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Using Avios for Short-haul Flights from Oneworld Hubs

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British Airways Avios have long been valued for short-haul redemptions. Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr looks at how much value you can expect to get by redeeming on Oneworld and other partner airlines from their respective hubs.

With the impending Avios devaluation coming next month, and British Airways locking out many Executive Club members and zeroing their account balances, the Avios program has received a lot of negative attention recently. However, it remains one of the most useful and valuable programs around, as I find myself repeatedly telling friends, coworkers, readers — practically anyone who will listen — about the value of Avios awards on short-haul routes. In this post, I want to re-emphasize that value by exploring some of the best options for using Avios to fly short-haul routes from many Oneworld hubs.

When it comes to short-haul flights, there’s good news in April’s Avios devaluation. The first three zones of British Airways’ distance-based award chart are basically staying the same, or in some cases improving. Standard awards under 2,000 miles will cost the same in economy, premium economy, and business class, and British Airways will introduce off-peak pricing for certain awards on its own metal. The exception is first class tickets in these zones, which will cost you roughly 33% more Avios in the new award chart.

British Airways award chart changes by zone.
British Airways award chart changes by zone.

When flying Oneworld partners using Avios after April 28, you will always pay the peak price. For reference, here are the first 3 zones defined:

  • Zone 1 — 0-650 miles
  • Zone 2 — 651-1150 miles
  • Zone 3 — 1151-2000 miles

Given the good news in the above chart for short-haul routes, I want to look at just how valuable (or invaluable) these routes might be. The charts below list destinations in Zones 1-3 from different Oneworld hubs. In each chart, I compare the round-trip cost of award flights and fuel surcharges to the cost of the average non-stop, round-trip flight during the week 0f May 17-24, 2015. For example, a round-trip flight from Tokyo Haneda to Sapporo costs 9,000 Avios + $4 in fuel surcharges on Japan Airlines. The average non-stop flight during the week of May 17-24 is $632, yielding a redemption value of 6.98 cents/Avios.

I looked at 7 Oneworld hubs on 5 continents in this fashion to examine any patterns that might appear, and see if the short-haul value of Avios quantitatively lives up to its reputation.

Tokyo (Haneda): Japan Airlines

Zone Destination Fuel Surcharge Avg Fare Cents/Mile
1 Sapporo $4.00 $632.00 6.98
Osaka (KIX) $4.00 $426.00 4.69
Hiroshima $4.00 $692.00 7.64
Fukuoka $4.00 $541.00 5.97
2 Okinawa $4.00 $770.00 5.11
Seoul $77.00 $225.00 0.99
3 Hong Kong $87.00 $278.00 0.96
Manilla $128.00 $457.00 1.65

Sydney: Qantas

Zone Destination Fuel Surcharge Avg Fare Cents/Mile
1 Gold Coast $23.00 $148.00 1.39
Brisbane $25.00 $184.00 1.77
Melbourne $21.00 $186.00 1.83
2 Adelaide $29.00 $213.00 1.23
Hamilton Island $44.00 $286.00 1.61
3 Darwin $42.00 $351.00 1.55
Auckland $90.00 $210.00 0.60

Chicago (O’Hare): American

Zone Destination Fuel Surcharge Avg Fare Cents/Mile
1 Atlanta $11.00 $138.00 1.41
Washington, D.C. $11.00 $145.00 1.49
Syracuse $11.00 $265.00 2.82
2 Philadelphia $11.00 $137.00 0.84
Houston $11.00 $184.00 1.15
3 Los Angeles $11.00 $258.00 1.24
Seattle $11.00 $330.00 1.60

Madrid: Iberia

Zone Destination Fuel Surcharge Avg Fare Cents/Mile
1 Casablanca $59.00 $192.00 1.48
Seville $37.00 $80.00 0.48
Palma de Mallorca $34.00 $66.00 0.36
2 Milan $50.00 $130.00 0.53
Dublin $36.00 $78.00 0.28
Paris (Orly)* $55.00 $102.00 0.31
Tenerife $33.00 $235.00 1.35
3 Copenhagen $48.00 $175.00 0.64
Istanbul $44.00 $275.00 1.16

*Madrid to Paris Orly is calculated as 640 miles by gcmap.com and airmilescalculator.com. However, it is priced as Zone 2 for Avios even though it’s below the cut-off of 650 miles. 

