Why Avios Is My Favorite Secondary Program

Scottrick wrote yesterday about using Avios for short domestic flights on Alaska Airlines or American Airlines that otherwise wouldn’t make sense to redeem awards for. While I would rather pay a last-minute $150 fare from LAX to the Bay Area than redeem 10,000 United miles + $75 late-ticketing fee, I would definitely redeem 4,500 Avios + no late-ticketing fee for that same trip on American in a heartbeat, getting me over 3 cents value per point. Since you earn 1.25 Avios per dollar with the Chase British Airways Visa, that’s a 3.75-cent return on top of the current lucrative 100,000-point bonus.

Short domestic flights are still some of the best uses of Avios, but I also love Avios for a host of other reasons, as they help me extend trips in places around the world. If I want to fly to Europe or Asia, I’ll use another award currency like United, American, or US Airways miles. Once there, though, Avios makes it a lot easier to travel within those areas.

As a review, airlines like American, Delta, and United run primarily region-based programs, which charge based on the region of your departure and arrival city. For example, United charges a set price for a trip between mainland USA/Canada and Europe. That means you’ll pay the same number of miles for a trip between Newfoundland and London (a 5-hour flight on a narrow Airbus A319 across the ocean!) as you would a trip from Los Angeles to Istanbul, despite the latter trip being three times the distance.

British Airways Avios is a distance-based program, where you pay for each segment based on on how far the segment is. The program is great for short flights, where as little as 4500 Avios packs the same punch as 12,500 points in another program.

Use Avios for flights that cross between different regions on another airline’s award chart.

Easter Island can only be accessed on LAN Airlines, a member of OneWorld. They serve the island from Santiago and Tahiti, as well as seasonally from Lima. American AAdvantage places Easter Island in the South Pacific region, which means that they’ll charge 40,000 AAdvantage miles for a simple Lima to Easter Island one-way in economy. However, since Avios relies on distance, you can redeem that same seat on the direct flight for 12,500 Avios. Even if you have to fly via Santiago, it would be 22,500 Avios. Granted, this isn’t an everyday award, but the disparity in price shows how Avios has its strategic value.

For reference, South America is a brilliant place to explore with Avios. Once you’re on the continent, you can redeem Avios for seats on LAN via their many national subsidiaries, like LAN Peru. In addition to American and Alaska, LAN doesn’t charge any fuel surcharges at all. Last year, I booked a Lima to Cuzco roundtrip for 9,000 Avios + $13 tax. Four months out, the cheapest flights were $270, and the particular flight I was on was $395. LAN covers much of western South America, and with its integrated airline with Brazilian carrier TAM likely to join OneWorld, Avios is bound to only get stronger in that continent.

Use Avios to fill in an open-jaw on another award.

I recently helped a reader book a Delta award on Korean Air between the US and China. The award is New York to Seoul (stopover), continuing on to Shanghai. The return is Hong Kong to Seoul to New York. As you can see, the award has an open-jaw between Shanghai and Hong Kong, and the reader was wondering whether to pay the $246 one-way fare they found between the two cities. I recommended checking availability on British Airways’ site for Cathay Pacific – an award for this route ended up being only 7500 Avios plus $45 ($31 of which was a fuel surcharge).

Avios Open-Jaw Example

The red signifies the main award used to get to Asia, while the orange line signifies the open-jaw easily filled in with Avios.

This was a great use of Avios since Hong Kong is Cathay Pacific’s hub, so you’re bound to find at least one non-stop flight on Cathay Pacific or Dragonair to nearby destinations. And while there is a fuel surcharge, $31 isn’t too bad considering that other programs would have charged twice the number of miles.

Use Avios to strategically save a free one-way for a longer and/or more expensive flight.

One of the more interesting stopover rules out there is the American AAdvantage North American stopover. It’s somewhat restrictive but can be useful in a pinch. I recently put an award on hold from Asia on Cathay Pacific First Class, with the final leg being Hong Kong to San Francisco. Since SFO is the airport in which I would enter North America, I could call it a stopover and continue a domestic one-way anytime within a year of ticketing. I live in Los Angeles, but a short SFO-LAX flight seems like a waste of a free flight.

However, I really like New York City, and love making trips out there to see my friends. American Airlines runs transcontinental service with enhanced service in First and Business class on their routes to New York JFK from LAX and SFO. A better idea to me would be to book a stopover in San Francisco and continue my one-way on American’s Transcontinental First Class service when I want to make a trip to New York.

To keep that stopover intact, I could use just 9,000 Avios for a roundtrip between San Francisco and Los Angeles — the SFO-LAX leg would occur right after I land from Hong Kong and the LAX-SFO flight would occur right before the flight to New York. That’s basically spending 9,000 Avios to save my stopover for a transcontinental flight in a premium class.

The AA award is HKG-SFO (stopover)-JFK. The Avios award allows me to cheaply go home to LAX between the Hong Kong and New York trips.

The AA award is HKG-SFO (stopover)-JFK. The Avios award allows me to cheaply go home to LAX between the Hong Kong and New York trips.

What makes this even better is that American Airlines protects you on two separate OneWorld tickets.

AA to/from AA or a oneworld® Carrier
If a customer is holding separate tickets on AA or another oneworld carrier, customers holding separate tickets where travel is on oneworld airlines should be treated as through ticketed passengers. In the event of a disruption on the originating ticket, the carrier responsible for the disruption will be required to reroute the customer to their final destination. The ticket stock of the second ticket must be of a oneworld carrier, eligible under the Endorsement Waiver Agreement. You may contact AA Reservations 1-800-433-7300 (U.S. and Canada) or outside the U.S. and Canada, reference Worldwide Reservations Numbers for additional information if the separate ticket is for travel on a oneworld carrier.

