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How to Travel Better for Less: Redeeming Avios
Collecting Avios/Miles/Points, whether in airline or hotel programmes, is only half the story. You can collect as many as you like, but if you don’t know how to use them properly, it’s unlikely it will be worth the effort.
We’ve explored how to get hold of substantial amounts of British Airways Avios already in this beginner’s series:
- Earn Avios With Tesco Clubcard
- 12,000+ Avios With TopCashback
- 3,350+ Free Avios
- 15 Lesser Known Ways To Collect Avios
and now it’s time to look at how to use them!
The simplest and most obvious way to use Avios is to book British Airways flights from your British Airways Executive Club (BAEC) account. I will cover using Avios to book flights with BA’s partner airlines, Avios.com and Iberia Plus in separate articles.
BAEC have made a number of changes over the last few years that make explaining the programme a bit more complicated than it used to be, but it’s still fairly easy to get to grips with.
Peak and Off-Peak Dates
The first thing you need to know is that the amount of Avios required for any given flight and Class of travel now varies, depending on whether you are travelling on what BA deem a ‘peak’ or an ‘off-peak’ date.
The dates highlighted in yellow below are the ‘off-peak’ dates until the end of 2016. Perhaps the most useful thing to note is that every Tuesday and Wednesday are ‘Off-Peak’, even in the middle of the Summer holidays.
BA doesn’t seem to have published the 2017 calendar yet, but for the dates currently bookable (you can book 355 days in advance – so up to 15th April at time of writing), the only peak dates are 1st & 2nd January, 11th-19th February, 1st-15th April.
BAEC uses what is known as a ‘distance-based’ award chart. This basically means that the number of Avios you need for a flight depends on how far you want to fly.
There are 9 distance bands which are known as ‘Zones’:
- 0-650 Miles
- 651-1,151 Miles
- 1,152-2,000 Miles
- 2,001-3,000 Miles
- 3,001-4,000 Miles
- 4,001-5,500 Miles
- 5,501-6,500 Miles
- 6,501-7,000 Miles
- 7,001-10,000 Miles
Destinations in each Zone:
Avios Zone 1
Aberdeen, Angers, Amsterdam, Basel, Belfast, Bilbao, Billund, Bergen, Berlin, Bordeaux, Brussels, Chambery, Copenhagen, Dublin, Düsseldorf, Edinburgh, Frankfurt, Friedrichshafen, Geneva, Genoa, Glasgow, Gothenburg, Grenoble, Hannover, Hamburg, Innsbruck, Inverness, Isle of Man, Jersey, Leeds-Bradford, Luxembourg, Lyon. Manchester, Marseilles, Milan, Munich, Newcastle, Nice, Paris, Prague, Quimper, Rotterdam, Salzburg, Stavanger, Stuttgart, Toulouse, Turin and Zurich.
Avios Zone 2
Algiers, Alicante, Barcelona, Bari, Belgrade, Bologna, Budapest, Cagliari, Dubrovnik, Faro, Gibraltar, Granada, Helsinki, Ibiza, Krakow, Lisbon, Madrid, Malaga, Minorca, Naples, Oslo, Palma (Majorca), Pisa, Porto, Rome, Stockholm, Seville, Tunis, Venice, Verona, Vienna, Warsaw and Zagreb.
Avios Zone 3
Agadir, Athens, Bodrum, Bucharest, Catania (Sicily), Dalaman, Fuerteventura, Funchal (Madeira), Gran Canaria, Heraklion (Crete), Istanbul, Izmir, Kiev, Lanzarote, Larnaca, Marrakech, Malta, Moscow, Mykanos, Paphos, Rhodes, Santorini, Sofia, St Petersburg, Tenerife, Thessaloniki and Tirana.
Avios Zone 4
Abuja, Amman, Baku, Beirut, Cairo, Jeddah, Kuwait, Sharm El Sheikh, Tbilisi, and Tel Aviv.
Avios Zone 5
Abu Dhabi, Accra, Almaty, Bahrain, Baltimore, Bermuda, Bishkek, Boston, Chicago, Dammam, Doha, Dubai, Freetown, Khartoum, Lagos, Montreal, Monrovia, Muscat, New York, Philadelphia, Riyadh, Toronto and Washington.
Avios Zone 6
Antigua, Atlanta, Austin, Bangalore, Barbados, Beijing, Bridgetown, Calgary, Cancun, Cape Town, Chengdu, Chennai, Colombo, Dallas, Dar Es Salaam, Delhi, Denver, Entebbe, Grand Cayman, Grenada, Houston, Hyderabad, Johannesburg, Kingston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Luanda, Lusaka, Male, Mexico City, Miami, Montego Bay, Mumbai, Nairobi, Nassau, New Delhi, Orlando, Phoenix, Port of Spain, Providenciales, Punta Cana, San Diego, San Francisco, San Juan, Seattle, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, Tampa, Tobago and Vancouver.
