The best uses of 100,000 British Airways Avios
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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – British Airways Visa Signature Card
For a while now, the British Airways Visa Signature Card has been offering an impressive welcome bonus of up to 100,000 Avios after meeting tiered minimum spending requirements: 50,000 Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening your account, and an additional 50,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases in the first year of account opening.
But when it comes to a huge travel credit card bonus, it’s not just the big headline number that’s important — it’s what you can do with those points or miles.
And when we’re talking British Airways miles — which are known as “Avios” — there’s a lot you can do with them, but also several options you want to avoid. Knowing which is which is the vital piece of the puzzle to help you get the most possible value out of this bonus.
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Short-haul awards — here and elsewhere
Since British Airways has a distance-based award chart and American Airlines is a Oneworld partner, you can use Avios to book any AA flight with saver-level award availability and have the price based on the Avios chart. Now, that used to be a terrific deal for short-haul flights because the bottom level distance band is just 4,500 Avios for flights up to 650 miles long, which meant you could get tickets on expensive shuttle routes like New York to Washington, D.C. for just 4,500 Avios, while American would charge 12,500 miles for the same flight.
Unfortunately, British Airways changed the rules in 2015 and slightly devalued its partner award chart this year. Now the lowest band costs 6,000 Avios each way in economy, and British Airways now charges a minimum of the second-lowest tier — 9,000 Avios — for all flights to, from or within North America. At the same time, American has lowered the cost of flights less than 500 miles in distance to 7,500 AAdvantage miles itself, and possibly even lower if you can take advantage (no pun intended) of the carrier’s economy web special awards.
But that doesn’t mean all is lost. You’ve still got a major advantage using British Airways Avios on most flights between 500 and 1,151 miles, since they’ll cost 12,500 AAdvantage miles but only 9,000 Avios. On a route like Dallas (DFW) to Mobile, Alabama (MOB) that’s a savings of almost 30%. To put it another way, you could earn as many as 11 one-way flights on American Airlines through the British Airways Visa Signature welcome bonus, a pretty good deal.
Also, what a lot of folks forget is that the 6,000 Avios restriction is only in place for flights related to North America — you can still get that price on flights anywhere else. This is great for hopping around Oneworld hubs where cash prices are expensive, like Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific) or Japan (JAL), potentially letting you stretch your bonus for as many as 16 short flights.
Domestic business class on American
On the other hand, another change in the last few years in booking American flights with Avios actually radically improves the situation. In the past, AA coded its domestic premium cabin as “first class” instead of business, even though in most cases there are only two cabins on domestic AA flights — economy and premium. Since the Avios chart has three different prices for economy, business and first, American domestic premium awards would price at the highest “first class” price, making them outrageously expensive.
However, in late 2016 American finally began coding its domestic premium cabin as “business class,” which means you can now use Avios to book seats up front on domestic AA flights at the middle, business-class price, which is much more reasonable.
The real kicker is that American Airlines regularly flies internationally configured widebody aircraft on domestic routes, including 777s, 787s, 767s and A330s. You’ll find AA’s flagship 777-300ER operating some flights between Dallas (DFW) and Miami (MIA), a 1,121 mile journey. You could book a business-class award on this flight for only 16,500 Avios, giving you enough Avios for three round-trips from your welcome bonus.
West Coast to Hawaii
Since we’re on the subject of American, another sweet spot you’ll find with Avios is the ability to fly from major West Coast cities to the Hawaiian islands for just 13,000 Avios each way, thanks to the Avios distance-based chart. That beats the award rate for all the U.S. airlines, and there’s no close-in booking fee either.
But in this case, it’s not just about American’s route network. Alaska Airlines is also a British Airways partner, which means you have access to Alaska’s flights to Hawaii as well (though you’ll need to call in order to book Alaska flights with Avios since they aren’t searchable at ba.com). That opens up routes that AA doesn’t serve but Alaska does, such as San Jose (SJC) to Honolulu (HNL) and Seattle (SEA) to Maui/Kahului (OGG). So if you live almost anywhere on the West Coast — or can easily position there — Avios can be your friend to Hawaii. At this rate, you can book almost four round-trip economy tickets to a tropical paradise with your British Airways Visa Signature welcome bonus.
