/ Travel & Leisure

Without free flights, will you say “adios” to Avios and Airmiles?

british airways plane in sky

Airmiles have influenced my spending habits over the last 20 years. The credit cards I’ve taken and the shops I buy from have led to one goal – more Airmiles and so more free flights. But it’s not free anymore…

I’ve collected Airmiles since the scheme’s early days and have some fond memories of cut-price flights I bought as a result. I never managed a completely free flight, but I did once get a flight to Ghana for almost nothing.

So, I’ll be sad to see the Airmiles name go when the scheme is revamped into Avios in November.

New name, new rules

However, it’s not just the name that’s waving goodbye. The new name brings new rules, which means the goal of a free flight will never be achievable.

From 16 November, passengers who redeem the points they have collected will pay taxes, fees and charges on their flights.

Under Airmiles, a short-haul flight to somewhere like Rome would have needed 1,500 miles. Under Avios, it will need 15,000 Avios points. A longhaul flight to Sydney would have needed 10,000 miles. Under the new scheme it will need 100,000 Avios points.

At first sight, it seems like it’ll be a much tougher job to collect enough points. However, when the scheme changes, Airmiles collectors will have their balances multiplied by ten to compensate. Is that enough when there will now be extra fees to pay?

Airmile changes aren’t popular

Airmiles argues the change was necessary because rising costs meant it had become untenable to offer completely free flights. It also says the switch brings it in line with other loyalty schemes.

However, the changes haven’t gone down well, with one Conversation reader emailing us:

‘If it ain’t broke why fix it? There will no longer be such a thing as a free flight. A slap in the face for customer loyalty! Well done Airmiles.’

What do you think of the changes? Will you keep on collecting? Or will the move to Avios see you saying “Adios Amigo” to the scheme?


Avios is a damned stupid name, and the times by ten is a pure ploy so they can say ’20 avios’ rather than ‘2 air miles’ and have people think ‘Oooh, that’s more’. Are people really that stupid? (Probably, yes, but I hate the marketers thinking I’m one of ’em!)

I’ve a lot of airmiles, and recently needed a flight… could I spend ’em on a flight I actually needed? Could I heck… though I could pay in something called ‘pounds’. The scheme already had be disillusioned before this change.

I collect via the tesco clubcard scheme, auto-converting. I’m thinking I may well stop doing that after not being able to spend my airmiles.


No more free flights? – but there haven’t been any for years. You’ve had to pay the tax, which is a fairly hefty proportion of the cost of a flight. Not really much difference – just rather more expensive now (hardly a surprise)…


Firstly I’d like to say that this is a personal comment – not a Which? opinion.
I’ve had plenty of airmiles flights through the BA scheme but not one of them has been free – we’ve always paid taxes which can add up to hundreds of pounds. (I always thought it was 100,000 miles to go to Australia, not 10,000 but perhaps it is a different scheme?)
There is a distinct skill to getting the best out of an airmiles scheme.
My husband travelled a lot for business for a number of years and we found that if he also took out a BA American Express credit card he accrued miles much quicker – more importantly every time you hit a certain spending level they send you a ‘companion voucher’ – entitling you to an equivalent flight without spending air miles – just as long as you travel together and pay the taxes. (the only problem is that there are only about three places worldwide that take AMEX, so you need a second credit card as well).
There is absolutely no point using airmiles for shorthaul flights – the taxes mean you might just as well book a low-cost carrier flight. But you can give yourself a really special experience if you save your miles up to fly longer haul – we’ve enjoyed 1st class trips to San Francisco, club to Barbados and Miami, economy to Shanghai and saved a fortune on a trip to Hawaii by booking the flight over to San Francisco with airmiles, then getting a low cost airline onto Maui. There is no way on earth we’d ever pay to go 1st with our own money – but to travel in 1st for less than an economy class ticket is a real buzz!
To be honest we’ve decided to go on some holidays simply because we could go there with airmiles – you need to book early to get the best choice and there are some destinations that we have never been able to book – Australia is always fully booked whenever we looked.
Our next airmiles trip is club class to Arizona – it had been a while since we’d spent a companion voucher and the price of the taxes came as a bit of a shock, but the fuel surcharge was even worse.
I’m sure we’ll carry on collecting airmiles – as long as you use them wisely they can be a lot of fun – just don’t depend on getting anything for free.

peter c says:
9 October 2011

I agree, seems most people do not understand, BA miles should not be compared with Airmiles as it has always bee a different scheme.
BA Miles, soon to be Avios ARE NOT CHANGING, just the name change.

Paul Welsh says:
30 October 2011

You mention your husband has used cards on business and how points/miles can be accumulated. I hear a lot of business people complain nevertheless collecting points or miles on the back of work travel. In the public sector it is forbidden to collect points like this.

NHaynes says:
3 September 2011

My husband and I collect airmiles via the Tesco clubcard scheme. We have taken short haul flights so far around Europe on BA, but have ‘saved ‘ enough miles for a totally free return flight for 2 people to Barbados on British Airways, where we were going in May 2012. Had our plans not changed 3 weeks ago (we have booked to go to Florida via another airline and paid full fare) our airmiles BA free flights would have been booked and hopefully secure. So – what happens now. Looks like we can still book the flights to Barbados (probably now 2013) but will have to pay taxes and charges which may come to £500. I suppose this is better than £1200 +, but still not what we have been aiming for. I only shop at Tesco and use their Credit Card because of the airmiles offer – if the airmiles scheme becomes unattractive, Tesco and their credit card will certainly lose my business and I suspect they will also lose the business of thousands of current customers. I will reserve final judgement though until I have seen full details of the new scheme. If necessary (if there is a cut off date) we will cram in an additional holiday long haul before the scheme changes, although annual leave from work would have to be worked around. Not good news.


I too have used airmiles collected painlessly via Tesco for many years and had quite a few holidays and flights from them. I originally got 80 miles for 250 points, but this was reduced to 60 and my recent statement further reduced this to 50, so they are not such a good deal as originally offered. I was peeved that there was no notice about these reductions from Tesco.

I think the idea of multiplying the number of points is ridiculous and only being done to confuse and cover up reductions in benefits. Do they really think we’re that gullible?

Wardley lass says:
3 September 2011

I too collect via Tesco and their Credit card. I have just been on the ‘Avios’ site to find out what the extra charges would be a return flight to LA. Guess what – I couldn’t get an answer from them. I have used airmiles for this journey (visiting family) right from the start and have always managed to avoid paying any cash at all. This means that I won’t be going as often and very possibly will start to take rewards instead of miles, and save on my shopping instead.
You’ve shot yourselves in the foot BA whatever you call the scheme.