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Maximizing the British Airways distance-based award chart

Oct. 01, 2022
17 min read
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Editor's Note

We've updated this article with new information.

There are plenty of things that aren’t ideal about British Airways and its Avios currency. From seats to food and service, its inflight product leaves a lot to be desired. Hefty, carrier-imposed surcharges also 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 Avios.

In this guide, we’ll look closely at how this works so you can redeem British Airways Avios for your next trip.

Earning Avios

British Airways Avios are among the easiest airline miles to earn. LUKAS WUNDERLICH/SHUTTERSTOCK

Of course, you need to earn Avios to be able to use them.

Fortunately, Avios are easy to earn thanks to British Airways’ partnership with several major transferable points currencies. You can transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One miles and Bilt Rewards to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio, or you can transfer from Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 ratio (plus a 5,000-Avios bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer).

These transfer partnerships allow you to convert earnings from cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve, American Express® Gold Card and Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card directly into Avios.

You can also credit revenue flights on American Airlines and 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. You can also transfer Avios between British Airways, Iberia, Qatar and Aer Lingus accounts.

Finally, British Airways offers a cobranded credit card in the U.S. The British Airways Visa Signature® Card currently offers up to 100,000 Avios. You can earn 75,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening and earn an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 in the first 12 months of account opening.

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Related: These are the best ways to redeem 100,000 British Airways Avios

The basics

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

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 with this chart type, you need to take a different approach than you would with the zone-based charts used by most airlines.

British Airways Avios are typically most valuable on short, nonstop routes where cash fares are expensive. You can use a resource like Great Circle Mapper to calculate the distance of each flight you wish to take to determine the zone it would fall into.

British Airways' sweet spots are far different compared to other programs. Instead of finding countries or even entire continents you can get to cheaply, distance-based sweet spots tend to be individual city pairs that are close enough to avoid bumping into the next pricing tier.

Related: Sweet Spot Sunday: US to Ireland from 13,000 Avios each way

Award charts

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 massive fuel surcharges often complicate these redemptions.

Zone (distance in miles)Economy off-peakEconomy peakPremium economy off-peakPremium economy peakPremium economy off-peakPremium economy peakPremium economy off-peakPremium economy peak
Zone 1 (1 to 650)4,750.5,250.8,500.9,750.
Zone 2 (651 to 1,151)7,250.8,250.13,000.15,750.
Zone 3 (1,152 to 2,000)10,000.12,500.17,750.20,750.
Zone 4 (2,001 to 3,000)10,000.12,500.20,000.25,000.31,250.37,500.42,500.50,000.
Zone 5 (3,001 to 4,000)13,000.20,000.26,000.40,000.50,000.60,000.68,000.80,000.
Zone 6 (4,001 to 5,500)16,250.25,000.32,500.50,000.62,500.75,000.85,000.100,000.
Zone 7 (5,501 to 6,500)19,500.30,000.39,000.60,000.75,000.90,000.102,000.120,000.
Zone 8 (6,501 to 7,000)22,750.35,000.45,500.70,000.87,500.105,000.119,000.140,000.
Zone 9 (7,001 and up)32,500.50,000.65,000.100,000.125,000.150,000.170,000.200,000.

Note that there are different prices for peak and off-peak dates. 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, look at the award chart for flights operated by a single partner airline. This used to be the same as the above chart (with only peak pricing applied), but in 2019, British Airways implemented a new chart with slightly higher rates. Rates vary a bit by airline now, but here’s what the single partner award chart generally looks like now:

Zone (distance in miles)EconomyPremium economyBusinessFirst
Zone 1** (1 to 650)6,000.9,000.12,500.24,000.
Zone 2 (651 to 1,151)9,000.12,500.16,500.33,000.
Zone 3 (1,152 to 2,000)11,000.16,500.22,000.44,000.
Zone 4 (2,001 to 3,000)13,000.25,250.38,750.51,500.
Zone 5 (3,001 to 4,000)20,750.41,250.62,000.82,500.
Zone 6 (4,001 to 5,500)25,750.51,500.77,250.103,000.
Zone 7 (5,501 to 6,500)31,000.62,000.92,750.123,750.
Zone 8 (6,501 to 7,000)36,250.72,250.108,250.144,250.
Zone 9 (7,001 and up)51,500.103,000.154,500.206,000.

