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The remarkably valuable British Airways Executive Club mileage program is my favorite way to book award flights for the family to the Caribbean, Mexico and Hawaii. With spring break, Memorial Day Weekend and the summer right around the corner, now is as good a time as any to begin planning your family beach retreat.
Not only are British Airways Avios some of the easiest points to accrue (they can be transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards), they are extremely useful when looking to book short to medium-haul flights that typically come with a hefty price tag. And the great news is you don’t have to fly British Airways with your Avios. You can use your Avios for flights on any oneworld alliance partner such as American Airlines. You can earn Avios with the British Airways Visa Signature Card or transfer Ultimate Rewards points from your Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or Chase Sapphire Reserve. If you’re transferring Amex Membership Rewards points, you can do it from a multitude of cards including the American Express® Gold Card or The Platinum Card® from American Express.
Anyone who lives in an American Airlines hub (DFW, MIA, LAX, CLT, ORD, JFK, PHL, PHX) with several nonstop flights should be well-versed with British Airways Avios. If you are not, this post will show how you can save thousands of dollars on airfare annually.
Before introducing specific examples that will show how you can save considerably by using Avios, let me explain two important aspects of the British Airways Executive Club loyalty program.
First off, you need to sign up for a free Executive Club account to search for award space and book flights with British Airways Avios.
Secondly, British Airways uses a distance-based award chart rather than the zone-based charts used by major US airlines. This means British Airways charges you X amount of miles based on the distance you are flying and not some fixed award cost.
I use the Great Circle Mapper to determine distances between cities/airports. In the “Controls Paths” box, enter the airports you would like and then click calculate to find the mileage between them. The mile calculation is nearly identical to how Avios prices awards, but you could also use the Avios calculator to verify the miles needed.
Short-Haul Awards: Caribbean and Beyond
Now, let’s review some real-world examples. British Airways charges 7,500 Avios in coach for flights up to 1,151 miles long. If you are based out of Miami like I am, or just wanted to connect in MIA, you can fly American Airlines to Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Mexico and even Colombia, just to name a few destinations, for only 7,500 British Airways Avios.
Heading to Costa Rica from Miami
Each year, we take a few trips to the Caribbean and/or Latin America and although prices from Miami are fairly economical, the same can rarely be said for flights into Liberia, Costa Rica. Liberia is home to one my favorite hotels in the world, the Andaz Papagayo. Mommy Points took her family to Costa Rica and provided an in-depth review about experiencing the Andaz Costa Rica with kids.
When researching flight options for an upcoming summer trip this year to the Andaz Papagayo, I wasn’t surprised in the least bit at the fares popping up.
At a cost of $740 per person in AA’s basic economy, I immediately knew that paying cash for my family of four would be impossible. I quickly checked the American Airlines’ website and found award space for a reasonable 30,000 miles per person plus taxes and fuel surcharges.
But I could do better because if award space exists for my dates on AA, I can check the BA Executive Club website and book with Avios for much less.
I was able to find award space for each one of my family members to Liberia, Costa Rica, at a cost of 15,000 Avios round-trip and $75.50 in taxes, fees and fuel surcharges. Score!
As I mentioned earlier, Avios are incredibly useful for those expensive short to medium-haul flights and you don’t have to be based out of Miami to snag great award redemptions with Avios. During spring break, much of the US East Coast remains pretty chilly, making Avios a must-use currency for your warm getaway.
Visit Bermuda from NYC
Live in the New York City area? NYC schools are on spring break in late April, making it a perfect escape from the still cool temperatures to visit Bermuda. You will find Avios availability for up to seven family members at 7,500 Avios one-way per person.
Cash rate for that exact flight on same day would be $202 per person.
Once on the island, here are the best things to do in Bermuda with kids.
Get to Grand Cayman
Charlotte (CLT) to the Grand Cayman Islands (GCM) over the Fourth of July weekend costs a whopping $498 one-way.
Search the American Airlines website for award availability and you’ll notice MileSAAver space is available for CLT to GCM. If space is available, you can then log in to your British Airways Executive Club account to find and book award seats. If AA shows no MileSAAver space, you cannot book this route for 7,500 Avios and the BA website will show no availability.
