British Airways is launching ‘Avios Only’ flights – flights they aren’t selling for cash, just making available for redemption.
This will begin with the airline’s inaugural London Gatwick – Sharm El Sheikh flight in November, followed by four London Heathrow – Geneva flights in February and March 2024 (BA728 on February 10, 17, and 24 and March 2), all of which are now bookable. And the airline plans to continue to announce new routes and dates throughout the rest of the year.
- It’s not exactly London – Los Angeles or San Francisco, or London – Asia
- And generally the problem with BA’s awards isn’t availability, it’s surcharges
- This is too limited to be high value to members, but the concept is one that has value.
British Airways Airbus Narrowbody
Four years ago Cathay Pacific ran charter flights between Hong Kong and Osaka for frequent flyers. These flights were redemption-only. Air Canada ran redemption-only flights to Hawaii years ago. And when Aeroplan was plotting its future as an independent frequent flyer program, before it was reacquired by Air Canada, it harkened back to this playbook and promised to charter flights to popular destinations to ensure award seats for members.
Then three years ago Qantas has to reposition an Airbus A380 for a charter flight from Tokyo, so they ran a Melbourne – Tokyo frequent flyer charter with all seats on the plane available at the saver level. Then they offered a second redemption charter back from Tokyo on an Airbus A330. And a year and a half ago Qantas again offered several ‘points planes’.
That’s generally been a limited strategy. A program might charter a flight or four, but not enough capacity to really give members choice. Still, it’s a great stunt to highlight the efforts a program is going to for members. And with limited capacity these flights can prove popular.
What’s more, the economics can even work.
- Redemptions have value, properly valued miles can cover the cost of an aircraft especially when the flight is full.
- Indeed, the value of an all-points redemption flight can be greater than unperforming routes an aircraft is operating at a loss anyway.
- The point is to compare it to the least productive use of an aircraft, and an all redemption flight may be better.
- Then consider the value of showing that miles can be used effectively, increasing the perceived value of miles among members – miles that the airline then sells to partners at a huge profit.
More airlines should offer more availability once they properly understand the value in delivering to members over the long-term. Programs should be willing to spend more with their airline on seats, to avoid killing their golden goose – in the U.S. the biggest airline loyalty programs are worth 11 figures, and generate $5 billion-plus annually in revenue. Frustrated members reduce that long-term value proposition.
One way to do that is for the program to ‘charter’ flights to popular destinations, in both directions, on several high demand dates and deliver those to members – and then publicize those trips, and commit to continuing to do it, so that members have confidence in the value their points will have when it comes time to use them.