The New British Airways Frequent Flyer Program (Avios) is Fantastic for Some Families!

Nov 17, 2011

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Have you ever been the last kid picked at dodge ball, just standing there against the wall looking at your feet, far away from the rest of the “cool kids”?  Well, I am pretty sure that is me today in the miles and points blogging world.  You see, unlike most miles and points bloggers (such as Lucky and Gleff), I actually like the new British Airways miles program, Avios.  I don’t like that they have increased the number of miles required for some routes by almost 100%.  I don’t like that they didn’t release their new award chart ahead of time (though they did give fair warning that changes were coming).  But, for families who use most of their miles for domestic and/or short-haul travel, these changes are actually pretty great.

Before I go any further into the reasons why I like the new program, I want to first explain that just because you are earning miles in the British Airways programs, doesn’t mean you actually have to fly on British Airways flights.  They partner with a number of airlines including Alaska and American.  For my purposes, I will redeeming the vast majority of my miles earned with British Airways on American Airlines flights.  I also won’t be earning British Airway miles (aka Avios) by flying BA flights, I will be earning them with credit card sign-up bonus and daily spending on my Chase Sapphire® Preferred Card.

What British Airways has done is essentially gone to a distance-based model for award redemptions.  So, if you are looking to fly from the US to somewhere in Asia, that is clearly a pretty long distance flight, and in a distance based chart, that will cost you a large chunk of miles (especially to sit in First Class).  However, if you are looking to fly from Florida to New York, that is a relatively short distance, and it will be priced as such.  For example, let’s say you want to fly from Miami to JFK in economy class on miles.  In most frequent flyer programs, that round-trip flight would cost you 25,000 miles if you can find it at the “saver” level.  However, with the new Avios program it will only cost you 15,000 miles round-trip to sit in coach.

Let’s try another one.  Say you want to fly take a very short flight round-trip flight from Houston to Dallas.  Previously that would cost you between 20,000 – 25,000 miles at the lower levels on most airlines.  With Avios it will now cost you 9,000 miles.  As another example, flying from Dallas to Seattle is now 20,000 round-trip, so even on that longer domestic flight you are still saving 5,000 miles over the previous mileage cost.  Keep in mind that other countries near the US will also have dropped in the numbers of miles required to redeem for a free flight.  Think about the Caribbean, Mexico, Canada, etc… they may all now be fewer miles than they were previously.  I can now go from Houston to Montego Bay round-trip for 24,000 miles.  Not bad!

For those of you who want to use your miles for trips similar to the ones I listed, British Airways may now be your #1 frequent flyer program to focus on.  Just today I re-booked flights for Little C’s grandparents that previously cost us 25,000 miles each.  The trip now requires only 18,000 miles each, so I was able to get a 14,000 mile “rebate” for re-booking the flights.

When I called today, technically British Airways told me that there is a $60 fee online for changing or cancelling each of the tickets.  However, I trusted many online sources that stated the only thing that will happen if you cancel online is that you will lose the amount you paid in taxes.  In my case, I had paid $20 in taxes and indeed I did “lose” those $20.  There were no other fees imposed.  I will trade $20 for 14,000 Avios points any day of the week.  So, fair warning if you want to re-book a British Airways ticket that is now a lower mileage cost – technically this is going against what BA is saying over the phone in regards to fees, but it worked for me and many others.  If you want to go this route, I would do it sooner rather than later – just make sure your desired itinerary is available to re-book before cancelling your original one.

Just to show you a quick snapshot of the cancellation/rebook process:

1.  I verified that the flights I wanted for Little C’s grandparents had plenty of reward availability and I verified that the mileage cost had gone down by 7,000 miles per ticket (14,000 total).  A side-note is that American Airlines (the carrier you will most often be using domestically with BA/Avios points, has the best domestic reward availability in the US).

2.  I cancelled the existing reservation for a refund of all 50,000 Avios points.  I did lose the $20.00 previously paid in taxes.

3.  Within a few minutes I saw the 50,000 Avios points credited back into my account.

4.  I re-booked the trip for 14,000 less points than I had previously paid.  I did have to pay an additional $20.00 in taxes.

Again, I know I am probably not in the “popular kid” chair by liking the Avios program changes.  However, I don’t usually fly first class, I don’t usually have the time or money on trips to build in several free stopovers, and I am not usually traveling to far away locations.  I hope to do more of all of those things in 10-15 years, but that just isn’t my traveling reality these days.  It also is not the traveling reality of most young families.  I totally get why many travelers will be unhappy with these recent Avios changes, but I hope that families who use their miles similar to the way that I do will take a close look at the new British Airways points system and see if it might be the best program to fit their reward travel needs.  I know I will be focusing on it much more than I had previously!

One last great thing about British Airways is that they are a transfer partner of both Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards.  So, you get the best of both worlds.  Membership Rewards sometimes runs great transfer bonuses to British Airways, and Ultimate Rewards has a phenomenal shopping portal that has some awesome one-day points deals coming up.  If you think that the new British Airways points system might be a good fit for your family, strongly consider getting a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Ink Bold card to get the 50,000 point sign-up bonus and use of the Ultimate Rewards portal.  Or, look into getting an American Express Premier Rewards Gold card or The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card® from American Express OPEN Card to take advantage of those respective sign-up bonuses and the periodic Membership Rewards transfer bonuses.

I promise to share more info about the benefits of the British Airways system for traveling families in upcoming posts.  What do you think of the new system?  Will it help your family or has it destroyed your favorite ways to redeem miles?

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