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A logical strategy for using British Airways Avios is redeeming them for British Airways-operated flights. However, this can yield poor value due to significant carrier-imposed surcharges, and there are as many frequent travelers who detest collecting British Airways Avios as there are those who enjoy the currency. Before you write off the program, let’s look at five things you need to know about British Airways Executive Club that can help you get maximum value from the program.
It’s relatively easy to collect a substantial amount of British Airways Avios because you can transfer from both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio to your British Airways Executive Club account.
1. Different Award Charts Can Mean Big Price Differences
British Airways determines how many Avios an award flight will cost based on two factors: the distance of your flight — multiple-segment itineraries are still priced per segment then added together — and if you have only a single carrier or multiple Oneworld carriers on your ticket. In order to minimize the number of Avios required, you need to do two things:
- Take the most direct routing
- Stick with a single carrier
British Airways uses two unpublished award charts to determine the cost of your routing. Thankfully, FlyerTalk user Prospero has created some fantastic award charts that break down the different scenarios your intended itinerary may qualify for.
British Airways-operated itinerary:
Single partner-operated itinerary*:
*Awards in North America less than 650 miles in length will start pricing at 7,500 miles. You can also book non-Oneworld members Aer Lingus, Alaska Airlines, flybe and Meridana with Avios. Alaska, Meridana, and Aer Lingus won’t show award space online.
Itinerary with two or more partners:
For the purposes of this post, let’s ignore the British Airways-operated flight chart because of the aforementioned carrier-imposed surcharges. Let’s look at the differences between the single-partner chart and the multi-carrier chart.
There are obviously benefits to booking on multiple carriers, as the entire Oneworld network is open to you for your trip. However, taking advantage of this larger network will cost you more Avios. When you’re looking to go somewhere one-way, you can usually get there on a single carrier, which will keep your Avios award ticket’s cost down. Because there’s no benefit to booking round-trip tickets vs. one-way tickets with Avios, I recommend always booking one-way.
The first two zones of the above single-carrier chart show a flight up to 1,150 miles will cost no more than 7,500 Avios in economy. If you fly two carriers on a similar short routing, you would pay 30,000 Avios instead. Here’s an example of the price mismatches with one carrier vs. two:
Route: Tokyo Narita – Kuala Lumpur – Singapore
The cost when flying only Malaysia Airlines is 20,000 Avios for NRT-KUL and 4,500 Avios for KUL-SIN. Remember you’re charged per segment, so enjoy a stopover in Kuala Lumpur for no extra Avios if you like. If you fly the exact same routing but use Japan Airlines for the first leg and Malaysia Airlines for the second leg, your price increases 10,500 Avios:
Make sure you know which chart your routing will be priced from and try to stick to a single carrier when possible. Because you’re priced per segment, you can do as many stopovers and open jaws as you like with Avios.
2. Avoid Phantom Availability
The British Airways website is typically pretty good at finding available Oneworld award seats. That said, you should always stick to searching for individual segments rather than connecting itineraries. British Airways has a known issue with showing partner award space on connecting itineraries that is not actually available.
I find Qantas’ site to be the best for searching availability. Before transferring Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards to British Airways, either confirm the space is there with a British Airways phone agent (call the Hong Kong or British number, not the US number) or confirm you see the same space on the Qantas award search engine.
3. Avoid Carrier-Imposed Surcharges
Getting the best value out of Avios not only involves sticking with a single partner and choosing the most direct path. It also includes knowing which airlines (and routes) to avoid flying so you can skip having to pay a few hundred dollars or more when booking an award ticket. Here’s a roundup of the best tips and information for avoiding surcharges when using Avios:
- Avoid flying British Airways-operated flights, especially those departing from the United Kingdom.
- Domestic flights on Oneworld carriers (i.e., American/Alaska in the US, JAL in Japan) don’t impose surcharges.
- Most Asian Oneworld carriers don’t impose significant fuel surcharges (i.e., less than $100).
- Fly Iberia from Europe and American Airlines to Europe.
- Royal Jordanian and Qatar Airways impose $200+ surcharges on long-haul routes.
- British Airways fifth-freedom routes in the Caribbean and South Africa don’t impose surcharges on off-peak dates.
4. There Are No Cancellation or Close-in Ticketing Fees
Two of the major advantages often overlooked with Avios are the ability to avoid cancellation fees and not having to pay silly close-in ticketing fees. You can cancel an Avios booking as long as it’s more than 24 hours from departure, and you’ll only pay a $55 re-deposit fee or forfeit the taxes and fees of your booking, whichever is less. That means you can speculatively book domestic AA routes for 7,500 Avios and then cancel and get your miles back while only forfeiting $5.60.
You can also redeem Avios for last-minute bookings and not pay the $75 close-in ticketing fee United and American charge members without elite status. I found flights still bookable online only an hour and a half before departure time. As an added bonus, you can book infant tickets for 10% of the Avios an adult ticket requires. This is a fantastic benefit for traveling families, as most carriers either make you pay 10% of an adult fare or redeem the same number of miles as an adult for an infant.
5. Some of the Highest-Value Point Redemptions Come From Avios
Short- and mid-haul partner flights booked with Avios have yielded some of the highest-value point redemptions I’ve ever seen.The first routes most Americans should familiarize themselves with to get large value from Avios are American and Alaska Airlines routes to Hawaii from the West Coast. For 25,000 Avios you can fly round-trip from Los Angeles, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, San Jose and Seattle to various airports in Hawaii. These redemptions will regularly get you 2 cents/Avios or more. Be sure to check the lesser-known routes like San Jose to Kona and Sacramento to Maui to find award space.
Last-minute domestic Japan Airlines tickets for 4,500 Avios have produced 20 cent/Avios bookings. During the three years I lived in Japan, I booked Haneda-Sapporo tickets during the snow festival that were selling for $900+. They only cost 4,500 Avios and $3. Travel in Japan is expensive in general, so after you’ve taken the Shinkansen look to redeem Avios for JAL domestic flights. The award availability on JAL domestic flights is also fantastic any time of the year, and flying with this carrier is such a treat.
British Airways Executive Club has many unique redemptions that produce significant value. Far too many people shrug off the program because of its reputation for stiff carrier-imposed surcharges. By getting past first impressions and becoming smart with your routing decision, knowing a few tendencies to avoid surcharges and finding a few niche redemptions, you can save plenty of money.
How do you use Avios to get maximum value?
Featured image by Dan Kitwood via Getty Images.
This cash back card has a focus on dining and entertainment where you can earn unlimited 4% cash back in those spending categories. You can also earn 2% cash back at grocery stores and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
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