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There are plenty of things I don’t like about British Airways. From seats to food to service, its inflight product leaves a lot to be desired, and hefty carrier surcharges make it nearly impossible to find a good value award ticket that routes to or through London.
But the one redeeming quality is a distance-based award chart which lets you fly for free in some of the world’s most expensive markets. Maximizing value on a distance based award chart requires a very different approach than the zone-based charts most Americans are used to. For instance, while American Airlines would charge you the same number of AAdvantage miles to fly between London and New York as they would to fly between London and Los Angeles, with British Airways, you want a short, direct and ideally non-stop routing whenever possible.
Another difference is where the sweet spots lie. Instead of finding countries or even entire continents that you can get to cheaply, distance-based sweet spots tend to be individual city pairs that are just close enough to avoid bumping into the next pricing tier. For these types of trips, the British Airways Executive Club program can have a lot of value.
While the exact cost can vary depending on the number of partners involved, here’s the award chart used for most British Airways award tickets:
(distance in miles)
|Off Peak||Peak||Off Peak||Peak||Off Peak||Peak||Off Peak||Peak|
** These Zone 1 Avios awards are not available for flights to, from or within the US.
Avios are incredibly easy to earn, thanks to being partners with three of the major transferable points currencies. You can transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards or SPG to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio. From time to time, Amex also offers transfer bonuses to BA, and with SPG you’ll get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 miles you transfer. You could also credit revenue flights on American Airlines or other Oneworld partners to BA — by doing so, you’ll earn miles based on distance flown and not ticket cost, which might let you come out ahead on cheap long-haul tickets.
If you’re looking for a quicker way to build up your balance, you can also apply for the British Airways Visa Signature Card, which is currently offering its highest ever sign-up bonus of 120,000 Avios. Earn 4 Avios for every $1 spent on all purchases within your first year up to $30,000. That’s up to 120,000 bonus Avios.
Redeeming Inside the US
Even after BA axed Zone 1 awards for flights within the US, there are still some good values to be had if you can find MilesAAver level award space with American Airlines.
While the 4,500 Avios price point doesn’t exist within the US anymore, flights up to 1,151 miles can still be had for the incredibly reasonable cost of 7,500 Avios. You can use gcmap.com to estimate the distance between two cities, but the actual routes might vary a bit. This opens up some cool options, including New York (JFK) to Miami (MIA) or Chicago (ORD) to Dallas (DFW) for only 7,500 Avios. By comparison, American Airlines would charge you 12,500 AAdvantage miles to book those same routes.
Domestic Lie-Flat Business Class
In 2016, AA made a minor change to their fare classes that had practically no effect on the AAdvantage program, but was great news for British Airways fans. Specifically, the airline changed the way its domestic first class seats are coded from F (first class) to J (business class). Add in the fact that American routinely flies internationally configured wide-body jets on domestic routes, and some interesting options start to appear.
For instance, one of the daily frequencies between Chicago O’Hare and Dallas is often operated by a 787-9 featuring one of American’s best international business class seats. You can book that flight for only 15,000 Avios (yes, you read that correctly) and the larger business class cabin on the Dreamliner gives you a better chance of finding award space. In comparison, American Airlines would charge you 25,000 miles for the same route.
West Coast to Hawaii
Just because we’re talking about flights within the continental US doesn’t mean you can’t get your tropical vacation on. Hawaii is just close enough to several west coast cities (<3,000 miles) that you can book economy awards for only 12,500 Avios each way.
American Airlines serves a number of Hawaiian destinations from its hubs in Los Angeles (LAX) and Phoenix (PHX), but you can also use your Avios to book outside of the Oneworld route network since British Airways partners directly with Alaska Airlines, which gives you more chances of finding one of these highly coveted award seats. In addition to LAX, Alaska also flies non-stop to Hawaii from San Diego (SAN), Oakland (OAK), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA) and Portland (PDX). Note that Alaska award space doesn’t appear on ba.com, so you’ll need to search Alaska’s own website to find availability and then call BA to book it with Avios.
Redeeming Outside the US
British Airways only removed the 4,500 Avios awards in the US, so some of the best BA redemptions are bound to come from international travel.
4,500 Avios Awards
These low-cost awards come in especially handy in pricey markets, such as travel within Europe or Asia. Generally you want to look for a Oneworld hub airport, like Madrid (home to Iberia) or Tokyo (home to JAL). From Madrid (MAD), you can get to Paris Orly (ORY), Casablanca (CMN), Lisbon (LIS) or Nice (NCE) for only 4,500 Avios.
Air Lingus Sweet Spots
The BA award chart has both peak and off-peak pricing, but awards on partner airlines are normally always at peak pricing. However, the one notable exception to this (in addition to Iberia) is Aer Lingus, which uses both peak and off-peak prices.
Certain flights between the east coast and Dublin (DUB) and Shannon (SNN) become incredibly attractive this way, with trans-Atlantic economy awards starting at just 13,000 Avios. Here’s a full list of the cities that can take advantage of this deal:
|City||Route||Flight Miles||Standard Rate
* Value based on TPG’s current valuation of Avios at 1.5 cents each
When it comes to multi-city redemptions with British Airways, the airline does charge separately for every segment — the one exception is when its own website can piece together an itinerary by itself. That means you’ll likely pay more in Avios for multiple stops, even if your origin and final destination are the same.
Let’s take this Asian adventure as an example:
Starting from Tokyo (NRT), you catch a flight on JAL to Taipei (TPE). Spend some time exploring the city before getting on a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong (HKG). Again, you can enjoy an extended stopover and see the city before your next Cathay Pacific flight to Bangkok (BKK). Last but not least, you find a Malaysia Air flight to Kuala Lumpur (KUL). Here’s a breakdown of the flight distances, and a price comparison for economy redemptions between BA and AA.
|Flight||Distance in miles||BA cost||AA cost|
|NRT-TPE||1,356||10,000 Avios||20,000 miles|
|TPE-HKG||501||4,500 Avios||17,500 miles|
|HKG-BKK||1,049||7,500 Avios||17,500 miles|
|BKK-KUL||754||7,500 Avios||17,500 miles|
|TOTAL||3,661 miles traveled||29,500 British Airways Avios||72,500 AAdvantage miles|
As you can see, booking these flights through British Airways can save you as much as 40,000 miles over booking the identical itinerary with AAdvantage miles. However, if you were to fly directly from Tokyo Narita to your final destination of Kuala Lumpur, that single segment ~3,300 mile flight (falling into Zone 5 of the BA chart) would cost you just 20,000 Avios in total. So you’d pay 9,500 Avios more to make the three stops, though since you’re booking each flight separately, you could also enjoy as long of a stopover in each city as you wanted.
It’s possible to build a similar trip through South America or Europe as long as you find enough Oneworld hubs to travel through. Just be wary of flying through airports like London Heathrow, which can add $400+ in taxes to your otherwise nearly free trip.
When people think of British Airways’ frequent flyer program, many of them assume you’d want to use Avios for transatlantic trips in and out of the United Kingdom, but that’s about the worst possible way to use your Avios. Not only do long-haul flights cost increasingly more under the distance-based Avios chart, but British Airways also tacks on absurd carrier surcharges to those transatlantic flights, in some cases making redemptions cost nearly as much as just buying the ticket. But by employing the above tips, you can truly maximize your Avios and the British Airways chart and won’t have to part with a lot of your hard earned cash along the way.
Featured image by Nick Morrish/British Airways.
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