British Airways Introduces Points Planes, Flights They Refuse To Sell For Cash

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.

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, 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. The redemption rates for these flights are terrible. 19.5k avios for a return to geneva in coach is 1k more than it would typically cost, it’s for flights that typically have low demand (Sunday in March), and the cost to buy the ticket in cash on the same dates is as low as $125 i.e., the redemption rate is way less than 1c per avios

  2. One of the reasons I subscribe to this blog is for the depth of knowledge shown here- this specific one-off story isn’t so interesting it itself but the multiple other examples you bring into it show the different considerations airlines have when making these decisions. I don’t think any other outlet would have the knowledge to cover it that way!

  3. I like the concept, not excited about the implementation here. Khatl and Daniel make the important points about the value proposition in this instance. I hope the idea grows and becomes a better deal.

  4. It’s been a year since I decided to play the points game… unfortunately I’m increasingly becoming more and more skeptical and frustrated with this game after investing my precious time in it. I’ve accrued close to 420k avios, ~650k ALL accor points, 450k CapOne miles and almost 400k United MP, ~150 Chase UR points…. and i feel like none of them are worth much to me.

    You see, I don’t travel alone. Most of the time I need 2-4 tickets per trip and it’s so frustrating to find out this late in the game that the airlines play stupid by severely limiting available award tickets per flight.

    But now I hear their message loud and clear: miles are for 2nd class customers. I don’t understand the economics of heavy limiting award tickets per flight. I mean, if a seat is available, let people book it with money or miles! It’s not like miles are that easy earn; so If a customer burns its stash of miles on a seat, you leave that customer with a taste of satisfaction and even more engaged in your loyalty program.

    And trust me, at this point I believe I’m not the average customer who doesn’t know how to pin point award tickets. I know the tools, the search engines and I’m acquainted with the “sweet spots” of most loyalty programs. I’m now able to book 4 award J class tickets if I wanted… it’s just that I abhor the idea of flying only on the dates the airline decides to let me do so. I’m a loyal customer, I should be treated like one.

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