be better value to take a cheap flight out of Britain before you start your long haul flight.
“You can use Avios on Aer Lingus flights from Ireland to the US, which don’t incur UK taxes and surcharges,” says Rob. “So it’s cheaper, but BA won’t let you book those online – you’ll need to ring the call centre to talk through the dates. Similarly, using Air Berlin to fly to the US or Middle East is a great way to use your Avios. You have to get yourself to Berlin or Düsseldorf to take that flight though.”
Rob says you should think carefully about using Avios points for long haul economy travel on British Airways, because it’s really not a great deal. “The taxes and charges that BA levies on a ‘free’ New York economy flight are about £300. But in a sale you could buy the ticket without Avios for the same price, so this is a complete waste of your points. However a business class ticket to New York will cost you at least £2,000 on a good day, but it will only cost around £500 in taxes and APD surcharges if you purchase this with Avios. It’s better value.”
Rob says the number of redemption seats on each flight are restricted so you need to act quickly to bag them. “British Airways release at least two business class seats and four economy seats per flight, usually starting exactly 355 days before the date of the flight. People who are desperately keen to fly on a certain date will grab those early. School holiday seats go quickly so its better if your dates are flexible.”
Another option is to be flexible with your destination airport then get a cheap onward connection. For example, Rob says he’s looking to travel to Tokyo during the school holidays, but couldn’t find a reward seat. So he’s flying to Hong Kong instead then getting a shorter flight over to Japan. “If you want to fly to Dubai, remember that Abu Dhabi is a 30-minute taxi ride away. Similarly if you want to go to China it is easier to get reward seats to Hong Kong and then another onward flight.”
Rob says you’re more likely to find Avios seats when BA launches new routes. “Recently BA announced a new service from London to Oakland in California. That airport is just 25 miles away from San Francisco. It is very hard getting reward seats on flights to San Francisco, but there has been availability on the new route with business class seats to Oakland on most of the key days.”
The new BA route to New Orleans, which begins in March, is pretty-much open as it is not established yet. Rob says his Head for Points website alerts people to those new routes so they can book reward flights quickly before they sell out.
But some routes are very tricky to book. “Australia is possibly the worst route to redeem on,” says Rob. “British Airways now only has one daily flight to Australia and it goes via Singapore so you’re competing for reward seats with people who just want to go to Singapore. Given the number of miles they want, you’re betting off paying cash.”
For more great tips on using Avios points checkout HeadForPoints.com.