Maximizing British Airways Avios: Direct Flights, London Stopovers and UK Destinations

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TPG Contributor Jason Steele fills us in on two little-known loopholes that will let you stretch your Avios even further by taking advantage of direct flights, stopovers in London and itinerary tag-ons in the UK.

As you’ve read in the Maximizing British Airways Avios series, the Avios points system is distance-based, meaning that award tickets are calculated according to the mileage of a flight. However, British Airways also charges for each flight segment individually.  So for example, if I flew from Denver to San Antonio on American, I would add up the 4,500 points required from Denver to American’s hub in Dallas, and then would need an additional 4,500 Avios to fly from Dallas to San Antonio for a total of 9,000 points each way. While that per-segment calculation is generally true, there are two exceptions that allow you to stretch your Avios points.

Non-Stop Versus Direct
To the average person the terms “non-stop” and “direct” are interchangeable, but experienced travelers know that “direct” flights stop at an intermediate point before continuing on to their final destination using the same flight number. In fact, some carriers even require a change of aircraft while still marketing a flight as “direct.” Setting aside the fairness of marketing two flights in a way that makes many customers think they are on a non-stop trip, these flights expose a loophole in the Avios award redemption system. It turns out that at least with some American Airlines flights, Avios actually prices flights by flight number rather than by individual leg in some cases. In effect, only one Avios redemption is necessary for multiple flights in each direction so long as they are marketed with the same flight number.

Finding “Direct” Flights
To find these direct flight redemption opportunities, you’ve got to go old-school. I am talking about the good old days when airlines printed their flight schedules on paper. While those printed books are long gone, American’s schedule survives online as a convenient .PDF file.

Look for direct flights like these from Denver to Kansas City, San Antonio and Cabo.

Then look up your home airport(s) and note the American Airlines operated flights that list the number of stops as one. These are the direct flights that will price out as a single redemption.  Just a note, there won’t be many, but if you’re just trying to find some interesting places to use your Avios without having to shell out for multiple flights, you can get some good ideas.

From Denver, where I live, I know that American offers non-stop flights to just Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Miami. Yet the timetable lists American-operated flights to Birmingham, Alabama, Quito, Ecuador, San Antonio, Texas, and San Jose/Los Cabos Mexico. These additional flights are direct flights that continue after a stop at one of American’s hubs. When I pull up these direct flights to book an Avios award, I am quoted a single price as if it were one flight.

Pricing It Out
On the Denver to San Antonio flight, I see AA flight 1117 that lands in Dallas before continuing on to San Antonio. That ticket prices out at 7,500 Avios each way—1,500 less than the 9,000 Avios that would be  needed each way if I were pricing out all the flight segments individually (Denver-Dallas and Dallas-San Antonio would require 4,500 Avios each).

This direct flight on American costs 7,500 Avios and $2.50, despite making a stop in Dallas. Pricing each leg out separately…

The Denver-Dallas flight would require 4,500 Avios.

A second flight from Dallas to San Antonio would cost a further 4,500 Avios for a total of 9,000. That’s 1,500 more than just taking the direct flight.

In another instance, Atlanta to Oklahoma City prices out at 7,500 Avios each way so long as you take the direct flight, AA1183 rather than 12,000 points for two individual flights from Atlanta to Dallas and then Dallas to OKC. Also note how American makes seven award seats available on each flight, far more than Delta ever offers at the low level on any flight.

Because this itinerary isn’t on a single flight number, the cost in Avios goes up to 12,000.

Another Exception: London Stopovers
There is one other situation where Avios points can be used for connecting flights at no additional cost. When using an award that changes planes in London on your way to another destination, not only do you get a London stopover (greater than 24 hours) included for no additional points, but you can also get free connecting flights to any point in the United Kingdom served by British Airways.

Traveling from Denver to London costs 25,000 Avios and about $240.

So say I was traveling from Denver to Edinburgh via London. Not only would your ticket require just 25,000 Avios each way in economy, just as it would if you were only flying to London, but you can also add in a few days in the capital. Aside from the London departure taxes, there is no further cost in Avios for such an itinerary.

Continuing on to Edinburgh doesn’t cost any extra Avios, just about $30 more in departure fees.

Avios redemptions can be fantastic for expensive short-haul flights on British Airways and its partners, but as soon as you have to add in a connection or layover, the cost of your award ticket in terms of Avios can skyrocket.  However, by taking advantage of American’s “direct” flights that retain their same flight number despite making stops, you will only have to redeem the same amount of Avios as though your flight were non-stop, potentially saving you thousands of points. Plus, you can even tack on free additional flights within the United Kingdom when connecting through London, stretching those Avios even further.

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