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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – British Airways Visa Signature Card
British Airways Avios can be extremely valuable, except that many awards have historically been difficult to book online due to their quirky online search engine. Luckily, this week British Airways rolled out some enhancements that make it easier to get the award you want.
This is great news for a several reasons: 1- you won’t have to call the oft surly agents at the British Airways phone line and wait on hold during the times the phone line is actually staffed, which allows you to avoid telephone booking fees and 2 – finally, you can book partner awards that previously would not have been shown when British Airways options were available.
Take for example a trip from New York to Berlin in February. The old system would only show the British Airways options, which in this case would cost 49,000 Avios and a whopping $484 in taxes and fees for the one way flight in business class.
However, now the engine shows oneworld partner Air Berlin…
…which not only provides a more convenient non-stop flight that avoids Heathrow, but only costs 40,000 Avios and $2.50 for the one-way flight!
Along with the three available cabins now being visibly displayed when booking award travel, there is also new Reward Flight Saver signposting and a new icon to show the difference from standard redemptions. Other new functional improvements include the ‘back’ and ‘change flights’ buttons that are now more user friendly and easier to navigate.
For example, when searching for flights from Chicago to Tokyo with oneworld partner JAL, I was given the option of economy, premium economy or business class all in one search. Other options listed are with American Airlines from O’Hare to Heathrow and then on JAL from Heathrow to Narita, again on all three classes (although only premium economy was available).
Searching for Miami to Santiago, Chile I was easily able to pull up an economy one-way option on American for only 25,000 Avios and $2.50. Before, it used to return an error saying that no British Airways flights were available and it would ask you to pull in partner airlines. Now the partner flight shows up automatically.
Los Angeles to Hong Kong pulls up Cathay Pacific and a bunch of other American/JAL/Cathay mixed routing options. I try to avoid JAL trans-Pacific because the fees are high, so I was able to find a business class one-way award on Cathay for 70,000 Avios and $134. Not bad for a $3,900 flight!
An Improvement, But Not Perfect By Any Means
You still can’t book many non-alliance partners, like Aer Lingus (another cheap option to cross the Atlantic without huge fees and Boston-Dublin is only 25,000 Avios roundtrip in economy or 50,000 Avios in business!) and Alaska.
However, it does appear to have gotten a little bit better at piecing together connecting partner award itineraries. For example, Alaska Airlines is a partner, so you should be able to book First class saver awards found on ExpertFlyer, using your Avios.
Lets take San Jose, California to Honolulu on November 4th. ExpertFlyer shows two saver first award seats available and AA.com (another partner of Alaska) also shows the award availability.
However, BritishAirways.com shows no non-stop options available, yet it did cobble together an economy itinerary on American via Los Angeles. An improvement from showing “Nothing available” at all, but could still be better.
However, don’t assume BritishAirways.com will show you as many flexible connection itineraries as AA.com. For example, say you want to go Atlanta to Cancun on November 3. AA.com will show options that require an overnight, which some people might be okay with, like this one through Chicago.
Yet searching ATL-CUN November 3 on BritishAirways.com leads to this sad “No Availability” message. For this itinerary you’d need to call or book ATL-Chicago and Chicago-Cancun separately. Avios awards are priced by segment anyway, but splitting itineraries can be problematic if there are weather cancellations on one leg, you will not automatically get protected on the second.
Overall, these are consumer friendly improvements and I hope other airlines continue to improve their sites.
And a quick reminder on British Airways partner airlines:
- American Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
- Malaysia Airlines
- Qantas Airlines
- Royal Jordanian
- S7 Airlines
Bookable by phone at 1-800-247-9297: Aer Lingus, Alaska Airlines
Also remember that right now, the British Airways Visa Signature Card is being offered with the first year’s $95 annual fee and a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Avios when you spend $3,000 in 3 months. While it’s not as high as the historically big bonus of 100,000 Avios, that one required you to spend $20,000 in a calendar year, so this spending requirement might be easier to meet for some, and as you can see from the examples above, 50,000 Avios is enough to get you from the East Coast to Europe in business class, so this could be a good way to rack up the points for some free travel.