Reminder: British Airways Avios 30% Amex Transfer Bonus Ends January 31

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Back in November I wrote a post about Maximizing the 30% Amex transfer bonus to British Airways’ new Avios program. This is just a reminder that this promo ends January 31, 2012.

The bonus is hard coded into the transfer ratio, so 1,000 Amex points = 1,300 Avios points and they transfer instantly. Also remember, you can transfer Amex points to anyone else, so this might be a good time to top up your family or friends’ accounts to get them to levels needed for awards. Amex will even let you advance points for free as long as you earn them back within a year – 15,000 for Premier Rewards Gold/ Gold/ Green and up to 60,000 points for Platinum. You can also set up a Household Account to pool your Avios points, which makes the logistics of booking travel among several accounts much easier.

The Amex page for transferring Membership Rewards points to Avios.

Key Elements of Avios

I know many of you are annoyed at the new Avios program, and I slammed it when it launched as well for various reasons including the airline’s lack of concern about keeping its frequent flyers informed as well as the fact that several of my favorite awards disappeared.

However, Avios are here to stay and the fact of the matter is that there is still tremendous value to be had out of the program.

The two main advantages of Avios are:

1. Last minute redemptions: British Airways does not charge last minute award ticketing fees like American, which levies a hefty $75 fee for any awards booked less than 21 days in advance.
2. Short/medium haul flights: The new Avios program may penalize you for making multiple connections or going long distances, but one-way flights now start at only 4,500 points – pretty incredible, since many short-haul flights cost an arm and a leg – especially for last minute travel.

Downsides:
1) Fuel surcharges can be steep depending on where you fly:
Europe: Whether on British Airways or partners like American, will incur steep fuel surcharges. So almost any economy award will have ~$500 in fees and business/first $750+.
North America: No fuel surcharges. You’ll only be charged $2.50 per segment for domestic awards and Canada/ South America around $50 to account for taxes.
South America: American or South America awards on AA and Lan- both do not currently have fuel surcharges. Fees are usually around $65 per roundtrip, regardless of coach vs business/first.
Asia: There are fuel surcharges, but I paid around $350 for a Cathay Pacific first class award. JAL is a little higher.
Australia: There are surcharges/fees on Qantas awards, usually around $450. Can still be a good deal considering how high these tickets cost to buy- especially in business and first.
Africa: There are no African carriers in Oneworld so you have to route through Europe, which means high fuel surcharges. I once booked an award from Toronto to Nairobi in first class and fees were $1,250!
India: Up until March 2012 American flies Chicago to Delhi, but after that route goes away you’ll have to fly via Europe (and possibly Hong Kong on Cathay), but fees for both will be high.

2) Pricing is based on distance and segments. So if you fly Chicago-Boston-London you will be charged more than a simple Chicago-London. This is not good for flyers who do not live in hubs and are forced to connect (or those who like to build in stopovers- they used to be free, now you pay for each segment individually).

Before you transfer, figure out if Avios will indeed make sense for your award redemption. You can use the Avios Calculator here and the chart below shows how many points will be needed per leg of your journey.

Avios Award Chart

In my previous post about the bonus, I calculated out a few Avios redemption options that I thought were a good value. I also wanted to point out that Air Berlin flights are now bookable using Avios. These awards still carry those hefty BA fees and taxes, but several TPG readers have told me they’ve gotten great deals on trips to Germany using Avios on Air Berlin and that they enjoyed the service.

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