Helpful Tip When Using British Airways Avios for Flights

May 29, 2013

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I’ve written many times about using British Airways Avios to book flights within North America on BA partners American Airlines and Alaska.  I typically avoid using the points to actually fly on British Airways due to the fees required to do so (if you want to fly across the pond), but they are phenomenal for some redemptions closer to home.

I have talked about the unique benefits of booking a reward flight using Avios here.  Some of those unique benefits include:

• No close-in booking fees
• No online cancellation fee  (off-label benefit) – just lose the taxes that you paid for the flight which is often $5 – $10 for domestic flights.
• Just a $40 change fee – which is much lower than many other airlines (of course, you could potentially just cancel and rebook for even less)
• Potentially free checked bag, priority access in the airport, and priority boarding on American Airlines (this is not a published benefit, but many still report these perks working, though the free checked bag seems to be happening less frequently)

I have talked about my favorite uses of Avios before. 

My favorite uses include the West Coast to Hawaii for 25,000 points round trip, Boston to Dublin for 25,000 points round trip, the Caribbean, and short haul flights in general for as little as 4,500 points each way.

Here is a post on how to use Avios to book an American Airlines flight.

And of course I have a post on how to easily rack up some Avios pointsAlso remember the current 35% transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards-earning cards like The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card® from American Express OPEN or Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card (transfer bonus runs through June 7th).

However, there is one fairly major tip when using Avios that I haven’t given much attention to before.  That tip is to book each direction of your trip independently.  For example, if you want to use your points to fly to from Houston to New York round trip on American Airlines, then book the Houston to New York segment on one ticket, and then book the New York to Houston segment separately on a different ticket.  The reason is you are going to be in a better position if you need to change the return portion of the trip later on.

A clue to this issue is found in section 14.1 in their Executive Club Rules that says: “All permitted changes are subject to capacity limitations and may not be made after the time 24 hours prior to the scheduled departure of the first flight in the Reward travel itinerary.”  If you continue reading the rules you will find that if a cancellation is made more than 24 hours prior to the scheduled departure of the first flight in the reward itinerary the Avios points charged for the reward will be re-credited to the member’s account.  Avios will not be refunded for partially flown bookings.  If you cancel within 24 hours you will not get your points back unless you are prevented by traveling due to an “event beyond your control” and you have informed British Airways promptly, provided evidence of the event if requested to do so, and paid the applicable fee specified on

I learned some of this the hard way when I used some Avios to fly my aunt to help her daughter after a major fire at the family’s home.  We booked her on American Airlines using Avios.  Originally she was going to be there for about ten days or so, but after getting there she realized she needed to stay longer to aid them, as they were going to be moving into a rental house during that time.  I had booked her on a round trip yet since the outbound was flown, I was unable to change the return.  I was on vacation in London at the time, so admittedly I didn’t try for very long to get the flight changed, but what I did try online and via a call to British Airways didn’t work.  I couldn’t cancel and get the points back, and I couldn’t change the flights since the first flight in the itinerary had been flown.

Instead I just cancelled her return ticket and re-booked a one-way return for a new date so she could stay and help longer.  I got the $5.00 in taxes back from British Airways for the cancelled return, but the Avios used for the return were never to be seen again.  However, if I had booked her on separate tickets for the outbound and return, I could have simply cancelled the return as long as it was at least 24 hours before departure, gotten my Avios back (but not the $5.00),  and then just re-booked for the desired date.  Even if they had let me change the return flight for $40, I still would have been further ahead by booking each direction of the trip individually.

It was one of those things I just didn’t think about until it happened to me.  Luckily my loss was pretty minor since Avios are relatively easy to come by, but now you can avoid making the same mistake I did!


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