7 Ways to Get Great Value From the British Airways Visa

May 14, 2018

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Many of my friends and family don’t understand how valuable partner airlines (and their respective credit cards) can be. Sure, you can use American AAdvantage miles for that next American flight you’re looking to take, but there may be better options out there on other carriers. One such carrier’s credit card is currently on TPG’s list of top travel rewards credit cards: the British Airways Visa Signature Card from Chase. Today I want to go through a quick review of the card’s key benefits and highlight 7 ways you can make the most out of your hard-earned Avios.

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, the best uses of British Airways Avios may not actually be on British Airways-operated flights.

The Sign-Up Bonus

The first (and most obvious) benefit of the card is the newly elevated sign-up bonus, and that’s where a lot of the value comes into play. The British Airways Visa Signature Card currently offers you up to 100,000 Avios — 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening and an additional 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year.

However, there are many ways to make those Avios go even further:

1. Distance-Based Awards

British Airways offers distance-based awards, so the farther you fly, the more mileage you need. On the flip side, short-haul flights are a sweet spot, as these flights can be quite expensive (especially at the last-minute) but require a comparatively small number of points. Here are some of my favorite options to maximize the Avios you’ll earn from the British Airways Visa Signature Card:

  • Flights of 650 miles or less from international Oneworld hubs: If you’re looking to fly into or out of a Oneworld hub on a short-haul flight, you can potentially get fantastic value by redeeming Avios. As long as your flight is 650 miles or less, you’ll pay just 4,500 Avios each way (or 4,000 for off-peak dates on British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus). Just note that this lowest award rate no longer applies to flights within North America.
  • Flights of 1,151 miles or less within North America: Even though British Airways removed the lowest zone for flights within North America back in 2016, if your flight covers 1,151 miles of distance or less, you’ll need just 7,500 Avios each way. This is a terrific option for domestic American flights, as flights like New York to Chicago and Charlotte to Dallas-Fort Worth all fall into this range. You could even look to book domestic first class this way for just 15,000 Avios each way.
  • Flights of 2,000 miles or less: Medium-range destinations can be prohibitively expensive, especially on international routes. If you book an award flight on these routes through British Airways, you’ll pay just 10,000 Avios each way.

As an example, suppose you want to book a flight to St. Kitts to visit the luxurious Park Hyatt St. Kitts. With two nonstop daily flights from Miami, you’d think those would be relatively inexpensive. Think again:

However, since these same flights have saver award availability through American and since they are 1,271 miles in distance (each way), the entire flight only requires 20,000 Avios plus ~$70 in taxes and fees:

This gives you a fantastic value of 4.24 cents per point, and note that the exact same itinerary booked through American would require 30,000 AAdvantage miles, a 50% premium. It’s also worth noting that American award space won’t always appear on British Airways’ website; try using this effective (by frustrating) trick to get it to show up.

2. Aer Lingus Flights

Aer Lingus offers a strong option to avoid paying huge fuel surcharges on transatlantic flights, and since British Airways Avios can be used for these flights, you can get some great deals, especially from East Coast gateways. While the former sweet spot of Boston (BOS) to Dublin (DUB) is no longer as fantastic, there are some terrific ways to cross the Atlantic in either economy or business class. Here are the major US gateways and the award prices each way in both economy and business class:

  • From Boston (BOS), Hartford (BDL), New York (JFK), Toronto (YYZ), Washington (IAD) and Chicago (ORD): 13,000 Avios for off-peak and 20,000 Avios for peak economy awards; 50,000 Avios for off peak and 60,000 Avios for peak business awards
  • Orlando (MCO), Miami (MIA), San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX): 16,250 Avios for off-peak and 25,000 Avios for peak economy awards; 62,500 Avios for off-peak and 75,000 Avios for peak business awards

Unfortunately these are not able to be booked online, so you can use United’s website or ExpertFlyer to find award availability and then call British Airways to book directly.

