The days of free travel on Airmiles are over. Dramatic new changes to the popular loyalty scheme mean that millions of customers may now have to shell out hundreds of pounds for the 'free' flights they have earned.
The changes have been announced by British Airways and its new partner, Iberia, as part of its new scheme, which sees Airmiles rebranded under a new name: Avios.
From November 16 2011, Airmile customers will be charged for airline taxes, fees and surcharges.
Those flying longhaul will be the worst affected, with estimated costs of up to £600 on a return flight to Australia, and £300 to The US. Charges on European flights, meanwhile, will be capped at a flat fee of £27.
The new rules have been criticised by Airmiles customers and consumer watchdogs. For years, collecting airmiles have enabled many travellers and families to take holidays to destinations they could not otherwise afford.
Chris Nixon, managing director of price comparison group Kelkoo Travel, said: 'The news will come as a real blow to Airmiles loyalty programme members. What was previously seen as a fantastic free perk could lead to members deserting the new Avios scheme for other loyalty programmes with better benefits.
'In this tough economic climate the Airmiles programme probably provided a lifeline to some cash-strapped travellers, enabling them to enjoy cheaper travel.'
More than two million Airmiles customers will be affected.
Andrew Swaffield, managing director of scheme operator the Mileage Company, said: 'Unfortunately it's been untenable for us to be able to completely subsidise this. We had been unique in offering that. But taxes and fees have increased a great deal, so customers will have to pay money on top of their points.'