How to Redeem British Airways Avios Without Huge Fees
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here.
Tomorrow marks the last day that those of us in the US with American Express Membership Rewards points can transfer to British Airways Avios at a 40% bonus, so I thought I'd remind people that it is possible to redeem Avios without paying the huge fees British Airways redemptions are known for.
I've done several series on maximizing British Airways Avios in the past (the most recent one is linked at the bottom of this post) if you are a newbie, but here are 12 quick tips on the basics of redeeming Avios in general, and then I'll get into situations where you can redeem them without incurring huge fees:
2. Business class always requires twice as many Avios as economy, and first class is always three times as much as economy. A problem with this is that many domestic first class awards on American Airlines are three times the price of coach, when they should really only be 2x. See this post for more info.
3. Awards price segment by segment. So if you want to fly New Orleans-Dallas-Buenos Aires you will have to use the calculator to calculate New Orleans to Dallas (4,500) + Dallas to Buenos Aires (25,000) = 29,500 Avios in economy each way.
4. Most nonstop awards can be booked Britishairways.com -> Executive Club -> Spending Avios -> Book flights with Avios
5. Britishairways.com will automatically try to route you on British Airways flights. So if you are going from Miami to Madrid, you may only see options via London, when non-stops exist on American and Iberia. In this case, you should call.
6. Britishairways.com also has a difficult time piecing together multi-leg trips. So if you aren't going from point A to point B, don't expect it to pull in all routing options. I'd recommend using other sites like AA.com and then searching for MileSaaver availability, which is usually the award inventory American makes available to partners. Or use Qantas' tool and then call British Airways to book the flights.
7. British Airways' US-based call reps are not friendly and you'll usually have to wait at least 10 minutes for an agent. But unfortunately you have to call to book certain partner flights or complicated awards.
8. It's $65 to change or cancel an award - cheaper than most other programs, though they'll charge you for any change and it often takes 30+ minutes to make a simple change (just yesterday I had an agent put me on hold for 30 minutes while he emailed his "rate desk" for simply changing my Nice - London City/ Heathrow - Miami ticket to a straight-up Nice - Heathrow - Miami when better award space opened up after I had booked my original ticket).
9. Cash + Avios deals can be incredible value - especially on coach redemptions (check out the JFK- Montreal itinerary below: 2,250 Avios and $37.50 for a one-way $200+ flight!).
10. Most flights to Europe have huge fuel surcharges (even on carriers like American who don't assess them to their own frequent flyers). However, Air Berlin and Aer Lingus do not have fuel surcharges - so as you'll see below, a sample Miami - Berlin business class flight only has $2.50 in fees! Note: Aer Lingus awards can only be booked over the phone.
11. Using Avios to upgrade British Airways flights can be a great deal, especially if you get a decent World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy) fare and can upgrade to Club World (business), like JFK-London only costing 10,000 Avios each way!
12. Iberia has its own Avios program and charges less fees on some awards as outlined here.
Flying On Partners With Lower Fees
Carriers that usually have $200+ fees per roundtrip: British Airways (except intra-European flights and mid-haul to Africa), Finnair (except EU), Royal Jordanian and JAL. However, searching for flights on other partners including American Airlines (not to Europe), Cathay Pacific, LAN and more might bring your fees and surcharges down.
Let's take a look at a few example itineraries I found where the fees and surcharges are quite low, bringing even more value to your Avios.
British Airways Istanbul to London in economy for 10,000 Avios and $20 one way
Iberia Madrid to Barcelona for 4,500 Avios and $20 one way in economy
American JFK to Montreal for only 4,500 Avios and $2.50 each way in economy
American Los Angeles to Kauai for 12,500 Avios and $2.50 one way in economy
JFK to Vancouver on Cathay Pacific in their great business class for only 25,000 Avios and $33.70 one way
Cathay Pacific first class (amazing) San Francisco to Hong Kong for 105,000 Avios and $159.20.
Cathay Pacific business class Hong Kong to London for 60,000 Avios and $150.98 one way
LAN San Francisco to Lima in business class for 50,000 Avios and $17.50 one way
Air Berlin Miami to Berlin for 50,000 Avios and $2.50 in business class one way
Qantas transcontinental Sydney to Perth in business class for 25,000 Avios and $20.01 one way
S7 from St. Petersburg to Moscow for 4,500 Avios and $38.05 one way in economy
Distance-Based Awards, 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.