Overnight, British Airways announced many changes to its Executive Club loyalty program — what most people know better as Avios — that will take effect on April 28. (HT to Head for Points, the best authority on British Airways.)
The changes are largely irrelevant if you live in the United States and tend to redeem your points for domestic flights on BA’s partners such as American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and US Airways. This is already a good deal because those partners don’t have fuel surcharges on their domestic routes (and a few international ones). BA has a policy of imposing fuel surcharges on all award tickets for fares that normally have them, sometimes hundreds of dollars on international flights, and it can’t do that if there’s no surcharge to collect.
But what if you were willing to accept those fees or have a Travel Together Ticket from using your British Airways credit card? Then you might face some difficult decisions in the news few months.
Here is a quick overview of the most important program changes. If you book travel before April 28 you will still be able to use the existing award charts for travel that occurs after that date. Unfortunately you may not be able to do much about availability of the award seats you need. I was able to find some business class seats on flights from Seattle to London — even on weekends — when looking ahead several months, so it may not be a lost cause.
Fewer Miles Earned on Cheap Fares
Executive Club is moving closer to the revenue-based model recently adopted by United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, offering more miles to customers who purchase expensive fares and fewer miles to those who buy cheap fares. It will be more difficult to earn at least the distance flown, which was common for many airlines just a few years ago. The cheapest fares will earn just 25% of the distance flown.
Smaller Tier Bonuses for Gold Members
If you have elite status with Executive Club, as even some U.S.-based travelers do, then you may find that you earn fewer miles even as you continue to book pricey fares. The tier bonuses for Executive Club Bronze and Gold members will be unchanged, while the bonus for Executive Club Silver members will drop from 100% to 50%.
No Changes when Redeeming Avios for Economy Class
|Distance||Economy - No Changes|
|1 - 650||4,500|
|651 - 1,151||7,500|
|1,152 - 2,000||10,000|
|2,001 - 3,000||12,500|
|3,001 - 4,000||20,000|
|4,001 - 5,500||25,000|
|5,501 - 6,500||30,000|
|6,501 - 7,000||35,000|
|7,001 - 100,000||50,000|
Fortunately, there will be no changes when redeeming Avios points for travel in economy class for travel of any distance. That means you can continue to take advantage of some great deals like redeeming 4,500 points for short flights on Alaska, American, and US Airways. Seattle to most destinations in California is only slightly further can costs 7,500 points one-way. You can go from anywhere on the West Coast to Hawaii for only 12,500 points one-way. Avios has long been my go-to award currency for domestic travel.
This doesn’t change my default strategy for using Avios. My American Airlines and Alaska Airlines miles are reserved for travel on their international partners such as Cathay Pacific and, yes, British Airways. The zone-based redemption charts they use don’t care about making connections or if I leave from the East Coast vs. West Coast, so I can add extra flights if it means finding those with the best award space. When using Avios, I need to find non-stop flights on the right dates to pay the cheapest price. It’s a hassle but definitely easier to achieve on domestic flights that operate with greater frequency. It helps that I live near Alaska’s largest hub.
Significant Increases when Redeeming Avios for Business and First Class
|Distance (miles)||Business - Old||Business - New||First - Old||First - New|
|1 - 650||9,000||9,000||12,000||18,000|
|651 - 1,151||15,000||15,000||22,500||30,000|
|1,152 - 2,000||20,000||20,000||30,000||40,000|
|2,001 - 3,000||25,000||37,500||37,500||50,000|
|3,001 - 4,000||40,000||60,000||60,000||80,000|
|4,001 - 5,500||50,000||75,000||75,000||100,000|
|5,501 - 6,500||60,000||90,000||90,000||120,000|
|6,501 - 7,000||70,000||105,000||105,000||140,000|
|7,001 - 100,000||100,000||150,000||150,000||200,000|
Now the bad part. Executive Club typically charged some amount — let’s call it X — for travel in economy class. It then charged 2X for business class and 3X for first class. This is already a raw deal as many other loyalty programs charge something like 1.5X for business and 2X for first.
The new award chart will raise prices for some business class awards to 3X — those greater than 2,000 miles — and all first class awards to 4X. That represents a 25-33% increase in costs for what were already the most expensive awards, and British Airways is STILL collecting fuel surcharges on these tickets.
There’s another twist in here. Avios were also great to use for upgrades on paid tickets. I avoided it because there were still extra fees and taxes associated with the new fare, but the number of points required wasn’t bad: just the difference between the award levels of the cabin you booked and the cabin you were moving to. So if you booked economy class and wanted to upgrade to business class (even though you booked a paid fare), the difference in Avios points would be 2X – X = X. For a route like Seattle to London, with two daily non-stops, that was only 25,000 Avios each way. If the new math is 3X – X = 2X, then obviously upgrades will soon cost more.
NOTE: Some fares have also changed for premium economy — and I mean real premium economy, not just extra legroom in coach. I left this out as many carriers don’t offer it and (in my opinion) it’s often not a good deal as an award redemption.
Megan and I have two of these Travel Together Tickets and figured the fees would be worth the savings of only redeeming Avios for one person. Now that we’ll need many more Avios to fly in business or first class, we’ll want to redeem them sooner than we expected even though they are still valid for two years. Avios have typically been a good deal for some itineraries that included relatively short, non-stop travel because of it’s distance-based award chart. New York to London, for example, is only 40,000 points one-way in business class vs. 50,000 points if you depart Seattle. So we’ll need to pay close attention to our routing. Maybe we’ll book separate positioning flights to New York or Washington and explore another city along the way.
I don’t want to give up the value of those Travel Together Tickets, but I just might have to. I don’t recommend you try to earn a new one if you just got a British Airways credit card. Fortunately, the value presented by our most common use of Avios for domestic flights on Alaska Airlines remains intact.