8 tips on how best to use British Airways Avios points
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British Airways Avios points are likely the easiest frequent flyer miles to earn for free via credit cards. Not only is there a co-branded British Airways credit card, but it’s also got a laundry list of transfer partners that make it super effortless to accrue.
On the other hand, British Airways does not make it easy to understand their loyalty program. They have various award charts, exorbitant fuel surcharges, distance-based pricing, and more. You can pay wildly different prices for the same route.
I’ll show you the tools and resources to get lower prices and to hopefully make sense of it all. Here are seven tips you need to know before booking an award flight with British Airways.
There are multiple award charts
British Airways shares a loyalty program with two other airlines: Iberia (Spain) and Aer Lingus (Ireland). If you’ve got points in any of these programs, you can freely transfer them between programs. Here’s why that’s helpful.
- All three airlines have different award charts
- All three airlines have different peak/off-peak award dates
- All three airlines have unique and interesting sweet spots
That last bullet is important and very interesting. If you’ve got a mass of British Airways Avios, you can save tens of thousands of points (not to mention hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees) by transferring them to Iberia or Aer Lingus. For example, say you’re looking for a business class flight to Europe from Boston. Here’s what it’ll cost:
- Boston to London on British Airways – 50,000 points + $729 in taxes and fees
- Boston to Dublin on Aer Lingus – 50,000 points + $145 in taxes and fees
- Boston to Madrid on Iberia – 34,000 points and $89 in taxes and fees
Once you’re in Europe, you can hop around for insanely cheap. The primary goal is just to cross the Atlantic in a lie-flat seat. So even if your destination is London, it’s better to use one of the other programs to get to Europe, then take a $25 hop over to London.
Stopovers are free
Here’s a unique feature to the British Airways program: Unlimited stopovers are effectively free. I’ll explain.
There are two characteristics of British Airways you need to know:
- Award prices are distance-based. The farther you fly, the more points you’ll pay
- British Airways prices each award flight by segment. In other words, every connection on your itinerary is considered a new ticket
For example, if you were to book a flight from Dayton to Rome, the first flight British Airways presents is 33,250 points. There’s a connection in Philadelphia.
But if you were to book each leg separately, it would still come out to the same price. Here’s a flight from Dayton to Philadelphia.
And here’s a flight from Philadelphia to Rome.
The same 33,250 points, and you’ve booked each leg separately. This empowers you to build stopovers into your trip that can last as long as you want (like, months and months if you desire).
Transfer to Iberia to avoid “segment” pricing
So you’ve just learned that British Airways prices each award flight by segment. Depending on your route, this can make a short or medium-haul flight quite expensive. Let’s look at a flight from Orlando to Austin with British Airways Avios. Remember that British Airways has a distance-based award chart.
A nonstop flight between 651 miles and 1,150 miles costs 9,000 Avios points. Orlando to Austin is 994 miles, hence 9,000 Avios.
A flight from Orlando to Austin via Charlotte costs 16,500 Avios:
- Flights up to 650 miles cost 7,500 Avios (Orlando to Charlotte is 468 miles)
- Flights between 651 and 1,151 miles cost 9,000 Avios (Charlotte to Austin is 1,032 miles)
Basically, the fewer connections you have, the more likely you are to save points.
However, Iberia doesn’t price awards this way. They only look at the distance flown, and price accordingly:
- 11,000 Iberia Avios points for flights under 600 miles
- 12,000 Iberia Avios points for flights between 601 and 1,000 miles
- 17,000 Iberia Avios points for flights between 1,001 and 2,000 miles
- 23,000 Iberia Avios points for flights between 2,001 and 4,000 miles
The only issue with them is that they only allow you to book round-trip flights if you’re booking domestically. If we use the same example above (Orlando to Austin via Philadelphia) you’ll fly 1,500 miles each way, or 3,000 miles in total. That means you’d pay 23,000 Iberia Avios for a round-trip ticket. That’s 10,000 miles less than the same round-trip route using British Airways!
I’ve saved thousands and thousands of miles using Iberia Avios over British Airways Avios. Just note you can’t as freely build-in infinite stopovers to your trip with Iberia like you can using British Airways Avios.
Use partners with low/no fuel surcharges with British Airways
This is where people get discouraged and give up on Avios.
As you can see from the above examples, British Airways often imposes crippling fuel surcharges when you use them for seats on British Airways planes – particularly if you’re flying internationally. First class award tickets can cost $1,000+ in additional “fees.” But there are some airline partners that don’t charge these arbitrary fees – and those are often the best uses of British Airways Avios.