Having two tickets means you usually have to build in some time into your itinerary to make sure you don’t miss your connection, since you’re usually not protected from delays. In this case, you could book the flights as if they were one reservation, saving a decent amount of time.

Don’t forget to also sign up for an Iberia Plus frequent-flyer account.

If you do have a British Airways account that stores your Avios, it’s a good idea to sign up for an Iberia account right now. Both programs share the Avios currency. If you ever need to book a flight on Iberia, booking with your Avios through Iberia’s program tends to have lower taxes on some routes than through British Airways’ program, particularly on flights from North America to Spain. The kicker is that you can only transfer Avios between your British Airways and Iberia accounts once they are both at least 3 months old. Preparation is a good trait in the miles game, so it makes sense to sign up for an Iberia account as soon as possible, for that just-in-case moment.

Iberia with Iberia Avios

A New York-Madrid one-way shows up as 20,000 Avios and about US$64 in taxes on Iberia’s site.

Iberia with BA Avios

The same booking using British Airways’ program has over $200 in extra surcharges that Iberia didn’t charge.

The beauty in Avios relies in their partners, both OneWorld and non-alliance, like Alaska and Aer Lingus. And while other award programs can help achieve more aspirational awards, Avios is a great practical program to have some points in.

British Airways Visa Is Possibly the Best Secret Weapon In Your Wallet
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  • dhammer53

    Avios saved lots of cash on Lima/Cusco and EZE/Mendoza when my wife and I were in South America. I like having Avios ‘parked’ for flights like this.

  • Joel Yong

    Managed to transfer out 2000 Accor points earned from the geography quizzes to 5000 Iberia Avios :) which is good for a one way ticket on <650 mile flights.

  • Aptraveler

    Amol, great write up on the ‘hidden’ benefits that Avios has to offer. They can also be used on BA (Comair) network of flights within South Africa and/or neighboring countries. I booked a JNB-CPT for 7500 Avios instead of paying the $250 fare and I’ll be flying a 737 BA metal. Who would have thought?

  • Nate

    When registering for Iberia, it asks for a document number under national id card. I’m not going to put any of my personal info such as ss# or driver’s license #. What should I put there?

    • AKold

      I signed up a while ago, I believe I put in my passport number (though not sure). In any case, I don’t think it actually verifies the number.

  • a long cat

    what software did you use to draw the maps? They are really pretty!

  • William IV

    Just as a tip to people setting up their Iberia account- you must have a mileage balance with Iberia before you can make a transfer between your BA and Iberia accounts. Additionally, your Iberia password needs to be only numerical for the transfer to work. I wold explain why for both, but lets just say I spent a good 2 months figuring out why I couldn’t transfer points.

    • Al Schultz

      William IV,
      having difficulty with the transfer.. could you please expound on what you did to enable transfer between BA and Iberia.

  • avi404

    For those with more experience with Avios:

    I tried searching for short haul Alaska route (SEA-SFO) in Avios and got an error saying that BA and it’s partners don’t fly this route. I was very surprised because this post and other blogs have clearly stated that Alaska is a partner and it can be searched for using Avios.

    So wondering if you folks had any insight into this matter and if things have changed recently.

    • Amol

      Alaska cannot be booked online. You’ll need to call in to BA. There is a $25 fee although you could ask to have it waived since Alaska isn’t bookable online.

      • avi404

        Thanks Amol for the prompt response. Have been on hold with BA for last 20 minutes. Will share what I learn.

        • Scottrick

          BA’s reservations desk closes at 4 PM Pacific Time, and I’ve often found that it simply refuses to place me on hold if I call after 3 PM. Fortunately, they’re helpful and friendly once you get through, and the agents have always volunteered to waive the fee before I can ask.

  • D Anderson

    For those with Chase Ultimate Reward experience:

    I’m booking my return from Tokyo and I have 50,000 plus points I’m willing to use to return from Tokyo ending in Chicago but I’d like to stop in Honolulu for about 2 or 3 days. What is the best program to transfer my UR points too, between, Korean Skypass, United or British Airways?

    • Scottrick

      Both Korean and BA impose fuel surcharges on award tickets, so United is probably the cheapest assuming it has award availability. However, you won’t be able to get a free stopover in Honolulu with United.

      You might consider using United to book to HNL and then BA to get to ORD. Or if there’s availability with Hawaiian Airlines you could look at booking with Korean.

  • http://www.chrysis.org Jordan

    Hello! Newylweds in DC (DCA-IAD-BWI) looking to go to Phuket (HKT), Vietnam and Seoul (two week trip) for 1st anniversary in late July. We have 100K Avios, 250K Amex and 50K USAirways. We love to do the long hauls business class with as little cash as possible. Also a IC (IHG) Royal Ambassador w/ 300K points. Please advise?

    • Scottrick

      Your best bet may be to book through Avios or KrisFlyer. You can transfer Membership Rewards points to either, but both will impose fuel surcharges.

      You don’t have enough US Airways miles to do much that’s useful, but if you can use them for intra-Asia flights or add to the balance by taking advantage of purchase and transfer bonuses, that may help.

  • Steve

    Hi there! I’m trying to book a flight through avios from Lima to Cusco in June and July. Do you guys know if there’s a lot of availability for these dates or should I book as soon as possible?

    • http://www.travelcodex.com/ Scott Mackenzie

      My guess is there would be some good availability on a short route like that. If you are using Avios, start looking now. If you don’t find any space by the end of April, it’s time to seriously consider buying tickets.