Advertiser Disclosure

British Airways Avios: Best Choice for Short-Haul American Airlines Flights

With so many websites offering free financial tools, it can be hard to know whom to trust. At NerdWallet, we spend literally 1,000s of hours researching partner offers and following strict editorial integrity to match you with the perfect choice. We even share how we make money so you can enjoy our expert advice and researched recommendations with total clarity and confidence.
Best Choice for Short-Haul American Airlines Flights? British Airways Avios Miles

British Airways Executive Club: The basics

It might seem as though a U.K.-based frequent flyer program wouldn’t have much to offer travelers living in the United States. However, British Airways’ membership in the oneworld Alliance — which includes American Airlines — and the high value of Avios, British Airways’ version of airline miles, makes the Executive Club attractive for globetrotters with both international and domestic destinations in mind.

The Executive Club has four membership tiers:

Blue membership: You are a Blue member as soon as you join the Executive Club. Features include:

  • Collect Avios
  • Collect Tier Points*
  • Member-only offers on travel and shopping

Bronze membership: Attain Bronze membership after you collect 300 Tier Points* during your membership year. As a Bronze member, you receive:

  • All Blue membership features
  • 25% bonus Avios on flights**
  • Priority check-in and boarding
  • Free seat selection seven days prior to boarding (British Airways flights only)

Silver membership: Qualify for Silver benefits after you accumulate 600 Tier Points* during your membership year. Perks include:

  • All Bronze membership features
  • 50% bonus Avios on flights**
  • Priority over Bronze and Blue members on reservation waitlists and airport standby
  • Free seat selection when booking
  • Access to business lounges
  • Additional baggage allowance
  • Reservation Assurance: Get a last-minute economy seat on any British Airways flight, even if the flight is full
  • Select privileges with partner Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group

Gold membership: Reach Gold status after you earn 1,500 Tier Points* within the membership year. As a Gold member, you get:

  • All Silver membership features
  • 100% bonus Avios on flights**
  • Access to First lounges
  • Access to additional reward flights
  • Complimentary spa treatment at certain airports
  • Select privileges with partners Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Langham Hotels and Avis Rental Service

*You can earn Tier Points by flying with British Airways and oneworld Alliance partners. Your Tier Points are reset at the end of each membership year. Once you reach a certain tier, you will remain on that tier for the remainder of the current membership year and the following membership year. Although your Tier Points expire each year, they are added to your Lifetime Tier Points. Once you’ve earned 35,000 Lifetime Tier Points, you receive Gold membership for life.

**For example, if your flight earns you 1,000 Avios, you’ll receive 1,250 as a Bronze member, 1,500 as a Silver member and 2,000 as a Gold member.

Cards that earn Avios

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

  • Earn 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. Earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $10,000 total on purchases within your first year of account opening for a total of 75,000 bonus Avios. Earn a further 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening for a total of 100,000 bonus Avios.
  • Earn 3 Avios per dollar spent on British Airways purchases
  • Earn 1 Avios per dollar spent on all other purchases

How to get more Avios

For a frequent flier program, British Airways is uncharacteristically generous in providing opportunities to collect Avios:

Flying: Earn Avios every time you fly on British Airways or one of its oneworld Alliance partners. The amount you earn depends on the airline you fly, the type of cabin, the fare class and your Executive Club tier. Use the Avios flight calculator (login required) to determine how many Avios you would earn for a given flight.

Other travel: You can collect Avios by staying at certain partner hotels or booking a car rental with Avis. Plus, you can earn bonus Avios when booking vacations by British Airways that include a flight, hotel and/or car rental.

Shopping and lifestyle: Receive up to 12 Avios per dollar spent on over 150 online retailers through the British Airways’ Gate 365 shopping platform. You can also earn Avios by participating in a selection of online surveys or subscribing to Business Traveller magazine through the Executive Club.

Transfer partners: The Executive Club has teamed up with other loyalty programs to allow you to convert points you hold with those programs to Avios at a specified rate:

  • Chase Ultimate Rewards (1:1 ratio)
  • American Express Membership Rewards (1:1 ratio)
  • Starwood Preferred Guest (1:1 ratio)
  • Golden Circle Awards (1:1 ratio)
  • Le Club Accor (2:1 ratio)
  • Hyatt Gold Passport (2.5:1 ratio)
  • Marriott Rewards (starts at 5:1 ratio)
  • IHG Rewards Club (5:1 ratio)
  • Hilton HHonors (10:1 ratio)
  • Club Carlson (10:1 ratio)
  • Jin Jiang Hotels J-Club (10:1 ratio)

The Executive Club sometimes has special offers for point transfers. For example, during May 2015 you can transfer points from select partners and receive up to 25% bonus Avios.

Purchase Avios: You may buy Avios in increments of 1,000 up to 35,000 in a calendar year. The purchase rate operates on a sliding scale. For example, if you buy the minimum 1,000 Avios, the rate is 5.3 cents apiece. If you buy the maximum 35,000 Avios, the rate is 2.8 cents each. Because the Nerds value Avios at an average of 1.6 cents each, purchasing Avios might not be worth it, even if you get the best purchase rate.

