Are Avios points worth it? Can you really get free first class flights?

I love travelling (I’m itching to go away recently). I think it’s a ‘millennial thing’ where the further you travel, the more air miles under your belt, the more kudos points you get.

I’m pretty happy flying too. If like me, you’ve ever spent 24 hours (SERIOUSLY) on a coach in Australia before the days of iPads, wifi and all that jazz – 16 hours on a plane is a piece of cake!

BUT, don’t get me wrong – there are lots to complain about when it comes to flying (have even written a blog post about it), I have a big arse so often feel pretty squished in, I’m not that tall yet never have enough leg room, the food is awful, and then… AND THEN… the person in front of you reclines their seat!!!

avios points

You know what’s bloody cruel, making us mugs in economy walk through first class and business class before getting to the packed in seats at the back. I’ve ALWAYS dreamed of flying first class. Maybe I have ideas above my station, but laying out on a bed being fed grapes and champagne on the way to some incredible destination is basically the dream.

So many times I’ve got to book a flight and have thought, ‘Sod it – I’m going to pay a bit extra and upgrade to business class’, then looked up the price and found it’s not a couple of hundred more – it’s THOUSANDS MORE.

Do Avios points really get you free flights/upgrades to first class?

I used to think ‘WHO?!, Who could possibly afford this?’ Sure, there are millionaires in the world, but they aren’t all on this plane. And ladies and gentleman, I found out how.

Avios points

There are three ways you can afford to fly business class/first class:

  • You’re minted and are happy to spend £4k+ a flight (I’m chuffed for you).
  • You work for a rich company and have to travel a lot. They pay for you.
  • You collect Avios points and make use of the free upgrades and flights.

If there are other ways I’ve not noticed, please let me know in the comments!

So Lotty, you’re saying I should start collecting Avios points right?

Well, no.

The quickest and only real way to collect Avios points (there are other ways, I’ll explain later) is to get an airmiles credit card. When you sign up, you get a load of points up front and every time you spend on the credit card, you get a point or so, which add up to airmiles.

Avios points

Well, I’ve always wanted one of these cards. Imagine, spending as you normally would, but after a year or so, you’d have enough points to have a free flight (or two) or free upgrades. This is what people were doing for years.

But it all changed in 2015 when Avios cut back on what rewards were offered.

So can you get free flights and upgrades now collecting points post-2015? Yeah, you can, but after a Saturday morning of researching (I really wanted one), I’ve decided not to bother. You may want to though – I’m not your mum, do what you like! Let me talk you through my thought process.

Primera Air

Avios points – the maths

When deciding if I was going to get a card, there are some things I deemed important:

  • Avios points last three years, so you need to bear that in mind. That’s the deadline to ‘spend’ the amount of money you need to collect a number of points you need for the free flight/upgrades.
  • You’re going to have to get a credit card. There are ways to get points such as converting Tesco points or TopCashBack, but you’ll never reach the 40,000+ you need (to get the upgraded flights) in the three years you have.
  • Free doesn’t mean free, as you have to pay tax on the flight. The annoying reality is that let’s say your flight to Paris is £100, £75 of that is tax (which you’ll have to pay). You’ve really only saved £25 (and lost a load of points).
  • To get proper value, you need to aim for a 2 for 1 voucher which you get after a certain spend, meaning you get two tickets for the price of one.
  • There are only a couple of seats in business class and first class on each flight you can use your Avios points with – meaning they book up quickly and you have to be on the ball, about a year in advance if you want them. So there’s no last minute booking with Avios points.

Avios Points

Ok, so are two main Avios credit cards (there are others of course, so do your research)

  • The British Airways American Express Credit Card (Gets you 5,000 bonus points, no annual fee, 1 point per £1 spent, and you get a 2for1 voucher when you spend 20k on your credit card), 22.9% APR
  • The British Airways Premium Premium Plus Card (Gets you 25,000 bonus points when you spend 3k in the first three months, £195 per year annual fee, 1.5 Avios points per £1 spent and you get a 2for1 voucher when you spend 10k on your credit card), 76% APR

*** REAL TALK MOMENT *** – This is all well and good, but to get one of these credit cards you’re going to need a stonkingly good credit rating. You can find out how yours is for free with either Experian or Equifax.

What do Avios points actually get you?

We all keeping up? It’s easy to get into a pickle thinking about figuring out these points, so maybe consider that too.

avios points

You can see directly from the Avios flights’ page what you can trade in your points for, but personally, I couldn’t really make head nor tail of it. It’s a bit of a faff in my opinion, but maybe you’ll find it useful.

