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How to Redeem British Airways Avios Without Huge Fees

by on September 26, 2012 · 61 comments

in American, American Express, Avios, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, Oneworld

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Update: The current offer for the British Airways Visa is 50,000 Avios when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months.

Tomorrow marks the last day that those of us in the US with American Express Membership Rewards points can transfer to British Airways Avios at a 40% bonus, so I thought I’d remind people that it is possible to redeem Avios without paying the huge fees British Airways redemptions are known for.
I’ve done several series on maximizing British Airways Avios in the past (the most recent one is linked at the bottom of this post) if you are a newbie, but here are 12 quick tips on the basics of redeeming Avios in general, and then I’ll get into situations where you can redeem them without incurring huge fees:

1. Avios awards are priced by distance. You can use the Avios Calculator to find out how much your award will cost.

2. Business class always requires twice as many Avios as economy, and first class is always three times as much as economy. A problem with this is that many domestic first class awards on American Airlines are three times the price of coach, when they should really only be 2x. See this post for more info.

3. Awards price segment by segment. So if you want to fly New Orleans-Dallas-Buenos Aires you will have to use the calculator to calculate New Orleans to Dallas (4,500) + Dallas to Buenos Aires (25,000) = 29,500 Avios in economy each way.

4. Most nonstop awards can be booked Britishairways.com -> Executive Club -> Spending Avios -> Book flights with Avios

5. Britishairways.com will automatically try to route you on British Airways flights. So if you are going from Miami to Madrid, you may only see options via London, when non-stops exist on American and Iberia. In this case, you should call.

6. Britishairways.com also has a difficult time piecing together multi-leg trips. So if you aren’t going from point A to point B, don’t expect it to pull in all routing options. I’d recommend using other sites like AA.com and then searching for MileSaaver availability, which is usually the award inventory American makes available to partners. Or use Qantas’ tool and then call British Airways to book the flights.

7. British Airways’ US-based call reps are not friendly and you’ll usually have to wait at least 10 minutes for an agent. But unfortunately you have to call to book certain partner flights or complicated awards.

8. It’s $65 to change or cancel an award – cheaper than most other programs, though they’ll charge you for any change and it often takes 30+ minutes to make a simple change (just yesterday I had an agent put me on hold for 30 minutes while he emailed his “rate desk” for simply changing my Nice – London City/ Heathrow – Miami ticket to a straight-up Nice – Heathrow – Miami when better award space opened up after I had booked my original ticket).

9. Cash + Avios deals can be incredible value – especially on coach redemptions (check out the JFK- Montreal itinerary below: 2,250 Avios and $37.50 for a one-way $200+ flight!).

10. Most flights to Europe have huge fuel surcharges (even on carriers like American who don’t assess them to their own frequent flyers). However, Air Berlin and Aer Lingus do not have fuel surcharges – so as you’ll see below, a sample Miami – Berlin business class flight only has $2.50 in fees! Note: Aer Lingus awards can only be booked over the phone.

11. Using Avios to upgrade British Airways flights can be a great deal, especially if you get a decent World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy) fare and can upgrade to Club World (business), like JFK-London only costing 10,000 Avios each way!

12. Iberia has its own Avios program and charges less fees on some awards as outlined here.

Flying On Partners With Lower Fees
Carriers that usually have $200+ fees per roundtrip: British Airways (except intra-European flights and mid-haul to Africa), Finnair (except EU), Royal Jordanian and JAL. However, searching for flights on other partners including American Airlines (not to Europe), Cathay Pacific, LAN and more might bring your fees and surcharges down.

Let’s take a look at a few example itineraries I found where the fees and surcharges are quite low, bringing even more value to your Avios.

British Airways Istanbul to London in economy for 10,000 Avios and $20 one way

Iberia Madrid to Barcelona for 4,500 Avios and $20 one way in economy

American JFK to Montreal for only 4,500 Avios and $2.50 each way in economy

American Los Angeles to Kauai for 12,500 Avios and $2.50 one way in economy

JFK to Vancouver on Cathay Pacific in their great business class for only 25,000 Avios and $33.70 one way
Cathay Pacific first class (amazing) San Francisco to Hong Kong for 105,000 Avios and $159.20.

Cathay Pacific business class Hong Kong to London for 60,000 Avios and $150.98 one way

LAN San Francisco to Lima in business class for 50,000 Avios and $17.50 one way

Air Berlin Miami to Berlin for 50,000 Avios and $2.50 in business class one way

Qantas transcontinental Sydney to Perth in business class for 25,000 Avios and $20.01 one way
S7 from St. Petersburg to Moscow for 4,500 Avios and $38.05 one way in economy

Further Reading:
Distance-Based Awards
, Spotlight on Taxes and Fees,  Travel Together Companion TicketHousehold AccountsUsing Avios to Upgrade Paid TicketsThe Avios and Cash OptionSave Money on Fuel Surcharges by Transferring British Airways Avios to IberiaUsing Avios For Non-Flight Redemptions.

http://thepointsguy.com/2012/09/how-to-redeem-british-airways-avios-without-huge-fees/

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • hansmast

    “8. It’s $65 to change or cancel an award – cheaper than most other programs, though they’ll charge you for any change and it often takes 30+ minutes to make a simple change (just yesterday I had an agent put me on hold for 30 minutes while he emailed his “rate desk” for simply changing my Nice – London City/ Heathrow – Miami ticket to a straight-up Nice – Heathrow – Miami when better award space opened up after I had booked my original ticket).”

