Update on the British Airways Program Changes

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Last week we learned that British Airways is revamping their frequent flyer program and renaming their miles “Avios” points. Besides a peculiar new name, we also learned that our beloved Single Oneworld Partner Award chart is going away and will be brought in line with distance-based British Airways awards. Instead of sulking, I thought it would be best to highlight what we know and how to take advantage of the current system before it goes away.

The good news is that some flights are coming down in mileage needed, such as JFK to London, which will now cost 40,000 miles roundtrip and roughly $560 in fees for coach, 80,000 miles and $830 in fees for business and 120,000 miles and $830 for First. While the mileage is 20% less than currently needed, the fees on those tickets hardly make them a bargain compared to transatlantic redemptions through most North American frequent flyer programs. British Airways has announced that they are reducing many of these fees for European itineraries, so I’d love to see them do the same for trans-Atlantic flights, though I won’t hold my breath.

While those fees are high, one of the smarter plays is to upgrade a World Traveller Plus ticket to business class for 12,500 miles each way from Europe 1 to the US. I priced out some World Traveller Plus fares from JFK-LHR for $1,800 so for an additional 25,000 miles to upgrade to business class makes more sense than spending 100,000 for business plus $831 in fees, especially since you earn miles and tier points on upgraded itineraries. You can upgrade an existing reservation online, but if you want to ensure upgrade space is available for a flight that you want to book, you will have to call.

The bad news is that British Airways has confirmed they won’t be releasing their new partner award charts until November. The Avios program launches November 16, 2011, so I’m not sure whether they will announce the award charts before then or on the first day, but either way, they don’t plan on giving much notice. What this tells me is that increases are in store, so my recommendation is use your miles now.

A recent tweet confirming the wait for more information:

“BritishAirways British Airways N.A.

@jools1006 @thepointsguy Hi we understand the value of partner awards and further information will be published in November.”

While this is a little bit frustrating, instead of getting upset, my recommendation is to take advantage of the current lucrative program as much as possible.

Remember, British Airways is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. The current Single Oneworld Partner award chart is nothing short of amazing for certain awards. My favorites:
North America to South America for 40,000 miles roundtrip in coach, 80,000 in business and 120,000 in first. This includes any destination in South America that is served by either Lan or American, plus you can have unlimited stopovers. BA also does one-way awards so you can fly American Airlines on the outbound and then Lan on the return hitting up a bunch of cities they service along the way (such as Easter Island to Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru to Los Angeles).
North America to Asia for 50,000 miles roundtrip in coach, 100,00o business and 150,000 First. This means that the 50,000 point sign-up bonus from the Chase Sapphire Preferred card is enough to get you one way to Asia in business class on Cathay Pacific (or American or Japan Airlines). That is incredible to think about, especially since the card’s $95 annual fee is waived the first year. You could fly JFK to Hong Kong, stop for several days, then Hong Kong to Bali, all for 50,000 miles one-way in business class!

Click here for more information on how to book partner awards, build in stopovers and what fees to expect on British Airways redemptions.

With all of this being said, I don’t think the sky is falling. As with all good deals, they come to an end and you just have to move on to the next. I’m hopeful that there will be some good deals with the new Avios program, but I won’t be able to assess that until the full program details are released. I still think the 100,000 mile Chase BA Visa was a phenomenal deal and frankly if they ran it again, I’d still think it was a good deal, because there’s always an angle.

The fact of the matter is that frequent flyer programs can (and will) change and this is a good lesson that you shouldn’t horde miles because they decrease in value over time. I’m actually thankful British Airways let us know about these changes and while I would really like if they actually gave us the full details, I can read between the lines and understand that I should probably just use most of my miles and assess my next course of action later.

The great thing is that you have until November 15, 2011 to book and you can book awards up to 355 days in advance, plus changes are relatively cheap with BA ($90 for redeposits and free date changes as long as the routing doesn’t change). Of course that fee structure may change with Avios, but hopefully they will grandfather Executive Club rules with Executive Club redemptions.

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