** 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 the 2019 award devaluation was relatively minor, and British Airways remains a competitive option for booking many of these short-haul flights.

However, the number of Avios required for awards on Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines increased in late 2021. There was also an increase across the board for Qatar Airways.

For travel on Cathay Pacific, the most unfortunate devaluation came in Zone 2 flights in business class. Here’s where pricing changed:

  • Zone 1 now costs 7,500 Avios in economy (up from 6,000) and 16,000 Avios in business (up from 12,500).
  • Zone 2 now costs 10,000 Avios in economy (up from 9,000) and 25,000 Avios in business (up from 16,500).
  • Zone 3 now costs 11,000 Avios in economy (unchanged) and 25,000 Avios in business (up from 22,000).

There was a similar change in Zone 2 business class for travel on Japan Airlines. Here are the overall changes:

  • Zone 1 now costs 7,500 Avios in economy (up from 6,000) and 12,500 Avios in business (unchanged).
  • Zone 2 now costs 10,000 Avios in economy (up from 9,000) and 24,000 Avios in business (up from 16,500).
  • Zone 3 now costs 11,000 Avios in economy (unchanged) and 24,000 Avios in business (up from 22,000).

For travel on Qatar Airways, there were also some changes. These changes hit Zone 2 Qatar first-class flights the hardest.

  • Zone 1 now costs 7,000 Avios in economy (up from 6,000), 12,500 Avios in business (unchanged) and 21,000 Avios in first (down from 24,000).
  • Zone 2 now costs 10,000 Avios in economy (up from 9,000), 24,000 Avios in business (up from 16,500) and 39,000 Avios in first (up from 33,000).

Related: Book this, not that: Oneworld award flights

For both of the above award charts, pricing applies to each flight in an itinerary. The distance isn’t cumulative across the entire trip. British Airways prices every segment individually, so you’ll want to stick to nonstop routings whenever possible.

For example, let’s say you wanted to fly from Fort Lauderdale to Philadelphia, a flight that covers 992 miles and would require 9,000 Avios per the chart above. However, if you could only find award availability on a connecting flight through Charlotte, you’d fly just 89 more miles but would pay over 65% more for your trip.

Here’s how the pricing works:

  • Fort Lauderdale to Charlotte: Covers 632 miles (7,500 Avios).
  • Charlotte to Philadelphia: Covers 449 miles (7,500 Avios).
  • Total cost: 15,000 Avios.

As such, the best value tends to come from nonstop flights. Now that you understand how the British Airways award charts work, let’s dive into some ways to maximize them.

Related: Which airlines can I book with Avios?

Redeeming inside the US

You can use Avios to book cheap U.S. domestic flights. MARKUS MAINKA/SHUTTERSTOCK

As mentioned above, British Airways prices flights in North America slightly differently than in the rest of the world. Zone 1 flights — those that cover 650 miles or less — typically require 4,000 to 4,500 Avios for economy on British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus or 6,000 Avios on most other partners.

However, British Airways prices nonstop economy Zone 1 flights within North America at 7,500 Avios. Then, Zone 2 flights and higher use the same pricing as other partner airlines. Despite this restriction, you can still get solid value if you can find saver-level award space with American Airlines.

Short flights

With Zone 1 economy 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 to Miami or Chicago to Dallas for only 9,000 Avios in economy.

Domestic lie-flat business class

In 2016, AA made a minor change to its fare classes that had practically no effect on the AAdvantage program but was great news for British Airways fans.

Specifically, the airline changed how 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.

Use Avios to grab a business-class seat on American Airlines’ 777-200 domestic flights. ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

For instance, some daily frequencies between New York and Miami are often operated by a 777-200. This plane features one of American’s best international business-class products. You can book that flight in business class 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.

