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Since American Express is offering a 40% transfer bonus to British Airways through January 31, we asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to round up some of the best ways to redeem them.
British Airways Avios sometimes get a bad rap thanks to high fuel surcharges flying to/from London on BA itself. However, Avios are still a valuable mileage currency thanks to a lot of other factors including great airline partners, a distance-based award chart and several award types including upgrades and hybrid Avios + Cash redemptions. Here is what you need to know to make the most of them.
British Airways is a member of Oneworld, but also has other airline partners where you can earn and redeem miles.
- Air Berlin
- American Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- Malaysia Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Jordanian
- Sri Lankan
- US Airways
- Aer Lingus
- Alaska Airlines
Maximizing British Airways Avios Series
Before you get started, TPG has a detailed series on maximizing British Airways Avios that go into detail on many facets of the program. If you are curious about any of the redemptions below, or just looking to brush up on your mileage strategy, I suggest having a look through the posts of the series.
- Distance-Based Awards
- 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
- Using Avios to Book Domestic First Class Flights
- Direct Flights, London Stopovers and UK Destinations
- How to Redeem British Airways Avios Without Huge Fees
- Using British Airways Avios on Aer Lingus to Avoid Huge Fees
Boost Your Balance
If you do not currently have many (or any) British Airways Avios, the good news is that these are among the easiest of airline miles to accrue. That is because British Airways is a transfer partner of all three major transferrable points programs: American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest.
So if you have a card like the Premier Rewards Gold (or Business Gold Rewards), Platinum (or Business Platinum) from Amex, you can transfer points at a 1:1 ratio normally – though as I mentioned, now through January 31, 2015, Amex is offering a 40% transfer bonus.
With Chase Ultimate Rewards, you need to have the Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus in order to instantly transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio to British Airways.
Starwood Preferred Guest members can transfer their points to BA as well, and for every 20,000 points they transfer, they get a 5,000-point bonus, optimizing the transfer ratio at a very decent 1:1.25.
Finally, the British Airways Visa from Chase is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Avios when you spend $2,000 in 3 months, and earns 1 Avios per $1 on everyday purchases (3 Avios per $1 on BA purchases).
1. Aer Lingus from Boston and New York to Dublin: This has to be one of the best award chart sweet spots not just for British Airways but in the frequent-flyer world in general. Because British Airways has a distance-based redemption formula where the mileage required for an award depends on the distance flown, you can find a few deals like this on popular routes.
One of the best is flying from either New York or Boston to Dublin on BA’s non-alliance partner, Aer Lingus. Not only do you avoid major fuel surcharges by not flying to London (see the image below – taxes on a roundtrip end up being just $103), but flying from Boston inches in just under the 3,000-mile band, meaning you can get there and back in economy for just 25,000 Avios, and in business for 50,000 Avios. That’s an incredible deal, and less than half of what many US airlines will charge you in miles.
From New York (and Chicago, for that matter), you can fly roundtrip for 40,000 Avios in economy (that is equivalent to American’s Off-Peak SAAver awards, which are only available 7 months a year), or 80,000 Avios in business class.
The one hiccup you might encounter is that British Airways’ website does not search Aer Lingus awards. You can, however, use ExpertFlyer or Qantas.com to look for award space. Then you have to call the BA’s Executive Club desk and have a phone agent book the award for you. However, they are likely to waive the $25 phone booking fee if you explain awards are not bookable online.
For more information on how to book Aer Lingus awards using Avios, check out these posts:
2. Air Berlin to Europe: Another great way to get to Europe using Avios without incurring huge taxes and fuel surcharges is to fly BA’s Oneworld partner, Air Berlin. Not only does the airline have an extensive route network throughout Europe, but it also flies to Chicago, Fort Myers, Los Angeles, Miami and New York within the US.
Awards can be booked on Britishairways.com, so no need to call and get hit with phone booking fees. However, just note that BA will always pull its own award availability first, so you might have to fiddle around with dates and destinations in order to get it to properly display Air Berlin award availability. The extra effort is worth it, though, when you can save hundreds of dollars per ticket.
For example, this one-way economy award from Berlin to Chicago in February is just 25,000 Avios and $95 in taxes and fees – well below the $200-$400 each way BA would charge you.
And for another example, here is a sample roundtrip itinerary fro Miami to Dusseldorf with taxes and fees of just $103 total.
