Spending Your Avios: Everything You Need to Know About Booking Reward Flights

May 13, 2019

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After you’ve dipped your feet into the world of points and miles, you’ll start seeing those point account balances start to rise. If you’ve just reached the minimum spending requirement on a new credit card and have loads of points to spend, you could be wondering: ‘What now?’

One of the point currencies that’s easy to accumulate for UK residents is that from the British Airways Executive Club — Avios points. But how do you spend them? And when are you getting good value?

The first thing you need to know about booking a reward flight is that you’ll have to log in to your British Airways Executive Club account. Once you’re in, hover over the ‘Book’ tab and select the option ‘Book a flight with Avios’.

That was the easy bit. The next few steps will require a bit of patience and probably a calculator.

How Many Avios Do I Need for a Flight?

Redemption flights cost a different amount of Avios and tax depending on the route, travel class and date of travel. To make things a bit easier, British Airways created the Reward Flight Calculator, which lets you pick a route and cabin class and then gives you the Avios and tax cost for both peak and off-peak travel.

For example, your price options on a reward flight from London (LHR) to Miami (MIA):

Finding Availability

Okay, so you’ve decided on your destination. Now you need to pick your dates of travel. Finding availability can be notoriously difficult, especially on routes where British Airways only operates one or two flights per day. However, the beauty is that you can also redeem your Avios on Oneworld partner airlines such as American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways, plus several more.

So, for example, if you can’t find availability on a direct flight from London (LHR) to Hong Kong (HKG) as there are only two BA-operated flights per day, you might find availability direct with Cathay Pacific or going via Doha (DOH) with Qatar Airways.

Also, if you’re still not sure where you want to go, then the Reward Flight Finder tool is useful, as you can compare availability between up to three different destinations.

Booking the Flights

Once you know where you’d like to go and when you want to travel, the first step is to fill in the information required in the ‘Book flights with Avios’ section.

Hong Kong is a great example, as it highlights a few important things about redeeming Avios:

  • Difficulty in finding availability
  • Other carrier options
  • Value of redeeming in economy vs. first class.

If you’re having trouble finding availability on your preferred dates and you hadn’t already checked with the Reward Flight Finder tool, you can select ‘Find availability with British Airways on other dates’. This is a great tool, as it opens up a calendar with a month-by-month view. The downside is that it doesn’t show availability with any other Oneworld airlines. If you want to search partner awards, you have to search day-by-day on the main results page.

Cathay Pacific is a great alternative to British Airways when redeeming Avios, so I’ll use it in the examples going forward. But this big question remains: Is redeeming long-haul flights in economy worth it? In this case, definitely not.

The cost for an return economy ticket with Cathay Pacific is 60,000 Avios (£720 per TPG UK’s current valuations) + £271 in taxes — which comes to a total of £991.

The cost of the very same cash ticket comes to £466 — less than half of the cost of the ticket when redeeming using Avios. This means that the Avios have a negative value and should not used in this case if you want to maximise your hard-earned points the most.

Planning ahead with redemptions can be crucial to bagging yourself that first class ticket. Fast-forward to January 2020, and there are plenty of return first class seats with reward availability on Cathay Pacific.

This option really shows the amazing value that Avios can have. The cost of a return reward flight to Hong Kong in first class with Cathay Pacific is 240,000 Avios (or £2,880 as per TPG UK’s current valuations) + £366.92 — which comes to a total of £3,247.

This is less than half of the cost of the same ticket if paid with cash — £6,867.

Bottom Line

Plan ahead, be as flexible as possible with your dates and airline preferences and always compare the cost of the Avios redemption cost to the cash cost of the ticket to make sure you are getting good value. If you can master that, you’ll be maximising your points in first class before you know it.

Featured photo by Samantha Rosen/The Points Guy.

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