The basics of Avios pricing is shown in the below grid, based on one-way flights (remember, you could go business one way, then economy back if you don’t have the points for both ways).

The zones relate to the distance flown:

  • Zone 1:  1 – 650 miles
  • Zone 2:  651 – 1,150 miles
  • Zone 3:  1,151 – 2,000 miles
  • Zone 4:  2,001 – 3,000 miles
  • Zone 5:  3,001 – 4,000 miles
  • Zone 6:  4,001 – 5,500 miles
  • Zone 7:  5,501 – 6,500 miles
  • Zone 8:  6,501 – 7,000 miles
  • Zone 9:  7,000+ miles

At this point, I want to redirect you to the blog Headforpoints which is basically a whole website dedicated to this subject and they know far more than me and I didn’t want this post to be a massive explainer on everything you need to know about Avios points (you’d need a whole blog dedicated to it) – another of my reasons for not deciding to go ahead.

Avios Points

Why I decided not to start collecting Avios points

You’ve got to realise first of all that I’ve really wanted one of these cards. I REALLY wanted one.  I *think* I could make it work too, but I think it’s a bit risky.

  • Flying to New York business class will cost about 70,000 points. I’d have to spend £10k on my credit card over the year (I have a holiday planned, so I *think* I could do it, especially if I co-ordinated with my boyfriend and paid off his expensive things too, with him giving me the money back).
  • I have to get a credit card that offers a 2 for 1 voucher after a certain spend, and a decent initial point boost – which really limits my options.
  • I don’t really want to spend, and pay off over £800 a month on my credit card. I think it would take a lot of organising, and would frankly be quite stressful.
  • That tax! The tax alone on a business class flight is roughly the same as the full cost of a ticket in economy class.

All in all, I think I’m better off looking for last minute deals, or upgrading with low-cost carriers than spending so much, and working so hard to get the upgrades with Avois points.

Messing up means hurting my credit rating – to me, the stakes are high.

Low-cost carrier upgrades

If you’re super keen on flying business class / first class, try a low-cost carrier such as Primera Air or Norwegian Air. You can book in advance and get cheap flights, or you can risk it by booking an economy seat and then seeing if there are spare upgraded seats and paying a little more (starting from as little as £80 on top of your ticket price).

avios points

I flew with Primera Air and absolutely loved it. It cost £350 direct, return, in its version of first class. Check out my review.

Norwegian Air is known for its brilliant quality premium seats which are excellent value (check out ThePointsGuy’s review), but not only that, you can bid to upgrade to a premium seat. If you win the bid, you’ll get an email 36 hours before departure – if you lose, nothing changes and you won’t be charged any fees.

Cheap travel deal sites

My favourite site I spend ages browsing on is Holiday Pirates. Its team scours the internet for the cheapest travel and flight deals and it’s always worth keeping an eye open for cheap upgraded flights.

My new favourite newsletter is Jack’s Flight Club. I’ve currently signed up to the free version where I get a weekly email, but if you’re willing to pay a few quid a month, you’ll get more deals sent into your inbox – and they are really good too.

avios points

Should you collect Avios points to get an upgrade?

It’s a tough one. Sure, you can collect them with your Sainsbury’s shop etc – but you’re really unlikely to be able to build up enough points to do anything.

Are you willing to get a credit card? You can get a free/cheap one if you have a good credit score – but you probably won’t be able to get an upgrade to business or first class. You might be able to get yourself a free flight to Spain etc, but the tax will sting you. Ask yourself if there are better, non-air miles, credit cards out there which give you better rewards with what you’re normally spending?

If you want free, upgraded flights for one or two of you – you need to take it seriously, get organised and spend a lot of money. If you mess up and don’t spend the right amount of money every month – you’ll lose out on your 2 for 1 vouchers or even worse, hurt your credit rating/pay a load of money in interest – 76% APR *clutches pearls*.

I’d say have a think about what you spend (don’t push yourself), how far in advance you like to organise holidays (it’s tough getting the seats with Avios points in popular times), if there are better credit cards out there, and do the maths.

Don’t just apply and think you can spend on it normally and receive a load of rewards – it comes with work.

So maybe – collecting Avios points, using a credit card, could work for you. But for me – it’s too risky.


Do you collect Avios points? Have you ever got an upgrade? Let me know!

One Response

  1. John M August 5, 2018

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