3. Flights to Hawaii

View of the Na Pali Coast as seen from from helicopter on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. (Photo by Paul Mounce/Corbis via Getty Images)
Flights from the West Coast to Hawaii are an absolute steal with British Airways Avios. (Photo by Paul Mounce/Corbis via Getty Images)

If you’re more focused on the destination rather than the airline, consider redeeming your Avios to get to Hawaii. This is especially applicable to those readers based on the West Coast, as nonstop flights to the Aloha State from multiple gateways will set you back just 25,000 Avios round-trip. You can use either American-operated flights or Alaska Airlines, a non-alliance partner of British Airways.

Here’s an overview of current American flight options that fall under this award rate:

  • Lihue (LIH): Flights from Los Angeles (LAX) and Phoenix (PHX)
  • Honolulu (HNL): Flights from Los Angeles (LAX) and Phoenix (PHX)
  • Maui (OGG): Flights from Los Angeles (LAX) and Phoenix (PHX)
  • Kona (KOA): Flights from Los Angeles (LAX) and Phoenix (PHX)

And here’s an overview of current Alaska flight options that fall under this award rate:

  • Lihue/Kauai (LIH): Flights from Oakland (OAK), Portland (PDX), San Diego (SAN), San Jose (SJC) and Seattle (SEA)
  • Honolulu (HNL): Flights from Anchorage (ANC), Los Angeles (LAX), Oakland (OAK), Portland (PDX), San Diego (SAN), San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC) and Seattle (SEA)
  • Kahului/Maui (OGG): Flights from Anchorage (ANC), Bellingham (BLI), Los Angeles (LAX), Oakland (OAK), Portland (PDX), Sacramento (SMF), San Diego (SAN), San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC) and Seattle (SEA)
  • Kona/Hawaii (KOA): Flights from Anchorage (ANC), Bellingham (BLI), Oakland (OAK), Portland (PDX), San Diego (SAN), San Francisco (SFO), San Jose (SJC) and Seattle (SEA)

While you should be able to book American flights online (again using the trick mentioned above), you will need to call to redeem your Avios on Alaska-operated flights.

4. Iberia Flights

If you’re looking for another way to get to Europe using your Avios without horrendous taxes and fees, consider using them on Iberia. However, the big trick here is that you have to convert your British Airways Avios to Iberia Avios to utilize this redemption. It’s entirely free and works relatively well; the big caveat is that you must have both a British Airways Executive Club membership and an Iberia Plus membership that are at least three months old. As a result, I’d strongly encourage you to visit Iberia’s website now and create a new account if you don’t have one.

This can save you a hefty amount of cash in certain scenarios. Let’s say you were looking to fly from Miami (MIA) to Madrid (MAD) next March, a trip I happen to be researching for my family. Here’s a round-trip business-class award ticket booked through Iberia:

Here are those exact same flights booked through British Airways:

As you can see, you’re using the same number of Avios (85,000) but saving an incredible $813.70 by going through Iberia!

5. Intra-European Flights

Another great redemption option for the sign-up bonus involves flights within Europe. Since British Airways is a part of Oneworld, you have access to numerous airlines and their award inventories for short flights within the continent. Some of these flights can be quite expensive when you pay cash, but again the distance-based award chart is a lifesaver. In addition to booking flights on British Airways metal, European airline partners include:

  • Aer Lingus: hub in Dublin (DUB)
  • Finnair: hub in Helsinki (HEL)
  • Iberia: hubs in Madrid (MAD) and Barcelona (BCN)

Many flights between European cities cover less than 650 miles and thus cost only 4,500 Avios each way, and these can drop as low as 4,000 Avios for off-peak dates on Aer Lingus, British Airways and Iberia! To give you an idea of how far your Avios can take you at this level, the map below (courtesy of Great Circle Mapper) shows which parts of Europe are within 650 miles of London-Heathrow (LHR):

The 650-mile radius includes basically all of the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Switzerland.

