The Huge British Airways Avios Devaluation Coming April 28 That Won’t Affect Savvy Frequent Flyers At All

It’s been more than three years since British Airways upended their program, charging separately for each flight segment and basing award price on distance.

The November 2011 no-notice changes meant that the British Airways program was no longer very good for long haul premium cabin travel. But it became useful for short non-stop flights, such as on partners like American and Alaska Airlines (and later, US Airways).

This time we get three months’ advance notice of changes.

The good news for US-based members of the program who transfer points in from programs like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards for short non-stop domestic flights is that nothing will change, mercifully enough.

Although one of the great uses of British Airways points – upgrades when flying BA – will get more expensive.

The changes are going to hit earning points through flying, and will hit redemption in premium cabins for medium-haul and long distance flying the most — while reducing the mileage price further for coach trips on British Airways.

Changes to Mileage Earning

British Airways flights will award more miles for flexible premium economy and business class fares and for first class fares, while rewarding fewer miles for most other fares.

This is a huge departure from the principle announced with the launch of the American Airlines joint venture four years ago that ‘one mile equals one mile’ — full mileage earning on all fares.

In addition, fare classes Q, O and G will receive only 25% distance flown in elite qualifying of tier points instead of the current 50%.

British Airways silvers will see a reduction in their mileage bonus from 100% to 50%, which doesn’t surprise me since Silvers earned as large a bonus as Golds.

And instead of awarding 500 mile minimums, the new minimum points earning is just 125.

Finally, BA’s all business class London City – New York JFK flights will no longer be treated as first class for earning purposes.

Redemption Changes: Off-Peak Discounts and Higher Prices for Premium Cabin Travel

British Airways is introducing substantially higher prices for premium cabin awards, and introducing off-peak dates with lower prices when traveling on BA.

The principle with BA has long been that premium economy is 50% more than coach, business is double, and first class is triple.

For all but the shortest trip, business class becomes triple. First class becomes quadruple.

Discounted off-peak dates apply only to flying BA, and not to partners (partner awards are always ‘peak’). And in many cases are still higher than the current prices.

Here’s the off-peak economy chart. Economy peak pricing is the same as current economy pricing, off-peak dates will be less expensive than current.

Here’s a simplified new award chart showing peak travel prices, which means the prices for flying on British Airways partners (I’m excluding premium economy, which most partners don’t offer). The highlighted numbers are increased prices.

Upgrade changes: Upgrades on British Airways with points will be possible for all fare classes except Q, O and G. Since upgrade pricing is the difference between the class booked and the next-higher class of service, and premium cabin long haul awards are getting more expensive much of the time, the price of upgrades will get more expensive too.

UK domestic flights will no longer be free as part of a Europe award: Currently if you take an award through London to a destination in the UK, the domestic flight isn’t charged extra points. That changes, and the domestic flight will be calculated as a wholly separate award. UK domestic flights will still be throw-ins on long haul awards.

Guaranteed availability: For ‘this year’ BA guarantees they will offer a total of 9 million award seats, including at least two business and four economy seats per flight made available when schedules load 355 days out. If not booked they may be withdrawn 45 days prior to departure. This reminds me of United’s narrative with their 2006 devaluation which promised award space on ‘every flight to every destination’ and wasn’t time-limited. It was just quickly forgotten.

Systems limitations in changing awards: They won’t have their systems ready to automate price changes between peak and off-peak travel when you change your award dates. If you change from a peak date to an off-peak date you can make the change online but you’ll get a refund for the difference in miles ‘later’. By phone they can refund the difference right away. If you’re changing from an off-peak to a peak date that has to be done by phone since they don’t have the capacity to charge you more on the website.

Bottom-Line

Customers flying British Airways on the highest fares — flexible business class and first class — will earn more, unless they’re BA Silvers. Premium cabin awards will cost BA customers more, even for off-peak travel dates.

If there’s anyone out there buying paid flexible business and first class fares, and redeeming for economy travel especially at off-peak times, they’ll do quite well. I do not know if such people exist.

But since peak economy award pricing does not change at all, the cost of those short distance non-stop flights on American, US Airways, and Alaska don’t change. BA already gutted its usefulness for premium cabin long haul redemptions over three years ago. They continue along that path. But the way many of us in the States have been using the program since then continues unabated, which is great news.

