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Maximizing British Airways Avios Series: Distance-Based Awards

April 12, 2012
8 min read
Maximizing British Airways Avios Series: Distance-Based Awards
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This is the next installment on my new Maximizing British Airways Avios series. Other posts include Master FAQ Post on British Airways 100,000 Mile Offer, Spotlight on Taxes and Fees, Travel Together Companion Ticket, Household Accounts, Using Avios to Upgrade Paid Tickets, The Avios and Cash Option, Save Money on Fuel Surcharges by Transferring British Airways Avios to Iberia, Using Avios For Non-Flight Redemptions.

As you know, the British Airways Executive Club mileage program changed dramatically last November when it switched over to Avios, which included the implementation of a new distance-based formula for redemptions.

Some of the most major changes were that short haul flights decreased dramatically and even long haul award tickets between the north east and Europe went down 20%. On the flip side ultra-long haul flights, like JFK to Hong Kong increased by 40%.

Calculating Mileage
This chart should give you an idea of the mileage thresholds needed for your flight. Just take the distance of the city pairs, for example JFK to Los Angeles is 2,458 miles (you can use this flight calculator to get distances between cities), so it would be 12,500 miles in economy class one way. With British Airways, business is always double economy and first is triple the miles needed for economy.

You can also use the Avios calculator. You have to enter your city pairs to find out how many Avios (not including taxes, fees, charges and surcharges) it will take to get you between them.

LAX-London costs 25,000 Avios each way.

Multiple Oneworld Partner Awards
British Airways also offers distance-based awards if you book on two or more Oneworld partners. These itineraries are great for those who might be looking to do a Round the World trip, though business and first class get pricey very quickly.

BA Multiple Oneworld Partner Awards

Cut the Stopovers
British Airways redemptions used to offer unlimited stopovers en route, but that’s not the case anymore. Instead, each segment of an itinerary counts as a separate redemption, and you have to price the legs of your trip out individually. So now Avios favors flyers who can take non-stop flights between hubs.

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For instance, If you needed to fly from New York to LA, but the only available option was to fly from JFK-Chicago-LA, then instead of the 12,500 Avios you’d need to go one-way, you would instead have to use 7,500 Avios to get from JFK-ORD, then an additional 10,000 Avios to get from ORD-LAX, for a total of 17,500 Avios. That’s 5,000 more than a non-stop flight, and would cost 10,000 more miles roundtrip!

So whereas in the past, if you were doing medium-haul flights and wanted to build in a couple stops, that would have been a great way to maximize the value of your redemption, but now, more than one or two stopovers could double the number of miles you’d need (or more!). Building in the least amount of stopovers possible is crucial to using the least amount of Avios on a redemption.

Short, Medium-Hauls Are Worth It
In general, you get the most value out of Avios by using them for short-haul flights—often some of the most expensive in an airline’s timetable—that require very few miles.

Here are some examples where Avios bests American’s AAdvantage program in the short-haul arena.

-New York JFK – Toronto
This route would require 12,500 AAdvantage miles each way for the lowest redemption of MileSAAver, but only requires 4,500 Avios each way. On a roundtrip that would save you at least 16,000 miles. Plus these tickets often go for well over $300 (in a sample itinerary in May we priced out, the ticket was a shocking $375 roundtrip!).

Save yourself hundreds of dollars by using Avios on expensive short routes like New York to Toronto.

Considering BA often has great last-minute partner award redemption availability and doesn’t charge last-minute booking fees either, you could be looking at huge savings on this route.

-West Coast to Hawaii
One of the other great examples on a medium-haul route is a favorite of mine: LAX-LIH on Kauai. AAdvantage would require you to redeem at least 17,500 miles each way for a total of 35,000 roundtrip on its lowest MileSAAver Off Peak award seats, but using British Airways Avios for the same flights would cost just 12,500 each way since it’s considered a medium-haul, so you’re saving 10,000 miles on a very popular route.

LAX-LIH takes just 25,000 Avios and $22.

There are lots of low-cost carriers in Europe, so you can often find good fares between popular city pairs, but a lot of times they fly to out-of-the-way airports, and tack on huge hidden fees.

Flying Madrid-Amsterdam on BA partner Iberia takes just 7,500 Avios and $68.

I just plugged in a one-way award from Madrid-Amsterdam, a route that can get very expensive, but is useful if you’re doing a few stops in Europe, and was able to find a one-way award for 7,500 Avios and $68 in fees on Iberia. That same flight cost $901 outright!

That same ticket cost over $900!

Note: One thing to be careful of when searching for an Avios award flight is that the BA website will pull up any BA options first, and most likely try to route you through London. So a trick you can do is to search for award availability on your route on a day you know BA doesn’t have any availability, and the site will ask you if you want to search BA’s partners as well. Click on that, then you should be able to search all the oneworld airlines using BA’s search engine.

Long-Haul Possibilities
You can even find some great redemption options on certain long-haul routes, so I thought I would outline a couple examples where this would make sense.

-New York-Buenos Aires
Say you wanted to get from JFK to Buenos Aires in Economy. Using BA Avios, that would cost you 50,000 miles roundtrip. Flying on American would cost you 40,000 miles roundtrip if you’re able to find a MileSAAver Off Peak ticket, or 60,000 miles for a MileSAAver Peak ticket, so BA is in between and remember you won’t have to pay last-minute ticketing fees.

-New York-Hong Kong
If you wanted to fly BA’s partner, Cathay Pacific, from New York to Hong Kong, that would require 70,000 Avios roundtrip in Economy, and 140,000 in Business, which is not a bad redemption level at all, even though it would take just 120,000 miles on American Airlines. But once again, if you’re booking last-minute, there will be no ticketing fees, and BA miles are much easier to rack up.

Use to Supplement an Existing Award
Of course, this isn’t just about Avios. If you’re a US-based oneworld flyer, chances are American is your airline of choice. However, if you’re going to Europe, you can’t have any stopovers there on an AA award ticket, so having these Avios is a great way squeeze a few more European destinations in for cheap redemptions while you’re over there—and a good idea of why I always tell people to diversify their miles portfolio so they have more options when it comes time to redeem.

That advice goes for basically Australia, Asia and South America as well - you can use BA miles to fly on partner airlines short-haul within those countries since many other frequent flyer programs don't allow for more than one stopover (or any at all in AA's case).

Stay tuned for the following posts in my Maximizing Avios series:
Master FAQ Post on Chase British Airways 100,000 Mile Offer
Maximizing British Airways Avios Series: Spotlight on Taxes and Fees
-Using Avios to Upgrade Paid Tickets
-The Miles & Cash Option
-The “Travel Together” Companion Ticket
-Household Accounts
-Calling In To Book Awards: The Best Option With BA
-Tools to Find Award Tickets
-Non-Airline Redemptions
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