British Airways has handed families and holidaymakers ‘great news’ in the form of more than 250,000 extra seats for travellers booking flights using Avios points from the end of July.
The airline is doubling the minimum number of seats available for those buying short-haul economy and business class flights, and long-haul economy, premium economy and business class flights.
No more first-class seats will be made available, but in some classes it means there will be at least eight seats open to reward flight passengers to every destination, with at least 14 available per long-haul flight. Short-haul flights will have at least 12.
Many could be tempted to use their Avios points as less risky way of booking a trip for later this year, or early 2022.
BA offers a minimum amount of space on its flights to those purchasing seats with Avios
Popular destinations will always have more seats available, but the new guaranteed ‘floor’ from 28 July is particularly good news for families.
Currently, BA offers a minimum of just two seats for Avios customers in both short and long-haul business class.
From next month, the minimum will be doubled to four.
Nicky Kelvin, from the website The Points Guy UK, said: ‘The news is particularly positive for families who may now be able to plan ahead and almost guarantee securing four business class seats on one flight if they are willing to be poised and ready to book 355 days out before a flight.
‘If you have always wanted to fly the whole family somewhere in business class on points, this should make planning easier.’
He added: ‘Generally, any increase in award inventory is positive for collectors or miles and points but what is unique here is the guarantee BA is making on every single flight, as opposed to a general increase in availability which could end up being on less popular or interesting routes.’
However, he warned prospective travellers they could need to get in quick.
‘It does not mean this number of seats will always be available, at all times on every flight. It does mean at least this number will be released on each flight in advance, usually as soon as the flights are loaded for sale, 365 days in advance.’
Reward flights are booked using a combination of Avios points and cash. While the vast majority of the cost of the seat is covered using BA air miles, there is always a minimum cash tax to pay, which can be as little as £1 for short-haul flights and £100 on long-haul flights.
|Cabin||Current minimum seat availability per flight||New minimum seat availability per flight|
|Short-haul business class||2||4|
|Long-haul premium economy||0||2|
|Long-haul business class||2||4|
|Source: British Airways|
The cost of reward flights varies depending on whether it is booked during peak or off-peak times.
Peak times are during school Easter and summer holidays and over the Christmas period and sometimes during half-term holiday weeks.
One of the best ways for travellers to find out where they can go and how much it would cost them is through the website Reward Flight Finder. It is not a booking system, but a useful comparative tool to see flight availability before going through BA.
With business travellers buying £4,000 tickets now thin on the ground, and will be for some years, there is less to lose by BA giving more tickets to Avios for redemptions.
Rob Burgess, Head for Points
Avios points can be racked up through credit card spending as well as through partner deals with shops which can be found through BA’s online store.
While Avios points can usually be used for flights with other IAG airlines like Aer Lingus, Iberia, and other partner airlines, they will not benefit from the greater availability from next month.
BA’s giveaway likely comes on the back of a slump in business class travel, something which is likely to continue even as travel restrictions imposed because of the pandemic ease.
Rob Burgess, editor of frequent flyer website Head for Points, said: ‘With business travellers buying £4,000 tickets now thin on the ground, and will be for some years, there is less to lose by BA giving more tickets to Avios for redemptions.
‘IAG, as a group, benefits from more people getting Amex credit cards etc to earn Avios to redeem for the new improved availability.’
What about cancellations and delays?
Given the last 15 months, one of the things which is certain to be high on traveller’s priorities is cancellation cover from airlines.
After all, many spent much of 2020 trying to get money back from airlines, rather than giving them any more.
Asked about cancellations for reward flights and what happens if a country goes from the UK’s ‘green’ list to its ‘amber’ one, for example, BA said: ‘Any customer with an Avios booking until the end of April 2022 is eligible to claim a voucher for the value of the booking if they no longer wish to travel.
‘The voucher will be for the cash amount paid for taxes, plus the Avios amount, so for example 100,000 Avios plus £250 taxes would be the amount on the voucher which can then be used to rebook for any date up until April 2023.
‘Alternatively, Avios bookings are able to be cancelled normally for a small service charge, with the rest of the taxes and Avios refunded’, which can cost around £35 for an Avios redeposit, per its website.
Meanwhile, if a flight is cancelled, customers are entitled to a full refund of everything they’ve paid, both Avios points and the accompanying cash charges.
And what other cover could holidaymakers need?
But planning a holiday during the pandemic, even now it is allowed, is no easy task.
With increasing numbers of insurers excluding coronavirus-related cancellation cover from their policies, holidaymakers need to make sure they read the small print.
Analysis of 73 travel insurance providers by the consumer group Which? found cover for travel advice changes, curtailment due to a lockdown or postponement of a holiday by an airline or travel company was thin on the ground.
However, consumers were often unlikely to be aware of this.
Which? Money’s Jenny Ross said: ‘The ongoing threat of covid-related disruption means that getting the right travel insurance for your holiday is more important than ever.
‘Without closer scrutiny from government and regulators of how clearly insurers present their policies, there is a very real chance that many travellers will be left out of pocket yet again this summer.’
The Association of British Insurers said holidaymakers needed to ensure they bought travel insurance which covered emergency overseas medical treatment and repatriation, and be aware of any coronavirus-related exclusions in their policies.
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