As first noted by prominent UK website Head for Points, British Airways Avios has implemented a stealthy and unannounced devaluation to their own British Airways award flights of up to 2,000 miles in distance flown.
The devaluation is quite mild in absolute terms and is limited in impact from a Canadian perspective. However, more worryingly, it reminds us of the fact that many loyalty programs can and will devalue their awards without ever giving notice just because they can, and that we should always keep in mind our mantra of “earning and burning” once we are able to do so post-pandemic.
Short-Haul British Airways Flights Increase by 750 Avios
Transparent loyalty programs publish an award chart showing members how many miles is required to book any given award. On the other hand, less transparent loyalty programs do not openly publish a chart, meaning that the only way to find out how many miles your award will cost is to try to book it.
British Airways Avios falls into the latter category, and their lack of a published award chart means that the program can go ahead and change the award costs without any upfront notice – and simply hope that members don’t notice.
Well, that’s exactly what they’ve done to the pricing on short-haul British Airways flights less than 2,000 miles.
For reference, here’s the previous award chart that had been applied to British Airways flights:
(Remember, Avios uses a few separate charts depending on which airline you’re redeeming Avios on. This is the chart for British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, and Vueling flights, and we’ll need to update it to show that British Airways short-haul pricing has increased. We’ll share the updated chart here and over on our British Airways Avios guide when it’s ready.)
The affected distance bands are Zones 1, 2, and 3. For British Airways flights, each of these Avios amounts have now increased by 750. So for example, on the cheapest possible award of a flight less than 650 miles (say, London–Frankfurt) on an off-peak date, you’ll now pay 4,750 Avios instead of 4,000 Avios as per the chart above.
And if you’re travelling in business class, it’ll be 8,500 Avios instead of 7,750 Avios as per the chart above.
The 750-Avios increase applies to flights up to 2,000 miles flown, such as London–Istanbul, which now costs 17,750 Avios in business class instead of 17,000 Avios as per the chart above.
(To obfuscate things even further, British Airways Avios always shows you the “Avios and Money” option with the smallest cash component as a default on intra-European flights. You need to expand the list of pricing options to see the “true” Avios cost, which is the middle option in the list. I’d wager that most Avios members would never notice this stealth devaluation, which is of course what the program is hoping for.)
Partner redemptions on non-British Airways flights do not seem to be affected for the time being, although we’d likely only find out about any changes by stumbling onto them when searching for flight availability anyway.
A Subtle Devaluation to a Useful Sweet Spot
Even though the redemption costs are only increasing by 750 Avios, which is a devaluation of up to 18.75% in relative terms, these changes still leave a somewhat sour taste in the mouth.
As someone who travels to the UK quite often, short-haul British Airways redemptions between London and continental Europe have been some of my most frequent Avios redemptions over the years.
For one, it’s a great way to sidestep the hefty UK Air Passenger Duty for travelling out of London directly on a long-haul flight. Instead of paying $300+ per person on an award ticket for the privilege of departing London Heathrow, I can catch a quick commuter flight from the lovely London City Airport to some European hub and then continue my long-haul journey from there.
Even if I just needed to travel between London and somewhere in Europe, though, I’ve found that a short-haul British Airways business class redemption can offer great value, starting at only 7,750 Avios.
Even though the in-flight experience is quite limited in “European business class” (which is simply economy class with the middle seat blocked off), I still get a full lounge experience on the ground, and it definitely beats trekking all the way to Luton or Stansted to catch a rather uncomfortable flight with an ultra-low-cost carrier.
So even though these intra-European awards are “only” increasing by 750 Avios, I’m still a little miffed that the value I’m getting on these Avios redemptions won’t be as strong going forward.
Another Overnight Devaluation
I suspect that the motivation for this increase in the award costs lies in the parallel coronavirus-related increases to departure taxes at London Heathrow Airport.
The increase itself isn’t the major problem here, but rather, it’s the unannounced overnight nature of the devaluation that rankles.
An overnight devaluation is one of the sneakiest moves that a loyalty program can pull, and it’s one of the most damaging to members’ trust in the program. If Avios can implement an overnight increase of 750 Avios to short-haul British Airways awards, who’s to say they won’t do the same to long-haul partner awards in the future?
Strong loyalty programs place great priority on transparency and building trust among members.
But between this devaluation and how they handled their previous devaluation to Oneworld partner prices back in 2019 (in which members only learned about the updated prices by calling the contact centre and trying out different itineraries one-by-one), the idea of transparency appears to be sorely lacking from British Airways Avios’s culture.
For Canadians, Avios are still relatively easy to earn via Amex MR and RBC Avion, and they’ll still be useful for select sweet spots and Oneworld multi-carrier awards after the pandemic, but there’s certainly going to be some element of risk associated with racking up a large Avios balance since they might be subject to devaluation at a moment’s notice.
British Airways Avios has increased the redemption cost of some of their intra-European flights by 750 Avios per direction. While that’s a mild devaluation on paper, it’s the overnight nature of the devaluation that’s most unfair to Avios members.
The program continues to not cover itself in glory when it comes to implementing changes to Avios redemption costs, especially since it no longer publishes an award chart in the first place.
We’ll have to keep a watchful eye out to see if Avios has any more sneaky moves up its sleeve, all while digesting the fact that our short-haul intra-European Avios bookings will be almost 20% less valuable in the future.