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Update: The current sign-up bonus offer for the British Airways Visa is 50,000 Avios when you spend $3,000 within 3 months of account opening.
This is the next installment in 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, Save Money on Fuel Surcharges by Transferring British Airways Avios to Iberia.
In general, I think airline miles are most valuable when used for flights – whether awards or upgrades. However there are certain exceptions to the rule, like if you are miles-rich and want to save money on your next trip. American Airlines has a decent hotel/car redemption program and British Airways recently trumpeted this new option as one of the major changes of the Avios program, though as you’ll see below it’s generally not a great value for your Avios. As with all things miles and points though, it may make sense for you if you are looking to save some cash this summer and put your Avios to work.
Getting to the Right Page
First, log into your British Airways Executive Club account. Then on the left, you’ll see one of the tabs is Spending Avios. That takes you to a page that talks about your options to book flights and search for availability, and down at the bottom there’s a separate section to click on for booking hotels and car rentals.
That takes you to another page with a button to click to search for car rentals and hotels, and when you click on that, you finally make it to the page where you can actually search for hotels and cars and make bookings (Just note, if your plans change, you have to cancel your reservation and rebook the entire thing. Also, all taxes and fees are included in BA’s figures unless stated otherwise).
The Edinburgh Example
For a quick example, I decided to look for a hotel room in Edinburgh in August. That pulled up 12 hotels with the prices listed in Avios and a combination of Avios and cash. Oddly, the Hotel Missoni came up twice. However, since I’ve wanted to experience this particular design hotel for myself (it’s part of Rezidor, so though eventually I might be able to use Club Carlson points to stay there, for now it’s not part of the program), I decided to check the pricing on this property.
Before doing so, I went directly to the hotel’s own website to check on the same dates and found the same room including bed and breakfast for 818 GBP ($1,270 USD).
The search on britishairways.com priced out the entire stay in the following combinations of Avios and cash for a standard double including breakfast, and based on the price I found at the Hotel Missoni website I’ve included the value of each Avios:
113,150 Avios (1.12 cent each)
56,600 Avios + $535 (1.3 cent each)
39,700 Avios + $695 (1.45 cent each)
28,300 Avios + $805 (1.64 cent each)
16,950 Avios + $910 (2.12 cent each)
1,150 Avios + $1,060 (1.83 cent each)
Are any of these values amazing? Depends on how you value Avios. I actually think 2+ cents from a non-air redemption is pretty strong – especially if you are chock full of Avios and want to save cash on your upcoming trip.
I Left My Avios In San Francisco
Just to take another quick example, I checked room rates that same week in August in San Francisco and found a King Standard Room for two nights at the Hilton San Francisco at Union Square for $276 a night total directly from Hilton ($552 total), or at the following rates from BA:
55,250 Avios (1 cent each)
38,700 Avios + $160 (1 cent each)
27,650 Avios + $265 (1 cent each)
16,600 Avios + $365 (1.1 cent each
8,300 Avios + $445 (1.3 cents)
1,100 Avios + $515 (3.4 cents each)
So as you see, in this case, you get about one cent of value out of each Avios unless you spend almost the entire amount in cash and just use a few Avios tacked on, which might be a nice way to save a couple bucks, but isn’t going to fundamentally reduce the cash outlay for your trip.
There are tons of different examples, so if you’re thinking about using your Avios for a hotel booking, be sure to price out the room and dates you’re thinking about beforehand to make sure you’re getting a decent value for your Avios. Otherwise, it might just be better to pay the rate especially since you most likely won’t be eligible for elite credit/hotel points since most most hotel companies require direct booking on the hotel website (or corporate portal) to get the perks.
Now let’s take a look at the car rental options. For this example, I kept my San Francisco dates in August – let’s just pretend I’m going to drive from SFO out to Sonoma for two days instead.
This search only pulled up Avis options. I chose an Economy (Avis calls it a Sub-Compact) car that would have cost me $272 booking directly with Avis:
29,150 Avios (0.93 cents each)
20,400 Avios + $85 (0.92 cents each)
14,600 Avios + $140 (0.9 cents each)
10,200 Avios + $180 (0.9 cents each)
5,850 Avios + $220 (0.89 cents each)
1,450 Avios + $265 (0.48 cents each)
The redemption values with cars are even worse since they’re limited to the Avis brand, thus hampering any kind of discount you could hope for by shopping around. Rental car prices can be reduced greatly by corporate rates or even by using Priceline. Check out this post for saving on car rentals.
The final option is to book a package that includes both a hotel room and a car rental. Let’s stay in San Francisco for the moment and check out rooms and rentals for four nights from August 21-25.
I found a package on Orbitz for a room at the Fairmont along with an Economy-class car from Dollar for a total of $1,310 for all four days. That same package would cost the following using British Airways Avios:
140,700 Avios + $800 (0.3 cents each)
112,600 Avios + $1,065 (0.22 cents each)
56,300 Avios + $1,595.00 (negative territory)
33,800 Avios + $1,810.00 (negative territory)
11,250 Avios + $2,020.00 (negative territory)
2,250 Avios + $2,105.00 (negative territory)
This example is the starkest—the most you can hope to get from your Avios is 0.3 cents each (a pittance!) and for the most part, you’re deep into negative territory. Better just to book through an aggregator like Orbitz.
As usual with non-flight airline mile redemptions, you’re much harder pressed to find real value in your British Airways Avios when using them to book things like hotels and car rentals. Always be sure you check the prices directly with the hotels and car agencies first to be sure you’re getting a good deal.
I personally have never used Avios for non-flight awards, but please feel free to share your experience.