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Update, 06/11: This post has been updated with the current information on the Avios program including Avios new award charts and why some flights like Philadelphia-Toronto in business class now cost fewer Avios than they did before.
Originally posted on 01/14/15:
British Airways Avios are awesome. They effectively fill the gap that is left by the major programs like American AAdvantage and United MileagePlus. The major programs provide a fantastic value for long-haul flights, but most programs are not great for short flights.
In 2011 BA launched the Avios program and since then it has continued to provide an incredible value for short-haul flights. A last-minute one-way flight that would otherwise cost $600 can be had for just 4,500 Avios plus $5.60.
Everything you need to know about the program can be found after the jump:
Signup for an Avios account:
While most airlines have a region based award chart, British Airways has a distance based award chart. Every flight segment is charged a flat rate of Avios based on how long the flight is:
The following award chart is applicable for travel on partner airlines on all travel dates and on British Airways/Iberia on peak travel dates:
The following award chart is only applicable for travel on British Airways and Iberia on off-peak travel dates:
|Zone||Flight Distance||Off-Peak Coach||Off-Peak Business||Off-Peak First|
Here are some sample routes by zone:
Zone 1: LGA-Cleveland, LGA-Detroit, LGA-Montreal, LGA-Toronto, Miami-Cancun, Miami-Key West, Miami-Nassau, London-Paris, Melbourne-Sydney, Los Angeles-Las Vegas
Zone 2: JFK-Bermuda, Los Angeles-Cabo San Lucas, LGA-Chicago, LGA-Miami, LGA-West Palm Beach, Philadelphia-Miami.
Zone 3: JFK-S. Maarten, JFK-Cancun, JFK-S. Juan, Los Angeles-Chicago, Columbus-Los Angeles, Berlin-Tel Aviv, Hong Kong-Singapore
Zone 4: Boston-Dublin, JFK-Los Angeles, JFK-Vancouver, Los Angeles-Maui, JFK-Costa Rica, Pittsburgh-Los Angeles
Zone 5: NYC-London, NYC-Berlin, Chicago-Dublin, Dallas-Maui
Zone 6: NYC-Buenos Aires, NYC-Rio de Janeiro, London-Johannesburg
Zone 7: NYC-Amman
Zone 8: S. Francisco-Hong Kong, JFK-Hong Kong
Zone 9: Los Angeles-Sydney, JFK-Sydney
-Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred instantly at a 1:1 ratio into BA Avios from the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Ink Plus credit cards.
Cards like Chase Freedom and Chase Ink Cash can’t directly transfer points into miles, you’ll have to transfer those points to a Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus that belongs to you or your spouse before you can transfer those points to British Airways.
American Express is a DansDeals.com advertiser.
The Preferred card awards 1.5 points per dollar everywhere, 3 points per dollar on Uber and gas, and 4.5 points per dollar on groceries if you make 30 transactions per month.
The EveryDay card awards 1.2 points per dollar everywhere and 2.4 points per dollar on Uber and groceries if you make 20 transactions per month.
You can also earn Membership Rewards points from consumer charge cards like the American Express Premier Rewards Gold Card and The Platinum Card® from American Express, and from business charge cards like the AMEX Business Gold Rewards Charge Card or The Business Platinum Card.
The Blue for Business® Credit Card from American Express has no annual fee and a limited time increased signup bonus. It earns a generous 1.3 points per dollar everywhere, but you’ll need any of the membership rewards cards listed above to transfer points from that card into airline miles.
-The Starwood Consumer AMEX and the Starwood Business AMEX awards 25K signup points with no fee for the first year. 20K Starpoints can transfer into 25K Avios with the permanent 25% transfer bonus. Transfers can take a few days.
-You can also earn Avios directly with the Chase British Airways Visa Signature card, which is offering up to 100K Avios currently!
The BA card also gets you 10% paid BA flights with code: CARDOFFERU
If you spend $30K in a calendar year on the BA card you also get a free companion pass good in any class of service on BA award flights.
Aside from British Airways, you can use Avios to fly on the following airlines:
Aer Lingus (Bookable over the phone only)
Alaska (Bookable over the phone only)
LAN (Many routes are bookable over the phone only)
Qantas (Some routes are bookable over the phone only)
Avoiding fuel surcharges:
When searching using the strategies below, bear in mind which flights won’t be hit with fuel surcharges.
