Maximizing the British Airways distance-based award chart
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There are plenty of things that aren’t ideal about British Airways and its Avios loyalty points. From seats to food to service, its inflight product leaves a lot to be desired, and hefty, carrier-imposed surcharges make it difficult to find good value with an award ticket that routes to (or through) London.
But one important redeeming quality is a distance-based award chart that lets you fly for next to nothing in some of the world’s most expensive markets. Knowing how to use it can go a long way toward getting maximum value for your points.
Today we’ll take a close look at how this works so you can redeem your Avios for valuable rewards on your next trip.
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Of course, you need to actually earn Avios to be able to use them.
Fortunately, the currency is easy to earn thanks to British Airways’ partnership with three of the major transferable points currencies. You can transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio, or you can transfer from Marriott at a 3:1 ratio (plus a 5,000-Avios bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer).
However, this can get even more lucrative. From time to time, Amex and Chase offer transfer bonuses to British Airways. You can also credit revenue flights on American Airlines or other Oneworld partners to the program. 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.
Finally, British Airways offers a cobranded credit card in the U.S. The British Airways Visa Signature Card currently offers 100,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases with the first three months of account opening. This is an excellent way to quickly earn Avios for a future trip.
Now that you know how to get Avios, let’s take a closer look at the program.
As noted above, British Airways uses a distance-based formula for calculating how many Avios you’d need to redeem on a given flight. To truly maximize value on this type of chart, you need to take a different approach than you would with zone-based charts used by most airlines.
For instance, American Airlines would generally charge you the same number of AAdvantage miles to fly between London and New York as it would to fly between London and Los Angeles — ignoring the carrier’s pending shift to dynamic award pricing. With British Airways, that’s not the case.
Long story short: You want a short, nonstop route where cash fares would normally be expensive.
In turn, sweet spots are far different compared to other programs. 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.
With this in mind, let’s now dive into the specific award charts in the program. We’ll start with the one used for flights on British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus, though these redemptions are often complicated by massive fuel surcharges.
(distance in miles)
(7,001 and up)
Note that there are different prices for peak and off-peak dates, and these vary based on the individual carrier. Generally speaking, you’ll find peak dates during the summer, school holidays and other popular holidays. Off-peak pricing usually applies during the fall and winter months.
Next, let’s take a look at the award chart for flights operated by a single partner airline, such as American Airlines or Cathay Pacific. This used to be the same as the above chart (with only peak pricing applied), but British Airways recently implemented a new chart with slightly higher rates. Here’s what it now looks like:
(distance in miles)
(7,001 and up)
** For Zone 1 flights to, from or within North America, economy awards are 7,500 Avios each way, while domestic/short-haul first class is 15,000 Avios.
The good news is that this devaluation was relatively minor, and British Airways remains a competitive option for booking many of these short-haul flights. As usual, you should check paid tickets and other Oneworld programs to make sure you aren’t getting a raw deal for your redemption.
For both of the above award charts, pricing applies to each flight in an itinerary. The distance isn’t cumulative across the entire trip. Every segment is priced individually, so you’ll want to stick to nonstop routings whenever possible.
For example, let’s say you wanted to fly from Fort Lauderdale (FLL) to Philadelphia (PHL), a flight that covers 992 miles in distance. This requires 9,000 Avios per the chart above. However, if you could only find award availability on a connecting flight through Charlotte (CLT), you’d fly just 89 more miles but would pay over 65% more for your trip.
Here’s how the pricing works:
- FLL-CLT: Covers 632 miles (7,500 Avios).
- CLT-PHL: Covers 449 miles (7,500 Avios).
- Total cost: 15,000 Avios.
Again, the best values tend to come from nonstop flights.
Now that you hopefully understand how the British Airways award charts work, let’s dive into some ways to maximize them.
Redeeming inside the US
Back in 2016, British Airways adjusted how it prices short-haul flights within North America, and remnants of that change still exist today. Zone 1 flights — those that cover 650 miles or less — typically require 4,000 to 4,500 Avios on BA, Iberia and Aer Lingus or 6,000 Avios on most other partners.
However, nonstop flights in this range that include North America are 7,500 Avios. Then, Zone 2 flights and higher use the same pricing as other partner airlines.
Despite this restriction, there are still some good values to be had — if you can find saver-level award space with American Airlines.
