As I’ve mentioned many times before BA points can be incredibly valuable, but ONLY if you used in very specific circumstances.
Therefore, it is even more important with BA than with other airlines to know which circumstances give you the best bang for your buck because if you use them wrong, you could end up paying HUGE fuel surcharges…and nobody wants that!
If you’ve already got a nice stash of BA Avios points, great!
Using Avios points for short haul domestic flights can offer some incredible value. Because of the distance-based award chart, you can get flights that are as low as 4,500 points one-way if the distance flown is below 650 miles.
Only 4,500 points? That’s crazy, considering that the same flight would cost you almost 3x as much if you were flying with AA, United, or USAirways!
This works best for people who live near American Airline US hubs, which are Dallas/Forth Worth (DFW), New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD), and Miami (MIA).
There are tons of flights that fly out of these 5 hubs to places all over the United States, so if you live near one of the hubs, you can really make out like a bandit!
If you don’t start your journey at one of the hub cities, you won’t have as many options, and depending on where you are flying, you may have to pay for the leg from your home airport to the hub airport (minimum of 4,500 miles) and then pay for the leg from the hub to your destination.
This isn’t the end of the world, and can still be less than a regular airline would charge for a domestic flight, but its not the amazing deal that those lucky people near hub cities can get.
Examples (all examples in this post are for a roundtrip ticket in economy)
New York-Chicago Using Avios Points: 15,000 Using regular carriers (AA, United, USAirways, Delta): All 25,000
New York-Miami Using Avios Points: 15,000 Using regular carriers: All 25,000
Boston (non hub)-Miami Using Avios Points: 21,000 (4,500 for BOS-JFK, 7,500 for JFK-MIA x 2) Using regular carriers: 25,000
2. From the West Coast to Hawaii
Again, since the rewards chart is distance-based, it doesn’t matter that Hawaii is normally considered a different zone than the rest of North America by other airlines. All that matters is how many miles you are flying.
This means that by going to Hawaii from somewhere on the West Coast you can get a suuuweeettt deal!
If you are flying American Airlines, anywhere you fly from on that side of the country will route you through the main hub in Los Angeles, so if you can start in Los Angeles, you won’t have to pay for that extra leg to get there.
However, don’t forget that British Airways also partners with Alaska Airlines, meaning that you can also fly direct from Anchorage, Bellingham (WA), Seattle, Portland, Oakland, San Diego or San Jose to Honolulu using your Avios points.
Each route is under 3,000 miles, which means you’ll only pay 12,500 one-way or 25,000 roundtrip! Hello, hula!
(huge thanks to reader planodude for pointing that out in the comments of last post…that’s why I love you guys; always helping each other, and me, out!)
Los Angeles-Honolulu Using Avios Points: 25,000 AA 35,000 (off-peak) AA 45,000 (peak) Delta, USAirways, United: 40,000
San Francisco (non-hub)-Honolulu Using Avios Points: 34,000 Using regular carriers: AA 35,000 (off-peak) AA 45,000 (peak) Delta, USAirways, United: 40,000
3. Boston to Ireland (Dublin or Shannon)
This is a very specific circumstance, but if you are able to make it work, this is the best deal out there for Avios points, even better than domestic short haul flights. Why? Two reasons:
1. Boston and Dublin are 2,993 miles apart, which puts it just below the 3,000 mile threshold in the Avios award chart, meaning you’ll only be paying 12,500 Avios points each way!
8 measly more miles and it’d be bumped up to category 5 (and cost 20,000 Avios points). Talk about cutting it close.
This route, from BOS to either Dublin or Shannon, is the only route that BA or it’s partners operate from the United States to Europe that falls under the 3,000 mile mark.
2. The route is flown by Aer Lingus, which for reasons unbeknowst to me, imposes only a small fuel surcharge ($150ish) when using BA Avios points and flying on their planes.
BA and every other one of its partners that fly between North America and Europe have huge fuel surcharges (think $400-600) when you use BA Avios points.
This makes it pointless to redeem Avios points on them, seeing as you could buy a ticket outright for the same price. For whatever reason, Aer Lingus has been spared (for now) so take advantage of it while you can.