Because space does exist on the searched date, you can proceed to your BA Executive Club account and book CLT to GCM for 7,500 Avios and only $5.60 in taxes, fees and fuel surcharges. You save thousands in cash if booking for a family and use half the loyalty currency (Avios) that you would have used had you booked the same flight directly on the American Airlines website with AAdvantage miles.
Once you’ve booked your flights, here’s where to use hotel points in Grand Cayman.
Because the British Airways Executive Club program is distance-based, you want to find nonstop direct segments from point A to point B. Any additional connections you have to make will increase the Avios required for an award, making a different miles currency most likely a better option.
You Can Even Save on Pricey Cabo San Lucas Flights
Here’s a one-way flight to Cabo San Lucas over the summer from Dallas (DFW) priced at $351.
American flies 3x daily from Dallas (DFW) to Cabo San Lucas (SJD). Like Liberia, Costa Rica, Cabo is typically an expensive warm destination filled with spring breakers, A-listers and families looking for beach-town charm. On the AA site, you will find award availability for all three flights from DFW to SJD at 15,000 AAdvantage miles each way.
Since award space exists, go to your BA Executive Club account and book with Avios for half the cost.
Here are 10 Cabo San Lucas resorts that are perfect for families.
Sweet Spot from the West Coast: Hawaii
While I love using Avios points for flights to the Caribbean, they will take you even farther. For many years, points and miles enthusiasts have redeemed their Avios for flights to Hawaii. Hawaii is a dream destination for many people and, for families, it may be at the top of the list of desired beach vacation destinations. For only 12,500 Avios plus $5.60 in taxes each way, you can redeem your Avios for partner flights with American Airlines or Alaska Airlines (British Airways partners with Alaska Airlines even though they are outside of the Oneworld alliance) to Hawaii from the following West Coast cities:
- Los Angeles
- San Diego
- San Jose
Note: Depending on whether you are flying American Airlines or Alaska Airlines to Hawaii, the booking process will differ with British Airways Avios. With American Airlines, you can book directly on the British Airways website as the examples above have shown. However, with Alaska Airlines, you have to call the British Airways Executive Club customer service line.
You’d be hard pressed to find fares to Hawaii over Memorial Day Weekend for under $300 each way. You’ll see below a one-way from Los Angeles (LAX) to Maui (OGG) priced at $364 for the Friday before Memorial Day.
If I lived on the West Coast and wanted a quick holiday getaway with the kids, I’d be out of luck with the kind of fares that Hawaii demands. However, it’s worth checking American Airlines or British Airways for award space.
My unattainable Hawaiian weekend getaway is now closer to fruition thanks to Avios and the award space showing up for LAX to OGG, up to five seats. I can book the above American Airlines flight for 12,500 Avios and only $5.60 per person. American would have wanted 22,500 AAdvantage miles for the same flight but instead I used 45% fewer miles by using Avios and kept approximately $360 in my pocket. You can imagine how much greater the savings are when booking multiple tickets for the family.
Here’s an example of a one-way fare on July 3 from Portland (PDX) to Honolulu (HNL) on Alaska Airlines:
You won’t find Alaska Airlines awards on the British Airways website so you’ll have to search for space using AA.com. Once you find MileSAAver awards from your West Coast city to Hawaii on AA.com, write down the flight number and then call the Executive Club call center. You would redeem 12,500 Avios instead of the 22,500 miles that American wants for the same flight. What a deal!
Booking British Airways awards by phone incurs a $25 booking fee but you can kindly explain that Alaska Airlines redemptions cannot be booked on the BA website and a nice agent may waive the fee. If not, ask for a supervisor and you’ll have higher odds of success.
If you plan to island-hop, here’s everything you need to know about inter-island travel in Hawaii.
Redeeming British Airways Avios is my go-to method for purchasing expensive short to medium-haul flights for a family-fun beach vacation. Most people assume that the British Airways’ Executive Club loyalty program is for flights to/from the UK but that would actually be one of the worst ways to use your Avios due to BA’s distance-based chart. Also, don’t forget that of the two largest flexible point currencies (American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards) transfer instantly to British Airways. The Avios program can save families considerable cash and miles on warm-weather beach getaways.
Featured photo by Juan Ruiz
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