-There are no fuel surcharges for flights on Aer Lingus. A flight from Boston to Dublin or Shannon is just 12.5K in coach or 25K in business. From there you can fly elsewhere within Europe without paying fuel surcharges. Plus you can fly to Boston from cities like Buffalo, NYC, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, or Washington DC for just 4.5K Avios. Aer Lingus flights can only be booked over the phone.
-There are no fuel surcharges for flights on Air Berlin.
-There are no fuel surcharges for flights on Alaska. These flights can only be booked over the phone.
-There are no fuel surcharges for flights on LAN. Some of their flights can only be booked over the phone.
-There are no fuel surcharges for flights on Niki. They fly from Israel to Vienna for 10K Avios.
-There are no fuel surcharges for flights on TAM
-There are no fuel surcharges for flights on American within the Western Hemisphere
-There are no fuel surcharges for flights on USAirways within the Western Hemisphere
-There are also no fuel surcharges for flying on Qantas from Australia to anywhere in the world or within Australia.
-There are no fuel surcharges for JAL flights within Japan.
-Fuel surcharges on award-winning carrier Cathay Pacific are relatively low and you don’t even need to fly all the way to Hong Kong (though you should-great city with awesome kosher food, airport lounges with kosher food, and a business or first class flight you’ll never forget!) to get a taste of their awesome service, seat, pajamas, and amenities. They fly a daily 777 nonstop between JFK and Vancouver which I reviewed in this trip report.
-You can significantly cut the fuel surcharges when flying on Iberia by transferring your BA Avios into Iberia Avios
-British Airways 5th Freedom Flights (flights that don’t depart from or arrive to the UK) have significantly lower fees. For example even though Singapore-Sydney is a longer flight than NYC-London the fees in first class on Singapore-Sydney are less than half of those from NYC-London.
-As long as you have earned a single Avios within the past 12 months then fuel surcharges for intra-Europe flights will be very low. You can transfer points from AMEX, Chase, or Starwood to activate that benefit.
Searching for award availability:
If you want to fly on Air Berlin, Alaska, British Airways, Finnair, Niki, Open Skies, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, or USAirways then the best way to search for saver award space is actually on AA.com, not on BA.com. (Note that AA.com does not search Aer Lingus, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, JAL, LAN, Malaysia, Meridiana, Qatar, S7, and TAM.)
Just go to the AA.com homepage, type in your route, click on redeem miles, and search:
On the results page click “non-stop only” and choose from Economy or Business/First MileSAAver. BA.com can only book the MileSAAver awards, not the AAnytime awards. It also only competently searches for nonstop flights only.
Any date in light green or light blue will be bookable with Avios.
Ignore the mileage rates on AA.com, they have nothing to do with what BA will charge you in Avios to fly on that same AA flight. While a flight from Miami to Cancun will show as 17.5K miles on AA.com, BA will charge just 4.5K Avios for the same exact flight!
Now that you know which dates have Avios availability you’re ready to book!
Booking an Avios flight:
Locate the “Book with Avios or money” box on the left-hand side and toggle the payment type to “Book with Avios”
In general you should book Avios flights as one-way journeys. That gives you the maximum flexibility should you need to change only one part of your trip.
Searching for NYC to MIA will pull up different results than EWR-MIA, LGA-MIA, or JFK-MIA, so be sure to search for all of those.
If you’re willing to fly from LGA-PBI, PHL-MIA, or PHL-PBI you should search for that as well.
If you get an error about BA not having traffic rights to a route you probably forgot to switch it to “Book with Avios.”
On the results page you can change your date by clicking on nearby dates.
Beware that clicking on the change button will only work if you manually trip in the date in the MM/DD/YY format. If you use the popup calendar it enters the date in the DD/MM/YY format which will result in an error page or the wrong date.
That’s because the change calendar during the booking process spits out the international version of the date with May 7th being 07/05/14 but when you search it then gives you the results for July 5th.
That’s an easy fix, just manually type in 05/07/14 instead of clicking May 7th on the calendar.
Beware that the taxes on the flight results page are not accurate. They can be off by hundreds of dollars. Always select the flight you want and continue onto the next page to view the true tax rate.
What to do if BA.com doesn’t show availability for a non-stop that AA.com shows as being available in MileSAAver class:
Call them at 800-452-1201.
It may take a few tries, but you should find an agent who knows how to book it.
You can also try the Singapore call center +65 6823 2095 which has a good reputation for helping people out in this situation.
