I’m reporting to you LIVE from the devastating scene that is the British Airways Avios devaluation. We’re almost two months into the carnage now and it’s a ghastly landscape. Avios are sucked away by ba.com without mercy. People scream nonsensically at each other: “Is it peak? Is it off peak?! I don’t know!” And the chart itself… so horrific that the only solution is to ignore its existence, as if one were Dorian Gray and could prevent all its dreadfulness from pouring out into the world by simply looking away.
Hang on, though. When the Avios devaluation was announced in January 2015, didn’t the Conventional Wisdomers tell us to relax? Partner economy awards were unchanged, including the super valuable short haul prices of 4,500 to 10,000 Avios for flights up to 2,000 miles. Since those redemptions are the sweet spot of the Avios program (at least since the last devaluation), there was no reason to panic.
On the other hand, the business and first class redemptions would be nearly useless going forward. So the Conventional Wisdom was if you didn’t book that Boston to Dublin business class flight on Aer Lingus by April 28th, you might as well hack off that portion of the new award chart, because you’ll never want to use it again.
But I’m here to tell you that’s not true. Well… at least it’s not entirely true.
Yes, British Airways did push through a massive increase in their premium class redemptions, affecting most of their business awards and all of the first class ones. And yes, on most awards British Airways still passes along “fuel surcharges” which have nothing to do with fuel and are therefore better known by their technical name “Blended Use Landing Levies for Safety, Health & Information Technologies.” I’ll let you work out that acronym on your own.
So why isn’t it true then? Because there’s still an occasional good use for first class redemptions with Avios, one that will get you enough value to be worth the cost…
The Ann Arbor Art Fair DO
A few months ago I was honored to be asked to speak at this year’s Ann Arbor Art Fair DO, an annual travel and points & miles event that coincides with the Ann Arbor Art Fair in Michigan (about 20 minutes outside of Detroit). I’ve never been to this gathering before, but I’m excited to go as I know it’s a terrific group of folks. If you’re in the area and interested in coming by, it’s happening July 18-19 and you can click here to check out how to attend. All levels of experience are welcome!
Shameless promo: Side note: I’ll also be speaking for the first time at FTU Advanced in Washington DC on August 21-23, along with several major names in the points and miles world such as our very own Tahsir & Scott, plus Stefan from Rapid Travel Chai, and a number of others. A few tickets are still available — sign up at FTUniversity.com if you’d like to hear me speak (or, more likely, if you’d like to hear Tahsir & Scott, plus Stefan from Rapid Travel Chai and a number of others). These Frequent Traveler University events are a great way to meet folks in the community and maybe learn a few tips that don’t appear on the interwebs.
Of course, despite the fact that I was invited to the Ann Arbor DO months ago, I only sat down this week to book my travel. I could tell you this was because I’ve recently been moving back and forth between coasts and therefore didn’t know for sure where I’d be traveling from. That would be true. But it would also be true that I’m lazy and just didn’t get to it until now.
Fortunately, finding a cheap flight from New York to Detroit was pretty straightforward. But when I started looking for a way back, things got rather tricky. In fact, when I searched Google Flights for a flight from Detroit for New York on Sunday afternoon around 5pm, I got this pile of nastiness…
Ewwwww. The very cheapest one way fare was $427, and adding it to a roundtrip didn’t make it any better. And yes, I’m completely ignoring that $223 Spirit Airlines flight and pretending it doesn’t exist, because for all intents and purposes it doesn’t. If you think you’re going to fly Spirit and make it all the way home paying only $223, then you haven’t read my “Devil’s Advocate Trip Report: Spirit Air A319 Las Vegas to LAX.” I can assure you if you book that flight and attempt to exit the plane in New York having only paid $223, you will be tackled by Spirit personnel and your wallet will be forcibly removed from your pants. Oh, and you will also be charged a $35 “wallet retrieval fee” for this service.
Points and miles to the rescue!
But never fear! This is where miles and points can save us! I figured there had to be someone with an available award flight from Detroit to NYC that worked in my schedule, right? I started with American. Since I have Executive Platinum status with them, that’s usually the first place I check…
Hmmmmm. That’s not so good — no availability on July 19th at the economy MileSAAver level. How about Delta? Of course, I’ve gone out of my way to get rid of every single one of my Delta miles, which is a decision I have yet to regret. But I have plenty of Amex Membership Rewards, so I could easily transfer some over to Delta if they have an award seat. I mean, Detroit is a hub for them, after all…
32,000 miles??? For a 496-mile flight? Even at $427 in cash airfare, that doesn’t make any financial sense. Uggghhh. I hate you, Delta. I really do.
