/ 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.

Disgruntled says:
3 September 2011

I would be most interested to know how you got a flight to Ghana for almost “nothing” as the 40,000 Airmiles still necessitated payment of taxes which still amounted to £200 plus on a ticket costing £500 in March 2011.
The payment of taxes from November is therefore not strictly correct…as for BA they have dropped an almighty one here

Gerry says:
4 September 2011

It wouldn’t have been 40,000 Air Miles because the maximum ‘fare’ is 10,000 AM. It would probably have been 5,000 AM but Ghana is currently not an AM destination.

At present the taxes and fees are included so Air Miles flights really are totally free, which is why the forthcoming Avios changes are so unpopular.

P Hughes says:
3 September 2011

I have collected Airmiles for over twenty years and have used them for free flights to Europe, Thailand and Australia. I have collected these through my dual credit cards with Lloyds and previously with Nat West together with Tesco Club Card +. Tesco reduced the ammount they gave back in Air Miles last year and cut in half the points on fuel and BA decision I feel will be the final straw or “Adios” as stated earlier.

B777FLY says:
3 September 2011

i only fly BA enough to keep a Silver card for lounge entry as the service is so ‘hit and miss’. With the latest change, I see the future (sadly) with the Tesco of the skies – Emirates.

brian crofts says:
4 September 2011

It’s a pity that about half the people replying on this forum don’t know what the airmiles scheme is. You DON’T pay taxes and charges at present making the flights completely free. Last weekend for example I flew to brussells for absolutely nothing, so your correspondent is completely wrong when she says it’s not worth using them for European flights. I’ve previously used the scheme for a number of European flights as well as those to J’burg and Seattle. Why is there no clarity on the website about exactly how much the new flights will cost and how many of the new points will be given as rewards, apart from the initial 1 to 10 conversion?

Maybe there is some confusion between “Airmiles” – a means of accumulating miles via credit card purchases, store loyalty schemes, petrol purchases etc…you do not pay any taxes or charges with this scheme and “BA Miles” a means of accumulating miles mainly by purchasing flights on BA, flights with this scheme you do pay taxes and charges . Both schemes are to become Avios. I have not heard from Airmiles yet but have received an email from BA Miles advising of the change.

I have some concerns over this distinction between Airmiles and BA miles as well – particular as Executive Club BA Miles don’t seem to be getting the 10x multiplication that Airmiles are getting when converted to Avios. This is from BA’s Executive Club website:

“BA Miles have been the familiar currency of the Executive Club. However, in November, we’ll be renaming them as Avios points, which will be the currency for all loyalty and reward programmes owned by British Airways’ parent company, International Airlines Group.
We’re sure you’ll welcome Avios points. Their value remains the same, so 1,000 BA Miles will become 1,000 Avios”

So if you need 10x as many Avios points as you would have done for the equivalent route before this change, I’m wondering if that leave Executive Club members shortchanged?

Gerry says:
4 September 2011

Just for the record, the taxes and fees were free for about 15 years after the scheme first started back in 1985 or whenever. Then they introduced charges, but it still meant that I managed to fly to Sydney in 2007 for 10,000 Air Miles and only £108 in taxes etc.

Early in 2008 or so the taxes and fees became inclusive again, and that’s still the case right now: 10,000 Air Miles gets you a totally free flight to Sydney.

However, for Sydney they quoted 100,000 Avios with charges totalling a massive £479 so the new scheme will be a total waste of time. Worse still, thousands of people will now NEVER get the free flight of a lifetime for which they’ve been faithfully collecting Air Miles for years. What a disgraceful breach of trust: it should surely count as false pretences !

Needless to say, I’ll soon be cutting up my Tesco MasterCard and be shopping at Waitrose and Sainsbury’s instead of Tesco.

B777FLY says:
4 September 2011

Gerry has a good point. It’s a bit like collecting 25 books of Green Shield Stamps in the 1980s, only having them cut in half when claiming benefits.

Emirates must be delighted.

Paul Welsh says:
30 October 2011

I agree with Gerry’s comments – not only Emirates but Qatar, Etihad and even the more established BA/Iberia competition.

I am suspect about airlines like the above that are ‘nationalised’ and surely propped up by their emirate owners who must provide state assistance. I understand BA/Qantas/Air France-KLM are suspicious of those airlines.