Aer Lingus also flies to Dublin from New York and Chicago, but those tickets will cost you 40,000 Avios points instead of the 25,000 from Boston because they fall in category 5 on the Avios award chart. Still a really good deal, especially for people who wouldn’t be able to easily get to Boston.
If you’re looking to stretch your Avios points and save your dollars (and who isn’t) and can make your way to Boston (or even New York or Chicago) fairly easily, jump on this amazing deal to Dublin for only 25,000 Avios points roundtrip.
This isn’t just for people wanting to visit the Emerald Isle. If you want to continue on to the rest of Europe, down a quick pint of Guiness and then fly from Dublin to wherever else you want to go in Europe using a budget airline like Ryanair.
Boston-Dublin Using Avios Points: 25,000 AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak) USAirways: 35k (off-peak), 60k (peak) United and Delta: 60k
New York or Chicago-Dublin Using Avios Points: 40k AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak) USAirways: 35k (off-peak), 60k (peak) United and Delta: 60k
4. Flying to Central or South America
Sometimes the actual amount of Avios points required will be less than the amount of miles other airlines charge because the distance is fairly short (like Miami to Bogota, Colombio in the examples below).
If this is the case, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that you are getting great value.
Since you’ll never pay a fuel surcharge when using Avios points to fly LAN or for the AA flights that fly to Central or South America, this is a no-brainer if you are flying from somewhere pretty far south already (Miami, Dallas) or if you are flying to the northern part of South America (Bogota, Caracas, etc.)
However, even if the amount of points required isn’t less than other airlines, I still consider using Avios points to go to South America a good value.
If you ask me whether I’d rather use 25k Avios points or 25k United miles to get to Buenos Aires, I’ll pick the Avios points each time!
Any time you can get a flight using BA Avios points and not pay a fuel surcharge, take it, because they are few and far between.
Many of you may be unfamiliar with, so to give you a brief overview, LAN flies from Los Angeles, Miami, New York (JFK), San Francisco and Orlando in the United States and Toronto in Canada and flies to a ton of destinations in Central and South America.
Direct flights on LAN from North American include:
New York (JFK) to Santiago and Lima Los Angeles to Lima Miami to Bogota, Caracas, Santiago, Punta Cana San Francisco to Lima
Of course, you can always fly in to one of these cities and then continue on from there, so your options are basically limitless.
In addition, AA operates a good amount of flights to Central and South America as well, hitting a bunch of cities in Central America and all the major ones in South America as well, including Buenos Aires and Rio. Did someone say Carnaval?
Miami to Bogota Using Avios Points: 20,000 AA: 30k (off-peak), 35k (peak) United: 40k USAirways: 60k Delta: 45k
New York to Santiago, Chile or Buenos Aires, Argentina Using Avios Points: 50,000 Using AA: 40k (off-peak), 60k (peak) United, USAirways, Delta: 60k
5. Flying to the Caribbean from the East Coast
Much of what was written about Central and South America holds true for flying to the Caribbean as well. If you are flying from somewhere pretty far south, such as Miami, you can get roundtrip tickets for as little as 15k Avios points to most places in the Caribbean (some are just a touch too far and cost 20k).
Amazingly, even coming from New York you can get tickets to places like the Dominican Republic for only 20k roundtrip!
Even the most generous of award charts, such as USAirways off-peak special of 25k roundtrip to the Caribbean, can’t match that!
Of course, if you are flying from further away, such as Los Angeles, you’ll be paying much more because its distance based. Still, at 40k roundtrip to a lot of the Caribbean, the value isn’t that bad. You West Coasters have cheap flights to Hawaii, us East Coasters can have the Caribbean!
Miami to Santo Domingo Using Avios points: 15,000 USAirways: 25,000 (off-peak on USAirway flights), 35,000 (peak and on partner airlines) AA, Delta, United: 35,000
New York to St. Thomas
Using Avios points: 40,000 USAirways: 25,000 (off-peak on USAirway flights), 35,000 (peak and on partner airlines) AA, Delta, United: 35,000
As you can see, it’s not all bad news when it comes to the British Airways Avios program. When used properly, Avios points can be much, much cheaper than other airlines (I’m still shaking my head at Miami to the Caribbean for 15k roundtrip!).
