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4 Award Sweet Spots Using British Airways Avios

Sept. 5, 2019
Loyalty Programs, Reward Optimization, Travel
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British Airways Executive Club is part of the Avios family of airline rewards programs, along with Iberia Plus and Aer Lingus AerClub. Although you can transfer points freely between the three programs, each one has its own award prices, quirks and sweet spots. You can transfer points to British Airways Avios from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards® and Marriott Bonvoy.

Avios are a distance-based award currency, which means that the number of miles you pay depends on the length of your flight. With British Airways Executive Club, that distance is measured segment-by-segment, which means that you’ll usually pay substantially more for connecting itineraries than for a nonstop flight.

British Airways is part of the Oneworld alliance, which means it partners with airlines like American, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Japan Airlines, LATAM, Qantas and Qatar. You can also use your Avios to book flights on Aer Lingus, Air Italy and Alaska Airlines.

Booking tickets on British Airways generally comes with hefty fuel surcharges regardless of which airline program you’re booking through — including Executive Club — so the sweet spots with Avios redemptions are mostly on partner airlines. Here are a few of our favorites.

» Learn more: 5 reasons to love the British Airways loyalty program

1. West Coast to Hawaii on American Airlines and Alaska Airlines for 13,000 Avios each way

This is one of the best deals for travel from the continental U.S. to Hawaii: Economy flights to Hawaii cost just 13,000 points plus $5.60 each way. Between American and Alaska Airlines you can book nonstop flights to Hawaii from Anchorage, Bellingham, Los Angeles, Oakland, Phoenix, Portland (Oregon), Sacramento, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco and Seattle.

Booking the exact same flights with American Airlines or Alaska Airlines miles would cost you 15,000 to 22,500 miles each way, so this is a substantial savings in comparison.

Business class tickets on these routes will cost you 38,750 Avios each way, which is better than many competing programs but nothing to write home about.

Unfortunately, you can’t book Alaska Airlines flights on the British Airways website. Use the American Airlines website to search for Alaska Airlines partner award space, then call British Airways to use your Avios.

2. Short flights within North America from 9,000 Avios each way

Avios can be a great value for short flights within North America: Any flight under 1,151 miles costs just 9,000 Avios each way. This can be particularly helpful for routes where Alaska or American dominates the market (therefore making cash tickets expensive).

International flights like Dallas to Cancun or Chicago to Montreal are also good options. Booking the same tickets with Alaska or American miles would generally cost you 15,000 miles each way.

Another advantage of using Avios for domestic flights is that while American Airlines charges a $75 close-in booking fee for award flights booked less than 21 days before departure, British Airways has no such fee.

One caveat: Avios aren’t always the best option for very short flights. On flights under 500 miles, American Airlines AAdvantage makes some seats available for just 7,500 miles.

Similarly, Alaska Airlines has variable distance-award pricing, with some seats available for 5,000 Mileage Plan miles on flights under 700 miles and seats for 7,500 miles on flights from 701-1400 miles in length. So if you have access to other mileage programs, be sure to shop around before booking your ticket.

As with Hawaii flights, you’ll have to call British Airways to use your Avios on Alaska Airlines flights.

3. Short flights outside North America from 6,000 Avios each way

Outside of North America, you can get even more value from your Avios on flights under 650 miles, since British Airways has a special zone on their previously public award chart that doesn’t apply to North America flights.

For example, a short domestic flight on Japan Airlines like Tokyo to Takamatsu costs 6,000 Avios plus $2.75 in taxes. A cash ticket for the same route costs between $111 and $234, depending on how far in advance you book. That means you’re getting between 1.9 and 3.9 cents in value for each point you redeem — a fantastic rate of return.

Routes over 650 miles follow the same pricing structure as North America flights, but there are still some fantastic values to be had. A one-way flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong on Japan Airlines or Cathay Pacific will cost you 11,000 Avios plus about $65 in taxes. While you can book that route on low-cost carrier Hong Kong Express for as little as $110 one-way, if you want a more elevated experience, you’d have to pay dearly for it: Cathay Pacific regularly charges $399 for a round trip (or, bizarrely, $479 for a one-way) and Japan Airlines charges upwards of $500 for a round trip or a whopping $1,500 for a one-way ticket.

» Learn more: Baffled by points and miles? Let the 80/20 rule guide you

4. East Coast to Ireland from 13,000 Avios in economy or 50,000 Avios in business class

Booking Aer Lingus award flights with British Airways Avios is one of the least expensive ways to get from the U.S. to Europe with miles. Aer Lingus flies nonstop to 12 U.S. cities from its hub in Dublin, plus two routes from Shannon, Ireland.

Aer Lingus has two sets of pricing — peak and off-peak — depending on when you fly. Peak dates cover about a third of the year: summer, winter holidays and mid-April (U.K. and Ireland spring break).

13,000 Avios in Economy and 50,000 Avios in Business Class applies to flights between Dublin and Boston, Chicago, Hartford, Minneapolis, New York City, Newark, Philadelphia and D.C, as well as flights between Shannon and Boston or New York.

Booking a similar trip with American Airlines AAdvantage miles, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles or United MileagePlus miles generally starts at 22,500-35,000 miles each way in economy and 57,500-70,000 miles each way in business class. So using British Airways Avios to book Aer Lingus award flights can save you a hefty amount of points.

» Learn More: Find the best airline credit card for you

Unfortunately, Aer Lingus award availability doesn’t show up on BA.com, so you have to call British Airways to book award tickets on Aer Lingus. You can, however, use United.com to search for Aer Lingus award availability.

Cancel award tickets for just $55

One of the best things about booking tickets through British Airways is their relatively generous change/cancel policy: The fee for changes and cancellations is $55. The only catch is that cancellations must happen 24 hours before the departure of the first flight on your itinerary — otherwise you won’t get your Avios back.

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