Frequent Flyer Miles: It’s Not The Name. It’s What You Can Do With Them.

British Airways has been my preferred airline for years now. Their planes are in good shape, their safety record is decent, and their pricing reasonable. But most of all, their staff is amazing.

None of the other airlines I’ve flown with could boast onboard personnel that is so welcoming as BA’s. The atmosphere on board is downright cozy, and the purser’s “Would you like tea or coffee, Sir?” in a fine English sing-song is so much more pleasant than “Somessink to drink voh you?!”

As a long-time BA passenger, I’ve collected quite a few “BA Miles” with the airline’s “Executive Club” loyalty program throughout the years. Those miles just got a new name: They shall henceforth be known as “Avios”!

“Avios” — It’s what’s for flying

Besides the name, some of the program’s features will also change. E.g., there will be a broader range of bonus awards that you can purchase with your Avios. Umh, by the way, is “Avios” plural? As in, “one Avio”, “two Avios”, etc.? Or is it singular? In which case I’d wonder what the plural is: “one Avios”, “two Avioses”? And why did I have to think of “adios” the very moment that I first saw that name?!

Oh well. Whatever.

See, it’s nice that they came up with a new name and all that. But none of this addresses the key problem with the Executive Club program, and that’s the availability of flights you can purchase with Miles. Umh, I mean, Avios(es).

As of now, my Executive Club account lists just over 150,000 BA Miles/Avios. That’s enough to buy three return flights from Europe to the US and back. But with a single exception, every time I tried to buy such a flight reward, I could not find any flights for the dates I was looking at. Let me show you just how bad that problem is.

In theory, there are no restrictions on reward flights. In theory.

How about trying to find a reward flight from Düsseldorf, my German “home airport”, and Denver in the US, which currently is my most frequent long-distance route. And just for the kick of it, lets look at the availability of award flights in six months.

Seats in economy are easily available, but the possible dates for grabbing a Premium Economy seat on that route looks rather, shall we say, spotty?

Available award flights DUS-DEN in March 2012 in Premium Economy class

For the eastbound flight, I am offered a choice from merely six of that month’s 31 days. And, again, that is with a booking lead time of six months! Well, at least there’s more choice for the return flight. Unless I would prefer to treat myself to a lush Business Class seat. In that case, there are even fewer choices.

Available award flights DUS-DEN in March 2012 in Business class

Function goes before label

I’m not a big fan of re-branding campaigns. In many cases, they’re like giving a car a new paint job. But if you start out with a clunker, there will always be a clunker underneath that paint, no matter how great the craftsmanship that went into the project.

BA’s Executive Club certainly is far from being a clunker among its peers, and I don’t really care all that much what label is attached to the frequent-flyer miles I have earned. I just wish that British Airways were less restrictive in how they make award flights available so that all of those Avios, née BA Miles, were actually (more) useful.

Here’s hoping that the powers that Be Ay (sorry…!) will look into this aspect of their loyalty program as soon as their marketing folks’ headrush over the Avios campaign has subsided.

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  1. Ed

    From what I hear the new scheme also means that the customer will have to pay all taxes, surcharges & fees on the miles funded flight, but apparently that’s inline with comparable programs from other airlines!

  2. Jochen Wolters

    Ed,

    that has been the case already, at least with the German branch of BA’s Executive Club. The BA Miles would only cover the actual ticket price, but taxes, etc., had to be paid by the traveler. Is this different in the UK?

    J.