British Airways has a bad reputation in the travel hacking community. Sure, they fly to a large number of destinations, and they have an extensive frequent flyer program.
However, they’re notorious for charging fuel surcharges in the hundreds of dollars. For this reason, you might think it’s better to just avoid British Airways altogether.
This would be a mistake. While British Airways miles (known as “Avios”) can be obnoxious to use, they do offer great value on certain trips.
So in this guide, we’re going to take a look at how the British Airways Avios program works. We’ll discuss what Avios points are, as well as how to earn and use Avios points for maximum value. (more…)
When British Airways totally revamped their frequent flyer program last year, rebranding it as Avios and calling their new currency Avios points, many people bemoaned the changes, and rightfully so.
Overall, the program is worse than it was before, with British Airways Avios points much less valuable now than they were a year ago.
However, that doesn’t mean that you should write BA off completely. Earning miles in many different programs is always a good idea, as it gives you great flexibility when trying to book flights and travel for free.
And BA is one of the easiest airlines to earn miles with.
They currently have a Chase BA Visa that can earn you some nice miles as a sign up (see all the details on the Airline Credit Cards page) and they oftentimes run big promotions as a transfer partner of American Express.
Before jumping in, there are 4 basic things you should know about the BA Avios program and how to use your points.
(If you want to know the best ways to redeem Avios points, check out the Top 5 Ways to Use Avios Points after reading this post)
1. The award chart is distance based
Most airlines have a zone-based award chart, meaning that it will cost you a set amount of miles to fly from one zone to another.
For example, with American Airlines, it would cost you the same to fly from New York to London (North America zone to Europe zone) as it would to fly from Los Angeles to Budapest (again, North America zone to Europe zone).
With BA Avios there are no zones and the amount of Avios points you pay is based on the distance that you fly.
Anything that falls under 3,000 miles will cost you 12,500 Avios points, regardless of whether you cross oceans or continental lines. Boston to Dublin will cost you 12,500, same as New York to Los Angeles, because both routes fall in category 4.
You can find out how many Avios points you’ll need for a trip 1 of 3 ways (warning: it isn’t always easy).
For easy itineraries:
1. Use the Avios Points Calculator on BA’s website. This is an incredibly non-intuitive system and will only work if you are plugging in really easy routes (such as direct flights or sometimes routes with only one connection).
2. Use milez.biz. Enter the two cities you are flying between and select the British Airways program. If the itinerary isn’t too complex, this should spit you out the number of points it will cost.
For more complex itineraries:
3. Find out the amount of miles each leg of your trip will cost by using Milecalc.com. Once you have the mileage for each leg, use the Avios award chart to tell you how many Avios points each leg will be. Then, add them all together to get your final amount.
2. You pay for each leg of the trip separately, even if you are just laying over.
This is by far one of the most annoying aspects of the Avios program for people who don’t live near a hub city (which are New York-JFK, Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles in the USA).
Let’s look at an example. If you want to fly from San Francisco to Honolulu, you’ll have to first stop over in Los Angeles as there are no direct flights. For each leg, you’d have to figure out the mileage and pay accordingly.
- San Francisco to Los Angeles is 500 miles and so it would fall under category 1 and cost you 4,500 Avios points.
- Los Angeles to Honolulu is 2556 miles and so it would fall under category 4 and cost you 12,500 Avios points.
You’d then add these two legs together to get your total, which would be 17,000 Avios points one-way or 34,000 Avios points roundtrip.
If you live near a hub then this won’t bother you much, since you’ll never be paying for that extra leg, but for many unfortunate souls, this Avios rule can really add points on to your trip fast, especially if you have more than one layover before arriving at your destination!
3. BA charges huge fuel surcharges on MOST of their flights, but not all.
One of the major, major downsides to Avios points if you use them on most partners (or BA itself) is that you’ll get crushed with a huge fuel surcharge.
Most of the time, the fuel surcharge is so large ($400-600) that it makes no sense at all to even use your Avios points since you could buy a paid ticket for almost the same price.
There are a few exceptions, and it is these exceptions that you should take advantage of and use your Avios points on. I absolutely hate paying fuel surcharges, and basically refuse to do it, so you better believe that I’ll be using my stash of BA Avios points in the following ways:
No fuel surcharges
- Flying American Airlines domestically in the North America region (and including Hawaii)
- Flying LAN to Central or South America and the Caribbean
Smaller fuel surcharge (about $150)
- Flying Aer Lingus from North America to Ireland (Dublin or Shannon)
4. You won’t ever get charged a close-in booking fee
While #1 could be either a good thing or bad thing depending on where you are flying, #2 and #3 are big time negatives of Avios program. But now let’s turn to a positive and end on a good note!
Almost all airlines will charge a booking fee when you book an award ticket within 21 days of flying. Usually, this fee hovers around $75.
Thankfully, BA has decided to waive this fee, so even if you decide to book an award ticket with Avios points and fly out THAT SAME DAY you won’t get nicked the extra $75. A
fter all the changes they made to their program for the worse, I guess this is the least they can do!
Getting BA Avios Points
The best way to currently get a large number of BA Avios points quickly is to sign up for the Chase British Airways Visa (see the Airline Credit Cards page
for all details).
While BA’s once awesome awards program has definitely taken a tumble with the rebranding of Avios and all the new rules they’ve instituted over the past year, its not all doom and gloom.
Take advantage of opportunities to get Avios points easily, such as the through a credit card signup or American Express transfer bonus.
There is still some value to be had from Avios points, so before you go burning them like Hungarians burn the forint, make sure to check out The Top 5 Ways to Use BA Avios Points!
Want to vent about the Avios program or maybe even defend it? Did I miss any key points? Have a go at it in the comments below!
(photos courtesy of kennymatic and steve_rinker)