Just remember that you must use them in very specific situations.
Obviously, it’s best to use them if you can for shorter flights (since the chart is distance-based) but more importantly, only use them on routes that don’t impose a fuel surcharge, which are the ones above.
Do that, and you’ll be singing a different tune than the ol’ doom and gloom that typically accompanies Avios!
If the above trips sound enticing, go and grab the Chase British Airways card and start planning your trip!
The Free Flight Primer is a series of posts which will show, step by step, how to earn and then redeem frequent flyer miles.
I’ll be providing links to tools and websites that are helpful, tons of screenshots or video tutorials of various steps that may prove confusing, and of course, my own thoughts and opinions on the process.
I’ll also be providing a real-life case study using an actual client to better illustrate the process.
You’ve picked your destination, found out what airlines fly there, checked availability of flights, and earned your points. Now you’re on the homestretch. The only thing left to do is book your award and pack your suitcase (which I promise won’t be part 8).
Step 1: Determine Whether You Can Book Online
For all airlines, if you are flying “metal”, which means that you are using that airline’s miles and only flying on that airline (for example, you are using AA miles to book flights and flying ONLY on AA and no partner airlines), then you can book online. And while each airline’s booking system is set up a little different, they are for the most part, pretty straight forward. You sign in to your account, search for availability, and click on the tickets. Then you’ll be taken to a screen that shows how many points you have, how many it costs, and what the total out of pocket cost you have to pay is for fees and taxes. After you enter all your personal details and payment details, you are finished.
The problem comes when you are using an airline’s miles but flying on partner airlines (using AA miles but flying Iberia, BA, etc.). Unfortunately, most airlines DO NOT let you book most partners online and you’ll be required to call in and book.
To make it easy for you, I’ve created a chart that breaks down what you can and cannot do online for the five most popular airlines that people in the States have miles with. I’ve also included how much the fee is to book by phone, the phone number to call if you can’t book your ticket online, and if there is a short notice booking fee. Some airlines charge a fee if the date of booking a ticket is within a certain amount of days of your departure (completely lame if you ask me). I’ve also linked below to their page of rules regarding award travel if you want to read more about it (thrilling stuff, let me tell you!).
Case Study: Rob will be using AA miles but flying on Iberia, meaning he will have to call AA to book the travel.
Step 2: Call and Book Your Ticket
If you can’t book online, then you need to call and book your ticket. It doesn’t sound too complicated, and it isn’t usually, but there are a few tips that might help you.
Always have your itinerary figured out before you call: Use the skills you learned in Parts 3, 4, and 5 to find flight availability. Write down all the information for the itinerary you want or keep the window open on your computer when you call. Don’t assume the rep on the other line will find you the right or best flight. Don’t waste all your hard work by failing to be prepared and then finding out later you are on a different flight from the one you originally wanted.
Ask to have the phone fee waived: Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. I always just mention that I couldn’t book the ticket online because they don’t allow you to book partners online or else I would have. If you sound knowledgeable and prepared, making the job easier for the rep, there will be a better chance you get the fee waived. Of course, being nice helps as well. Hey, it never hurts to ask.
Ask to put the ticket on hold: If you have any doubts at all (about the dates, about the flight numbers, about the passenger names) then ask to put the ticket on hold and get everything in order. This guarantees you have the tickets if you want them but doesn’t lock you in to anything at the moment. Each airline has different rules, but AA will hold your ticket for 5 days. Just remember to call back before the hold is up and actually book your tickets or they will be released and you’ll be out of luck. Also, remember to write down your tracking number somewhere safe and save yourself a lot of headaches later.
After booking your ticket, you should be all set, which brings us to an end of the Free Flight Primer. I hope that you’ve found the information easy to understand and valuable. Based on your comments and emails, I’d consider it a success. If you have any other questions, suggestions for future video tutorials and guides or if the Free Flight Primer has helped you book an award ticket, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!