Santiago: LAN

Zone Destination Fuel Surcharge Avg Fare Cents/Mile
1 Cordoba, Argentina $93.00 $311.00 2.42
Copiapo $21.00 $117.00 1.07
Temuco $21.00 $118.00 1.08
2 Montevideo, Uruguay $72.00 $261.00 1.26
Arica $21.00 $186.00 1.10
Balmaceda $19.00 $240.00 1.47
3 Lima $75.00 $255.00 0.90
Sao Paulo $67.00 $270.00 1.02
Rio de Janiero $66.00 $430.00 1.82

Colombo: Sri Lankan

Zone Destination Fuel Surcharge Avg Fare Cents/Mile
1 Male, Maldives $120.00 $195.00 0.83
Bengaluru $119.00 $241.00 1.36
Chennai $110.00 $185.00 0.83
2** Mumbai $120.00 $257.00 0.91
3 Kunming, China $179.00 $406.00 1.14
Muscat, Oman $185.00 $327.00 0.71
Singapore $189.00 $206.00 0.09

**Only one Sri Lankan route falls within the Zone 2 range. I also have yet to find a Sri Lankan business seat open to book with Avios.

Seattle: Alaska Airlines

Zone Destination Fuel Surcharge Avg Fare Cents/Mile
1 Great Falls, MT $11.00 $309.00 3.31
Bozeman $11.00 $248.00 2.63
Reno $11.00 $240.00 2.54
2 Sitka $11.00 $250.00 1.59
San Diego $11.00 $235.00 1.49
3 Anchorage $11.00 $197.00 0.93
Detroit $11.00 $390.00 1.90
Kansas City $11.00 $413.00 2.01

Analysis

Average Redemption Value by Zone:

  • Zone 1 — 2.46 cents/Avios
  • Zone 2 — 1.33 cents/Avios
  • Zone 3 — 1.05 cents/Avios

As you may have expected, Avios offer lower redemption value over greater distances. In fact, the average value dropped by almost 50% just between Zones 1 and 2. I believe it’s safe to say Japan Airlines and (non-Oneworld partner) Alaska Airlines are the winners. American Airlines flights out of Chicago also provide good value, as do short-haul flights from American’s other hubs in New York, Dallas, Miami (to the Caribbean depending on fuel surcharges) and Los Angeles. Fuel surcharges kill the value on European Oneworld members, where low-cost carriers are plentiful and an easy alternative.

These results don’t take into account how values could fluctuate with peak travel seasons, as well as some niche routes that Oneworld members may have a monopoly on. I could do an entire post on each one of these hubs to show which routes would yield the highest redemption value for your Avios, but availability is tough/nonexistent, and only a tiny percentage of flyers want those particular routes.

I find short-haul Avios redemptions most handy on domestic flights, where the fuel surcharges are kept to a minimum. I also get fantastic value when redeeming for last second flights when prices are sky high.

Use these strategies to maximize your redemption values on short-haul flights:

  1. Redeem during peak travel season.
  2. Redeem on routes into small markets with little competition.
  3. Find destinations all the way up to but not quite in the next zone (e.g., a 649 mile flight).
  4. Fly domestically to avoid fuel surcharges.

If you’re looking to build up your Avios balance, Chase is still offering the British Airways Visa Signature card with the $95 annual fee waived for the first year, but that offer is set to expire tomorrow (Tuesday, March 31st). You’ll earn 50,000 Avios after you make $2,000 in purchases in the first three months from account opening (currently worth $850 according to TPG’s latest monthly valuations). This card is still worth getting even with the $95 annual fee, but if you can get it now, you may as well.

Which Oneworld hubs do you get the most value out of with short-haul Avios redemptions?

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