To contrast that, if you were to fly MIA-DUS via London on British Airways itself, taxes and fees would be a whopping $742.50 on a roundtrip economy ticket!
For more information, check out this post: Airberlin Business Class Review TXL-JFK
3. Short-hauls in North America: British Airways’ distance-based award chart means that some of the best redemption values come from booking short-haul flights, especially those that can get quite expensive. BA redemptions start at 4,500 Avios each way for flights under 600 miles. Let’s take three examples within North America that fit the bill.
The first is on the heavily trafficked short-haul route between New York and Washington, DC. US Airways would charge you $499 ($438 in airfare and $61 in taxes and fees) to fly a quick trip in January.
The second route worth looking at is that between New York and Montreal. In January, American would charge you $377 roundtrip.
But you could fly the same itinerary for just 9,000 Avios and $56 in taxes and fees. That is a value of 3.57 cents per Avios – not a bad deal.
Finally, one of the best ways to use Avios this winter is to book flights to the Caribbean. Many flights from Miami and Dallas fall within the first two distance bands of BA’s award chart, meaning you can get to a variety of destinations for just 4,500-7,500 Avios each way.
Here are flights to Grand Cayman from Miami on American in January for $649.
BA shows plenty of award availability on the same flights, and they would cost just 9,000 Avios and $88. That gives you a value of 6.2 cents per Avios, and a way to work on your tan without shelling out a lot of cash!
4. LAN to South America: Using BA Avios is also a great way to get to South America thanks to the airline’s alliance partnership with LAN and TAM. For example, you could fly from Miami to Santiago in LAN’s business class next October-November for 100,000 Avios and $53 in taxes and fees.
Using Avios on intra-South American LAN flights can also be a great way to get around since many flights to smaller regional airports can get quite expensive. Let’s say you are down in Chile and want to visit the Atacama desert for some desert dune sandboarding and hiking up to high-altitude glaciers. You could fly from Santiago to Calama (the gateway airport to the region) for 15,000 Avios and $22.18 roundtrip in November.
LAN would charge you $422 for the same ticket!
That gives you a value of about 2.7 cents per Avios, and as high as 5.4 cents per Avios if you used one of the Avios + Cash options.
5. US West Coast to Hawaii: One of the best ways US flyers can use Avios is to get from the West Coast Hawaii since BA will charge you just 12,500 miles each way in economy, as opposed to 17,500 American miles, 20,000 Alaska or Hawaiian miles, or 22,500 United or Delta miles.
For example, British Airways would charge you 25,000 Avios and $11 for this roundtrip itinerary from Los Angeles to Maui on American in January.
For the same itinerary, American would charge you 10,000 more miles, making this a no-brainer.
But perhaps even better than using Avios on American flights to Hawaii is the opportunity to use them on BA’s other US partner carrier, Alaska Airlines. Alaska flies to Lihue (Kauai), Kahului (Maui), Honolulu (Oahu) and Kona (Hawaii) from various airports up and down the west coast and there tends to be very good award availability. That opens up a lot more options for getting to the islands. The one thing to keep in mind is that BA will not show you Alaska award space, so you must search using American or Alaska’s websites instead then call into BA to book your award.
6. Upgrading from Premium Economy to Business on British Airways: One of the most valuable ways to use your Avios is to upgrade a paid ticket. The biggest leap in price/value tends to be from premium economy to business class, so let’s just focus on that as an example. You can find a detailed look at the process of using Avios to upgrade in this post. But to give you the quick rundown, you can use Avios to upgrade to the next cabin when you make a paid booking with British Airways, Iberia or American Airlines. Per the BA upgrade page:
“In general, the lowest priced economy fares cannot be upgraded with Avios.
Upgrades are available from the following fare classes:
- on British Airways: J, C, D, R, I, W, E, T, Y, B, H
- on Iberia and American Airlines: J, C, D, Y, B”
The amount of Avios needed to upgrade to the next class of service is based on the base number of Avios needed to book an award in the cabin you want to upgrade to minus the number of Avios needed to book the cabin you have made your booking in.
So for example, to upgrade a flight from JFK-London from premium economy to business class, it would be 40,000 miles (business class)-30,000 Avios (premium economy). That is just 10,000 Avios each way!
You can upgrade existing bookings by logging into your BA account and selecting “Manage My Booking” then choosing “Upgrade this flight with Avios.”
