Best way to use British Airways Avios

Before British Airways revamped their program and renamed their miles program Avios, the benefit was in long-haul flights. You could even book unlimited stopovers, but that’s gone now and there is no use crying about it. Though many miles junkies have called the Avios program some bad names, I actually like it. Okay, I will miss the unlimited stopovers, but there are plenty of good aspects.

Now the program is distance based (instead of zone based). So the benefit is in shorter flights. From the end of one zone to the beginning of another. But the problem with British Airways remains to be the extremely high fuel surcharges on redemptions. Most mileage programs don’t charge you for fuel but British Airways indeed does. And British Airways themselves have extremely high fuel surcharges. $800 for New York to London! Therefore you need to redeem for partners that have no fuel surcharge or at least lesser surcharges. Ironically, redeeming British Airways Avios for a BA flight is the worse redemption from a financial perspective.

In short, redeem them for the South American partner LAN. They have no fuel charge and South America really isn’t that far from Miami. Also, American Airlines can be a good redemption so I will focus on the two.

So what are the good deals?

  • 4,500 Avios for the following one-way routes: Miami to Cancun; Miami to Grand Cayman; Miami to Montego Bay; Miami to Turks & Caicos; Melbourne to Sydney; NYC to Montreal; and many more. About $5 to $25 in taxes and fees.
  • 7,500 Avios for the following one-way routes: LA to Cabo San Lucas; NYC to Chicago; NYC to Miami; and many more
  • 50,000 Avios for Miami to Lima, Peru round-trip in Business Class on LAN. About $100 in taxes and fees. (Or 25,000 RT economy). About $5 to $25 in taxes and fees.
  • 12,500 Avios for Lima, Peru to Easter Island. About $30 in taxes and fees.
  • 12,500 Avios for Easter Island to Tahiti. About $30 in taxes and fees.
  • 50,000 Avios for New York to Vancouver round-trip in Business Class on Cathay Pacific! Yes, on Cathay. It is a connecting flight to Hong Kong.  About $150 in taxes and fees.

Normally I frown upon using your points for domestic flights. You lose so much value. A domestic flight costs 25,000 miles: typically worth less than $250 -valuing each mile at under a cent. However, if you used two or three times more miles for a trip to Bali, the ticket will be worth more than $1,000 and you would receive double the value of your miles. In my mind, a domestic flight is a huge waste. But since I can redeem Avios for as little as 4,500 on AA, I think I’ll be using points for domestics. Plus I’m not saving them for long hauls anymore.

There are a lot of great uses but one other problem. Connecting flights. If I want to book a flight from Charlottesville, Va to Miami, Fl on AA, I have to go through Chicago, Il. And further more I have to book two flights. It makes no connections for you on the BA website. This is a really bad redemption for me because Chicago is even further away from Miami and therefore costs more miles. Luckily, I like Chicago and happened to be there four times last year. Either way, for some, this might be an option for domestic redemptions that are at least nicer than southwest.

As far as credit cards, British Airways has a lot of options. You can transfer from Chase or Amex. But the real winner is the 100,000 British Airways card. They’ve done it the last two years (both in the spring I think). 100,000 for one credit card sign up is a huge bonus and I will be sure to let you know if it comes back.

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12 Responses to Best way to use British Airways Avios

  1. K says:

    Great post. How do you actually use the points with other airlines, though? With American Airlines, for instance, do you go through their site? I searched for “Avios” on their site and nothing came up.

    Do you have to go through the BA site? I’ve never, ever found any availability. Their site is the worst, most unusable I’ve ever seen.

    I have 107,000 Avios points because I got their promotion last year.

  2. travelisfree says:

    Hey K, It’s an odd site in many ways.
    To book online: You HAVE to log in -> go to Executive Club -> Spending Miles -> Book Flight with Avios.
    The type in your route and then click “Get flights”. THEN it brings you to a screen that tells you that BA doesn’t fly that route. Just click “Include Partners.” That is the key. You may have to use the “search up to 7 days later/earlier”.