    Actually it’s only $40/tkt to cancel or change awards online. Their online system is actually quite competent: I was able to change a Qantas award online. If the change is complex enough that the website cannot handle the change, you should ask to have the additional $25 phone fee waived.

  • Narayanais

    Brian,

    What would you suggest that be used for India from the East Coast – are we stuck with paying the high fees? Can we go – American to West Coast or American to JFK – HKG on Cathay and then Cathay to BOM lets say? Would that be a viable routing? Or since it is distance based, routing does not matter?

    - Narayana

  • Pam

    Can you explain again how to book on partner airlines on the BA website?

  • PJ

    To cancel a BA reservation on line, it is required that you have the ORIGINAL CREDIT CARD # as a security check. It is wise to make note of which card you charge in case you switch CC often to meet the SPEN for sign on bonus.

  • thepointsguy

    Britishairways.com -> Executive Club -> Spending Avios -> Book flights with Avios

  • thepointsguy

    You could route via Hong Kong, but it’ll cost a boatload of Avios and take longer. Otherwise, you could try flying to Dublin with Aer Lingus or Germany with Air Berlin and then BA from there, but you’ll still be hit with fees on the BA legs to India unfortunately.

  • thepointsguy

    Good to know.. I’ll update

  • Grant Thomas

    When BA gives you a choice to either pay 4,500 avios and $2.50 versus 2,250 avios and $37.50, which one do you believe is a better offer? I guess if you have a ton of avios, you might just select the first option right?

  • http://www.awardbookingservice.com/ Bobby
  • John

    I noticed that a lot of the flights I searched for (during weekends) were unavailable. Are the availability that much higher during the weekday travel? If I wanted to book weekend, especially holiday weekends, how far in advance would I be booking…say for Cathay First, LAX to hong kong. Thanks~

  • thepointsguy

    Hmm I think it really just depends on the time of year and what the historical selling is on the flight.. I’ve been able to book weekend Cathay trips no problem in the past

  • thepointsguy

    I mean it all depends- if you don’t have tons of Avios, I’d go with the latter- in essence they are “selling” you 2,500 Avios for $35- or 1.4 cents each. I’d easily buy Avios at 1.4 cents because I usually get 3+ back when I redeem them.

  • HikerT

    Wow, that’s a pretty generous valuation for Avios. Happy to sell anyone Avios at 1.4 cents thru tomorrow. That would equate to cashing out MR for 2.0 cents.

  • sourabh

    Just a comment on your highlighted flight JFK-Montreal – It’s cheap one way going, but the other way i.e YUL->JFK is 2250 Avios + $ 90.42 or 4500+ $55.4 because of the Canadian fees. Still a decent deal, but I wanted to point it out.

  • Suzannehendrix

    great article, B.

  • Guest

    Is there a way to use Avios to get to Tahiti or elsewhere in the S. Pacific? Thanks!!

  • Shids

    What is amazing about 105000 one way SFO to HKG, its 135000 RT booking on AA or others,please tell me what I am missing here.

  • thepointsguy

    That there aren’t $900+ in fees like on other BA redemptions. 135k AA is a great redemption but you can’t transfer Amex to AA and certainly not at a 40% bonus

  • PJ

    This is a tiny nuisance along with BA’s $40 cancellation charge when compared to Delta cancellation charge standing high and tall at $150 per ticket irregardless of miles used or cash ticket price.

    My real case with Delta : 2@CTU JZH booked on China Eastern 15K plus $40.60 ( $25 non refundable phone in charge). I thought I was clever to burn 15K sky pesos plus $40.60 instead of paying for ticket with ~$220 . Now I have to choose either to abandon the ticket ( no money or miles coming back) or pay $150 to get the 15K and $15.6 fuel and airport fees ) is 15K really worth $ 134.5?

    It is brutal you can not have a choice to only claim back the airport tax and fuel charges and simply let go sky pesos

  • MiamiDreamz

    What if the partner airlines show reward seat availability but it’s not available on BA? For example, I see a reward Business class seat available on Iberia from MIA to BCN on Nov 20, but no availability is shown on BA.com when I search partner airlines. I called BA and they showed no availability at all on BA or any partner airlines for that date. I told the rep about the Iberia reward seats I found on Iberia.com, and she said that the inventory on partner sites might vary from BA. Is this true in your experience?
    I realize I can transfer Avios to Iberia, but I want to see if I can book via BA phone center. The reason is that I don’t trust BA.com, and I see reward availability on AA or airberlin, but not on BA.com. Have you had success in calling BA and getting them to book a partner award even if it doesn’t show as available on BA.com? Thanks

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  • Paul

    Great article, very helpful. Any ideas on how to change seat assignments on an AA flight booked with Avios? They per assigned me in the last row? Hoping I can change online.