Using Avios for connecting flights:
The BA site is downright terrible at finding any flight that requires a connection. That means if you want to fly from Vancouver to Boston you’re going to have to search for 2 separate tickets. As BA charges a flat rate for each flight segment you’ll pay the same amount of Avios whether you book 2 flights on 1 ticket or on 2 tickets.
Search for a paid flight on Orbitz to find possible connection cities to know which segments to search for.
Searching from Vancouver to JFK:
Searching from Vancouver to Boston:
Searching from JFK to Boston:
Or say you want to go from NYC to Tucson, AZ.
AA.com is great at finding connecting options:
BA.com can’t find a single coach award:
But AA.com showed that Chicago would be a good connecting option. So all you have to do is book 2 separate tickets on BA.com.
First search and book NYC-Chicago:
And then search and book Chicago-Tucson:
You can try to get BA to book that over the phone as one ticket and waive the phone booking fee. But it will be the same amount of Avios to just book them online as 2 tickets. At checkin just show both boarding passes and your luggage will be checked in all the way to Tucson.
Booking travel on airlines not displayed on BA.com:
BA.com can’t book awards on Aer Lingus, Alaska, or on select LAN flights. There are lots of Avios bargains with those airlines (Boston-Dublin for 12.5K, Seattle-Kauai for 12.5K, Buenos Aires-Iguassu Falls for 7.5K, etc) but you need to call to book. Be sure to get them to waive the phone booking fee.
You can search for Aer Lingus availability on United.com, though British Airways may not see the same availability as United. The same flights that cost 30K in coach and 70K in business with United miles will cost 12.5K in coach 37.5K in business with Avios:
Booking travel to Israel without fuel surcharges on Air Berlin:
Air Berlin flies from Berlin Dusseldorf, and Munich to Tel Aviv. The flight from NYC to Germany is 20K and the flight from Germany to Tel Aviv is 10K Avios.
It can be very hard to find on BA.com from the USA. Use the same strategy as above to piece it together. Search for flights from NYC to Berlin or Dusseldorf on AA.com and limit the search to nonstop flights only.
Then search from Berlin or Dusseldorf to Tel Aviv on AA.com.
Once you found dates plug them in on BA.com.
You can also call to piece together a flight from JFK to Berlin to Tel Aviv onto 1 ticket. If you’re willing to take a long connection or an overnight stopover BA.com won’t find that when you search for JFK-Tel Aviv but you may find JFK-Berlin and Berlin-Tel Aviv award space when searched separately. When booked together you’ll save on German taxes that only apply to non-connecting flights. Call and BA will be able to book both segments on one ticket to avoid those taxes and have them waive the phone booking fee.
You can use ITA to use the monthlong search option to find for dates where Air Berlin flies from JFK-TLV with short connections. See here for how to use codes and then use code: AB+ / maxconnect 300
That code would limit the search to flights that have a connection of 300 minutes or less. Once you find dates where they actually have flights with short connections you can search MileSAAver award space on AA.com and then book tickets on BA.com.
Avoid booking travel on 2 airlines:
When you book on 2 different airlines pricing shoots way up as you will be subject to this completely different award chart.
Just book those same flights as one-ways on their own itinerary and the price is just 7.5K each way:
That’s just another reason (aside from flexibility to change just one portion of the trip) to book one-way awards.
Once you’re booked you can click on manage your booking to change your auto-assigned seats. Just click on seating and then “Your allocated seats”
That will bring you over to AA.com where you can change your seat selection.
Take note of your AA.com record locator as it will be different than your BA.com record locator. You’ll need the AA.com record locator to checkin for your American Airlines flights.
Making a flight change:
Login to your BA account here or enter your British Airways confirmation number here to manage reservations. Then click on change/cancel booking.
Changing an award incurs a $55 penalty, but the cost to cancel an award is the lessor of taxes paid or $55. In other words on a one-way NYC-MIA award the cost will be just $5.60, the taxes owed for that award.
If you had booked a round-trip and only want to change the return you’ll have to cancel the whole award. That means you’ll pay $11.20 instead of $5.60 and you might lose your desired outbound flight that you didn’t want to change. Both of those are reasons I book BA awards as one-way trips.
If you want to cancel within 24 of booking you will get back your taxes, but you must call to cancel. You can reach BA at 800-452-1201.
Flight cancellations and changes must be done more than 24 hours before the time of departure or else you will not get your Avios back.
