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Update: The current offer for the British Airways Visa Signature Card is 50,000 Avios when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.
While Britishairways.com can be a good tool for booking award tickets, it also has a lot of bugs and makes searching for non-BA flights a pain. If you are flying anywhere that could possibly route through London, the system will automatically just show you BA flights that do so rather than pulling in partner awards…and as I talk about a lot, those itineraries through London can often incur some huge taxes and fuel surcharges, making it uneconomical to book these awards.
One trick is to search on dates you know that BA award seats aren’t available and then select the partners that BA.com says also fly your selected route, but that can be a guessing game and a waste of time. Not to mention that BA.com will only show you saver level availability on the partners that it does pull in.
For example, yesterday I wanted to find a last minute one-way award from Madrid to Zurich to meet up with the Star Megado international folks. When I looked up ticket prices, they were going for about $670 on Iberia and Swiss. For economy!
I decided to look up my options on United.com and Britishairways.com. While United showed me a few different options flying Lufthansa from Madrid to various German hubs including Munich and Frankfurt on the date I wanted to fly, British Airways was only showing a single non-stop flight on Iberia with award availability, and it was departing at about 8:00am on a Sunday morning. Well, I know what Saturday night in Madrid is like, and that didn’t seem like the best option.
Searching Iberia Awards
So instead, I went directly to the Iberia site, logged in with my Iberia Plus number and searched for flight availability. The flight BA had displayed was there with low-level “Blue” availability for 7,500 Avios and $22.50 in taxes and fees.
However, looking at the other two flights that came up was even more interesting. The latest flight in the day only had business class availability for 15,000 Avios, which hadn’t come up when I’d searched BA.com for either economy or business class tickets.
The middle flight, right in the late afternoon that would get me in in time for dinner was my top preference, and though “Blue” level awards weren’t available, standard Economy awards were for 11,250 Avios for an outright award ticket. That was still less than the 12,500 United miles it would take to redeem for a one-way ticket (and the fees on United were almost $100 since they charge last minute ticketing fees), so I decided to book it.
Transferring Avios from BA to Iberia
I didn’t have any miles in my Iberia account, however, Avios is the mileage program of both British Airways and Iberia, and as long as your accounts are over three months old.
To transfer British Airways Avios to Iberia, you simply log into your Executive Club account on BA.com, go to the Manage My Account tab on the left-hand 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. (Note Iberia is also a direct transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards so you can transfer directly from there, though it can take up to 2 days for miles to post).
You can transfer as many Avios as you want as often as you want between the two programs, and transfers go through immediately, so as soon as I found the award ticket I wanted, I was able to make an Avios transfer and book it.
My one consideration was that, instead of paying 11,250 Avios and $22.50, I could instead use a combination of Avios and cash and pay:
10,125 Avios + $37.50
9,000 Avios + $52.50
7,875 Avios + $67.50
6,750 Avios + $82.50
5,625 Avios + $97.50
With these co-pays, I was essentially purchasing back Avios at a rate of 1.3 cents each – and I know I can get a lot more value out of my Avios than that, so I decided to pay $52.50 and use just 9,000 Avios instead. After all, I did want to save some cash on this flight.
I was all set, but then once I got to Madrid, I decided I was having such a good time that I wanted to extend my trip a day and head to Zurich on Monday morning instead.
A quick search of Iberia.com turned up a morning flight with a low-level business class award seat available for 15,000 Avios and $27.50. I couldn’t cancel my original ticket online and had to call the Iberia call center in Spain, which is luckily open 24 hours unlike the US call centers which close at 7pm. I got through to someone immediately and asked to speak to a representative in English, and was transferred and on the line with someone within a minute. This could be a good strategy for others out there who book Iberia flights- the number from the US is +34-91-374-2442. If you’re having trouble getting through to the US call center, try their Spanish one – it might be worth a little extra on your phone bill or to try calling in via Skype to get someone who can help you immediately.
The rep I was speaking to told me that because my original flight was less than 24 hours away that she could not refund the Avios from my original ticket as it was. But she was creative and helpful: she said she could change my ticket to a later date and then cancel it so I would get my Avios back. That took her about 45 seconds, after which she explained that the Avios should show up in my account instantly (a quick check on Iberia.com revealed that they did) but that the $52.50 in taxes and fees I paid would take several business days. Other than that, there were no cancellation fees, redeposit fees or anything!
I thanked her, hung up and booked my new flight. Instead of using 15,000 Avios and $27.50, I actually paid $127.50 and used 7,500 Avios – I know that in the future, I’ll be able to redeem those 7,500 Avios for a flight that costs much more than $100, so I’d rather pay a little more up front.
Even paying the extra, my ticket by itself would have cost $970, so I was getting over 11 cents per Avios in value on my redemption, though I would never pay for intra-European business class so my true value received is less, but it was still a solid redemption.
I can’t say I’m excited to fly intra-European business class, which is essentially just coach with the middle seat blocked off but I was excited about how easy it was to book flights on Iberia using Avios, and not only that, but at the great service I received and the fact I didn’t have to pay any fees for ticketing or re-ticketing. Another great use for my BA Avios if you ask me.