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With the end of January came British Airways’ announcement that it would be changing its Avios frequent flyer program and devaluing many of its mileage redemption options. We asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to cover some of the awards you should book before the changes go into effect.
April 28 marks the date that British Airways will institute the changes to its Avios program that it announced at the end of January. Until now, British Airways has been an extremely useful mileage program thanks to the fact that you can maximize certain distance-based awards, pool your Avios within a household account, and use Avios to book awards on the airline’s many Oneworld and non-alliance partners including Alaska and Aer Lingus.
Not only that, but British Airways is a transfer partner of three major points programs: American Express Membership Rewards (if you have a card like the Premier Rewards Gold or EveryDay Preferred), Chase Ultimate Rewards (if you have the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus), and Starwood Preferred Guest. That has made it very versatile since you can top up your account from a variety of sources for specific awards.
However, there are several sweeping changes that will go into effect come April 28, and here is what you need to know (and to book) before then.
Among the things that will change are the rates at which flyers will earn Avios based on the fare class they purchase. You can find the old versus new earning rates below:
As you can see, many of the most discounted economy fares that currently earn 100% mileage will earn just 25-50% mileage. Quite a devaluation. The earning bonus for mid-tier Silver elites is also being cut from 100% down to 50%.
The most dramatic developments, however, come on the redemption side of the equation, where British Airways is not only instituting off-peak and peak pricing, but is also drastically raising the price of many business and first class awards.
The award zones (Avios is a distance-based program when it comes to redemptions) remain the same, though the pricing has changed. You can find the calendar of off-peak and peak awards here:
And here is a handy table of which zones and awards are affected specifically from Sven Bloggt:
As you can see from the diagram below, much of the year is listed as off-peak.
The major exceptions are around holiday periods like Easter and Christmas, as well as the busy summer travel season. On the other hand, much of January, March, May, June, October and November are off-peak as well as clusters of dates in all the other months, so hopefully availability on those dates will be decent.
However, per the FAQ on the changes, “If you would like to redeem Avios to fly with British Airways airline partners you will need to use peak Avios pricing all year round. There will be no off-peak pricing available for reward flights with our airline partners.” That is terrible news for folks who want to use their Avios on BA’s partners including American, Alaska, Cathay Pacific, LAN and Qantas among others, and shoots some redemption levels into the stratosphere.
That’s a lot to digest, but the topline takeaway is this: if you want to book premium awards and partner awards using your Avios, better book whatever you can by April 28 before redemption rates go up.
The Awards To Book
With all this in mind, here are a few of the awards you should book before the change date.
Transcontinental Business and First Class on American Airlines: This is currently one of the best uses of Avios within the US since you can redeem them for the fantastic business and first class seats on American’s new A321T transcontinental planes, and there tends to be good availability.
This business class award will currently cost you 25,000 Avios each way:
But after April 28, that redemption will go up by a whole 50% to 37,500 Avios each way on peak dates (the equivalent of a first class award currently).
This first class award on the same date would require just 37,500 Avios now (which is about 5,000 miles more expensive than using American or US Airways miles).
Come April 28, though, that redemption will go up by an astonishing 33% to 50,000 Avios each way!
Boston to Dublin on Aer Lingus: This route is currently another great way to use Avios to get to Europe since you avoid the high fuel surcharges of actually flying British Airways itself to London, and the distance of this flight puts it within band #4 for just 12,500 Avios each way in economy and 25,000 Avios each way in business class. While the economy redemption will remain the same, that business class redemption will go up by the same 50% as a transcon trip to 37,500 Avios each way in business class.
That is still below the 50,000-70,000 miles or so many other airlines will charge you for the same route, but represents a big premium over the current redemption. For tips on booking Aer Lingus awards using Avios, check out this post.
East Coast to London on British Airways: While I would not ordinarily suggest using Avios to book an award from the US to London on British Airways thanks to fuel surcharges that can top $1,300, if you were planning to do it anyway, you should definitely book before the deadline.
These flights are within the Zone 5 band. Right now, for example, New York to London on British Airways will cost you 60,000 Avios + $792 roundtrip in premium economy.
After April 28, though, you can snag this for 52,000 Avios on off-peak dates, but 80,000 Avios on peak dates, so pay attention to when you will be flying.
A roundtrip business class award will currently cost you 80,000 Avios + $1,162.