    It’s not an easy site and some route have very little availability. Just the other day I went to book another flight to Peru from the states, but now most rewards flights were gone for the dates I wanted. Peak season. On the other hand, I just booked a flight to Hong Kong on Cathay First Class. I had multiple choices a day. Amazing availability on that route.

    If you are flying anywhere near Europe it will try to route you through London and charge insane surcharges. For these you can call but as good as their call center is, they charge $40 per ticket and online is free.

  3. Christian says:

    Are in implying that its only 50K RT to Bali?

    “If you used 25,000 AA miles for a round-trip to NYC that would have cost you $200 but lose half your points you could have used to Bali (a $1,000 ticket).”

  4. travelisfree says:

    @Christian. hmm… this wasn’t explained well.
    What I was trying to say is: To use 25,000 miles on a $200 ticket values each mile less than a cent! A trip to Bali cost 70,000 miles AA, (and less with United) RT but is worth over a $1,000.
    Though I did book a trip to Bali with 25,000 BA miles in the glory days of unlimited stopovers. But I should edit that.

  5. Christian says:

    Thanks for the clarification. Man, I’m love your site! Good Stuff. I lurk on FT, which has some good stuff but seems to be very complex and people often speak in code. I spent almost two months to figure out the Fuel Dump process only to never use it. I have been looking for clear and precise clarification on how to best utilize my Avios miles. Your article helped tremendously.
    I have over 200k Avios miles (and various AA/USairways/United miles) and live the the Washington DC Area. How would you best use your Avios miles to travel internationally from WAS? I know the domestic part, as I fly to ORD for 4500 o/w.
    I see that I can fly internationally (assuming the Avios Calculator is Correct) to CUN, MBJ, ANU and GCM for 10K miles o/w. These seem to be good deals. I understand I can also use my my Miles to get to Lima, to Easter Island then Tahiti (WAS-MIA-LIM-IPC-PPT) for around 45k o/w. This also seems a good value. Do you have any other suggestions out for international travel out of of WAS?

  6. travelisfree says:

    Haha. You mean a “pineapple poke”.
    And thanks very much for the kind words. And I plan to do another BA post this week, btw.

    (I’m just going to write what comes to mind. Sorry if I ramble).
    I’m sorry to say that you pretty much quoted all your best options, in my opinion. British Airways and Quantas are nice but the fuel charges are insane. But some people feel that BA first class is worth it. I think it’s insane and you should just collect AA miles if that’s your goal.
    Though BA is the only one that goes from WAS to Europe, if you book over the phone with BA, you might be able to fly from JFK on American Airlines to avoid the fuel surcharge. Much cheaper.

    Cathay Pacific First Class is very nice and their fees are tolerable but it would be 200,000 for a round trip to HKG in first class. I think that BA miles are best used on short flights and therefore are an awesome compliment to something like United. Because if I went from Bangkok to Sri Lanka on another airline, it would be really expensive but it was only 10,000 for economy on Cathay. 7,500 from Bangkok to Hong Kong (22,500 first class).
    The best use of Avios might be the obscure islands that normally cost a pretty penny:
    Johannesburg – (Mauritius) for 10,000
    JFK – Bermuda for 7,500
    Maderia – Madrid for 7,500
    Tenerife – Mardid for 7,500
    Puntos Arenas – East Falkland Islands (MPN) for 4,500 and $0.0. (Okay, too obscure).
    But these routes are very possible, but I would never consider using BA miles to go to JNB. But a round trip from JNB – MRU normally costs over $1,000.

    Similar for getting around Australia.

    Maybe Tokyo via Hawaii and LAX? But Japan Airlines is disappointing and has high fuel surcharges too.

    And btw, if you start your Tahiti trip from JFK, JFK to Caracas is only 12,500. And CCS to LIM is only 5,000. (Which would be more helpful if you lived in NYC but I think it would be a nicer stopover than MIA and a cheaper route). Also, LAN has a highly rated business class.