With Zone 1 flights in the U.S. pricing at 7,500 Avios and Zone 2 pricing at 9,000 Avios, you should be able to fly out of virtually any American Airlines hub to dozens of destinations. You can use gcmap.com to estimate the distance between two airports, but the actual calculations might vary a bit.
This opens up some cool options, including New York-JFK to Miami (MIA) or Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) for only 9,000 Avios. By comparison, American Airlines typically charges 12,500 AAdvantage miles to book those same routes, unless you can find a Web Special award for your date(s) of travel.
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, some daily frequencies between JFK and MIA are often operated by a 777-300ER. This plane features American’s best international business-class product. You can book that flight for only 16,500 Avios (yes, you read that correctly), and the larger business-class cabin on the 777 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 U.S. doesn’t mean you can’t get your tropical vacation on. Hawaii is just close enough to several West Coast cities (less than 3,000 miles) that you can book economy awards for only 13,000 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. This gives you more chances to find one of these highly coveted award seats to the Aloha State. In addition to LAX, Alaska also flies nonstop to multiple Hawaiian airports from San Diego (SAN), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA) and Portland, Oregon (PDX), among others.
Note that Alaska Airlines flights are now bookable on the British Airways website. Previously, you had to call to book.
Redeeming outside the US
Of course, flights within the U.S. are just part of British Airways’ global reach. The carrier’s international partners span the globe, so some of the best BA redemptions are bound to come from international travel.
These low-priced awards are especially useful in pricey markets, such as travel within Europe or Asia. Generally, you want to look for a Oneworld hub airport like Iberia’s home in Madrid (MAD) or Japan Airlines’ hubs at Tokyo Narita (NRT) and Tokyo Haneda (HND). From Madrid, you can get to Paris Orly (ORY); Casablanca, Morocco (CMN); Lisbon, Portugal (LIS); or Nice, France (NCE), for only 6,000 Avios.
Or, you could take the 500-mile flight from Hong Kong (HKG) to Taipei, Taiwan (TPE), and avoid paying some of Cathay Pacific’s more extreme fares.
Air Lingus sweet spots
The BA award chart has both peak and off-peak pricing, and this applies to flights on Iberia as well as Aer Lingus. As a result, certain flights between the East Coast and Dublin (DUB) or Shannon, Ireland (SNN), become incredibly attractive, with transatlantic 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
** Even though Boston-Dublin covers 2,993 miles of flying, BA shifted it to Zone 5 in 2016.
Booking a round-trip, nonstop flight from multiple U.S. cities to Ireland starting at 26,000 Avios is a phenomenal deal. Just note that — like Alaska awards — you must call to redeem your Avios on Aer Lingus-operated flights.
As highlighted above, when it comes to multicity redemptions with British Airways, the airline charges separately for every segment. More stops require more Avios, even if your origin and final destination are the same. However, this pricing approach effectively allows you to book an unlimited number of stopovers and/or open jaws on your award tickets.
Let’s take this Asian adventure as an example:
Starting from Tokyo Narita (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||11,000 Avios||20,000 miles|
|TPE-HKG||501||6,000 Avios||17,500 miles|
|HKG-BKK||1,049||9,000 Avios||17,500 miles|
|BKK-KUL||754||9,000 Avios||17,500 miles|
|TOTAL||3,661 miles traveled||35,000 British Airways Avios||72,500 AAdvantage miles|
As you can see, booking these flights through British Airways can save you nearly 40,000 miles versus 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, about a 3,300-mile flight (falling into Zone 5 of the BA chart), would cost you just 20,750 Avios in total. As a result, you’d pay over 14,000 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 other regions so long as you find enough Oneworld hubs through which to travel. Just be wary of flying through airports like London Heathrow (LHR), which can add over $400 in taxes to your otherwise nearly free trip.
Exception: Multicarrier awards
Before wrapping up, it’s important to note that British Airways has yet another award chart that only applies to award tickets with two or more Oneworld airlines. Unlike the standard award prices above, these multicarrier reward flights do use cumulative distance to determine how many Avios you’d need to use.
Check out TPG’s full guide to the multicarrier award chart for more info.
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 U.K., 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, British Airways also tacks on large surcharges to those transatlantic flights.
In reality, the Executive Club program is normally best for partner awards. By employing the above tips, you can truly maximize your Avios and the British Airways chart without spending a lot of cash along the way.
Featured photo by Nick Morrish/British Airways.
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