Like I did with the United/Star Alliance post, I’m going to make an important distinction for people that are new to redeeming rewards. If you have miles with one Oneworld airline member, you can redeem those points for an award ticket on almost any Oneworld Alliance carrier, subject to availability. That means your British Airways Avios can get you reward tickets on American, Iberia, Royal Jordanian, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qantas or other members of the Oneworld Alliance. Your British Airways Avios can get you from Los Angeles to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, for example.
Beginners Guide to Redeeming Points
- United Airlines (and Star Alliance)
- British Airways Avios (and Oneworld Alliance)
- Hyatt Gold Passport
- Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan
- Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG)
- Club Carlson Rewards
You can also book awards on these same partners using American Airlines miles, but those miles are very difficult to obtain compared to British Airways miles, which are called Avios. Avios are actually some of the easiest miles to obtain in the loyalty program world because they partner with both American Express AND Chase Ultimate Rewards. That means if you have a card that can transfer points with Amex (like the Premier Rewards Gold, Platinum, etc.) or Chase (Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold/Plus), you can transfer those points at a 1:1 ratio into Avios. Even better, American Express frequently runs transfer bonuses that allow you to get even more Avios. The current bonus is 30%, so every 1000 Amex points you transfer will earn 1,300 Avios. It’s been as high as 50% in the past. You can also earn 50K Avios with the current credit card offer (affiliate link via Credit Karma – click “Chase Credit Cards” on the right).
Avios work differently than other types of miles because they use what’s called a distance-based award chart. That means the number of points required depends on how many miles you need to fly. This is is different from programs like American and United airlines that essentially charge a flat rate by region, and it can work to your benefit (or detriment) if you know how. I’ll provide a bunch of examples below.
First things first, the Avios award chart:
I’ll go through a bunch of examples below, but I first need to make a VERY important point. While the above chart presents a lot of advantages for short-haul flights, there are also massive taxes on certain flights. Knowing which flights will help you decide whether you should look at other point/mileage programs to get to your destination.
EXAMPLES (read the captions)
Note that all examples shown are one-way, so double the miles and taxes to get the round trip cost.
Let me try to put these examples into words. The Avios program charges hefty taxes and fees for award tickets with certain airlines and on certain routes. If you’re flying from North America to England or Europe in Economy, you’re paying at least $500 round trip on top of the points it takes. Paying cash for the same fare would only be around $1,100, so it’s rarely worth it to redeem to Europe on British Airways itself. These taxes and fees can actually go up to $1,400 or more if you book a First Class award since they charge extra for premium award tickets. It’s true that $1,400 in taxes is a lot of money for an award ticket but you’re still saving a ton vs buying the ticket outright since they cost between $4,000 and $8,000 a pop, so it may be worth it for you.
Booking domestic flights on American or Alaska Airlines, however, can be extremely valuable. Short-haul flights for just 4,500 Avios is one of the very best award redemptions you can get. If you live on the west coast, flying to Hawaii in Economy costs just 12,500 Avios each way, whereas you’d be paying at least 25K each way with other programs. Intra-Europe and intra-Asia flights can also be very valuable.
In general, the airlines that charge heavy taxes are British Airways, Qantas, JAL, Finnair, Royal Jordanian, and Iberia. The cheaper options are on American (except to London), LAN, and Cathay Pacific, Air Berlin, and Aer Lingus. JAL can also be good value within Asia.
- Business Class costs twice the points of Economy, and First Class (on three-cabin flights) is three times the Economy points.
- Find direct flights. You’ll pay for each segment separately if you have a connection . For example, LAX-ORD-JFK would cost 10,000 points for the LAX-ORD segment, and 7,500 for the ORD-JFK segment. That’s a total of 17,500 miles, when a direct flight would cost only 12,500 miles.
- Shorter flights are almost always a great deal, even intra-Europe sometimes. Always check!
- British Airways does not charge last-minute redemption fees. American and United charge $75 if an award is booked within 21 days.
- You’ll have to call in and talk to unfriendly reps to book complicated itineraries.
- You can also search on AmericanAirlines.com for Milesaaver award availability – it should theoretically be the same as British Airways offers.
- Robert Burns of Awardbookingservice.com reminds me that on two-class, domestic American Airlines flights, first class is always three times the price of Economy.
HOW TO SEARCH FOR FLIGHTS
Now that we know how the price chart works, let’s learn how to search for availability.
- Go to BritishAirways.com and log in to your account.
- Click on “Spending Avios” on the left menu.
- Click on “Book flights with Avios” on the left menu.
- Enter your flight information and click “Get flights.”
- Your results will display. You can search +/- 3 days by clicking the tabs at the top.
- After you find a flight, click “Continue” at the bottom.
- You’ll be taken to a confirmation page (like in all my examples above) where you can review the number of miles and taxes to be paid. If you agree, you can continue on to booking your flight.
If you have most of your points in transferable accounts like Amex and Chase, you’ll need to transfer them to British Airways before booking your flight. I recommend searching for and finding the flights you want before transferring your points. Once you’ve found your flights, here’s how to transfer them into Avios (both should transfer instantly).
- Log in to American Express and Click on “Rewards” at the top.
- At the bottom left, click on “Points Summary.”
- Click on “Use Points” and then “…more Travel.”
- Click Transfer Points.
- Select British Airways and link your account if it isn’t already.
- Transfer as many points as you need to.
- Log in to your Chase account.
- Click “Go to Ultimate Rewards” on the right side, then again on the pop-up screen.
- Click on “Point Transfer” at the top.
- Select British Airways.
- Enter how many points you plan to transfer along with your account information.
- NOTE: ONLY TRANSFER TO YOURSELF OR SPOUSE WITH THE SAME LAST NAME. THEY WILL SHUT DOWN YOUR ACCOUNT IF YOU TRANSFER TO OTHERS.
You now know the basics of booking Avios award flights. If you need more information or feel like you want more advanced topics, you can click to the articles below.
- From Travel Summary: Some Useful 4,500 Avios Redemptions Around the World
- From Travel Summary: Using Avios to Upgrade Paid Tickets.
- From Travel Summary: The Best Avios Routes to Fly – Maximizing the Distance Based Award Chart
- From Amol at Hack My Trip: Why Avios is My Favorite Secondary Program.