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British Airways Avios cheat sheet for using your miles

by on Thu May 19, 2016 • 4 Comments
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British Airways
If you fly British Airways frequently, or have points from a credit card that lets you transfer points into British Airways Avios, here’s a guide to what flights you can book with Avios, how to find award space, how to figure out how much an award will cost, and what some of the better deals are with Avios.

What airlines can you book?

A number of oneworld and other partners can be booked using British Airways Avios.

RegionAirlineBookable on BA.com
AfricaComairYes
AsiaCathay PacificYes
AsiaJapan AirlinesYes
AsiaMalaysia AirlinesYes
AustraliaQantasYes
EuropeAer LingusNo, search on United.com
EuropeAir BerlinYes
EuropeFinnairYes
EuropeIberiaYes
EuropeMeridianaYes
EuropeS7Yes
Middle EastQatarYes
Middle EastRoyal JordanianYes
North AmericaAlaska AirlinesNo, search on AA.com
North AmericaAmerican AirlinesYes
South AmericaLANYes
South AmericaTAMYes
South AsiaSri LankanYes

Where to search for award space

All Oneworld partner availability can be searched and booked online at BA.com, accounting for certain partner quirks and BA.com technical issues.

  • Alaska Airlines award availability can be searched on AA.com. You can call BA to book.
  • Aer Lingus award availability can be searched on United.com. You can call BA to book.
  • Meridiana will require a phone call to BA.

You can read our tips on how to use BA.com to search for award flights here.

All non Oneworld partner flights must be ultimately be booked on the telephone.

The BA Executive Club US phone number is 1-800-452-1201.

BA limits online redemptions to 2 segments, so more complex trips should be booked via telephone, while BA’s inventory for more complex trips can be searched easily via AA.com.

How much do awards cost?

British Airways calculates the cost of an award in Avios based on how far you fly. In most cases, it charges separately for each flight you take in your trip. So a trip from Minneapolis to London via New York will be charged as two separate tickets (one from Minneapolis to New York and the other from New York to London).

Here is the award chart for British Airways and single partner flights.

NOTE: Partner flights within North America from 1 to 650 miles price at the 651 to 1,150 price level. So a 500 mile one way Economy ticket will cost 7,500 miles.

british airways avios award chart

There are effectively four price menus, all based on distance.

  • First, there are BA flights, which have the lowest redemption costs and offer Peak and Off-Peak rates according to dates on the calendar here under the heading “Working out the Cost.”
  • Second, there are the prices for partners (except Iberia). These rates are identical to BA’s Peak fares in all cabins, and apply when you fly a single partner airline like American or Qatar Airways.
  • Then there are the prices for Iberia, offering slightly higher barring business class redemptions over 2,000 miles, where Iberia is cheaper than BA. Iberia offers Peak and Off-peak rates as well.
  • The fourth and final category is the multi-partner reward, which is the most expensive option, and kicks in on trips where you are flying two or more non-British Airways airlines, like a trip that uses American Airlines to connect to a Qatar Airways flight. It charges based on the total distance you fly, rather than charging for each flight separately.

Off peak vs peak. As mentioned before, redemptions on BA and Iberia both offer the option of Peak and Off-peak redemptions. As one would expect, Off-peak redemptions cost fewer miles.

The designation of Off-peak versus peak dates reflects high versus low season with a bit of arbitrary decision making thrown in. For example, in 2016 on BA, most of May and June is designated as Off-Peak.

Connecting flights are priced as two individual flights. Los Angeles – Dallas – Miami would cost the same as two tickets Los Angeles – Dallas and Dallas – Miami. In this case, a nonstop LAX-MIA flight would cost 12,500 Avios each way in Economy, while going via Dallas would cost 17,500 Avios.

  • BA’s Reward Calculator can be accessed here.
  • Another calculator, the Wandering Aramean’s Avios calculator, can be found here. The advantage of the Wandering Aramean’s calculator is the comprehensive list of routing options and cost in all classes, so you can see what your trip will cost with and without a connection.

 

Tip: Fuel surcharges apply on all flights across the Atlantic except those flown by Aer Lingus and Air Berlin. You can also reduce fuel surcharges by booking your trip as two separate one way journeys, rather than a round trip. That’s because a one way will let you take advantage of lower fuel surcharge pricing for trips that start in Europe, compared to the pricing for trips that start in the U.S. In other regions, fuel surcharges apply on carriers that impose them. Flights within North and South America, and departing Australia have no fuel surcharges, while surcharges to Asia on partner airlines are much lower than those to Europe.

aviossurcharge

Award change and booking fees

  • Phone Booking Fee: $25
  • Change fee: $55
  • Cancellation fee: $55 if you want to refund taxes / fees. No charge if you cancel and your taxes / fees are less than $55 (you forfeit the taxes / fees). Cancellations can be made online up to 24 hours before departure.
  • Additional service center fee for changes/cancellation: $25

The additional service center fee of $25 is waived for Executive Club Gold members and of course does not apply to changes made online on Manage My Booking.