In short, don’t make the mistake of flying on British Airways when you can fly to the same destination without fuel surcharges on partners. For example, MMS readers love using British Airways Avios to fly on American Airlines. Here are a few uncomplicated tips to follow:
- American Airlines – Ideal for domestic flights and flights within the Americas, and to Asia
- Aer Lingus – Low fuel surcharges to Europe
- Iberia – Low fuel surcharges to Europe
- Cathay Pacific – Low fuel surcharges to Asia, but premium award prices are high
- Royal Air Maroc – Reasonable taxes and fees to get to areas of Africa
The biggest problem here is getting to most of Asia and getting across the Pacific in general to Australia. You’ll have to pay some steep fuel surcharges to fly Qantas (Australia’s flag carrier), and routing any other way would be astronomical in points.
If you want to go to Australia, in my opinion, you should use other programs. It’s not worth it. Although I do have a slight trick to that – I’ll share it a bit later.
Use British Airways Avios to book expensive short-haul flights
Since British Airways is distance-based, one easy bang for your buck is tiny little flights that cost a ton of money otherwise. For example:
- Miami to Cancun, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay, Turks & Caicos, Aruba, etc. for 7,500 Avios
- New York to Bermuda for 9,000 Avios
- Madrid to the Spanish Islands like Lanzarote Tenerife for 9,000 Avios
- Johannesburg to Mauritius for, I want to say, 10,000-13,000 Avios (availability is awful right now)
This list goes on.
Some connections cost less than nonstop flights
So, British Airways calculates the price segment by segment – this we’ve established. I’ve also hinted that the fewer connections you have, the better. But one hack of the British Airways award chart is understanding that this is not always the case.
The example I commonly use is Los Angeles to Sydney. To book a nonstop flight there costs 51,500 points. You’ll fly on partner Qantas to get there. However, consider this route instead of a nonstop:
- Los Angeles to Honolulu costs 13,000 points
- Honolulu to Sydney will cost you 27,500 points
That’s a total of 38,750 points — 12,750 points less than a nonstop flight! Plus, you get a free stopover in Hawaii for as long as you want.
Wandering Aramean has a neat tool to calculate (or estimate) British Airways award flight prices. While the values it shows appear to be a little outdated, it can still provide principles for you to follow. For example, by entering Los Angeles to Sydney (the route we just discussed), you can see that the tool indicates a route through Honolulu is significantly cheaper than a nonstop flight. Prices aren’t accurate, but the principle is accurate.
The natural tendency of the British Airways online booking site is to route you through London every chance it gets. But it’s often counterintuitive, not to mention expensive. This Avios Redemption Calculator will show you other hubs to route through. The key here is to know which airport code is which airline’s hub. For example:
- Aer Lingus – DUB
- Iberia – MAD
- AA – JFK, ORD, MIA, DFW, LAX
- Cathay – HKG
When you see these hubs, you’re on the right track.
Use the Avios map tool to price nonstop short/medium-haul flights
Speaking of Wandering Aramean’s British Airways tools, here’s another good one. I use it all the time, even though, again, prices may be slightly off. This one is color-coded, though, which means you can still reasonably estimate your flight cost. I’ll explain that.
The Avios Map tool gives you a visual of every airport with which you can fly using British Airways Avios nonstop. Just select your desired airport, and you can see where Avios can take you – and for how much. Here’s a shot of routes from Dallas.
Each color represents another “price band” in the British Airways award chart:
- Green = <650 miles (not applicable domestically)
- Yellow = 651-1,151 miles (or, domestically, <1,151 miles)
- Blue = 1,152-2,000 miles
- Red = 2,001-3,000 miles
This makes it easier to price out the flights in your head. You can effectively build a trip simply by clicking from airport to airport, and know how much your flight will cost.
The best use of British Airways is flying 3,000 miles at a time
The best use of British Airways Avios is for flights that are just under 3,000 miles. If you can piece them together properly, you can stretch your Avios points to epic lengths.
Here are some examples of flights that are 13,000 points:
- Boston to London (13,000 points)
- Miami to Lima (13,000 points)
- Transcontinental flights, like Los Angeles to New York (13,000 points)
- Honolulu to West Coast
There are many, many more examples, especially when you consider great international redemptions, like Hong Kong to India for 13,000 Avios — or Europe to the Middle East/Africa for 13,000 points. This list goes on and on.
But like I said, if you have the time to enjoy these stopovers, you can connect a lot of good routes to make an epic trip. Each connection can be a stopover, remember. For example:
- Seattle – Boston – London – Helsinki – Dubai = 48,000 Avios total as Dublin to Helsinki is only 9,000 Avios.
- New York – Los Angeles – Hawaii = 26,000 Avios
The possibilities are endless, really. You can use Great Circle Mapper to see how far your desired flight will be. As long as it’s as close to 3,000 miles as possible (while still being less than 3,000 miles), you’re doing great!
While the program sounds complicated, there are certainly fantastic benefits to the British Airways program – particularly when it comes to partner award flights. You can find great deals if you know how to look, and even the British Airways award search tool is one of the absolute best when searching for Oneworld alliance award seats.
Hopefully bookmarking this page will give quick access to tools, award bands, and all the stuff you’ll need to book British Airways Avios awards like a pro!
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