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  • Pete

    I am trying to book at Finnair award from Munich to Singapore using Avios, but in the taxes breakdown it charges me a British Airways fuel surcharge which equates to 72.5% of total taxes (i.e. SGD 327.70 out of SGD 451.20). How can I avoid this?

  • Kevin

    I am trying to go from Orlando or Miami to Buenos Aires with Avios and am having NO luck using BA’s website. Any tips would be greatly appreciated!

  • Prince

    Great Article.

    I am having a hard time getting anywhere other than UK from India and with a huge service charge of around 700$. I want to go to Barcelona can you suggest any partner airlne or technique that will help reduce the $amount. Thanks
    M

  • Pratt

    It appears that British Airways has made it very hard to redeem Avios on partners. I tried to book from DFW to San Diego and it kept saying that nothing available even if i search in February 2013. There was no option to purchase online. Do you think calling British Airways is the only way left to redeem Avios?

  • Ashton

    I’m new to this, can someone tell me the best way to use avios going from Indianapolis to Amsterdam?

  • Texcal64

    What program are you using in the screenshots to search for the awards?

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  • Purcitron

    sounds good but actually finding availability on BA is rough. searching for simple, domestic AA routes. more availability through Iberia?

  • Doug18

    drive to chicago and get on a non stop, otherwise you are looking at additional miles for domestic leg to chicago or new york or boston

  • Atholford

    Have enough Avios points for two first class tickets anywhere in the world from the UK. No availability! What is the point in staying loyal to an airline when there is no benefit. To say I am angry is an understatement.

  • thepointsguy

    Hmm are you sure you’re search all possible partners as well? Use AA.com to find saaver availability – qantas.com.au also works

  • Raven

    DO NOT CONVERT YOUR ROYAL BANK AVION POINTS TO BRITISH AIRWAYS AVIOS IF YOU INTEND TO USE THEM ON A PARTNER AIRLINE! We converted OUR Avions and what a mistake! Sure we got more avios that are, as far as I can tell, useless unless we want to travel to Europe on BA. Trying to use these points on Partner airlines has been, in my experience, impossible. I called BA customer service today to try to figure out if I’m doing something wrong and got someone who really hates her job. I clicked on the “Make a complaint” icon and it took me to a “File not found” page. LOL! I’m kind of amazed that all the big companies aren’t doing that! All I’m trying to do is find out how to book a flight from Vancouver to Panama City, Panama (without flying via Madrid) on one of BAs partner airlines. When I put that information into the Rewards booking request on the BA site, i get a message saying that there are no flights available. Not a single flight in a 6 week window. That can’t be right!

  • Purcitron

    this IS the 1,000,000 AVIOS question!
    i just wanna book some domestic US flights!!
    AA shows availability, but BA does not.. BA phone reps say they dont have the same award availability as partners (AA).. what to do TPG??!!
    thanks

  • Purcitron

    this IS the 1,000,000 AVIOS question!
    i just wanna book some domestic US flights!!
    AA shows availability, but BA does not.. BA phone reps say they dont have the same award availability as partners (AA).. what to do TPG??!!
    thanks

  • Guv

    That does not work. They just say that no flights are available, click on dates to find partner flights, but that does not work.

  • Jenny

    Hi – I have question on number 8 above. Why did you have to call BA to change the “Nice to LHR to Miami” to “Nice to Miami direct”? Can you do this on BA.com instead of call BA? I am assuming that “Nice to Miami direct” did not show up on
    BA.com but on one of his partner site, correct?

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  • frankiep311

    Quick advice needed: have 105k Avios…need to travel MIA to BCN 04/26 to 05/05…i can book outright on expedia for $1000 or book the one availability on Iberia (thru BA.com) for total fees of $644 and 50k miles….is this worth doing to save $356 and giving up the 50k miles? I already called BA and they don’t have any other availability thru American. Thanks guys…

  • Harish

    Need to fly ny to Paris, mid June. Have 64000 avois points. What would be the most cost efficient method to use those points?

  • thepointsguy

    Try finding routing on aer lingus or airberlin or transfer to Iberia and book through them

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  • Gabe

    Can I accrue avios on BA award redemptions like AA does 10% on award flights?

  • Maxim

    How do you search for partner airlines on the BA site? I can’t find this anywhere…

  • Mr. Cool

    макс. заходишь в ba.com cо своим паролем. слева в середине “book with $ or avios” dropdown…меняешь на book with avious. search

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  • karma gyurme

    We have accumulated 400,000 Avios points and can never, ever seem to use them on British or American. The program feels like a scam to us.

  • Sonja

    British Airways’s Jacksonville call center has been closed, so no more rude agents. The UK-based call center agents are lovely, but you’ll be on hold at least 45 minutes before you reach them.

  • amy

    i am trying to go from NYC to LONDON.
    could i use avios points to pay for the whole flight?

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