Award expedite/close-in fees:
American and USAirways charge $75 for booking a flight within 3 weeks. But British Airways can book you on those same flights and you won’t pay a dime for bogus close-in fees.
DO NOT book a lap child on a domestic flight or a flight to Canada. Just have the child added by American or USAirways at the counter, free of charge for domestic flights or for a few dollars for Canadian flights. You can also call American or USAirways to add an infant over the phone. Be sure to have a passport or birth certificate to prove your child is under 2.
DO book a lap child at the time of booking for international travel. BA is very generous in only charging 10% of the Avios instead of 10% of the full fare ticket.
When we flew with Rafi to Buenos Aires in first class in 2012, American wanted $1,000 just to bring him on as a lap child. BA charged just 15,000 Avios. Just be sure to book the domestic portion separate from the international portion so that you don’t pay 10% for the domestic legs where the child shouldn’t need to pay anything.
If you’re like me and want to book an Avios award to have a seat for an infant under 2, just make your infant a little older as you can’t book a seat online for infants under 2 😉
Dates of birth are never actually printed on a ticket.
Adding an American AAdvantage or USAirways number to your Avios reservation:
If you have an AA credit card or AA elite status you’ll want to attach your AAdvantage number onto your BA reservation to take advantage of those benefits.
There’s no need to pay with AA credit card to get free baggage. You only need to have your AAdvantage number that is attached to that credit card on the reservation.
Same goes if you have a USAirways credit card and are flying on USAirways, you’ll need your USAirways mileage number in the reservation.
Alas if you book a ticket for yourself on BA.com from your own Avios account then AA.com will not let you enter your AAdvantage number.
All you need to do is go to Finnair.com, click on manage booking, and enter your BA confirmation number:
Then just click “Update your details,” enter your AAdvantage or USAirways number and your email address, and you’re good to go. You will get a confirmation email that your record was updated.
If you can’t add your AAdvantage number on AA.com or Finnair.com You can also try updating it on RJ.com.
Avios never expire as long as you earn or redeem a single mile every 36 months.
Closing a credit card will not affect your Avios account.
Transferring points from AMEX, Chase, or Starwood will extend the life of all of your points for 36 months.
If your miles are expiring just book a domestic one-way flight for 4.5K Avios plus $5.60, wait 24 hours, and cancel the award. You’ll get back your Avios and will have effectively paid $5.60 to extend the life of all of your Avios.
Even if you miles do expire BA is very good about reinstating them for free and giving you 3 months to get some activity to keep them alive for at least another 36 months after that.
Transferring British Airways Avios into Iberia Avios or Avios.com:
You can transfer Avios from British Airways to Iberia Avios or to Avios.com here. By transferring to Iberia as you will save a bundle on fuel surcharges for Iberia operated flights. More info in this post.
Avios.com has access to book award travel on airlines that British Airways does not. Those include Air Malta, Aurigny, Flybe, and Monarch. You can also use Avios.com to book Eurostar train travel and other non-flight awards that British Airways does not have access to.
Award chart anomalies:
Flights from North America to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific are zone 8 awards, even though they should be zone 9 awards. The AA flight from Dallas to Hong Kong is a zone 9 award, so it’s cheaper to fly Dallas-Chicago-Hong Kong then direct from Dallas to Hong Kong.
It’s important to search for surrounding airports. For example a flight from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale is 1,182 miles according to the Great Circle Mapper and is therefore a zone 3 award. However a flight from Chicago to West Palm Beach is just 1,144 miles and is therefore just a zone 2 award, saving you 5,000 Avios round-trip per person in coach in 15,000 per person in first.
-Due to the zone system, flights with connections may be cheaper than flying nonstop so always check possible connections! A nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Sydney is 7,488 miles placing it into zone 9 with a round-trip cost of 100,000 Avios in coach. However a flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu is a zone 4 at 2,556 miles and a flight from Honolulu to Sydney is a zone 6 at 5,066 miles. The cost of a zone 4+zone 6 round-trip is just 75,000 miles in coach.
-A nonstop from JFK to Dublin or Shanon on surcharge-free Aer Lingus is a zone 5 award. If you fly from NYC-Boston-Dublin or Shannon you’ll save Avios as zone 1+zone 4 is less than zone 5.
The zone system also created anomalies where your connecting city will greatly affect the cost of your ticket:
-Los Angeles to Dublin via JFK=65,000 Avios round-trip.