When are award seats made available?

Award seats are made available to online booking 355 days from departure.

Can you waitlist awards and upgrades, or put them on hold?

Waitlisting awards and upgrades are not allowed.

British Airways also does not let you put awards on hold. But with a maximum cancellation cost of $55 you might want to book a ticket to lock in space even if your plans are fluid.

What stopovers are allowed?

Given every flight is charged individually, stopovers are unlimited.

What are the best award values?

Given the distance pricing, strategically redeeming Avios is slightly more complicated than region-based frequent flyer programs. Nonetheless, there are some gems.

West Coast to Hawaii. Those flying between the West Coast and Hawaii will be interested in 12,500 Avios (each way) redemptions on Alaska Airlines and American. Flyers looking to go up front will be stung by the pricing of US domestic first class at four times the Economy rate, 50,000 Avios each way in this case.

Short but expensive flights also offer a sweet spot for redemptions. LAN/TAM flights within South America can be quite expensive in cash, but book into the cheapest two distance bands and attract small surcharges (Santiago, Chile to Sao Paulo, Brazil incurs a mere $30 in charges).

Within the U.S., particularly from hub cities, Avios are useful for short but expensive flights on American Airlines and Alaska Airlines, starting at 7,500 points one way.

Upgrades from Premium Economy to Business. We’ll discuss more below, but if you can find a cheap Premium Economy fare, an upgrade to Business (Club World) on British Airways won’t cost you many points and can get you good value.

Flights within Australia. If you’re in Australia and want to go a bit more comfortably, Avios redemptions on Qantas domestic Business class are a treat. A cash fare on the 450 mile flight between Brisbane and Sydney is AUD $750 (about US $600). With Avios 9,000 points + $14 one way. Flyers used to typical US domestic First will be surprised by the premium experience that more closely resembles international flights, such as lounge access.

Avios are also useful for remote tourist destinations like Lord Howe Island and Ayers Rock/Uluru which are expensive in cash, but have significant award availability.

Intra-Asia premium cabin flights also offer excellent value if one is looking to travel up front. Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Malaysia Airlines together offer a significant array of options and award availability for hops within the region with reasonable or no fuel surcharges.

Points + cash. When booking a reward flight, BA offers the option to pay fewer miles (down to roughly 50%) but more cash.

On the Qantas domestic Business redemption, one can pay 9,000 Avios + $14 or 5,000 Avios + $89. Alternately, a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Singapore in Business would cost 20,000 Avios + $15 in Business class at the full Avios rate or 11,000 Avios + $135. In both the Qantas and Cathay Pacific case, the full and reduced Avios rates merit consideration given the cash prices of the tickets ($570 for the Qantas ticket, $900+ for the Cathay ticket).

Avios can also be redeemed for hotel stays. Generally, the price in Avios is equivalent to $100 per 15,000 Avios redeemed. Your mileage may vary.

Upgrades and how much they cost

BA allows upgrades on its flights (+ subsidiary OpenSkies) as well as on Iberia and American Airlines.

All BA fares are eligible for upgrade barring the lowest Economy buckets Q, O, and G as well as group and package-deal fares. BA flights sold as codeshares or partner tickets (i.e. ticket number is not BA’s own 125…) are ineligible for upgrades. BA flights bought through a third party (brick and mortar agent, Expedia, Orbitz, etc) are eligible for upgrades with Avios.

Upgrades can be applied to an existing booking, or they can be purchased at the time of booking by selecting the option “book with money, upgrade with Avios.” Upgrades must be purchased one cabin at a time, and they book into the same inventory as award tickets.

Tip: British Airways, Iberia, and American Airlines each have separate sets of upgrade costs based on distance. British Airways and Iberia upgrades are priced on a Peak/Off-peak basis, just like normal award redemptions. American Airlines upgrades used a single year-round pricing metric, but can only be upgraded from the highest fares.

For upgrading a flight between New York and London each way off-peak…

  • Economy to Premium Economy would be 13,000 Avios.
  • Premium Economy to Business (Club World) would cost 24,000 Avios.
  • Business to First costs 18,000 Avios.

Therefore, upgrading an Economy ticket to First would cost 55,000 Avios (the sum of the three upgrade prices) + attendant fees AND require a ticket holder to find availability in Premium Economy, Business, and First classes – no small feat.

The Peak upgrade charges are relatively straightforward: 20,000 for any one-cabin upgrade. A sharp reader will note an oddity in the pricing: a peak upgrade Premium Economy to Business is cheaper than the Off-peak pricing.

This holds for any such upgrade on a sector over 2,000 miles.

ba club world

Is a Premium Economy to Business upgrade worth it?

  • From the East Coast, buying and upgrading a Premium Economy ticket to Business using Avios would require 40,000 to 48,000 Avios for the roundtrip upgrade plus a fare of about $1,200 – $2,000 and an extra $400 in additional surcharges. So you are looking at paying $1,600 – $2,400 or so out of pocket, on top of the 40,000 – 48,000 Avios.
  • A round-trip NY to London in Business as an award would cost 100,000 Avios + $1,147 in surcharges as an award redemption.
  • You’ll earn Avios for flying when you book a Premium Economy ticket and upgrade, so you’ll get a good amount of what you spent back after your trip is complete. You wont’ earn any Avios for a straight up award ticket.

