Stretch Your British Airways Avios Further With These 5 Awesome Redemptions

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best uses of British Airways Avios

Best Uses of British Airways Avios

British Airways Avios are an award currency known primarily for their sweet-spot pricing. At least, that is what got me interested in the program initially. Having a distance-based award chart means that there will be solid winner and solid losers when it comes to awards. Knowing how to best navigate the award pricing will lead you to all the best uses of British Airways Avios.

British Airways prices their awards by segment. This means that the nonstop option will pretty much always be the better choice in terms of number of Avios. Awards with connections are priced as the sum of the segments.

Earning British Airways Avios

The most ideal feature of British Airways Avios is how ridiculously easy they are to earn. Between card offers of 100,000 Avios, to multiple transferable currency partners, to massive 40% transfer bonuses, it’s easy to earn quite a few. Given the high prices for long-haul business class, this might seem necessary. But this is generally not one of the best uses of British Airways Avios.

Here are several cards that will earn you either Avios directly or points that are transferable to Avios:

Why I Like British Airways Avios

British Airways Avios may not be the most ideal currency for us, living in far northern California. Being located at an American Airlines hub would make them far more valuable. However, British Airways Avios can be used on Alaska Airlines, which means I can still use them for short hops up and down the coast.

The value you get per Avios is the main turnoff. I find that many times economy flights are netting me just 1.0-1.3 cents per Avios, which isn’t all that hot. However, if you factor in the 40% transfer bonus (assuming you only transfer during these times), you’re looking at 1.4 to 1.8 cents per Membership Rewards point, which isn’t half bad for economy flights.

Even though I find them less valuable than other currencies, at least in terms of cents per mile, you can still get great value out of Avios. Here are the five best uses of British Airways Avios.

Hawaii from the West Coast

If there is one sweet spot Avios are known for, it is for getting to Hawaii from the West Coast. With both American Airlines and Alaska Airlines as partners, you have a good number of route options to Hawaii. The key here is that you need a nonstop flight under 3,000 miles, which means that anything from Phoenix westward will qualify.

American has fewer routes, so I like to focus on Alaska. They offer plenty of flights, no matter which island you’re hoping to visit. Here is a map of most of the route you can fly.

best uses of British Airways Avios

British Airways increased their pricing very modestly earlier in 2019. I’d expected things to be worse, but the increase of 500 Avios to 13,000 Avios for a one-way award doesn’t change the math much on the value of these awards.

I will say that flights to Hawaii have been pretty competitive from the west coast, with round-trip fares dropping under $300 on many occasions. Still, Avios are a solid option if you cannot find a great cash deal.

Nonstop Short-Haul on American or Alaska

The other great use for domestic flights is for nonstop travel on American and Alaska under 1,150 miles. British Airways doesn’t price any awards within, incoming to, or departing from the United States within their Zone 1 awards (under 650 miles). Everything touching the U.S. prices at Zone 2 (under 1,150 miles), costing 9,000 Avios one-way.

The 1,150-mile limit is enough to fly you from Seattle to San Diego, Portland to Phoenix, O’Hare to Orlando. It covers many of the routes offered by American and Alaska.

The key is finding those that tend to have a higher cash price. For competitive hops, such as Los Angeles to San Francisco, there is no way I’d use Avios unless it’s during the holiday rush (when you’d have a hard time scoring award space). But for hops such as Chicago to Charleston, WV going for ~$300 round-trip, Avios are a solid value.

The resource is very out of date (with many routes missing), but I really like the Avios Map Calculator. It let’s you visualize the destinations available (ignore the prices…7,500 is now 9,000) based on your starting airport.

Off-Peak British Airways Premium Economy from U.S. East

Premium economy awards can be tough to come by. Few programs have especially attractive pricing. British Airways isn’t always the best option, either, but there are a few sweet spots you can find, and I think they are worthy of a mention among the best uses of British Airways Avios.

One of the few perks of using Avios on British Airways itself is the off-peak pricing. Avios used on other IAG airlines Aer Lingus and Iberia likewise offer off-peak dates, although the calendars differ.

For British Airways routes of 4,000 miles or fewer, you’re looking at just 26,000 Avios for a one-way premium economy ticket. Departure points include Chicago, New York, Washington Dulles, Boston, and Toronto, all flying to London.

For a ticket that runs ~$1,200 round-trip, paying 26,000 Avios and $253 one-way is a fine deal. This is really just 19,000 Membership Rewards, assuming you catch a 40% transfer bonus.

best uses of British Airways Avios

The real magic here is if you have the British Airways Visa Signature Card, as it now offers a rebate on the enormous fees paid on British Airways tickets (up to 3 tickets per year). For a one-way to London, you’re now looking at just $153 in fees. Not bad at all.

Off-Peak Flights to Ireland on Aer Lingus

Another overlooked British Airways partner is Aer Lingus. The sister airline is also IAG-owned. However, Aer Lingus awards still don’t show on the British Airways website, making them a bit hard to search for. You can use the United website, but the award inventory doesn’t always match up.

The key here is to travel to Ireland during off-peak times, as the prices are substantially less. For airports in the U.S. east (flights less than 4,000 miles), you’re looking at just 13,000 Avios per person each way. For flights to the U.S. west, you’re looking at 16,250 Avios per person each way. But the big question is…what are the fees like?

At first glance, not good. I used the avios.com website to find the space, and the fees aren’t pretty. Paying just 16,250 Avios one-way is fine, but $137? Nope.