JAL first class to Tokyo
If you want to burn your entire haul of 100,000 Avios on one awesome flight, Japan Airlines first class is a great choice. You can depart from either San Francisco (SFO) or Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo (HND/NRT) and spend 11 hours in style. There are also minimal carrier surcharges on flights to/from Asia, so you’ll only have to add $100-$200 in cash to your redemption. These flights technically cost 103,000 Avios each way now, but you’ll be able to cover that with the Avios you earn from spending your way to the bonus.
Keep in mind that American — who is also a Oneworld partner — has a more favorable award chart when it comes to first-class flights to Tokyo. Booking this same JAL seat with AAdvantage would only cost 80,000 miles, a 20,000-mile discount. But AA miles are also harder to come by than Avios since American isn’t a transfer partner with any of the major flexible currency programs (except Marriott), while you can transfer points to British Airways from Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy.
Aer Lingus at off-peak prices
In 2015 British Airways brought Aer Lingus into the Avios fold, and in the process made a few changes. While it devalued the previous sweet spot in which you could fly from Boston to Dublin for just 12,500 Avios in economy or 37,500 Avios in business class, it added the ability to redeem for Aer Lingus flights at off-peak prices.
If you can travel during the off-peak dates — which cover roughly eight months of the year — now you can leave from a handful of different U.S. cities, including as far west as Chicago, instead of having to reposition to Boston and get to either Dublin or Shannon for just 26,000 Avios round-trip in economy or as low as 50,000 one-way in business. And if you live in the south in cities like Orlando and Miami, or the west in Los Angeles and San Francisco, the price only increases to 33,000 Avios round-trip in economy and 62,500 one-way in business.
Here are the best routes for your consideration, allowing you to score nearly four full round-trip tickets to Europe from your British Airways Visa Signature welcome bonus. When you consider how cheap flying within Europe is, you can use this Aer Lingus sweet spot to really open up the entire continent.
|Departure City||Route||Flight miles
*Despite the distance falling below 3,000 miles, Aer Lingus prices these routes as though they cover 3,000+ miles
Aer Lingus is owned by IAG, the same company that charged so much for fuel surcharges that it got sued and was forced to settle. So, you’d be right in assuming that there are going to be
fuel surcharges tacked onto these award flights. But, they aren’t as bad as you might think.
I priced out a couple of different award options to see exactly how much you’d need to pay beyond the terrific award rates above. From New York-JFK to Shannon (SNN), awards cost $113 one-way or $258 round-trip when booking with Aer Lingus Avios. From Miami (MIA) to Dublin (DUB), awards cost $125 one-way or $285 round-trip. Those fees are steep enough to ruin this deal for many.
Considering British Airways is infamous for surcharges, one might assume that BA’s fees are even higher. But shockingly, BA actually charges substantially less in taxes/fees while still requiring the same number of Avios. From JFK to Shannon, awards priced at $35.07 one-way and $114.55 round-trip. From Miami to Dublin, the round-trip award cost just $118.83 in taxes/fees.
The next limitation to these cheap rates is that you’re going to have to fly during off-peak dates. The good news here is that most of the calendar is considered off-peak — including part of April and June and all of May 2020.
Spring can be a great time to visit Europe, with mild temperatures and fewer crowds.
Perhaps the most telling thing is what you don’t see on this list — using Avios for transatlantic flights on British Airways or on non-flight redemptions such as hotels and cars. Since British Airways insists on tacking huge surcharges onto its award tickets, using Avios for transatlantic flights on the carrier itself usually doesn’t make any sense. And the value you’ll get from burning Avios on hotels or car rentals often isn’t worth the cash you’re saving in the first place.
But now that you know the best uses, you can get terrific value from the up to 100,000 Avios welcome bonus on the British Airways Visa Signature Card, regardless of whether you prefer economy or premium class, or tend to take either international or domestic flights. Just remember the hows and whens so you can use your Avios wisely.
Additional reporting by Ethan Steinberg.
Featured photo by Ryan Patterson/The Points Guy.
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