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Whether an airline uses a zone-based or distance-based award chart, it’s not uncommon to charge different amounts for award tickets on its own flights than for flights on partner airlines. Some airlines even go so far as to add a separate chart for flights that include multiple partner airlines on a single itinerary. However, these may not be a great deal and (in some cases) could leave you paying a lot more for your award ticket.

When we talk about British Airways’ award chart, one thing is worth repeating: you’ll almost always get a better value redeeming for Oneworld partner flights than for flights on BA metal thanks to the carrier’s horrendous fuel surcharges. But, if you possibly can, you’ll want to avoid the carrier’s multi-partner award chart and try to stick with award tickets on a single partner airline. Let’s take a look at why this is such a bad value and what other booking options you might have.

The Basics

If you’re scratching your head wondering when you’d ever end up on a multi-partner award itinerary, here are a couple of very simple examples. Let’s say you live in a smaller airport in the US but you want to fly either Cathay Pacific or JAL to Asia. You could use a domestic AA connection from your home airport to an international gateway like Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) or Los Angeles (LAX), and all of a sudden you have two partners on a single award ticket. The same logic applies to flights bound for South America or even to Europe if you’re flying Iberia or Finnair on the transatlantic leg (as opposed to BA itself).

Instead of using the regular distance-based award charts for these itineraries, British Airways has a separate award chart that governs multi-partner awards. While it is posted online, there are a couple of notable drawbacks. For starters, it only displays the number of Avios required for economy flights. You have to read the fine print to find that the program prices out premium cabins using a multiplier: premium economy is a flat 1.5x the cost of economy, business is 2x and first class is 3x.

To really demonstrate the poor value that this chart provides, here’s the full pricing across all four classes of service:

Distance (miles) Economy Premium Economy Business First
0-1,500 30,000 45,000 60,000 90,000
1,501-4,000 35,000 52,500 70,000 105,000
4,001-9,000 60,000 90,000 120,000 180,000
9,001-10,000 70,000 105,000 140,000 210,000
10,001-14,000 90,000 135,000 180,000 270,000
14,001-20,000 100,000 150,000 200,000 300,000
20,001-25,000 120,000 180,000 240,000 360,000
25,001-30,000 140,000 210,000 280,000 420,000

Many of these numbers are quite high, though as you start looking at individual examples, it becomes clear just how little utility this chart actually has.

US to Asia

Almost every flight from the US to Asia (assuming you’re not connecting to Southeast Asia) will fall into one of two pricing bands: 4,000 – 9,000 miles or 9,000 – 10,000 miles in distance. Let’s start with a one-stop flight from LAX to San Francisco (SFO) on to Tokyo-Haneda (HND). Starting off this 5,500-mile flight with a short domestic hop doesn’t seem like a bad deal if it helps you find award space on a premium carrier like JAL, but it’s going to cost you. One-way awards would price out as follows:

  • Economy: 60,000 Avios
  • Business: 120,000 Avios
  • First: 180,000 Avios
Image from GCmap.com.

Compare that to if you booked a non-stop flight from LAX to HND on American Airlines, which will soon be upgrading that route to its flagship 777-300ER with a true first class cabin. Based on BA’s single partner pricing, the nonstop flight would cost the following amounts:

  • Economy: 25,000
  • Business: 75,000
  • First: 100,000

Depending on what cabin you choose to fly in, you’ll be paying anywhere from a 60% to 240% premium by adding a second partner.

Of course, you may not find availability on the LAX-HND nonstop, so what if the only option is out of San Francisco? Well you’d still be better off booking a separate positioning flight to SFO and then redeeming Avios for the nonstop flight from there, as it’s common to find some of the multiple daily flights from LAX to SFO for under $100 cash.

Even if you have to buy a cash ticket, the tens of thousands of Avios you save will more than make up for it.

US to Europe

British Airways first class is often referred to sarcastically as “the world’s best business class,” so you can only imagine that BA’s actual business class product leaves a lot to be desired.

Fold down foot rests, fancy!
Fold down foot rests, fancy!

Depending on what you value out of the premium flying experience, Iberia might offer a product more suited to your needs. I grew up in Washington, DC, a city to which Iberia doesn’t fly. My best option would have been to book an AA award from Washington-Reagan (DCA) to New York-JFK and then connect to an Iberia flight to Madrid (MAD). This journey covers ~3,800 miles and would cost the following as a multi-partner award:

  • Economy: 35,000 miles
  • Business: 70,000 miles

Booking just the JFK to Madrid leg would set you back up 20,000 Avios in economy and 60,000 Avios in business (17,000 and 50,000 on off-peak dates). If you elected to book the entire trip (DCA-JFK-MAD) on AA-operated flights, the total cost would be 27,500 Avios in economy or 67,500 Avios in business, a less significant but still notable savings over the multi-partner award chart.

Unfortunately, the BA search engine requires you to click on each individual itinerary to obtain a price, so it won’t be immediately clear which of the options will provide the better value:

However, a general rule of thumb is that you should try to avoid itineraries that involve more than one of the airline’s partners.

Book Through Another Program

Of course, all this may be moot if you have miles or points in another program that would allow you to book these partner flights. The biggest problem with British Airways distance-based award chart is that you’re penalized for booking additional flights. Even though it’s a distance-based redemption scheme, each leg is priced individually. That’s why it costs you more Avios to fly DCA-JFK-MAD than just flying JFK-MAD, even though the total distances of the two itineraries differ by only 213 miles.

Here’s how the program arrived at the 27,500-Avios price for the wholly AA itinerary:

  • DCA-JFK: 213 miles, requiring 7,500 Avios
  • JFK-MAD: 3,589 miles, requiring 20,000 Avios
  • 7,500 + 20,000 = 27,500 Avios

Cutting out the domestic connection cuts the price to 20,000 Avios.

However, if you have American AAdvantage miles or Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles, you won’t pay for domestic connections separately. Whether you’re departing from Los Angeles or New York, San Francisco or Miami (MIA), an award flight to Europe will require the same number of miles. American also allows you to combine multiple partners on an award ticket (Alaska requires you to use a single partner, though you could add an Alaska-operated connection in the US). You could also consider booking through the Iberia Plus program, which also uses a distance-based award chart but can save you significant taxes and fees on Iberia-operated flights.

As a result, you should always compare the various award prices across programs to ensure you’re getting the best value for your award ticket.

Bottom Line

While it probably seems easier to have your entire travel itinerary booked under the same award reservation, you might be unknowingly subjecting yourself to elevated prices. Make sure you compare the cost of a single partner and multi-partner award ticket before you book. With British Airways, in the majority of circumstances, you’ll come out ahead paying cash for a positioning flight and using your miles for a single partner award or (if possible) booking these partner awards through another program entirely.

Know before you go.

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