Introduction to British Airways Avios
British Airways miles, known as Avios, are some of the easiest frequent flyer miles to earn. British Airways Avios can also be extremely valuable, yet, they are fairly complicated.
In this guide we’ll go over:
Earning British Airways Avios
As I said, Avios are arguably the easiest frequent flyer miles to earn. You can earn in the following ways…
via the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Bold/Ink Plus
via the American Express Platinum cards (personal or business)
or the American Express Gold cards (personal or business)
The British Airways credit card is usually at a 50,000 Avios bonus, however, once a year for the last 3 years the bonus goes up. Typically the bonus goes to 100,000 Avios but the spend requirement for the second 50,000 Avios goes up a ton. Thus, many people don’t actually get to earn the other 50,000 Avios.
Between the BA card and Amex transfers, you may end up with enough Avios in your account. And many advise against transferring from SPG to BA because SPG is one of the only ways to transfer to many airlines, including AA. Save those SPG points for something harder to get, and likely more valuable.
Of course, you can always earn miles via paid flights. Most “cheap” flights are discount economy, which often earns less than ordinary economy. But here is a list to help you know which discount economy flights can earn British Airways Avios.
Here are the airlines you can fly with to earn 100% miles for discount economy.
100% miles for discount economy:
Here are airlines that earn partial credit, listed with the percent earned for discount economy (or the various types of discount economy in some cases):
Here are airlines that only earn 25% of miles flown:
These partial credits describe what you’ll earn when crediting miles flown on these airlines to British Airways Avios. You can still earn 100% credit towards the airline’s own program, and many of their partners.
British Airways Fuel Surcharges
The biggest downside of using British Airways’ Avios (points) are the fuel surcharges that get passed on when redeeming Avios for flights. Ironically, redeeming Avios to fly British Airways (instead of a partner) can accrue some of the highest fuel surcharges.
To avoid high fuel surcharges, consider this. When you redeem BA Avios, you can book on partners who don’t have fuel surcharges to pass on.
Partners that accrue no fuel surcharge:
This unfortunately doesn’t cover the entire globe.
For getting to Europe, Air Berlin and US Airways have great options. We’ve flown a number of times on Air Berlin using Avios or AA miles, and they never have fuel surcharges.
For getting around North America, American Airlines and US Airways provide a ton of options.
For getting to South America, LAN, AA and US Airways provide a number of options, all without fuel surcharges.
For getting to Asia, Cathay does have fuel surcharges, but they are a lot less than British Airways’ own fuel surcharges.
Flights domestically within a region often don’t have fuel surcharges. Like AA does normally have fuel surcharges, but not within the Americas. Similarly, flights on BA within Europe tend not to have fuel surcharges.
Flights to Australia (on Qantas) are inevitably expensive. But using Avios for flights within Australia (on Qantas) are without fuel surcharges. Same with Malaysian and Cathay within Asia.
In general, try to book on the airlines listed above in order to avoid fees that are sky high.
Searching for Flights
BritishAirways.com has one of the most complete search engines in the OneWorld Alliances in terms of the number of airlines it searches.
Every airline in OneWorld can be searched for on BritishAirways.com, except for: Royal Jordanian, and S7.
Finding and booking flights online
1.) Log on to BritishAirways.com
2.) Once you’ve arrived to the Executive Club page, click on “Spending Avios” and then “Book flights with Avios”.
3.) There, you’ll be able to plug in your flight details and click “Search”.
The problem with BA’s search engine is that it’s rather limited in the results it shows. It may be possible to book more flights than the website shows and often it will force you to route through London to fly on BA, resulting in fuel surcharges and the LHR airport tax.
The other problem is that British Airways doesn’t really like to properly show connections. For example, I went to book a flight on Cathay from Bangkok to New York via Hong Kong. Now when I searched Bangkok to Hong Kong on its own search, it found award space. When I looked for Hong Kong to New York, on its own search, it also found award space. But when I looked for flights from Bangkok to Hong Kong it showed no results, because for whatever reason, it was unwilling to make the connection for me.
Therefore, don’t count on British Airways to find or show your route with connections and try searching in oneways.
If you’re unsure what routes are flown try looking at the OneWorld Route Map.
Or to get other ideas for route options, or to just search for OneWorld award seats, try using expertflyer or Qantas’ search engine. They may come up with different routes or more availability in general.
Another perfectly fine option is to call and let the booking agents search for you. Although, you’ll likely find it quicker and easier if you know how to do it yourself.
Flights can be booked online for the airlines that show up on BritishAirways.com’s award search engine. If the flight is not listed, you need to call.
British Airways Award Prices
Pricing Out Award Tickets
When looking at award prices for your route, know that the business class price will simply be double the economy price and first class will simply be triple the economy price. That part is pretty simple.
The pricing system for BA Avios confuses people more than any other rewards program, but it’s actually quite simple.
You pay per segment and it’s priced by distance flown.
This is mostly confusing for two reasons. First, because many other airlines that have distance based programs price their tickets based on total miles flown. But instead of being like the other distance based airlines and adding up the distance of everything you fly, each price is instead calculated by each segment.
Secondly, most people don’t know what the distance of a flight would be, and thus don’t know how to calculate the price.