Related: 4 cabins, 1 flight: Putting American Airlines’ Boeing 777-300 from New York to Miami to the test

West Coast to Hawaii

Just because we’re talking about flights within the U.S. doesn’t mean you can’t have a tropical vacation. 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 several Hawaiian destinations from its Los Angeles and Phoenix hubs. In addition to Los Angeles, Alaska also flies nonstop to multiple Hawaiian airports from San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Portland, Oregon.

Redeeming outside the US

You can use your Avios to book flights elsewhere in the world too. JIMMOYHT/SHUTTERSTOCK

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 British Airways redemptions are bound to come from international travel.

4,500-Avios awards

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 or Japan Airlines’ hubs in Tokyo. From Madrid, you can get to Lisbon, Portugal; Casablanca, Morocco; Algiers, Algeria; or Nice, France, for only 4,500 Avios.

It is worth noting that we did find some anomalies for flight distances that are very close to entering a new zone. For example, a flight from Madrid to Paris-Orly Airport is 639 miles. This should be included in Zone 1, meaning it should be bookable for 4,500 Avios. However, British Airways prices the award at 7,000 Avios.

Air Lingus sweet spots

The British Airways award chart has peak and off-peak pricing, which also applies to flights on Iberia and Aer Lingus. As a result, certain flights between the East Coast and Dublin or Shannon, Ireland, 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:

OriginDestinationFlight milesStandard rate (economy round-trip)
Boston.Dublin.2,993**.26,000.
Hartford, Connecticut.Dublin.3,078.26,000.
New York.Shannon.3,095.26,000.
New York.Dublin.3,179.26,000.
Newark.Dublin.3,193.26,000.
Toronto.Dublin.3,279.26,000.
Washington, D.C.Dublin.3,404.26,000.
Chicago.Dublin.3,674.26,000.
Orlando.Dublin.4,072.41,500.
Miami.Dublin.4,165.41,500.
San Francisco.Dublin.5,098.41,500.
Los Angeles.Dublin.5,181.41,500.

** Even though Boston-Dublin covers 2,993 miles of flying, British Airways 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 you must call to redeem British Airways Avios on Aer Lingus-operated flights.

Related: Flight review: Aer Lingus business class on the A321neo, Dublin to Philadelphia

Multicity trips

As highlighted above, British Airways charges separately for every segment on multicity redemptions. 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 or open jaws on your award tickets.

Let’s take this Asia adventure as an example:

GCMAP.COM

Starting from Tokyo, you catch a flight on Japan Airlines to Taipei, Taiwan. Spend time exploring the city before getting on a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong. Again, you can enjoy an extended stopover and see the city before your next Cathay Pacific flight to Bangkok. Last but not least, you find a Malaysia Airlines flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Here’s a breakdown of the flight distances and a price comparison for economy redemptions between British Airways and American Airlines.

FlightDistance in milesBritish Airways costAmerican Airlines cost
Tokyo to Taipei1,356.11,000 Avios.20,000 miles.
Taipei to Hong Kong501.7,500 Avios.17,500 miles.
Hong Kong to Bangkok1,049.10,000 Avios.17,500 miles.
Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur754.9,000 Avios.17,500 miles.
TOTAL3,661 miles traveled.37,500 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 to your final destination of Kuala Lumpur, that single segment, about a 3,300-mile flight (falling into Zone 5 of the British Airways chart), would cost you just 20,750 Avios in total. As a result, you’d pay over 17,000 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's Heathrow Airport, which can add over $400 in taxes to your trip.

Related: The complete guide to maximizing stopovers and open jaws on award tickets

Multicarrier awards exception

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 use cumulative distance to determine how many Avios you need.

While this typically offers a poor value proposition, there are times when you should use it — like if you’re booking a round-the-world ticket. Check out TPG’s full guide to the British Airways multicarrier award chart for more information.

Related: Here’s why you should care about British Airways Avios

Bottom line

When people think of British Airways’ loyalty program, many 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.

Long-haul flights cost increasingly more under the distance-based Avios chart. Plus, British Airways 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.

Additional reporting by Ehsan Haque.

Featured image by ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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