How to get the best value out of BA’s Reward Flight Saver redemptions

May 14, 2020

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Being based in the U.K., the British Airways Executive Club offers some great value and opportunities for maximising Avios for free travel. While you can get great value out of Avios for a number of redemptions, we routinely say that some of the best uses of them come in the form of British Airways’ Reward Flight Saver option.

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While the carrier has recently expanded the Reward Flight Saver (RFS) redemption option to long-haul routes, historically, redemptions have been available for short-haul European routes. RFS are so simple and offer great value because BA caps the amount of taxes and fees that passengers have to pay.

But what are the best uses of Reward Flight Savers? And which ones should you avoid? Let’s take a look.

How to calculate the value you’re getting out of a redemption

Before we dive into the best and worst uses of RFS, it’s important to know how you can calculate the value you’re getting out of each Avios in a redemption. The key to any redemption is understanding the value of miles and points, and ideally minimising the cost of earning them and maximising the value gained from using them. Broadly speaking, we value an Avios at 1.1p as per our monthly valuations. That means if you can get more value than 1.1p, you are getting a good deal and should consider using Avios, whilst if it’s below that amount, you might want to think about buying a cash ticket instead.

Redeeming Avios with British Airways for flights from the U.K. often comes with an unwelcome surprise for the first-time redeemer by the way of taxes and carrier-imposed surcharges. BA is notorious for charging these high fees — especially on premium cabin redemptions.

Related: Avios vs. Tier Points: British Airways Executive Club status explained

For example, on a Club World flight from London to Los Angeles, BA will charge you 150,000 Avios plus £660 in taxes and surcharges at peak times. Based on our 1.1p valuation of Avios, you’re effectively paying £2,310 for the flight. That’s why it’s often worth checking cash prices of tickets and, in particular, those starting in mainland Europe.

The above example is a good reflection of why RFS can be so valuable. The capped tax amount used to be £35 for economy redemptions and £50 for Club Europe redemptions, though BA introduced the flexibility to pay even less cash for a higher Avios amount last year. Often paying higher Avios means getting less value for those, so it’s worth exploring how much value you’re aiming to get out of your Avios.

A passenger aircraft operated by British Airways, a unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (IAG), lands at London Heathrow Airport in London, U.K., on Monday, Dec. 24, 2018. British Airways-owner International Consolidated Airlines Group SA and budget carriers EasyJet Plc and Ryanair Holdings Plc all have significant revenue exposure to the U.K., according to analysts at Bernstein. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images
(Photo by Jason Alden/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

It’s worth noting that Avios tickets are generally flexible, so any comparison to a cash ticket isn’t quite like-for-like if you suspect you’ll have to change plans. Passengers can cancel or change an Avios booking for a fee of £35 up to 24 hours before departure, which is waived for Gold Guest List members. If you need the flexibility to change, move or cancel your booking, an Avios redemption might, therefore, make sense even if at first thought a cash ticket looks more attractive.

Avios tickets also include checked-bags and the ability to reserve seats, while the cheapest Economy Basic fares don’t.

Bad uses of Reward Flight Savers

Using our principle of calculating value for Avios, there are some bad RFS redemptions. Broadly speaking, these are flights in the distant future to destinations where cash fares are usually very reasonable. Oftentimes, these are either destinations that are very close and/or have a lot of competition on the route.

Let’s take a look at Dublin, for example.

An Economy Basic fare for a long weekend in October can be had for as little as £58 return — and with quite decent flight times as well. An Economy Plus fare, which includes a checked bag and the ability to change the flight on the day of travel, can be had for a still-attractive £78 return.

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The same flight using Avios costs between £129 (8,500 Avios + £35, the best-value option) and £194 (17,500 Avios + £1, the worst-value option). Unless flexibility is required, the cash fare is much better value. Even if you need to check a bag, the Economy Plus option still saves more than £50 in value.

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Other destinations where cheap cash fares often trump Avios redemptions include Amsterdam, Barcelona and Glasgow, to name a few.

Great uses of reward flight savers

The value calculation and principles apply to finding and calculating the best-value uses of Reward Flight Savers as well. These are typically longer-haul routes with less competition, as well as last-minute flights where prices might be very high. On the latter note, BA sometimes releases last-minute redemption seats, though that’s not necessarily a wise strategy to pursue if you have to travel on a set date to a particular destination, as you could end up with a very high cash fare if no reward seat has been released.

Let’s take Mykonos as an example.

Looking ahead, a long weekend in the middle of September costs £315 return for an Economy Basic ticket.

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The same flights are available with Avios with the best-value option costing £198 (7,000 Avios + £121). That option not just saves over £100 in value but also comes with checked bags and assigned seats, which would bump cash fare even higher.

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Given there aren’t many airlines flying to Mykonos, and it’s a high-demand, typical summer-only holiday destination, using a Reward Flight Saver is a great use of Avios. And the potential savings could be even more than the above example, as cash fares can be even higher. For those who have Gold status with the British Airways Executive Club, it’s also worth noting that the Gold Priority Reward can be used, which allows members to book Avios seats on flights that don’t show availability for double the amount as long as the flight is more than 30 days away.

Using the above example to Mykonos, that could mean using 34,000 Avios and £35 to force BA to open up an Avios seat. While we value that at £409 and therefore it doesn’t make sense, if the cash ticket was more expensive than that, it’s a good option to remember for Gold members.

(Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto)

Given the way BA pricing works, there’s no set list of good-value redemptions, as cash prices fluctuate depending on demand and season. Examples of good value RFS redemptions often include Madrid, Geneva (and other ski-resort accessible destinations, particularly around Christmas, New Year and the U.K.’s half-term in February) and the Greek Islands.

Bottom line

Whether you’re naturally more inclined to look for cash or Avios bookings, it’s always worth checking out the alternative. The key with any redemption is to understand the value of an Avios (or mile or point) that you are using. If you’re Avios rich, you might be more willing to settle for a lower-value in return for using those Avios and saving cash. But there’s no better feeling than knowing you got great value our of your Aviois and saved potentially hundreds of pounds on those expensive flights.

Featured photo by BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images.

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