One of the most common complaints I hear from friends about redeeming British Airways Avios points is: “they’re hardly free flights because the taxes you have to pay are so expensive”. Fair point.
Flights out of the UK, especially those in premium cabins, are accompanied by hefty surcharges. Unfortunately, those high fees are applicable even when redeeming miles. And by definition, we like to think that redeeming our miles equals free flights.
In reality, an Avios redemption to New York in Club World will set you back around £500 per person return in taxes and other charges. A bargain if cash tickets on the flight are selling for £5,000, but certainly not as cheap as we’d like.
With that in mind, I thought it would be a useful exercise to look at some of the more lucrative flights you can use your Avios on without paying hefty taxes and fees.
You may be surprised (or not!) to learn that the best experiences will often be had by redeeming your Avios to fly, not with BA themselves, but with some of their Oneworld partners.
Many of the examples I’ve chosen below involve travel in premium cabins. That’s not to say that good value economy redemptions don’t exist, but simply because we like aspirational travel here at Tricks of the Trade.
Cathay Pacific First Class
Hands down, one of my favourite uses of Avios is redeeming them for Cathay Pacific first class flights.
This example offers ridiculously good value.
To fly from New York to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific in First Class will set you back the best part of £15,000 one-way (return is £23,000!).
Alternatively, you can enjoy 16 hours of caviar and champagne in comfort for 140,000 Avios and less than £50.
Cash price = £14,500
Avios booking = £47.60 + 140,000 Avios
Japan Airlines First Class
This one is definitely on my to-do list. I’d love to visit Japan and I know how I’d like to fly. You can use Avios to travel on Japan Airlines. Their First Class looks fantastic and taxes are minimal.
A trip from Tokyo to London on some random dates in September 2018 would cost:
Cash price = £12,200 one-way (as a one-way cash flight that figure is obviously somewhat skewed. For perspective, a roundtrip would be £13,500)
Avios booking = £71.90 + 120,000 Avios
Iberia (Plus) redemptions
With Business Class seats that go fully flat on all long-haul routes, Iberia is a fantastic way to avoid the substantial taxes you have to pay when departing from London.
As well as reduced taxes, you can often find some great sweet spots requiring fewer Avios than what BA charges to the same destination.
Remember you can move Avios freely and instantly from British Airways Executive Club or Avios.com to Iberia Plus via the ‘Combine my Avios function’ – explained in this article.
Here’s an example of flights to Los Angeles on an off-peak date:
British Airways: London-Los Angeles = £390 + 62,500 Avios
Iberia: Madrid-Los Angeles = £108 (approx) + 42,500 Avios
By booking via Iberia (on Iberia’s website itself) you’d save about £280 plus 20,000 Avios per person on just a simple one-way flight!
For a couple travelling together that would represent a saving of £560.
You could then utilise BA’s Reward Flight Saver scheme for a low-cost way of positioning to Madrid.
In truth, this Iberia avenue is worthy of an article of its own and one will follow in due course.
Intra-Australia domestic flights with 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’d be looking at roughly £1,000.
Cash price = £1,000-£1,200
Avios booking = £28 + 40,000 Avios
When I did this route a few years back, I walked away very impressed. Make no mistake – this is no BA Club Europe. It seems Australia hasn’t adopted the questionable European attitude to short-haul business class and make a very good job of it.
US Domestic flights
One of the most popular methods of using Avios for US-based Avios collectors is internal flights within the US.
These flights start at just 4,500 Avios one-way + less than £10 in taxes.
These are especially useful for last-minute redemptions seeing as BA don’t charge a close-in booking fee (unlike American Airlines for example).
How to book
Search for availability on ba.com exactly the same way as you would if looking for miles seats for BA flights.
There are no guaranteed 4 Economy and 2 Business Class seats available with Avios as you find with BA flights. Each partner airline has different trends as to when availability is released. For example, Cathay Pacific has traditionally been very good at consistently releasing seats in premium cabins in the days immediately prior to departure.
There’s no doubt in my mind that some of the best flight experiences and value can be achieved by choosing to redeem Avios for flights on partner airlines.
There are also many more 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 above) are always charged at the peak rate listed on BA’s off-peak/peak calendar. Therefore you’ll require more Avios than you would if redeeming Avios on BA flights to the same destination.
However, spending those extra Avios may well be worth it for a saving of hundreds if not thousands of pounds as well as the chance to enjoy superior premium cabin products.