Tools to help
Here are some tools you need to calculate the price.
Once you’ve found award seats on Qantas or ExpertFlyer, you’ll need to figure out how far the flight would be to calculate the price in Avios.
Take the route you found availability for, or just speculate a route based on the OneWorld Route Map, then use the GCmap calculator to figure out how many miles would actually be flown. In other words, how many butt-in-the-seat miles would each segment be.
Then take the total amount of flown miles and compare it to the award chart above.
Note that when you’re entering a route into the calculator, you will be using airport codes and dashes.
For example, JFK – LAX (New York to Los Angeles). Based on the calculator’s results that would be 2,475 flown miles and would therefore be 12,500 British Airways Avios for an award ticket.
However, this is the long but thorough way of searching. If you want short cuts, there are other tools.
2) Wandr.me’s Avios Calculator
Just type in your airport codes and this tool will tell you what the cheapest connection is. However, it has one major flaw – it only shows one connection. In other words, it will only show two flight segments at a time.
This makes the tool incredibly useless for some flights. For instance out of my hometown of Charlottesville, there are no international flights, and thus, there has to be a connection in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, or Charlotte. But the real question is, what’s the cheapest connection for my international flight, and you’d never know with this tool, because it only will show the domestic connection.
For some flights it’s really useful and for some, it’s not at all.
3) British Airways’ Avios Calculator
This is a painfully incomplete tool and therefore it doesn’t show routes, or often picks the longer of two routes. I would rather use the longer manual methods than trust this tool.
You may notice on the award chart that that half way prices are often less than half. For example a flight that goes 3,000 flown miles would price out at 12,500 Avios, but a flight that is 6,000 flown miles would be 30,000 miles. In other words, you would save Avios if you stopped half way.
Tricks to save Avios
I actually wrote an entire series on this topic, but I’ll sum up a few teaser points here. Follow this link for your own further investigation on tricks to save Avios.
Here’s a taste of what you can learn…
The Hawaiian way to Sydney for 37,500 instead of 50,000.
Instead of going from Miami to Santiago (or Buenos Aires) direct for 25,000 Avios, try taking a stopover in Equador. Either GYE or OIU (despite the high airport taxes).
The best deal here has to be Boston to Dublin for 12,500 Avios.
You can actually take advantage of this even if you don’t live in Boston. For example, from Seattle it would normally cost 32,500 Avios to route through NYC but instead:
This actually continues on in a number of ways as you can then fly Aer Lingus (which is based out of Dublin) to different places in Europe, like Moscow and Helsinki, to save Avios for your final destination.
From Vancouver it’s cheaper to route through Hong Kong to get to India.
Plus I’d rather fly Cathay than JAL, if even to avoid fuel surcharges and sea urchins for lunch.
Transferring to Iberia
Iberia is a Spanish airline that has merged with British Airways, but still maintains its own identity as well. Basically Iberia and British Airways are still essentially two different programs, but they both earn “Avios”, which can be combined, transferred, etc. This can be part of a strategy for avoiding fuel surcharges because Iberia includes generally lower fuel surcharges than British Airways.
For instance if you use British Airways Avios to book an Iberia flight, you may have higher fees than if you transfer those Avios to your Iberia Plus Avios first, and then book the flight with Iberia.
The difference can be hundreds of dollars in some cases, for instance flights from the US to Western Europe could be hundreds of dollars more in fuel surcharges if you book on Iberia with British Airways Avios instead of with Iberia Avios.
There are some stipulations for transferring however.
Your Ibeiria account must be at least 90 days old.
You must have had some kind of activity in your Iberia account. (For instance if you transfer Amex MR points into the account or earn in some other fashion.)
Once these stipulations are satisfied, you can sign onto your British Airways membership account and click on “Combine Avios.” Transfers should be instantaneous, though disparities between the personal information on your two accounts may cause some issues in the transfer process.
Conclusion & Best Uses
Although I never use my Avios on most OneWorld airlines because of the fuel surcharges that get passed on, BA Avios still end up being some of my most used frequent flyer currencies. For flights to Asia and Australia I use other programs, but they are particularly great for short haul flights.
In general, most airlines start their awards around 12,500 miles for an award flight, but Avios start at 4,500 for a redemption. This is unbeatable. Plus, many airlines that have fuel surcharges on long-hauls don’t on short regional flights.
This is maybe one of the biggest wins, especially when the other short options are expensive and you can get a flight for 4,500 Avios, like short flights within Europe or the US.
Specifically, here are some of the Best Uses of Avios:
-like Charlotte to London
-like New York to Dusseldorf
-like Philadelphia to Paris
Some of these prices are way better than other airlines, and what’s better is that Avios are easier to earn as there are so many credit cards that transfer to BA Avios. Furthermore, there are no “close-in” fees, meaning that you can book last minute flights for no extra cost.
It’s hard to rank Avios or compare to other airlines, as their pricing and restrictions are very different than any other airlines. The good is very good (a flight to the Caribbean for 4,500 Avios) and the bad is very bad (flights to India sometimes for 50,000+ and a ton of fuel surcharges). But if you know what you’re doing, your British Airways Avios can always be used for the very good.