For new bookings, you must log into your Executive Club account on BA.com and select “Book and Upgrade.” Enter your dates and that should pull up search results just as if you were searching for award space.
Click on the flight options that suit you best and the next page will list the total fare and upgrade, like this example flying JFK-LHR in January. A paid premium economy ticket upgraded to business class will cost you $1,913 + 20,000 Avios.
That is still a fair amount of cash to lay out, but considering the same ticket would cost you $5,620 if you paid for it, this is still a really great deal and you would be getting 18.5 cents per Avios in value!
7. Transcontinental Business and First on American Airlines: American Airlines’ new transcontinental business class aboard its A321T’s is one of the nicest domestic premium products. One of the great things about using BA Avios to book an award on AA’s flights from New York JFK to LAX and SFO aboard it is that business class is actually coded as business class for awards rather than first class. So whereas you’d be stuck redeeming the amount of miles necessary for a first class award to fly US Airways’ crummy old first class and having to stop in Phoenix, Charlotte or Philadelphia (most likely) to get to the east coast for at least 32,500 miles each way, you can fly this new service for just 25,000 miles each way and getting a much better experience.
Here is a sample award booking in January using Avios for just 50,000 miles roundtrip plus $11 in taxes and fees.
8. Qantas within Australia: With limited competition between Qantas/Jetstar and Virgin Australia, flying around Australia can get expensive. Especially when you need to get to some out-of-the-way airports where there are only a few flights a day, or even a week. However, award availability on domestic Australian flights tends to be quite good on Qantas, even to very small airports.
While British Airways’ website is fairly terrible at pulling up award availability on Qantas and often comes up with an error message that certain routes in Australia are not serviced by its partners, American Airlines’ website does a pretty good job. So when you search for awards, I would go there first, then call British Airways to book the actual flights.
For example, I found award availability on this Qantas flight from Melbourne to Hobart on AA.com and called BA to verify they could book it as well. This roundtrip would cost about $242 USD or 9,000 Avios.
If you wanted to check out Ningaloo Reef and swim with whale sharks in Western Australia this June, you would pay about $262 for this roundtrip ticket from Perth to Exmouth, but you could book it for 15,000 Avios roundtrip.
While Australia is a big country with vast distances between cities, there are a lot of more expensive short-haul routes where your Avios can come in handy to save a few hundred dollars.
9. Cathay Pacific Within Asia: This Hong Kong-based Oneworld carrier is a great partner on which to maximize your Avios thanks to its extensive Asian route network. Just this past June, I needed to book a last-minute one-way ticket from Bangkok to Hong Kong. The cheapest flight I could find was nearly $700!
Instead, though, I was able to book it for just 7,500 Avios and $46 in taxes and fees. In fact, I booked an Avios + Cash award (which I will get into in the next entry), spending a total of 2,500 Avios and $111.
That got me a value of 22.7 cents per Avios and still ended up saving me $567 in airfare!
10. Avios + Cash Redemptions: One of the more interesting aspect of booking Avios awards is that, when you find an award itinerary, the airline will price it out for you on a sliding scale of options with the full price in Avios (plus taxes/fees) along with a range of lower Avios amounts with higher cash co-pays, and these can be great deals.
For example, this itinerary on American from Dallas to Cancun for a long weekend in January would cost $459.
British Airways would charge you 15,000 Avios and $69. That’s about 2.6 cents per Avios in value. However, you could save 10,000 Avios by paying a total cash co-pay of $199, essentially buying back your Avios at a rate of 1.99 cents each (not great, but still okay) and getting a value of about 5.2 cents per Avios in value for the ones you still use.
Another good example of this is a recent award TPG himself booked from New York to Vancouver on Cathay Pacific’s flagship 777-300ER business class. Like the itinerary below, the awards he could have chosen from varied from 25,000 Avios + $23.90 for a full award to 13,000 Avios + $388.90 for the biggest Avios + Cash co-pay.
Basically, if he wanted to save 12,000 Avios, he could pay $365 to keep them, a rate of about 3 cents apiece. That’s not a great price, but when you factor in what this ticket wouldh ave cost to book on its own:
While the values can vary, if you are willing to pay a little extra cash, or just want to save some Avios for another redemption, being able to take advantage of these cash co-pays can be a great way to save.
Have any other suggestions for maximizing your Avios? Share them in the comments below! The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.
The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.