Is it ever worth buying extra Avios air miles?
"I've almost got enough Avios for a flight - is it worth topping up by buying some points?"
Buying extra air miles in order to claim "free" flights may not initially seem worthwhile, but there are times when it can be the most cost effective strategy.
As strange as it seems, the situation described above is one such: when the rewards balance is just a little short of redeeming a flight.
With the cost of flights continuing to rise, taking advantage of both collecting and spending air miles is potentially more beneficial than ever before.
So, in this guide, we take a closer look at buying miles for the most popular airline scheme in the UK, Avios.
What do Avios cost?
Through the Avios site, it's possible to buy Avios in multiples of 1,000, starting at £31, up to 35,000 Avios for £575, then in multiples of 5,000 up to a maximum of 100,000 in one year for £1,615.
As 2,000 Avios cost £47, 3,000 cost £51, and 10,000 cost £175, we can see that every 1,000 Avios cost £16, on top of a base fee of £15.
The bigger the spend, the better value each Avios mile is - but the saving diminishes rapidly beyond a certain point.
For example, buying 1,000 at £31 means each Avios costs 3.1p. Buying 2,000 is equivalent to paying 2.4p each.
Buying 10,000 Avios costs £175 - 1.75p per mile. At £1,615 - the price of the maximum number of Avios it's possible to buy in one transaction - and in one year - each of those 100,000 Avios costs the equivalent of 1.6p.
How much are Avios worth when redeemed?
The whole point of Avios is that they're primarily to be used for air travel. But they can also be used for a variety of other rewards including hotel stays, car hire and Eurostar travel.
We'll generally get more per Avios when spending them on flights, while the rate of return will be lower when spending them on a different type of reward.
When used to book flights, for example, a single Avios can be worth anything up to 4p. When used to book a hotel, or other reward, one Avios can be worth around 0.5p.
There are lots of extra costs that make it hard to talk about the worth of a single Avios - the distance a person travels or the type of fare for a flight, for example - but overall, buying points is an expensive business, even based on the rewards on offer in return.
When is buying points worthwhile?
It's clear that purchasing Avios for as low as 1.6p per mile and using them toward flights where they're worth 4p per mile might well be worthwhile.
And as mentioned at the beginning, there's also a case to be made for those collectors who are just short of enough Avios for something they'd otherwise have to buy at full price.
So if an Avios collector is 2,000 miles short of qualifying for a "free" return flight to New York, they might decide that rather than paying anywhere from £350 to £1,000 for an economy return fare, they'd be better off spending just £47 on the extra miles and getting the flight part of the trip "free".
The hard bit is being able to find a high value reward, like that trip to New York - although as long as we collect or spend Avios at least once every 36 months, those we've already accrued won't expire. That means we can keep collecting until we've got enough to pay for something worthwhile.
However, there are then several other factors that we need to take into account.
Perhaps the biggest of these other factors here is airline taxes.
Flights purchased with Avios are never completely free. Taxes, fees and carrier charges always need to be paid on Avios-purchased flights:
- Zone 1 (Europe): £35 flat fee for each return.
- All other zones: unlimited costs that can run into the £100s.
It's also worth remembering that buying a flight with Avios disqualifies that flight from earning more miles.
So an Avios-funded return flight to Los Angeles would cost up to 50,000 Avios, plus taxes, but it wouldn't earn any Avios. The same flight, paid for in cash, could earn the traveller between 2,700 and 10,900 Avios.
Another trap people frequently fall into when they get caught up with getting the most for their Avios is limiting themselves to just one or two airlines.
Yes, a collector may be able to use up to 100,000 Avios to purchase a flight to Sydney - which is the equivalent of spending up to £4,000 on the return flight before taxes; a similar flight to Sydney with another airline could cost from as little as £750 including taxes and charges.
In this case, the collector needs to weight up whether it's worth "saving" up to £750 by "spending" a substantial amount of Avios.
For those who want to use their points to get away but don't want to pay taxes and so on, it's worth bearing in mind that Avios miles can also be used for trips on Eurostar.
A "free" flight within Zone 1 - within Europe, broadly - will cost 9,000 Avios plus the £35 flat fee to cover taxes. The same number of Avios is also enough to qualify for a cheap standard return on Eurostar to Paris, Lille or Brussels - worth up to about £150 - with nothing more to pay.
How to buy points
There are numerous ways to buy points, some better value than others.
Direct from Avios
Points collectors can purchase Avios directly through their website here and, as we said above, it pays to buy more.
1,000 Avios will cost £31 through Avios directly, but unless we only need a few thousand Avios to qualify for a reward, purchasing in bulk is better value.
Think of it this way: buying 25,000 in one go costs £415 - but buying that many 1,000 at a time as and when would cost £775.
Here's a quick rundown of how much varying quantities of Avios cost through the site at the time of writing.
|No. of Avios||Price||No. of Avios||Price|
Avios and BA tend to stick very close to each other in terms of the charges they make for points, but they do have different promotions at different times so it's always worth keeping a keen eye on both.
Sometimes, for instance, it may be cheaper to buy 5,000 miles on BA, but 10,000 miles would be less expensive on Avios.
Direct from BA or Iberia
Another common way of purchasing Avios is directly through the British Airways website.
Air Iberia also offer an option to buy Avios points, which can then be transferred over to a British Airways or Avios account - and back again - if needed.
The Starwood hotel group also offers the opportunity to buy reward points, which can then be converted into Avios at a rate of 1:1.
People who've managed to amass a seriously large numbers of Starpoints will often find there are bonuses available on transfers: at the time of this update, for example, Starwood will add another 5,000 points for every 20,000 points converted into Avios.
Don't want to buy points? Other ways to top up
Need to accrue a lot of Avios in a short period but don't want to buy? There are alternatives.
Taking out an affiliated credit card can be one of the quickest way to boost Avios points balances within a few months.
These promotions normally have minimum spending amounts, but points can be earned on most spending, and when there are limits on deals offering extra points they tend to be quite high.
When looking at the offers available, remember that the minimum required for a free return flight within Zone 1 (plus taxes), or a free Eurostar ticket, is 9,000 Avios.
Here are some of the currently available Avios credit cards on the market at the time of this update. Please click through for further information.
Buy big purchases for friends
Finally, friends and family can be a good option for the expert Avios collector.
Many people offer to pay for their non-collecting friends and family's eligible purchases, in exchange for the cash.
This means huge chunks of Avios that would never have been awarded to anyone can be claimed for no more than the time it takes to make a bank transfer.
Alternatively, if they're feeling generous - or the collector is willing to pay them back - it's possible to "gift" someone else up to 100,000 Avios as long as the gift doesn't take the recipient over the 100,000 limit in any one year.
Again, the first 35,000 Avios can be bought in multiples of 1,000; after that they come in multiples of 5,000.
Both people need to be signed up to Avios for this to work - so the non-collector will need to join the programme first. Then they can use the "gift Avios" option on the website to boost the collector's balance.
People who live at the same address as a non-collector can boost the number of Avios they can collect in any one year by creating a Household account and adding the non-collector's name to it.
Each named member can collect a further 100,000 per year.