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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – British Airways Visa Signature Card
This is the seventh installment of my series on maximizing British Airways miles. Since so many of you got in on the super-lucrative 100,000 mile BA Visa sign-up bonus (see details of the current 100K offer), it would be beneficial to check out: General tips, Post 1 – Booking BA Awards, Post 2 – Booking Partner Awards, Post 3 – Oneworld Alliance, Post 4 – Taxes and Fees, Post 5 – Household Accounts, Post 6 – Companion Ticket, Post 7 – Using ExpertFlyer for Partner Award Availability, Post 8 – The Art of the Stopover, Post 9 – Leveraging Miles and Cash Redemptions, and Post 10 – Using Qantas.com to Find Oneworld Award Availability. Also, be sure to look at my post on the credit card deal itself and the lengthy Q&A in the comments section.
Today’s lesson is on using ExpertFlyer to help find awards that can be redeemed using British Airways miles. Note: ExpertFlyer does not have access to British Airways award availability– only a handful of its partners: American Airlines, Qantas, Finn Air and Alaska Airlines. As many of you have realized, using britishairways.com is buggy and slow, but generally reliable once you get the hang of it. For a quicker way to scan available awards, I use ExpertFlyer, which is a paid service that has access to select airlines’ award availability.
ExpertFlyer has a ton of features, but for the purpose of this post, I’ll show how you can use it to find award space, which you can then plug into britishairways.com to book an award. I personally use ExpertFlyer every day to quickly search award space and put together complex routings that the airline websites would never figure out.
If you want to try out ExpertFlyer, you can sign up for a 5 day free trial.
Now let’s get started. One of the key themes covered in my earlier posts on BA miles is that using them on Oneworld partners is generally cheaper than redeeming them on BA itself. However, the online search engine is clunky and doesn’t automatically pull in partner award availability, at least not without a lot of prompting and jumping through hoops. Enter Expertflyer.com.
One of the easy ways I search for award availability is through ExpertFlyer’s Award & Upgrades function. The two other functions that I mostly use are Flight Availability and Seat Alerts- both of which I’ll cover in detail tomorrow.
Once you click on Awards & Upgrades, you’ll enter the city pair that you are searching for availability – in this example New York JFK to Rio de Janeiro, then your dates and then make sure to select the +/- 3 day drop down box if you are flexible on your dates, then select the airline. Once you select the airline, you will see a bunch of options. In this example, the only AA awards that you can book using BA miles are MileSAAver awards, so only check boxes for those awards. When searching Qantas awards, you should only select First, Business or Coach – premium economy awards are not redeemable using British Airways miles. Side tip for American Executive Platinums: you can search for EVIP upgrade space by selecting the Business – Upgrade C box. Once you select the fare class you are interested in searching for, click Search.
You’ll then get the results page. On the top half of the page will be the outbound segment’s availability. As you can see here, there are 0 Business class seats and at least 7 coach seats. There may be more than 7 seats, but American stops at 7. Some airlines stop at 9 – none will let you know how many seats above 9. I’m not exactly sure why they stop at either 7 or 9, but that’s how the system is programmed. Let’s pretend we are fine with coach (since coach awards from US to South America are only 40,000 miles roundtrip using BA miles for travel on a single Oneworld partner like American – a MAJOR steal, especially on this route).
Scrolling down, you’ll see the return segment and nothing was available for my original return date of 6/19/11, but good thing I clicked the +/- 3 days search feature. This allows me to check others dates with the click of a button where you see the red circles. Luckily the following day, 6/20/11, there are at least 7 SAAver seats in coach – perfect!
So what now? I could call BA at 1 800 452 1201, but they’d ding me with a $20/ticket fee most likely. Instead, let’s head to britishairways.com -> Executive Club -> Spending BA Miles -> Book Using BA Miles and enter in the flight dates that I found using ExpertFlyer.
The search engine automatically asks if you want to stopover in London. Just ignore and click Continue.
Well, what do you know? There’s American Airlines award space available! Who’d have thought? Oh that’s right, we would have because we are expert award searchers. And as award ninjas, we get to reap the reward of a valuable award redemption for hardly any miles.
Bam – a roundtrip New York to Rio flight for only 40,000 miles and $56 – now that’s what I call a bargain.
For kicks, I pulled up the same exact flights on AA.com and the trip priced out at $1,240.10. So subtract $56 from $1,240.10 and that means 40,000 BA miles saves you $1,184.10 – getting you nearly 3 cents per point in value. At that rate, the 100,000 mile sign up bonus could net you nearly $3,000 in value – all for a measly $95 annual fee (note: award flights do not earn miles, while paid flights do, so take that into account when valuing award vs. paid reservations).
What’s an even better deal is the cash and points option of 20,000 miles and $311 for the flight. That would mean 20,000 miles save you $1,240 – $311 = $929, or 4.7 cents per mile. At that rate, you could fly five people roundtrip (since there were actually 7 award seats on each flight) for 100,000 miles and $1,555.
I think this redemption shows that you can get tremendous value from the British Airways 100,000 mile bonus, even if you don’t redeem for first or business class. It also goes to show that spending a small fee to invest in a service like Expert Flyer can save you time and money in the long run. Even though my example was for American Airlines, you can follow the same process for Qantas or Finn Air awards. If this post convinced you to apply for the BA Visa card, please consider applying through my link.
Note: Alaska Airlines is a partner of British Airways, but not part of the Oneworld alliance. Therefore you can check award availability on ExpertFlyer and just call BA to book per what you see online.
Disclaimer: ExpertFlyer does not check availability on code share flights.