The increased cost of premium cabin awards on British Airways will make upgrades more expensive, however, and that’s somewhat unfortunate.

(HT: @involupgrade)


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. As I get it, a person who never has a paid flight on BA, and simply redeems short-haul economy Avios rewards where there are no “carrier imposed surcharges”, will see this is a terrific step – the addition of some good looking off-peak values. Odd, it seems to me, that they’re devaluing their program for people who actually fly BA, while enhancing it for people like me who haven’t seen the inside of a BA jet for years.

  2. I’m confused about the earning rate on Partner airlines. What about Air Berlin flights from DUS to JFK or Transatlantic american flights? Are those being changing too? I don’t see anything about it.

  3. Nathan’s question is a good one: not the end of the world if you can’t credit cheapo AA flights to BA, but worth knowing.

    Otherwise, there ARE a couple of fairly modest negatives to the new rules for your “typical readers” (like me):

    First, they’ve eliminated the value of flying Aer Lingus or Air Berlin in biz class to Europe. Like, right now, it’s 25,000 miles pw BOS-DUB. It will now be 37,500. I’ll fly coach.

    Second, they’ve eliminated “the Belfast trick.” Need to get back to DUB from the Continent for your cheapo flight back to the USA? Fly for 4500 miles to Belfast (2 hour bus ride to DUB airport), and you got a free stopover in London to boot.

    Admittedly, since they saved the cheapo oneworld coach redemptions, nobody will cry too much about these changes. Also, since BA seems to be about to buy Aer Lingus — which will likely end surcharge-free award travel on that airline — the end was probably near anyway.

  4. If you book a Zone 4 business class award before the devaluation and then change your travel dates after the devaluation, would they request the additional Avios?

  5. @DaveS- yes, except that those off peak redemptions are for BA flights only, so for you it’s probably pretty much no change rather than an improvement

  6. This is terrible news for me. I am planning a summer 2016 family trip to China and was relying on 70,000 Avios for business class on Cathay Pacific from Chicago to Hong Kong. For the three of us this is now 315,000 instead of 210,000 one way.

    Fortunately I have been holding off till the last minute to transfer Amex MR points with the 40% bonus, so I have a couple of days to rethink.

  7. On the (modestly) positive side, if the “off-peak” periods are substantial enough, there could be some enhanced value flying BA from London and within southern Africa (where they have an affiliate, Comair, that’s treated as a regular BA booking).

    The problem is that I usually avoid stopovers at LHR due to the British government’s high aviation taxes, but if you were ticketed to London and then onward within Europe, you might find some of the new award prices attractive.

  8. Long distance premium economy on Cathay (especially using points+cash) was a good deal using Avios. Chicago-HKG, JFK-Vancouver are good examples. This change will gut those values.

  9. Well, perhaps the silver lining in the premium award rates going up is that it’ll be even more cost prohibitive for reserving Qantas Biz or First from LAX/DFW to SYD prior to the schedule opening on AA. Not that Qantas releases much of it. But, it’s possible more of it gets to AAdvantage members.

  10. Well there goes my chance to fly AA’s 321T First Class transcon for 37.5k points.

    Assuming Iberia copies this change, redeeming for business class across the Atlantic to Madrid will also move out of reach. Right after Iberia upgraded its business class. I’m glad I redeemed a couple of those when I could.

    I had been waiting for the next good BA credit card offer, but now I’m likely to pass. I expect BA to add a last minute booking fee to match the other airlines one of these years. Then I might never be able to use 100k Avios at 4500 per trip.

  11. Based on their FAQ, partners will permanently be on their Peak-season pricing.

    Competitive pricing on mid-haul (25k one way business JFK-YVR matches AA and Star alliance) becomes uncompetitive

  12. Question:

    I’ve booked Alaska with Avios and saved a ton of miles due to this blog. BA has always waived the $25 phone booking fee automatically.