It perhaps explains how come airlines like Emirates and Etihad are (for the time being – perhaps until opposition is neutralised), offer chances to travel/fly and on line shop. I have managed to get upgrades with Emirates.

I think it is key to the UK economy the airline taxes are reduced – this would be beneficial and in return the airlines should look at how best to fill empty seats and mould a user friendly rewards programme.

Gerry says:
4 September 2011

Air Miles says that “the switch brings it in line with other loyalty schemes”.

So they admit openly that they are operating a cartel?

Have been collecting Airmiles via Tesco credit card for several years and have had a number of free flights within Europe. This has been the whole reason for having a Tesco card and shopping in Tesco. Will now start shopping in Waitrose and will apply for a John Lewis card.

Probably will not fly BA either. Pity the airmiles scheme is being altered. Lots of people will miss out.

Sorcha says:
5 September 2011

Guys, there is a team fighting the change, checkout the Fight the Airmiles Change page on Facebook, and their website fighttheairmileschange.co.uk http://bit.ly/nvgupL http://on.fb.me/pWHmvb

I am a member of Airmiles and regularly take flights between London/Johannesburg, London/Paris.
Using the dates 9/11 and 5/12 I have costed return trips on the BA website.

London/Johannesburg £591,83. At present by Airmiles this would be 8000 points for a completly free flight. Value 13,50 Airmiles = £1. Under the Avios scheme this trip will cost 50000 points (equivalent to 5000 Airmiles) + Airline taxes, fees and surcharges of £351,83. From the ticket cost of £591,83 the remaining amount is £240. Value 19.70 Airmiles = £1. In this example your Airmiles will have been devalued by 45.70%.

London/Paris £103.50. At present 750 Airmiles for a free flight. Airmiles value 7.25=£1. Avios points 9000 points (equivalent to 900 Airmiles) + £27 standard fee. In this example the 900 Airmiles have a value of £76,50, or 11,75=£1. A devaluation of 62,20%.

I will now discontinue collecting Airmiles, but will be using my existing points prior to the closing date to avoid this horrendous devaluation and I shall also be looking carefully on whether I continue using the merchants I presently use for collecting.

Simon says:
9 September 2011

Collecting airmiles has significantly affected where I shop for a number of years – e.g. Tesco and the credit card I use.
The change in adding taxes etc. to flights will undoubtedly mean I will spend less, as will many others, at Tesco or with my airmiles credit card.

I wonder how these companies will feel if this hits their business?

Dancoopbron says:
10 September 2011


We collect about 15,000 Airmiles a year. Had free flights every year for many years. I really like Airmiles but am a little concerned about the change. If you check there website its not like for like points. eg.
Return flight to New york. 5,000 Airmiles.
Return flight to New york with Avios = 40,000 Avios points (equal to an old 4,000 Airmiles)
So it is less but plus Airline taxes, Fees and Surcharges and usually taxes are quite a bit!

So it does seem overall it will cost you more with Avios. However Nectar is the worst scheme out there. Barlcaycard rewards are poor.

What else can we collect to substitute Avios / Airmiles?

Something is better than nothing?

Will avios do a deal when they launch so wondered if its worth holding on to my 20,000 Airmiles or get rid of them quick……

peter c says:
9 October 2011

Airmiles and BA miles are totally different and should not be compared. The confusing is calling BA airmiles. These are collected according to how many miles you have frown with THEM BA. Tax has always been paid when using BA miles. Other good way of collecting BA miles is via British Airways American Express Credit card, all the major super markets take and many others these days. If you pay the Amex fee for the Plus card you get 1.5 BA miles for every pound spent. If you spend £3,000 in the first three months you get bonus miles and if you spend £10,000 in a year you get a free companion flight in any cabin, in additon to the miles earned, tax as always has to be paid.

Steve R says:
13 September 2011

When i first read the email about the switch to Avios i thought it was a good thing because with Avios i won’t need to pay the 500 compulsory airmiles to fly anywhere other than London. I’m local to Manchester and this seemed like a ridiculous charge to have to pay 500 of my miles before i went anywhere.

After reading this thread though maybe the switch isn’t such a good idea, i would hope to save up and get a free flight at a later date, i don’t mind paying £100 or so for a long haul flight but nearly £500 is obscene for such a scheme.