Avios Zone 7
Bangkok, Hong Kong, Mauritius, Rio De Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo.
Avios Zone 8
Buenos Aires, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
Avios Zone 9
You can see the number of Avios required for each zone and Class of travel in the chart below for both off-peak and peak dates.
British Airways flights can be usefully divided into short-haul and long-haul.
- Short-haul flights (Zones 1-3) only usually offer short-haul Economy (Euro Traveller) seats and short-haul Business class (Club Europe) seats.
- Long-haul flights (Zones 4-9) offer long-haul Economy (World Traveller), Premium Economy (World Traveller Plus), long-haul Business (Club World), and First Class.
There is only one regular exception I can think of, which is that two of the flights to/from Moscow each week (Zone 3) are operated by a long-haul configured plane, which offers Premium Economy (World Traveller Plus), long-haul Business Class (Club World), and First Class cabins.
Short-haul Business Class (Club Europe) is essentially just a normal Economy (Euro Traveller) seat at the front of the plane, with the middle seat in each row blocked off and better food (and champagne!). Long-haul Business Class (Club World) is completely different and offers a seat that goes fully flat so you can lie down – so make sure you know what you’re getting!
Unlike when you pay with cash, the number of seats on each flight that you can redeem Avios for is restricted. Whether there is availability using Avios at any given time depends on a huge range of factors, and is ultimately decided by BA’s revenue management team and whatever algorithms they are using.
BA guarantee that there is,
“(A) minimum of two Club World/Club Europe and four World Traveller/Euro Traveller reward seats on all British Airways operated flights… These minimum guaranteed reward seats will be made available 355 days before the flight”.
So, if you know what flights you want 355 days in advance, then that’s the best time to book!
Remember that the guarantee above is just a minimum though, and availability changes more than you might think, so it’s worth checking regularly – particularly in the final few weeks before departure.
How to Check Avios Availability
- Go to the British Airways homepage and login to your British Airways Executive Club account
- Click on the red “Find Reward Flights” button
- Enter where you would like to fly from and to, your dates and number of passengers. Tick the box if you’re only searching for a one-way flight.
- That’s it!
Taxes and ‘Surcharges’
How many Avios you need for a flight is (sadly) only part of the equation with BA, as they also levy substantial ‘surcharges’.
For Zones 1-3 this isn’t a problem because all fees (including taxes) are capped at £17.50 each way in Economy and £25.00 in Business Class – BA calls this cap the “Reward Flight Saver”. The only restriction for accessing Reward Flight Saver rates, is that you must have earned at least one Avios in your BAEC account in the previous 12 months.
For flights to/from destinations in Zones 4-9 it is a very different story, with what BA mysteriously describes as ‘carrier imposed charges’ usually adding well over £100.00 each way.
When you factor in Air Passenger Duty for flights departing from the UK as well, using Avios for BA flights to Zones 4-9 will usually end up costing around £200.00- £450.00 in Economy, and substantially more for Business or First Class, on top of the Avios required.
Air Passenger Duty is imposed by the Government, but the ‘carrier imposed charges’ are an unnecessary fee levied by BA, invented purely to boost the bottom line. Combined, they make using Avios for BA Economy flights (to destinations outside of Zones 1-3) bad value in the majority of circumstances, and serve to put a lot of people off Avios completely.
I really hate paying these sort of fees, and do everything I can to avoid them – which usually means using my Avios on partner airlines rather than BA itself, when I’m travelling anywhere further than Zone 3 (check out the next post in this guide for the details on how to redeem Avios on BA’s partner airlines).
It is sometimes possible to reduce or avoid these sort of fees even when flying BA. This is a beginner’s guide though, so for now I’ll just mention that some countries (like Brazil) ban airlines from charging bogus ‘surcharges’ – which can be a great way to try BA Business or First without the hefty fees.
Bonus Tip: booking a ticket as two one-way flights, rather than a Return, can sometimes cost less in taxes/fees, so is well worth checking!
In the next part of this series I will explain how to redeem Avios for flights on BA’s partner airlines, like American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways.
The information in this series is very much for beginners and may seem a bit obvious/boring for more experienced readers. The number of times friends and family have enthusiastically asked me to explain how I travel like I do and how they can do the same, but then glaze over as they begin to lose track of the details, suggests that a practical step-by-step guide should be helpful for beginners.
There will continue to be lots of more advanced content, as well as the usual news, deals, tricks, tips and reviews on InsideFlyerUK, so keep reading!