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This is the next installment on my new Maximizing British Airways Avios series. Other posts include Master FAQ Post on British Airways 100,000 Mile Offer, Spotlight on Taxes and Fees, Distance-Based Awards, Travel Together Companion Ticket, Household Accounts, Using Avios to Upgrade Paid Tickets, The Avios and Cash Option, Using Avios For Non-Flight Redemptions.
Update: The current sign-up bonus offer for the British Airways Visa is 50,000 Avios. 25,000 upon first use, and another 25,000 when you spend $2,500 within 90 days.
As I’ve mentioned before, there are many reasons why British Airways Avios can be great, including the fact that they are distance-based meaning shorter flights require fewer miles – even if fares on certain routes can be as expensive, if not more so, than on long-haul routes; and that you can use them for one-way travel as well.
One of the other useful features of Avios is that they can be used to book flights on any of BA’s Oneworld partners, and the awards on these airlines, like American, Cathay Pacific and Iberia, are all distance-based as well when using Avios.
A huge reason a lot of people have discounted the value of Avios, however, is that using them to fly British Airways to or through London means that you can get hit with huge taxes and fuel surcharges that are often the majority of the ticket price, so the value of Avios you redeem for certain awards can be rather low.
In light of that, however, an interesting element of the program to consider is that Avios is also the mileage program of Iberia since the two airlines merged in 2010, though they continue to operate under their current brands. One Mile at Time recently reported that Iberia’s taxes and fuel surcharges are often far below BA’s, meaning you can redeem your Avios to get to Europe without breaking the bank.
The key is to transfer your British Airways Avios into Iberia Avios and then use them to redeem for your award flights on Iberia or non-British Airways partners. You can sign up for an Iberia Plus account here. Then on BA.com, you simply log into your Executive Club account, go to the Manage My Account tab on the lefthand side of the page and it pulls up a screen with your options, the last of which is to “Combine My Avios.”
That pulls up the following page where you can then link your BA and Iberia Avios accounts.
Best of all, you can transfer as many Avios as you want as often as you want between the two programs, and it takes effect immediately. However, both of your Avios accounts must be open for at least three months before you can transfer Avios to Iberia – so it’s too late for summer travel, but you might be able squeeze a fall trip in.
So, when would this make sense? Mostly if your travel doesn’t take you through London. Iberia’s main hub is Madrid with a large presence in Barcelona, and it operates flights to several US cities out of both every day. You can also book on American with Iberia Avios to avoid fuel surcharges that British Airways would normally charge.
For instance, in the screenshot above, I searched Iberia.com and found an itinerary from Miami to Madrid one-way for just 37,500 Iberia Avios and $49 in taxes.
I took a look at just booking the one-way ticket using cash and it would have cost a staggering $2,949 even in economy, so if I were to fly, I would definitely use Avios at nearly 8 cents apiece in value. (Note: one-way fares are almost always more expensive than roundtrip, so this fare would be much cheaper if I booked a return).
If I were to try booking through British Airways, however, it would first of all tell me that there was no availability on my dates since it preferences BA’s flights over its partners, including Iberia, and it’s tricky to get it to search for the airline you want if there are London routings available.
I decided to search a few days before and after, and BA.com instead routed me through London on British Airways, incurring those huge fuel surcharges. This itinerary would cost me fewer Avios at 32,500, but it would also require me to pay $290. I’d rather use an extra 5,000 Avios and pay $242 less (getting nearly 5 cents of value out of each of those extra Avios).
Using Iberia.com to search for award availability is a better idea in a few different cases. First, if you want to fly directly from the US to Spain, it pulls up a lot more award availability on its flights, both at low and high levels, than you’d be able to find on BA.com, and as I pointed out, you save a lot of money on taxes and fuel surcharges. You could also consider using it to fly to London because though it would cost you more Avios to add in an extra segment, you’d still be saving a lot of money on those British taxes and fuel surcharges, so if you have a lot of Avios but want to save cash, that could be a workaround option for you.
Also remember, that both American Express Membership Rewards points and Chase Ultimate Rewards are partners with British Airways (Amex also transfers directly to Iberia in case you don’t have 3 months to wait to link with a BA account), so even if you don’t have enough BA Avios, you can transfer points from either program to British Airways – preferably when they’re running a big transfer bonus – and then transfer those to Iberia Avios in order to redeem better-priced awards to Europe.