Remember that intra-Europe business class is nothing to write home about, so it definitely isn’t worth paying double the number of Avios (compared to economy). In addition, elite members with a tier equivalent to Oneworld Emerald or Oneworld Sapphire can access lounges when traveling in any class of service.

6. Last-Minute Award Tickets

A final redemption option that can be very lucrative using Avios is when you’re booking at the last minute. Unlike with the American AAdvantage program, you won’t be charged a close-in ticketing fee when you redeem miles within a couple of weeks (or even a few days) of departure. While the $75 fee that American charges isn’t prohibitive, it can certainly add up, especially if you’re booking for multiple friends or family members.

Here’s a quick example of a last-minute award ticket booked through American:

And here’s that same itinerary through British Airways:

In addition to using 10,000 fewer points, you’re also saving $75 in fees by booking through British Airways. Not a bad combination.

7. Travel Together Ticket

The enhanced sign-up bonus on the British Airways Visa Signature Card is clearly one of the top reasons to consider applying now. However, there is one other intriguing benefit that can allow you to get some tremendous value from the card: the Travel Together Ticket, which is awarded to cardholders who spend more than $30,000 in a calendar year.

This allows you to bring a companion along on an award ticket, and it’s valid for two years from the issue date. $30,000 is a significant amount of spending, but having just replaced an air conditioner in my house (with a company that takes credit cards with no fees), I can tell you it may be an easier mark to reach than you think.

Unfortunately, there are a few restrictions to this benefit:

  • You must still pay taxes and fees for the companion, which generally run at least $1,000 on a round-trip transatlantic business-class award.
  • It’s only valid on round-trip British Airways flights.
  • You must depart from and return to the US.
  • The cardholder and companion must fly the exact same itinerary.

Full terms and conditions are available here.

Since you still need to pay the taxes and fees for your companion, the Travel Together ticket generally isn’t worth much on economy awards. However, business and first-class award tickets can offer some tremendous value in spite of the out-of-pocket costs.

For example, suppose you open the card, earn the sign-up bonus, and spend exactly $30,000 in 2015. You’ll earn a total of 130,000 Avios (100,000 from the sign-up bonus plus 30,000 from spending $30,000). British Airways charges 125,000 Avios for an off-peak round-trip business class flight of 4,001 – 5,500 miles, which includes the West Coast of the US. Here’s an option for a flight next spring from Los Angeles (LAX) to London-Heathrow (LHR):

As you can see, this would normally set you back 125,000 Avios and $1,301.95 in taxes and fees per person. However, with the Travel Together ticket, you would be able to bring a friend or family member and just pay the taxes and fees. You’d thus be spending 125,000 Avios and $2,603.90 for two round-trip business-class tickets from LA to London. Since these flights would set you back $11,341.14 if you paid for them, your 125,000 Avios (combined with the Travel Together ticket) are saving you $8,737.24, which comes out to a value of 6.99 cents apiece!

Other Options

Of course, there are other credit cards out there with limited-time offers in addition to the British Airways Visa, including the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months of account opening. You can use AAdvantage miles on many of the flights above, so it’s up to you to determine which is the better option. If you’re looking to redeem your miles for short- or medium-haul nonstop flights, the British Airways Visa is probably the better option, since the distance-based award chart penalizes you for both longer and connecting flights.

On the other hand, if you’re a frequent American travel and could benefit from the included perks on the AA card or prefer long-haul or connecting flights, the AA MasterCard could be a great fit for your wallet.

Bottom Line

The current 120,000-point bonus on the British Airways Visa Signature Card represents a huge opportunity to boost your account balance, and as you can see, there are many ways to get some terrific value from the Avios you’ll earn. While there have been rumors that the Executive Club program will be shifting to a revenue-based model in the future, for now you have some fantastic options to redeem this sign-up bonus. Hopefully this post has given you some inspiration to start planning your next trip!

Photo by Shutterstock.com

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