    However, I just booked 5 Thanksgiving tix from Seattle to San Jose. I checked the Alaska site for availability at 25K roundtrip with $11.20 in fees, then called. BA found the flights and said “75K in Avios (expected) and $226 in fees (not expected)”. I asked them to review because this must have included the $125 in phone booking fees. It did, and they removed them. The new total was $96. I asked them to break that down and they couldn’t. I plan to do a LOT of these trips within the 15K roundtrip zone and I don’t want to get hosed on fees that shouldn’t be there. $5.60/each or $11.20 roundtrip is about what Alaska adds onto a FF trip. Can anyone comment on whether or not $19.20 (BA’s charge roundtrip for the same flight) feels like it may be in error?

  13. This is painful. Yes, I use domestic coach awards, and love redeeming at just 4,500 on short routes. But I also use larger amounts of Avios on routes such as CX C HKG-MEL, BA C JNB-WDH, and LAN C LAX-EZE. Those redemption levels will skyrocket come late April.

  14. Gary: so if I understand correctly, the redemption on AA for first class is significantly affected since it’s always priced as triple miles?

  15. In addition to short haul, I thought using Avios for flights US to South America was a “savvy use”. Doesn’t this route have a major impact as well? Was it only economy that was considered “savvy before”

  16. @beachfan it was a decent use that gets more expensive, the benefit was no fuel surcharges though of course only great with non-stop flights (and additional short non-stop hops).

  17. Glad I have booked my father son trip in BA First class to London before the increase. The rest of my points will be for 4500 mile ATL to ORD flights on AA. Bye Bye BA. United still the best in a rapidly worsening environment. Wish ATL was not Delta’s fortress, however…

  18. So the “savvy” members of the program are the ones who make sure to sign up for all the CCs, huh??

    You missed the significant devaluation on WTP->CW upgrades between the US and Europe; that was a very savvy way to spend Avios and it is massively devalued under the new plan.

    I also find it strange that you believe a move from not a not very good option for biz awards to the new, 50% more than not a great option for biz awards isn’t really a big deal.

  19. @Wandering Aramean –

    When you write, “You missed the significant devaluation on WTP->CW upgrades between the US and Europe; that was a very savvy way to spend Avios and it is massively devalued under the new plan.”

    Perhaps you missed “Although one of the great uses of British Airways points – upgrades when flying BA – will get more expensive.”

    Meanwhile you write “So the “savvy” members of the program are the ones who make sure to sign up for all the CCs, huh??” And when I re-read this post I see not a single instance of the word “credit card” let alone a link to one.

    So I’m not sure what post your reading and commenting on but it seems like it isn’t mine..

  20. The headline is wrong and somewhat offensive. “Saavy” travelers from the West Coast who use the 241 certs from the credit cards you hawk are being slammed with a massive price hike. To be fair the new business class saver awards somewhat align more closely with the competition. But the cardholder who is accumulating miles over the course of a few years for a premium travel experience now finds the goalposts moved again.

    I think you also improperly discount the guaranteed saver seat inventory (something we have all been requesting for years) but only time will tell if this is a lie. Maybe your booking award service will get some insight from advance planners. Inventory from the West Coast has not been good recently so will be interesting to see what happens in April.

  21. @Boraxo availability from the West Coast in business has been GREAT recently, and fantastic in first from YVR. I get that the price of premium awards has gone up a lot, but just think how many more miles you’re SAVING on that 2nd ticket now with the travel together award – hah!

  22. Ugh I just tried to upgrade a LHR-JFK flight, the old Avios cost used to be 10,000 Avios to go from Premium Economy to Club World. Now it costs 24,000 Avios!!! That’s absurd. And that’s an “off-peak” flight!

  23. You say: “The good news for US-based members of the program who transfer points in from programs like American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards for short non-stop domestic flights is that nothing will change, mercifully enough.”

    But I think you are wrong. Whereas it used to be fairly possible to book flights on American Airlines between Hawaii and LAX, it now appears to be impossible.

    Do others find that British Airways has essentially closed out booking possibilities?

  24. @JohnDCA still pricing correctly for me … 4500 points each way in economy. first class is – sadly – now 4x economy, so that’s 18k each way or 36k round trip.

  25. @Gary — thanks for your quick response. It’s pricing correctly for me now, too. Shame about First…going to be some brutal 40 minute flights in Coach!

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