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We take a step (slightly) closer to this with the Avios skill for Amazon Alexa.
Rather confusingly, there has been a company called Alexa for a while. The company was originally formed in 1996 before being acquired by Amazon in 1999. It was (and still is) something of an authority on website popularity.
In 2014 Amazon then decided to launch Alexa alongside the Amazon Echo device. According to the Wikipedia article
“The name Alexa was chosen due to the fact that it has a hard consonant with the X and therefore could be recognized with higher precision”
So it was apparently a complete coincidence that it was also the name of another company owned by Amazon???
Isn’t this a travel site?
Yes it is, sorry about the brief technology history lesson there!
In addition to the core functionality of Alexa (web search, timers, weather, radio, etc.) Amazon open up the service to third parties to develop their own “skills”.
This is where the interest for us comes in, with the recently added Avios skill.
It is important to note that this works with accounts on Avios.com only. It can’t do anything for your BA Executive Club or Iberia Plus account. From what I have tested so far, it is useful to check your balance, and when I tried moving Avios between accounts, it gave me the updated balance right away, so it is checking live
What can I do with that?
According to the Avios site it offers the following capabilities;
Does it work?
There are mixed reviews on Amazon for this skill, with a number of people stating that it just doesn’t work, and can’t link their Avios account. I am usually skeptical about such reviews, and generally assume it’s the reviewer’s failings, but I have seen some intermittent problems with mine. My account linked straight away, and was able to check my balance, and it proudly told me I had enough to fly to Paris as the screenshot from my phone’s Alexa app showing past queries illustrates.
When I came to test out some more features for this article, I began to get an error.
“I’m sorry, I’m having trouble accessing your Avios account”. As far as I can tell there was no particular reason for this, and it just started working again in a similarly random fashion.
Once Alexa was able to access my account again, I thought I’d really test it out. As the more observant amongst you will notice, 9,000 Avios plus taxes, fees and charges to Paris is a Euro Traveller (economy) flight, and that is not how we roll on InsideFlyer.co.uk. (although it, perhaps, would be an improvement for the Ryanair fan-boys on the team – You know who you are!).
So, let’s see about flying in style;
OK, so that’s not exactly what I said, and it seems we have similar misunderstandings whenever I try to do anything other than very basic questions. Here are some more failed searches for your amusement:
Trust me when I say I have sufficient command of the English language to not use “me” in place of “my” when referring to the first-person possessive. No idea how Alexa thought I wanted an adrenaline experience from that question, though?
Maybe it can help with more generic advice?
Then I figured out that it is using fairly simple recognition of specific words, rather than anything too clever like natural language understanding
If you read this site, you probably already know more about collecting and spending Avios than this Alexa skill is going to teach you. I would see some value in the following scenarios;
- New collectors, curious about where they could go with a specific number of Avios
- Initial planning of a short haul trip, as it seems reasonably reliable at reporting Avios rates for economy redemptions
- If you want to check your balance without getting out your phone/tablet/laptop
- If you’re trying to justify spending £150 on Amazon Echo to your significant other – “Listen, it can tell me how many Avios I’ve got”
Hopefully this will continue to be developed, and further capabilities added. This would be my list of recommendations
- Report actual Avios requirements when asked
- Currently, if you ask “How many Avios to San Francisco”, it tells you that you can’t afford it and how many more you need. That’s great, but hard to keep up when told you need “thirty thousand, eight hundred and seven more Avios”. Just tell me it’s 50,000!
- Support for pricing premium travel classes
- When you tell me it’s 9,000 Avios to Paris, ask if I want to hear how many are required for Business Class
- Reporting of flight availability
- This would be incredibly useful as it’s no good knowing that it will be 9,000 Avios for a flight to Paris but there is no availability when you want to travel
- Some progress towards actually making bookings
- Maybe it’s a stretch to complete a booking by voice alone, but it would be nice to be able to put flights into a basket on Avios.com for you to complete booking and make payment online
- Remove the greeting and goodbye speech whenever you use the skill
- Today every time you say “Alexa, Ask Avios” you start with “Welcome to Avios, Ian” and end with “Thanks for using Avios. Keep collecting to turn your everyday spending into exciting travel rewards”