OK, fine. How about United? They’ve got nonstops at both 3pm and 6:15pm. Either of those available?
Looks like I could do a standard award at 25,000 miles. Most folks hate booking standard awards, but I’ve written in the past about how it can sometimes make sense (see “Respect the Unloved Standard Award Redemption“). In this case, if I spent 25,000 United/Ultimate Rewards points in lieu of this $427 airfare, I’d be getting 1.7 cents per mile in value. That’s not bad, though I’d rather save my Ultimate Rewards points for premium cabin redemptions if at all possible.
Still, it seemed like this was the best of the options, so I got ready to transfer over my UR points. But then a little voice in my brain quietly nudged me and suggested I take another look…
Digging deeper into AA availability.
I went back and looked again at the AA results. Clearly there’s no MileSAAver economy awards available and an economy AAnytime award was running 50,000 miles one way on that day. But what about Business Class?
The 5:30pm nonstop is available in Business at 25,000 miles. That’s the same as United, but I’d be in Business class. Not that big a deal on this short flight, but why not take the upgrade if it costs the same? Plus I have more American miles than Ultimate Rewards points, since normally I book shorthaul American awards with Avios, so it probably makes more sense to spend American miles here.
And that’s when it hit me.
I couldn’t book this ticket in economy with Avios because there’s no MileSAAver space available. But I could book it with Avios in Business.
Unfortunately since most American flights are only two classes (economy and business), British Airways will price American business class awards at the first class price. That blows, but for a flight this short it still only comes to 18,000 Avios (remember, the first class price is 4x the economy price, which for this 496-mile flight would be only 4,500 Avios).
So by using Avios, I can save 7,000 miles over either the American business class award or the United economy flight. All I have to do is go to ba.com, search for the same flight, and book it there. As long as it shows as available in Business MileSAAver on aa.com, it should be bookable with Avios. (If you have problems with the British Airways search engine, you can check out my “Bet You Didn’t Know” post at Frequent Miler for a few tips on how to get around it.)
But in this case, it was no problem…
But am I getting good value?
Well, it depends on how we want to look at it. Personally, if I wasn’t Executive Platinum on American, I would value this redemption at the corresponding price for business class. That’s what I’m flying, so that’s what I’m getting.
However, as an Executive Platinum I would probably have gotten a complimentary upgrade, so it’s hard to claim that as value. Others would argue that since I wouldn’t have paid for business class with cash, I should always value redemptions at the going economy cash rate (meaning what I would have actually been willing to pay). I’m not going to rehash that argument now (if you want to do that, go check out my very first post ever, “Yes, You DID get 10 Cents Per Mile for Your Award Redemption“). Instead I’ll calculate my value using that $427 economy cash price for the flight.
When I do it that way, I get 2.3 cents per mile for my redemption. I think that’s pretty darn good, plus I’m getting a Business class seat in the bargain as well. There aren’t any fuel surcharges on American redemptions with Avios, and let’s also not forget that I can transfer Avios from all three major flexible currency programs: Ultimate Rewards, Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest. And if necessary, I could cancel this ticket for no charge up to 24 hours before departure, get all my Avios back, and lose only the $5 in taxes.
So who thinks Avios business class award redemptions can’t still be useful?Devil’s Advocate is a bi-weekly series that deliberately argues a contrarian view on travel and loyalty programs. Sometimes the Devil’s Advocate truly believes in the counterargument. Other times he takes the opposing position just to see if the original argument holds water. But his main objective is to engage in friendly debate with the miles and points community to determine if today’s conventional wisdom is valid. You can suggest future topics by following him on Twitter @dvlsadvcate or sending an e-mail to email@example.com.
Recent Posts by the Devil’s Advocate:
- The Myth of the 2% Baseline on Rewards for Manufactured Spend
- Can We Find Anything Redeeming About Plenti?
- People Lied, Redbird Died! So Who Do We Get To Blame?
Find the entire collection of Devil’s Advocate posts here.