It’s January. And with January comes a huge increase in interest of all things travel-related. In a nod to some of our newer Tricks of the Trade readers who’ve come onboard in the last couple of weeks, I thought I’d run a more beginner-focussed article today.
I’m taking a back-to-basics look at Avios points. What they are, how to collect them and how to use them.
What are Avios points?
Avios points are the currency of British Airways (BA) and their frequent flyer loyalty program; British Airways Executive Club. However, in reality, there are actually four loyalty programs that use Avios as their currency of choice.
- British Airways Executive Club (BAEC) – link to register
- Avios.com – link to register
- Iberia Plus – link to register
- Aer Lingus (Aer Club) – link to register
This article contains information largely relevant to BAEC and avios.com. You should certainly take a couple of minutes to enrol in all 4 schemes, although it’s unlikely you will have much use for Iberia Plus and/or Aer Club on a regular basis.
You can use the ‘Combine My Avios’ tool to freely move your Avios points between your BAEC, Avios.com and Iberia Plus accounts. At some stage, this function will presumably be extended to the relatively new Aer Club scheme as well.
How to collect Avios without flying
While a frequent flyer program by name, there are in fact many ways to earn Avios points apart from flying. I’m going to concentrate on those methods. Some of these avenues are unique to either BAEC or avios.com and some are available via either one.
First up, the single quickest way of accumulating large amounts of Avios (or indeed other airline miles) in the UK is via credit card sign-up bonuses.
Here are some of the larger sign-up offers currently available:
The Platinum Card: 30,000 Membership Rewards (MR) points, equal to 30,000 Avios, when you apply and spend £2,000 on your card within 3 months.
British Airways American Express Premium Plus Card: 25,000 Avios when you apply and spend £3,000 on your card within 3 months. Comes with 2-4-1 companion voucher after spending £10,000 in a year. See my full review of this card here.
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold Card: 20,000 MR points, equal to 20,000 Avios, when you apply and spend £2,000 on your card within 3 months. An excellent beginners card. You can read my full review of this card here.
HSBC Premier World Elite MasterCard: 40,000 HSBC Reward points, equal to 20,000 Avios when you apply and spend £2,000 on your card within 3 months. Further 40,000 points awarded upon spending £12,000 in a card membership year. My full review of this card is here.
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card: 10,000 Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points, equal to 10,000 Avios, when you apply and spend £1,000 on your card within 3 months. See my full review of this card here.
There is also a whole range of other options that allow you to rack up a large balance of Avios.
- Transferring American Express Membership Rewards points – BAEC
- Converting Tesco Clubcard points – Both
- Transferring Heathrow Rewards points – Both
- Converting Shell Drivers Club points – Both
- Completing surveys with Rewards for Thoughts and e-rewards – Both
- Travelling on the Heathrow Express – Both
- Booking airport parking – Both
- Purchasing foreign currency – Both
- Shopping at Chic Outlet Shopping Villages – Both
- Magazine Subscriptions – Both
- The Gate365 shopping portal – BAEC
- The Avios eStore shopping portal – Avios.com
- Car rentals – BAEC
- Holding a British Airways American Express cards – BAEC
- Holding the Lloyds Bank Avios credit cards – Avios.com
- Staying at a hotel partner – BAEC
- Making a BA Holiday booking – BAEC
How to use your Avios
Avios can be redeemed for flights on BA or indeed on any of the 13 members of the oneworld alliance such as Cathay Pacific or American Airlines as well as other partners like Aer Lingus.
How many Avios seats are available on each flight?
BA promises to release a minimum of two Club World (business class) seats and four World Traveler (economy) seats for Avios redemptions, 355 days before each flight. This release typically occurs on or within 30 minutes of midnight GMT. Though not guaranteed, First Class and Premium Economy seats may also become bookable at that time or at any point prior to the flight. The popularity of the route along with other factors will then determine if and when additional seats are released for redemptions.
Notwithstanding the fact that some taxes are still payable on these redemptions, for many, collecting Avios allows them to experience travel in Business or First Class that they would never have otherwise been able to afford!
If you’re searching for the best ways to spend your Avios, this article has the details of “five of the most lucrative ways to redeem Avios you may not have known about”.
Reward Flight Saver
This is another great use of Avios points. There is also often excellent value to be had by utilising BA’s Reward Flight Saver scheme for short-haul European redemptions. These can cost as little as 4,000 Avios.
There are also some non-flight redemption options for cashing out your Avios via BAEC or avios.com. These include wine and hotels, although they are generally seen as offering poor value versus redeeming for flights.
All this is great for a solo traveller but not much help for a family of four…
Wrong. Although early planning is definitely advised. Waking up in October and saying; “I want to find four seats in business class using Avios to Sydney over Christmas” is unlikely to yield much success.
The key to successfully redeeming Avios points especially in premium classes is having a little flexibility, be it regarding your destination airport or dates of travel.
How many Avios points do I need for a ‘free flight’?
You can check how many Avios you would need to fly to a particular destination by using the ‘Reward Flight Calculator’ on ba.com.
You must be logged into BAEC to use this search function, although you needn’t have any Avios in your account to do so. However, in order to access Reward Flight Saver pricing, you must have earned a minimum of one Avios point in your account within the last 12 months.
Do Avios points expire?
Yes. After 3 years of complete inactivity on your account, your Avios will expire. However, given the plethora of Avios-collecting activities listed above, no one should ever encounter a situation whereby they allow a large pile of Avios to expire. The guidance available here on Tricks of the Trade should hopefully ensure such a scenario never occurs!
Can we pool our Avios together with other family members?
Yes. Though not a de rigueur feature of most frequent flyer programs, both BAEC and avios.com offer Household Accounts of some description.
The various rules and requirements do differ considerably between the two schemes though, and it’s worth taking a look at this Tricks of the Trade article which discusses ‘everything you need to know about household accounts’.
What if I prefer to collect Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles (or others)?
Well, the principles are largely the same. As this guide to Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles explains, your best means of generating a large chunk of Virgin miles is via a (credit card sign-up bonus).
The MBNA-issued Virgin cards are not currently available to new applicants – which rules out what was once an easy route to a decent Virgin balance.
However, nothing is stopping you from simply getting one of the cards listed above, and converting the Membership Rewards (MR) or Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) points gained from the sign-up bonus to Virgin.
Other than that, many of the BAEC and avios.com methods have a Virgin equivalent. For example, they also have partnerships with the likes of Tesco Clubcard, Heathrow Rewards, Chic Outlet Shopping Villages, car rental agencies and hotel partners.
A good place to keep track of ongoing promotions is this Partner News and Offers section of the Virgin website.
You might have assumed that since you aren’t a frequent flier, frequent flyer programs aren’t relevant to you.
That couldn’t be further from reality.
While flying is certainly one way to earn Avios, there are in fact dozens of different ways to accumulate miles without stepping foot on a plane. Indeed, the basics of collecting Avios are actually quite straightforward.