One of the most common complaints I hear from friends and family about redeeming British Airways (BA) Avios miles is “they are hardly free flights because the taxes you have to pay are so expensive”. Fair point. Flights out of the UK as we have explained previously are accompanied by hefty taxes and surcharges and unfortunately, that cost is still passed on to miles redemption flights which, by definition, we like to think of as flying for free (at least that’s the reasoning I give my other half when I explain why we have to take the silly-o-clock flight from an airport that takes 2 hours to get to!)
However, an Avios redemption to New York in either Club World or First Class will set you back around £500 per person for a return ticket. A bargain nonetheless when compared to a £5k cash ticket on the same flight but not as cheap as we would like.
With that in mind, I thought it would be a fun and thought-provoking exercise to take a look at some of the most useful and lucrative flights you can use your Avios on without paying hefty taxes and fees. You may be surprised (or not!) to hear that often the best experiences can be had by redeeming your Avios to fly not with BA but with some of their OneWorld partners.
Many of the examples I’ve chosen below involve travel in premium cabins. Not because there isn’t good value to be had in Economy as well, but simply because we like aspirational travel here at Tricks of the Trade.
Cathay Pacific First Class
One of my favourite uses of Avios is redeeming them for Cathay Pacific business/first class flights.
This example offers ridiculously good value (bearing in mind of course that the full cash price is of course overpriced).
To fly from New York to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific in First Class will set you back the best part of £15k one way (return is £23k!).
Instead, you could enjoy 16 hours of caviar, champagne and all round bliss for 140,000 Avios and under £50.
Cash price = £14,500.60
Cash component of an Avios booking = £47.60
Japan Airlines First Class
This one is definitely on my to-do list, hopefully in the not too distant future. I would love to explore Japan and I know how I’d like to fly. You can use Avios to book travel on Japan Airlines. Their First Class looks fantastic and taxes are minimal.
A flight from Tokyo to London costs 120,000 Avios and just £71.90 in added charges. That is fabulous value.
Australia domestic flights – Qantas
This is an example where Avios really come into their own. If you wanted a round trip Business Class ticket from Melbourne to Cairns en route to the Great Barrier Reef in May, you would be looking at roughly £1,200.
Alternatively, you could pay 40,000 Avios and just £28.40 for a return ticket.
When I did this route a few years back, I walked away very impressed. Make no mistake this is no BA Club Europe. In Australia, it seems they haven’t adopted the questionable European attitude to short haul business class and make a very good job of it.
Using airberlin to the US
With fully flat Business Class seats, airberlin is a fantastic way to avoid the substantial premium class taxes you have to pay when departing out of London.
To fly London-New York return in Business Class costs 120,000 Avios + £530 in taxes (Peak).
Alternatively, you can fly airberlin from Dusseldorf-New York for the same 120,000 Avios and just £73. In fact, the cash component on the return leg is just £4.50!
For a couple travelling together that would represent a saving of £916.
Even when the cost of getting to Dusseldorf is deducted that is still a huge saving.
Domestic flights in the US
One of the most popular methods of using Avios especially for non-UK Avios collectors is internal flights within the US.
These flights start at just 4,500 Avios one-way and less than £10 in taxes.
These compare especially favourably as last minute redemptions seeing as BA (unlike American Airlines for example), doesn’t charge a close-in booking fee.
HOW TO BOOK
You can search for availability on ba.com exactly the same way as you would if looking for miles space for BA flights.
There are not the same guaranteed 4 Economy and 2 Business Class seats available with Avios as with BA flights and you will find that each partner airline has different trends as to when availability is released. For example, Cathay Pacific has traditionally been very good at releasing seats in premium cabins in the days leading up to departure.
There is no doubt in my mind that some of the best flight experiences and value can be had when redeeming Avios for flights on partner airlines.
There are also many options that I haven’t had a chance to highlight here, such as Intra-Asia flights and more.
One thing to bear in mind is that partner redemptions such as the ones mentioned above are always charged at the peak rate using BA’s off-peak/peak calendar. The Avios required will, therefore, be that bit higher for many of these flights. However, spending those extra Avios may well be worth it if it means saving £1,000’s as well as getting the chance to enjoy an often superior product.