How to redeem Avios

Good redemption options

Based on the Nerds’ calculations, you can score business/first class international flights with British Airways at a value of 1.8 cents per Avios. Some of the flights we tested provided a much better value, offering Avios redemption at up to 3.7 cents apiece. You can also book international flights with oneworld Alliance partners, though the redemption value varies by distance and carrier.

Although British Airways doesn’t operate domestic flights in the United States, you can take advantage of its oneworld Alliance membership to book flights with American Airlines directly through the British Airways site. US Airways (owned by American) and Alaska Airlines are also British Airways partners, though they are not oneworld Alliance members. You can use the reward flight calculator to determine how many Avios you need for both domestic and international flights.

If you don’t have enough points for a full fare, the Executive Club allows you to pay part of your ticket with Avios starting at 750 Avios for $7.50 off — this values your Avios at 1 cent each. Considering the average value of 1.6 cents per Avios when redeeming for a flight in full, part payment may only be worth it if you’re short a few thousand Avios.

If your travel plans include a hotel or car rental, you can redeem Avios for both. You can also spend your Avios on luxury experiences at your destination. For example, you can explore New York City from above with a helicopter tour or enjoy a dinner cruise on the Vltava River in Prague.

Keep in mind that these redemption alternatives may or may not be as valuable as saving your Avios for future flights.

Bad redemption options

Avios are typically valuable, no matter what you use them for. However, one thing to watch out for is costly fuel surcharges on some British Airways flights, as they can actually give your Avios negative value. If you’re confronted with a fuel surcharge when picking your itinerary, consider finding a flight to the same destination with another oneworld Alliance member that doesn’t charge such a fee.

Transfer partners

Because British Airways is a member of the oneworld Alliance, you can book flights with any of the following airlines through British Airways’ booking platform:

  • Airberlin
  • American Airlines
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • LAN
  • TAM
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

The fine print

Avios will expire if you do not have any activity on your account at least once every 36 months. Some flights may not be eligible to earn Avios. The Executive Club allows you to pool your Avios with up to six other people who live with you with a household account, making family vacations more rewarding.

Top cards to help you get Avios

British Airways Visa Signature® Card

With British Airways’ oneworld Alliance membership, the British Airways Visa Signature® Card is a solid choice for both international and domestic travelers. In addition to earning 3 Avios on British Airways purchases, you earn 1 Avios on all other purchases, giving the card a slight advantage over other airline credit cards that typically offer 1 point per dollar on everyday purchases.

The British Airways Visa Signature® Card also comes with a great sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. Earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $10,000 total on purchases within your first year of account opening for a total of 75,000 bonus Avios. Earn a further 25,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year from account opening for a total of 100,000 bonus Avios. Another great perk is the Travel Together ticket, which lets you bring a companion for free on a flight purchased with Avios after you spend $30,000 on the card in a calendar year. International travelers will like that the card has no foreign transaction fees and offers chip-and-signature technology.

Like many other travel cards, the British Airways Visa Signature® Card has an annual fee: $95. The card is great for international travelers, but keep in mind that British Airways is limited in its U.S. offerings.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

While the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card doesn’t earn Avios directly, you can transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards to Avios at a 1:1 ratio. Let’s start with the sign-up bonus: Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $625 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.

An ultimate travel card, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card has no foreign transaction fees, chip and signature technology and offers 2 points per dollar spent on travel and dining. You also earn 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases. It has an $0 for the first year, then $95.

Because Ultimate Rewards points are worth 25% more when you redeem them through the Chase Ultimate Rewards site, you may need to do the math to determine whether transferring your points provides more value.

Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express is a Nerd favorite because its Starpoints have a high value when redeeming at Starwood hotels. In addition, you can transfer your Starpoints to your Executive Club account with a 1:1 transfer.

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express has a nice sign-up bonus: Earn 25,000 bonus Starpoints® after you use your new Card to make $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months. Terms Apply.

For ongoing rewards, up to 5 Starpoints per dollar on purchases at participating SPG hotels, 2 Starpoints per dollar at Marriott Rewards properties, and 1 Starpoint per dollar on all other purchases.

The annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $95.

›› MORE: Reviews of major rewards programs

Methodology

The calculated value of these points is based on an estimated redemption rate, not a credit card rewards earn rate. Therefore, you may notice that these numbers don’t match the rewards rates on our credit card finder tool. Read on for how we estimated these points values.

For our calculations, we sampled five international round-trip airline routes. These are the routes we used:

  • New York City to London
  • New York City to Paris
  • Los Angeles to London
  • San Francisco to Rome
  • San Francisco to Barcelona

The points value ranged from -0.9 cents (due to fuel surcharge) to 3.7 cents apiece for economy fares, averaging 1.1 cents. For business/first class fares, the points value ranged from 0.8 cents to 2.6 cents each, averaging 1.8 cents.

To determine the value of your miles for specific flights, divide the cash value of the ticket (less any applicable taxes/fees if you redeem miles) by the number of miles required for the flight. So if the ticket would cost either $100 or 15,000 miles + $10 in taxes/fees, the math would be as follows:

($100 – $10) / 15,000 = 0.006, or 0.6 cents per mile

Last updated on April 29, 2015.

Ben Luthi is a staff writer covering personal finance for NerdWallet. Follow him on Twitter @benluthi and on Google+.


Image via iStock.