    Also, for 4,500 you can go from Lima to Cusco, the gateway to Machu Picchu. Sorry if I didn’t have much to add to WAS. But you can’t be too sorry if you can work in Easter Island and Tahiti in one trip. (Personally, I had a hard time actually finding open seats to Tahiti).

  7. Christian says:

    How about the 13 miler, Cable Beach, Pharaoh Strike, The Jack, The Black Sheep and The Dragon’s Breath. What a waste of time. Anyway, I appreciate your postings, very helpful. I know its hard not to ramble as there are so many unique opportunities for redeeming reward travel. I’m fairly new to the game and just began the Churning process on my cards in order to increase my current reward accounts. At this point, I think I have airfare covered and need to expand into C.C. rewards for lodging. I’ve been looking at the 60K Chase Priority Club Card. Seems reasonable and compliments your post at Priority Club 5K reward hotels. Man you can’t beat that. I’m staying in GCM next month and its costing me 60K points (haven’t booked yet, so if you have a better idea, let me know) for two nights in the Marriott (Tier 7, but only 240 a night, so not much return on that.) The Priority Club 5K reward hotels are a much better use of miles.

    Now, I am rambling too. Anyways, thanks again for the clarification and I will continue to subscribe to your postings. What a wealth of knowledge.

    • travelisfree says:

      Thanks a lot. I really do appreciate that.

      I have a very detailed post coming up comparing the hotel programs. It’s definitely a hobby :-p. And I’ll try to get in a post on Marriott. But that doesn’t seem like a bad use really (if they have a club lounge and you do the Platinum Challenge).

      Thanks again.

  8. Joey says:

    Hi. First time on ur site. Love it so far.
    I’m trying to use Avios from MIA- Grand Cayman Island.
    However it showing over $100 in taxes and fess per person round trip.

    It would be for flights on AA I think.

    Anyways around this? TIA.

  9. travelisfree says:

    Thanks and welcome!
    At first I thought you must have been using the cash and points option but upon a further examination this is all airport tax and it’s unavoidable. It’s $23.70 one way out of Miami… (though I’m not sure how they get that number as they attribute it to departure tax and AA charges $2.50).
    But as much as BA makes up prices it’s true that Grand Cayman has very high departure tax:

    “Passenger Facility Charge – Cayman Islands USD15.85
    Terminal Fee – Cayman Islands USD1.25
    Departure Tax – Cayman Islands USD25.00
    Immigration User Fee – USA USD7.00
    Animal & Plant Health User Fee (Aphis) – USA USD5.00
    Transportation Tax(Arrival) – USA USD16.70
    Customs User Fee – USA USD5.50
    Security Tax – Cayman Islands USD10.00″

    Some airports have high taxes and it’s not a reflection of the airline just the Gov’t and airport. So in this case it’s not BA, its GCM. For future reference, when checking prices, next to the fees is an “i” (usually) to expand and show the prices above. If it breaks it down into high fuel prices and junk, try to switch airlines or routes.

    *sigh* Sorry, this isn’t a helpful reply. I really wish I had a good answer for you but there’s no way to dump airport fees other than avoiding the airport.

  10. William Kincy says:

    I am sorry I got the BA Chase card now. I spent money with them (to earn my 130,000 Avios) that I could have spent with SPG Amex. Now I see that the Avios are essentially worthless in the domestic US. I hear of good AA use, but the British Airways website won’t list them at all. (It has an option to “check the date to find partner flight availability” but that option will not check).

    I suppose I could fly to London one day but that is not really on my Bucket List.

    • Travel Is Free says:

      Thanks for commenting William. It’s not what it use to be but there are still great values depending on where you want to go. The BA site isn’t great about showing AA flights but it is decent and you can get great value of Avios on AA flights. You can use expert flyer, qantas and AA to look for flights (although AA might show more availability than is available to partners).
      Hopefully my series on using Stopovers to save Avios and series on Saving Fuel Surcharges with Avios are helpful as well finding the best value.

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