Why the Latest Avios Program “Enhancement” Is Actually a Devaluation for Economy Flyers

This week, Godsavethepoints blog broke the story on the latest changes in Avios program. I won’t repeat all the pertinent details, but the gist of it is that you can now use more Avios in order to offset the ridiculous fuel surcharges when booking British Airways operated flights. What’s interesting is that the changes were made overnight, without notifying the members first. So, is it good news or bad news? Depends on who you ask.

Those who are Avios-rich  and who only redeem their points on upper class will actually come out ahead. In many cases, you will be able to get close to 1.5 cents per Avios in value, which is terrific. Again, I won’t crunch the numbers  because many major blogs have already done it, including the one I’ve linked to.

What I want to focus on in this post are economy redemptions on British Airways-operated flights. This is an area I know a thing or two about since I’ve actually been planning to redeem Avios on a flight from Orlando to London or vice versa. I’ve promised my son (who is a massive “Doctor Who” fan) that I would take him to England the next time we fly to meet my family in Europe. I’m pretty sure he is planning to look for TARDIS ship while he is there, but I digress…

Anyway, despite the ridiculous fuel surcharges, I fully intended to go with this option. Why? Nonstop flights to London from my neck of the woods. My only other option was to redeem points on Virgin Atlantic, which I actually prefer. However, since I have a ton of Avios at the moment, it seemed more logical to go with the former.

My Avios were acquired via transfer from Membership Rewards, while utilizing a 40% bonus, which seemed like a good deal at the time. Avios is  a very specific currency, and I have a love/hate relationship with it. That said, I’ve always been abel to squeeze great value out of it by being patient.

Just recently, I burned 90k Avios on five roundtrip tickets from Miami to Liberia. An amazing deal, considering the fact there are no fuel surcharges on AA-operated flights within the Americas. For now.

What has changed since last week

I’ll be referring to the old pricing, so you can clearly see the difference. Before last week, the off-peak flight via Avios to London from either Orlando or Tampa would cost 16,250 points+around $150 in taxes. I don’t have a screenshot, but you can see the current pricing via Virgin Atlantic. The taxes and fuel surcharges these two programs charge for London flights are usually identical or at least very close.

Now let’s look at the current rate via Avios for off-peak flights from Tampa to London:

Very interesting. They still want me to pay $150 in taxes, but I’m expected to shell out 30,000 Avios instead of 16,250. How is that for a deal? The peak pricing is now 35k Avios, or close to 10k Avios more that they previously charged. If you want the old rate, you can pay an extra $142 per person. This is a terrible deal, and Virgin Atlantic program is clearly the way to go.

That said, the situation is much better if you want to fly  from London to US. I do happen to have an old screenshot of the price that the Avios program used to charge, so let’s take a look:

That’s a huge surcharge, especially if you have four people. However, many airports in Europe charge quite a bit in taxes. For example, if I wanted to redeem miles on a  Frankfurt-Orlando Lufthansa flight via United program, I would have to pay 33k miles+$123 in taxes per person. So, in this case, paying considerably less points for a flight somewhat made up for the horrendous surcharge. Plus, like I said, I will need to be in London anyway.

But now things have changed. Let’s take a look at the new off-peak rate:

Now we are talking! Even though the rate is much higher, you have an option of using 13,750 Avios to save $158. To me that’s a tradeoff I’m totally happy to make. I have enough Avios to cover four one-way tickets, so we will definitely be using points and saving the cash.

Even if you intend to fly during peak time, it’s a modest surcharge of an extra 5k Avios per person, compared to off-peak rate. I prefer to come back to US on Saturday, so may go this route.

So, if like me, you have more Avios than you know what to do with, redeeming them towards fuel surcharges can make a lot of sense. But only if you plan to fly from (not to) London. Keep in mind that you need to have earned at least 1 Avios in the last year in order to have access to this new pricing. Transfers from flexible points programs should do the trick.

Final thoughts 

I definitely have mixed feelings about this change. On one hand, it will clearly benefit me personally because I’ll be happy to unload my Avios stash for a bit more than 1 cent apiece. And it goes without saying that many folks who redeem points on business/first class are likely pleased with this enhancement.

On the other hand, I don’t like the fact that British Airways company has clearly devalued some economy redemptions with the hope that nobody will notice. That’s disingenuous and sneaky, and makes me lose trust in the program as a whole. It’s very unlikely that I will  speculatively transfer my flexible points to Avios ever again, regardless of incentive. I’m certainly looking forward to offloading the rest of my balance now that they make changes without any warning.

How does my family travel so much? We use miles and points from credit card bonuses. See my Travel Hacking 101 post as well as current credit card offers here.

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