Buying Premium Economy and upgrading to Business is a decent deal if you can score cheap Premium Economy fares under $1,500 (we’ve seen them as cheap as $1,200), but it’s less attractive than getting an outright award ticket when fares are $2,000 or more.

Alternative miles to book British Airways flights

While any of BA’s Oneworld partners should have access to award inventory, American AAdvantage, Cathay Asia Miles, and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan are the most relevant for U.S. based fliers. AAdvantage and Alaska Airlines both have substantial earning opportunities, while Asia Miles members have access to points transfers from Amex Membership Rewards and Citi Thank You Points.

What are Avios worth?

We think Avios are worth 1.5 cents each.

For example, a British Airways Economy Class flight from New York to London on peak days will cost 40,000 Avios roundtrip, plus about $600 in taxes and fees if you book the trip as two one way flights to reduce fees. A typical cash fare will run about $1,200 roundtrip during peak months, so your 40,000 Avios save you about $600, for a value of 1.5 cents.

You can get more value out of Avios by saving them for expensive, short flights, like Chicago to New York on American Airlines when fares are over $200 for 7,500 points one way. Or use them from the West Coast to Hawaii, getting you a $700 ticket for 25,000 points, for almost 3 cents per point in value.

Credit Cards that earn Avios

BA offers a Visa Signature card from Chase.

Chase’s Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, Citi Thank You, and HSBC Premier Rewards all allow members to transfer points to Avios.

Hotel points that transfer to Avios

The following hotel loyalty programs allow members to convert points to Avios: Accor Le Club; Carlton Rezidor Club Carlson, Hilton HHonors, Hyatt Gold Passport, Intercontinental IHG Rewards, Marriott Rewards, Shangri-La Golden Circle, and Starwoods SPG.

  • Le Club: 2 points = 1 Avios in 4000 point increments
  • Club Carlson: 10:1 Increments of 2,000, 10,000, 50,000, 100,000 points
  • HHonors: 10:1 Increments of 10,000 points.
  • Gold Passport: 2.5:1 5,000 point minimum, increments of 2,000 thereafter. 50,000 points earns a 5,000 Avios bonus.
  • IHG Rewards: 5:1 10,000 point increments.
  • Golden Circle: 1:1 2,500 point minimum, increments of 500 thereafter.
  • Marriott Rewards: 5:1 to 2.8:1. Increments: 10,000, 20,000, 30,000, 70,000, 140,000
  • SPG: 1:1 Minimum 2,500 points for Preferred members, 1,500 for Gold, 0 for Platinum. A conversion of 20,000 points earns a 5,000 Avios bonus.

Can you book awards for others?

Executive Club members who do not have a “household account” can book awards for anyone out of their account. Those members part of a single household account, which allows you to pool all of the miles in your household, can only redeem for themselves and up to 5 nominees on a “Family and Friends” list. These nominees must live at an address separate for the household.

Can you transfer miles?

Yes, Avios can be transferred for a fee. A single member can transfer 162,000 Avios per year, 27,000 at most to a single person. Gold members can transfer 162,000 Avios for free, and pay to transfer another 162,000. A person may receive at most 27,000 Avios per year from a free transfer in addition to 27,000 from paid transfers.

Household accounts allow members (typically a family) to pool all their Avios while still earning tier points individually. Avios can only be spent on members of the household and their designated “Family and Friends.” Miles can be transferred between members of the household for free. The account is managed by a designated “Head of Household.”

When do Avios expire?

Avios expire after 36 months of inactivity.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Miles dont expireas long as card is open
Learn more

Partner Offer

50,000 bonus points

Intro Offer

$0 introductory annual fee, then $95

Annual Fee

$0

Foreign Transaction Fee Waived

Yes

Points Can Transfer to Airline Miles ?

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4 thoughts on British Airways Avios cheat sheet for using your miles

  1. Brian

    Is that the correct award chart shown above? From what I can tell there are no 4,500 point partner award flights in the U.S. For example, I used to be able to fly SLC to LAX for 4,500 but the minimum appears to be 7,500 now.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Brian – Thanks for the heads up. Chart is right, but warning was missing. Only for flights within North America, the minimum is 7,500 points. Other shorthauls in Europe, Asia, etc still price at 4,500. We’ve added the info.

      Reply
  2. gina

    I’ve tried to purchase several award tickets within Australia using BA.com and I only get errors. So I did have to call in. Not all the Qantas flights are available to BA, so you just have to go with what you get. In addition if there are more obscure flights such as through QantasLink, I’m told that those flights are not eligible for an award because it’s not the partner Qantas.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Gina – Good point – those non-mainline flights are a caveat. Seems there has been an issue with BA.com pricing Qantas since surcharges got scrapped in Australia.

      Reply

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