Should You Always Redeem Points for a Flight When There’s a Redemption Available?

May 17, 2019

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We are quite spoilt here in the United Kingdom in having such fierce competition between so many different airlines — especially on European routes — and therefore, having so much choice.

I love both collecting points and miles and a bargain. I’ve used hundreds of thousands of points to book a single first class redemption flight on one of the world’s best airlines, but I’ve also taken £10 Ryanair flights. Both have been great for different reasons.

I’m going to share my thought process about how I determine whether I should use points and miles — specifically Avios — or just pay for a cheap revenue fare on a low-cost carrier. I’ll look at different examples on two popular routes.

London to Barcelona, One-Way

Say I need a one-way flight from London to Barcelona in September in economy, leaving on a Saturday mid-morning. There are Avios award seats available for 6,500 Avios plus £17.50 in fees and taxes.

TPG UK currently values Avios at around 1.2p each, so 6,500 x 1.2p plus the £17.50 would be around £96 to book this reward flight.

Looking at paying cash instead on the same route on the same day, there are a range of options available on different carriers.

Now comparing the exact same British Airways flight, which is priced at £106 one-way, using £96 of Avios and cash is, in our opinion, cheaper than paying for a cash ticket outright. In this example, I would use Avios. You may wish to play around with using less Avios and more cash to make the deal even better.

While the downside is that you won’t earn any Tier Points or Avios for the flight, the upside is that redemption flights come with a free checked bag, while the Hand Luggage Only revenue fares like the one pictured above do not, regardless of your British Airways status.

But British Airways is one of the most expensive flight options that day. Ryanair is less than half the price. But for various reasons you may want to avoid Ryanair — that 12:45pm flight might leave too late, and you may have had unfortunate experiences with Ryanair in the past. Or, Stansted may be less convenient than Gatwick or Heathrow.

Looking at the various Vueling options that may be better timed, you could spent £90 worth of Avios and fees taxes to fly British Airways, or £45 for a revenue fare on Vueling.

Vueling certainly isn’t my favourite European airline by a long way, but in this situation, I would probably just suck it up and pay the Vueling cash fare rather than spend twice as much in order to fly BA with Avios. Both have similar-sized seating, a buy-on-board menu and both tickets would not earn points, so it would not be a drastically different experience — especially if you don’t have status.

London to Boston, Return

For the next example, let’s look at a week in Boston, being flexible with flight timings.

There are economy Avios flights available, for 33,000 Avios plus £373.96 per person return.

Based on our valuation of Avios, 33,000 x 1.2p plus £373.96 equals around £770 worth of Avios and fees and taxes in order to book these flights.

Now get ready for a shock. Here is the cost of the exact same flights using cash only:

That means you would be paying more in just fees and taxes for the redemption than the entire cost of a revenue fare on the exact same flights. This is because economy redemptions are rarely good value when the loyalty programme imposes significant fees and taxes, which British Airways does.

That would make your 33,000 Avios completely worthless. Don’t ever consider a long-haul economy redemption without checking the equivalent revenue fares first. Admittedly, points can come in handy for one-way long-haul redemptions, which can be very expensive and will be most lucrative for last-minute fares.

Most of the revenue fares shown in the example above are for hand-baggage only. If you do need to check a bag, you would have to factor in an additional cost of around £40 each way, depending on the carrier.

If you were choosing between carriers for the examples above, remember that Norwegian would not include food and beverage as part of that basic fare, while the full-service airlines like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Delta would. Given these prices are similar across the different carriers, if you have elite status with one of these airlines I would recommend booking with them as you would earn points/status and enjoy benefits like priority boarding and lounge access.

As much as I love Norwegian, for these prices, I would be choosing probably Virgin Atlantic for the included food and drinks, even if Norwegian was, say 10% cheaper.

Featured photo by Nick Morris / British Airways.

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