You guys know I love to play up the Best Coast, and one benefit of living here is convenient access to Hawaii. It’s just a five-hour non-stop flight with a time change that works in our favor. It’s even tolerable in economy class. And because British Airways Avios partners with Alaska Airlines and is a distance-based award program, you can book one of these non-stop flights from almost any West Coast gateway for just 12,500 points one-way vs. 40,000 miles through some other programs.
Rob recently emailed me with a concern that he had a bunch of Avios points but couldn’t find any award space from Seattle to Kauai. (He also writes the blog Jetset Seattle.) I’ve heard other readers go one step further and say that they can’t find anything except from LAX to Honolulu. All the award space seems to be gone!
Don’t Use British Airways to Search
One problem people face is that they search on British Airways’ website. Bad idea. BA is partners with Alaska Airlines, but it only displays award space for oneworld Alliance partners, which Alaska is not. You will never find Alaska Airlines award space to Hawaii on BA.com. The only routes that American serves to Hawaii from the West Coast depart its LAX hub, and they’re the only ones that might show up.
Instead, you should search on either AA.com or AlaskaAir.com. I prefer AA.com, because one virtue of using a partner to search is that the same award space should be available to other partners like BA. You can then call British Airways to book over the phone (and you should be successful getting them to waive the phone booking fee). Just beware that the call center has some insane hold times.
Sometimes you’ll want to search on Alaska Airlines anyway. AA.com sometimes gets buggy or has issues displaying award space for alternate routings. For example, American won’t always show that you could fly from Seattle to Portland, and then to Hawaii. Alaska is much better at this.
Recognize What You’re Looking For
When searching on Alaska Airlines you should look for flights that are only 20,000 miles one-way and remember that if it involves a connection it will require more Avios (more about connecting flights in a bit). Alaska Airlines has three levels of economy class award fares — two non-refundable award levels at 20,000 and 30,000 miles and one refundable award level at 40,000 miles. Only 20,000-mile awards can be booked through partners.
Feel free to search segment-by-segment if you think you’ll find some availability to get partway there on Friday and the rest of the way on Saturday. Because you’re using Avios you can book a stopover for as long as you want at any connecting city along the way. Every segment prices separately, so stopovers don’t really mean much. And you can book two one-ways instead of a round-trip if you don’t find all the award space you need at one time.
Avios Is Still Cheaper with Connections
Rob wasn’t really having trouble with searching. He knew where to look, but was frustrated when he found that nearly all the one-way flights he wanted involved connections. (All but one day that month had the cheapest award level when I looked at the calendar view, though according to Rob he met a wall when he reviewed those dates individually.)
I pointed out that even with the extra cost of connecting flights, which are included in other carriers’ more expensive Hawaii awards, Avios could still come out ahead. From Seattle, a round-trip flight to Portland is only 9,000 points (4,500 each way) and brings the total cost of a Hawaii award to 34,000 points. There’s usually more availability from Portland, but if he needed to go as far as the Bay Area, round-trip flights to anywhere in California are only 15,000 points (7,500 each way) and bring the total cost to 40,000 points.
In other words, Rob had a choice between 40,000 miles with a typical airline loyalty program and a range of 25,000 to 40,000 Avios points. Those other programs would probably still require him to connect since Alaska is among the most frequent carriers on these West Coast-Hawaii routes and it’s Alaska that is giving him trouble.
Even if Rob has to pay 40,000 Avios, it might be better than 40,000 miles. He can earn Avios faster with the British Airways credit card, which awards 1.25 points per dollar on everyday purchases instead of the usual 1 mile per dollar. He can transfer them from partners like Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards, which have great cards of their own. And the alternative use of Avios — booking an international award — might not always make sense because of high taxes and fees. His other frequent flyer miles might be better used for these trips since United still does not collect fuel surcharges on awards and American does this only for a small number of partners.
There May Be Better Options
In the end, Rob decided he would rather transfer some Ultimate Rewards flights to Korean Air and use them to redeem for a non-stop on Hawaiian Airlines. There’s nothing wrong with that, except sometimes dealing with a foreign carrier can add a few complications (even Avios has its issues, though U.S. carriers have plenty, too). But Hawaiian Airlines has some excellent service and is what I usually consider Alaska Airlines’ biggest competitor for non-stop flights from the West Coast.
Regardless of Rob’s final decision, hopefully this example demonstrates that there are many aspects of a successful award redemption beyond the rock bottom “teaser” award level. Avios can be booked successfully by anyone once you know how to look for the award space, and it’s not always necessary to get the cheapest award to secure a good deal.