After the devaluation, though, this award will cost you at least 100,000 Avios on off-peak dates, and 120,000 Avios on peak dates. That’s a 50% potential increase.
A first class award would be 120,000 Avios and $1,163 roundtrip before the devaluation.
After, however, you can expect to use at least 136,000 Avios on off-peak dates and 160,000 Avios on peak dates (or if you were flying partner American Airlines instead).
New York to Tokyo in JAL Business Class: This is by no means the cheapest redemption out there at 70,000 Avios + $204 each way.
However, it is still a decent option to have and one that will rise 25% to 87,500 Avios each way after the deadline, so if you want to try out the new Sky Suite aboard JAL’s 787 on this route, book your ticket ahead of time.
Hong Kong to Helsinki on Finnair: Finland’s national carrier is a member of Oneworld, and a useful British Airways partner to keep in mind. Unfortunately, Finnair won’t start flying its new A350’s (including a new business class cabin) on routes from Helsinki to Asia until late in 2016, but if you are looking to get from Asia to Europe or vice versa, it is still a partner to consider.
Right now, its flights from Helsinki to Hong Kong will cost you 50,000 Avios each way in business class because they fall within Zone 6 on the distance chart. However, come April 28, that will go up to 75,000 Avios each way! Better book now.
As a note, Finnair also operates flights to the US including Helsinki to Miami, which is in Zone 6 on the distance chart. While economy redemptions will not rise from 25,000 Avios each way, business class redemptions will – from 50,000 Avios to 75,000 Avios in each direction.
Qatar Airways Business Class From Doha to Frankfurt: The reason I’ve singled out this route is that it is the one on which Qatar introduced its new A350 in January, and since it falls at just under 3,000 miles, it is a bargain in Zone 5 of the distance chart.
If you want to try out this new aircraft (along with what looks to be a pretty stunning business class cabin), an award will cost you just 25,000 Avios each way now, but after April 28, that goes up 50% to 37,500 Avios.
Eastern US to South America on LAN or American: Flights from both New York JFK and Miami to Santiago in Chile fall within Zone 6 on the distance chart, meaning a business class award on LAN is just 50,000 Avios each way.
After April 28, though, that will rise to 75,000 Avios each way.
New York to Berlin on Air Berlin: Air Berlin is one of the unsung partners of Oneworld, especially if you want to use your Avios to get to Europe. That’s because the airline offers flights to several US airports (including Chicago, Ft. Myers, LA, Miami and New York) from its hub in Berlin, and by redeeming Avios this way instead of on British Airways itself, you can save a ton of money on fuel surcharges.
Flying from Chicago to Berlin would be 25,000 Avios each way in economy or 50,000 in business class (going up to 75,000 post-devaluation).
But an even better deal is flying from New York JFK to Berlin TXL since that flight clocks in at just under 4,000 miles and within the Zone 5 distance band. That means you can now fly it for 20,000 Avios each way in economy or 40,000 Avios in business class.
However, after the devaluation, that will rise to 60,000 Avios each way in business class.
Those are just a few stark examples of that highlight just how much certain redemption levels will rise. However, here are a few quick points to keep in mind when strategizing about what and when to book in regards to the upcoming devaluation.
First, economy redemptions will not be rising, and in some cases, they will actually fall. This is a bright spot in the bad news. Though partner redemptions will count as peak redemptions, at least in terms of economy awards, you will not be spending more Avios to fly BA’s partners, and if you are flying on off-peak dates on BA itself, you will be spending fewer.
Secondly, you should book any premium partner awards before the deadline: Because partner awards count as peak awards and nearly all the business and first class redemption levels are rising, if you can book any travel you have coming up before the April 28 devaluation date, you should absolutely do so. While the three lowest distance zones will not be changing their business class redemption levels, all the other business and first class redemptions will be rising by up to 50% so you book as soon as possible.
Finally, if you are connecting through London, you won’t see any price increases on long-haul trips, but if you are flying within the UK, you will. Whereas BA currently prices out short-haul trips that originate or terminate in the UK and continue to Europe stopping through London (even with a stopover of several days) as a single trip, the airline will start pricing them as separate segments, essentially doubling their cost in terms of taxes and Avios. So if you want to book short-haul awards on BA in Europe and planned to take a stopover in London, book them before the devaluation.
While British Airways’ announcement tended to be bad news in general, with a little forethought and planning, you can still make the most of your Avios on upcoming bookings provided you do so before the April 28 deadline.