British Airways Avios Update and My Grim Projection of Certain Partner Awards

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British Airways has made it clear that there will be big changes coming November 16, 2011 with their new Avios program. Unfortunately, they have not been clear about exactly what these changes will be for their North American customers, besides telling us that their current partner award charts will go away and will be aligned with their British Airways/Iberia awards.

While the uncertainty is unsettling because the changes go into effect as soon as we learn about them, they recently released the Avios award chart for Iberia flyers, which basically tells us what to expect from a US perspective if what they say about standardizing redemptions across the board is true.

With Avios, regions go away and now flight distances are what you have to calculate (I use the Great Circle Mapper tool to chart flight distances). So now you have to calculate how far you are flying and then cross reference it with their distance chart which has multiple bands at the 650/1,151/2,000/4,000/5,500/6,500/7,000/ 7,000+ mile thresholds.

Avios chart released to Iberia flyers

The current redemption rate for a one-way JFK-Hong Kong, which is 8,072 flight miles, is 25,000 miles for coach, 50,000 for business and 75,000 for First. Under the new Avios program, if it aligns with the published chart for Iberia, the route will be 50,000 miles for coach, 100,000 for business and 150,000 for First. For those fuzzy on math, this is a 100% increase from the current redemption levels. This level would be the same for almost all North American gateways since they are all over 7,000 miles from Hong Kong (except for Vancouver, which is 6,392 miles) so 30,000/60,000/90,000 one way for coach/business/first. Still a 20% increase from the current award levels.

Another popular current award is North America to anywhere in South America for 20,000/40,000/60,000 miles one way in coach/business/first. So for example, JFK-Lima-Santiago-Easter Island is only 80,000 miles roundtrip in business class – with very low fees. An amazing value.

With the new distance bands, that trip is 7,489 miles one way, so it would cost 50,000 miles in coach, 100,000 in business and 150,000 in first – each way! So that 80,000 mile roundtrip business class award will shoot up to 200,000 miles- a stunning 250% increase.

Awards that won’t change:
Transcontinental (JFK-LAX/SFO) flights on AA will still be 12,500/25,000/37,500 one way. In fact, some domestic trips will decrease, like short flights up to 650 miles will be 4,500/9,000 one way for coach/business.

Even flights to London will get cheaper in terms of miles for those based in the Northeast, but you still have to pay eye-popping fuel surcharges on transatlantic British Airways flights, so the decrease in miles needed for Boston to JFK still doesn’t make that redemption a good deal, when you have to still pay $500 for a coach award that might only cost $600 to outright buy!

I’d recommend familiarizing yourself with the distances of the awards you want to take and then deciding whether you want to use your miles before the changes go into effect. I can tell you that I am using almost all of my miles before the new program goes live (in fact I may even transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex points into BA to book a couple last amazing partner awards). BA is flexible with changes, so you can book up to a year in advance and change the dates for free (or pay $90 to get your miles back). I’m not 100% sure how much further into the future they will let you change flights without repricing the award under Avios, but it’s worth the risk- especially if you want to book premium Asia/South America awards.

I truly hope I am wrong on these projections, but since they’ve stated all awards will be aligned under a new distance based chart, I can’t imagine US based flyers having a whole different system. Consider yourselves warned!

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