However, I’ve read that fees using British Airway as Avios on Aer Lingus should be substantially less. I placed a couple calls to British Airways to price out awards on Aer Lingus. The good news: fees for Aer Lingus tickets booked through British Airways are lower than what is shown at the avios.com website. Here are a a couple sample routes:

  • San Francisco to Dublin – 16,250 Avios and ~$35
  • Chicago to Dublin – 13,000 Avios and ~$35

I realize now that I didn’t price a return option from Dublin, but based on the fees I see at united.com, I’m going to guess that they are still less than $100, maybe about $70. In any case, they are much better than what British Airways charges.

We don’t see quite as many fare sales to Dublin and especially nonstop on Aer Lingus (at least based on what I’ve seen from the West Coast), so this makes Avios an excellent option for visiting Ireland.

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Flights to the Caribbean and Central America on American Airlines

If the value of domestic nonstop flights aren’t enough to turn your head for just 9,000 Avios one-way, then flights to the Caribbean may be something to consider. Flights 1,150 miles and under still cost 9,000 Avios, while flights between 1,151 and 2,000 miles cost 11,000 Avios.

Here are some sample routes that you can fly for 9,000 Avios:
  • Miami to San Juan
  • Miami to Aruba
  • Charlotte to Nassau
  • Miami to Guatemala City
Here are some sample routes you can fly for 11,000 Avios:
  • Dallas to Montego Bay
  • Philadelphia to Aruba
  • Charlotte to Sint Maarten
  • New York JFK to Cancun
  • Miami to Quito (yes, South America!)

In general, Avios are going to be a better deal than American’s own awards, although their web specials are worth considering, as I’ve found a few excellent deals to Caribbean airports as well. The one thing that will hit you are high departure taxes from many Caribbean airports.

Other Best Uses of British Airways Avios

Given the transfer bonus opportunity, there are other routes where Avios aren’t all that bad of an option. I just try not to add to my stash when there is anything except a 40% bonus.

Avios are also useful for short-haul flights on British Airways within Europe (especially at off-peak pricing), but I find that the taxes and fees often, although less, still make these fairly poor value. I was pricing out tickets from Belfast to London, and for 4 off-peak tickets one way, I was looking at 16,000 Avios and $111 in fees. The same tickets could be purchased for $208 ($52 x 4). Getting 0.6 cent per Avios is garbage.

I’ve also been interested in flying Air Italy, and there aren’t many ways to do this besides Avios. However, prices are high and surcharges are high.

There are also a couple situations where using them for long-haul may not be all that bad an option. The fees are usually high enough that this is a no-go for me, but there are a handful of routes where you can find much lower fuel surcharges (e.g. ex-Hong Kong, ex-Brazil).

Conclusion

British Airways Avios are a currency with a good number of sweet spots, but also plenty of “sour” spots. The distance-based award chart is awesome when it works in your favor, but killer for many trips. Long-haul premium cabin awards become inflated very quickly. And Britain’s flag carrier tacks on egregious fuel surcharges to boot.

But not all is bad, and any of these best uses of British Airways Avios make for a fine award redemption.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Ian. Great post and love the podcast too!

    Couple clarification questions
    (1). How do I find Alaska flights for use with Avios? I use the BA site for great AA short hauls but have not see AK flights ever.
    (2) Can you clarify what fees are refunded with the Signature card? For example, if I book a US to LHR biz class ticket on BA are the surcharges refunded or just tax? And is the tax the same for all classes?

    Keep up the great work!

    • (1) You need to search at Alaska.com and find awards at Alaska’s saver rate. Check the award chart to find what the lowest prices are.

      (2) The fee refund is $100 off an economy or premium economy booking or $200 off a business or first booking, originating in the U.S. This takes off some of the surcharges, but not all. Taxes/surcharges are greater for premium cabins.

      Thanks for reading and for the great comment!

  2. Best use in my opinion is paying cash for a transatlantic premium economy ticket (e.g. JFK-LHR) and upgrading to Club World using Avios.

    • That is something I’m aware of, but have no explored. Given the potential reasonable fare for PE (maybe $1,000-$1,200?) and smaller number of miles for an upgrade, I can see the appeal of this use.

  3. I realize that I cannot live in the past, but it is hard for me to get excited about short haul nonstop AA awards for 9000 Avios one way, when a lot of the same routes were available for 4500 Avios one way within the US and between the US and Caribbean as late as 2016. The elimination of zone 1 awards in North America, the most recent BA devaluation increasing the “zone 2” award from 7500 to 9000 Avios, and AA’s decreased availability of SAAver awards on US nonstop routes has made this a lot less valuable. Also, with US airlines introducing dynamic pricing, and other options (e.g., Iberia, Qantas, Turkish awards), BA Avios no longer provides a consistent pricing advantage for short to medium length on North America routes.

    A better use of the short haul, economy BA pricing IMO is for flights entirely outside North America where zone 1 pricing still exists. I used BA Avios to book flights intra-Australia and intra-Europe flights for 4500 Avios one way (before the most recent devaluation, so they would be 6000 Avios now) but agree that you need to look at fees/taxes and flight prices to determine if using Avios or paying cash makes more sense.

    • Both of those devaluations certainly hurt, and I can see why it is frustrating to essentially be paying double now. But for a regional flight that costs $350 round-trip, I consider 18,000 Avios to be an excellent deal. Especially as this is just 13,000 MR.

      I almost added a section on awards outside the U.S., but I ended up crafting the post to be very U.S.-centric.

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