-Los Angeles to Dublin via Chicago=60,000 Avios round-trip.
-Los Angeles to Dublin via Boston=50,000 Avios round-trip.
Always check different connecting options to ensure that you’re paying the lowest rate.
Is business class double, triple, or quadruple the cost of coach?
-Within the US, business class always costs quadruple what coach costs as American codes the flights as first class. There are 3 notable exceptions. All flights between JFK-Los Angeles and JFK-S. Francisco have business class that costs triple the price of coach as they operate with a first class that costs quadruple the cost of coach. Select flights between Miami-Los Angeles that operate with 3 classes of service have business class that costs triple the price of coach and first class that costs quadruple the cost of coach.
-Short-haul international business class (flights under 2,000 miles as the crow flies) generally costs twice what coach costs.
-Long-haul international business class (flights 2,000+ miles as the crow flies) generally costs triple what coach costs.
-Alaska business class is always coded as first class, and therefore always costs quadruple coach. So Los Angeles-Cabo in business is 15K on AA or 30K on Alaska.
-USAirways short-haul international business class is now coded as business class instead of first class. That means international flights like Philadelphia-Toronto can be booked in business class for 9K Avios instead of 18K Avios.
When flying business class on short flights makes sense:
Generally speaking flying business class on a short-flight isn’t worth the cost.
But when you have a lot of luggage it can make sense. American for example gives 3 free 70 pound bags in business class. If you’re flying from Chicago to Toronto the cost of business class is only 4.5K miles more than coach, so for 3 free 70 pound bags that’s a great deal.
TAM flies lie-flat business class seats from JFK to Toronto for just 9K Avios with 3 free checked bags.
Plus business class availability can be better than coach availability on short flights.
Due to a bug, people who fly on American with BA Avios tickets have priority access printed on their boarding pass that allows them to use priority checkin and security lines.
Sometimes agents (and especially the kiosk checkin machines) also give free baggage, but it’s hard to count on that happening.
Foreign carrier flights within North America come with free bags:
While American and USAirways only give 1 free bag to cardholders and elites within North America, other carriers are more generous.
Cathay Pacific flies daily between JFK and Vancouver. Coach passengers get 2 free 50 pound bags and business or first class passengers get 2 free 70 pound bags on that flight.
TAM now flies between JFK and Toronto. They allow a free 50 pound bag in coach and 3 free 50 pound bags in business.
Qantas flies from JFK-Los Angeles, but that can only be booked when continuing onto Australia. They allow 2 free 50 pound bags in coach and 3 free 70 pound bags in business or first.
Those flights are internationally equipped, so they offer some of the best coach, business, and first class you’ll find within North America.
AA.com calendar search to Hawaii includes flights that BA can’t book:
While the AA.com award calendar search is amazing for quickly spotting flights that you can use Avios for, it’s not great for flights to Hawaii. That’s because AA.com searches for award flights on Hawaiian Airlines, but Hawaiian is not a partner with BA.
Therefore when searching for flights to Hawaii be sure to click through on AA.com to view the carrier and make sure that it’s not a Hawaiian flight. If you clicked nonstop only for flights from JFK to Honolulu then AA.com would only display Hawaiian flights, but that can only be booked with AA miles, not with BA Avios.
AA.com will also display Alaska Air awards. BA.com can’t book those, but you can call BA to use your Avios for those flights.
Family Pooling of Avios:
Frankly I’ve never looked into this option too much as Avios awards start at just 4.5K anyway and becoming a household creates rules on who you are allowed to redeem for and how points are pulled out of each account that it seems like more of a headache than it’s worth. From a non-household linked BA Avios account you can book travel for anyone without restrictions.
Award availability is fluid:
This has nothing to do with Avios specifically, but some folks seem to think that if they check award space and see nothing then that’s it.
Award space is always very fluid and can open up as the flight gets closer. You just have to keep checking a few times a day to make sure you can grab it when it opens.
I can’t possibly count the number of times that checking multiple times daily has allowed me to grab an award seat as soon as it opens.
Be willing to stopover. It’s free and can help you out!
As BA charges by the segment you can take as many “stopovers” as you want without paying extra by just booking separate tickets for each flight. Creating your own adventure can be a blast and it can help you find award space when it might not otherwise exist.
They can even help you out:
There might not be availability JFK to Hawaii on the day you need it, but there may be if you stopoff in Los Angeles for a night.
There might not be availability JFK to Tel Aviv on the day you need it, but there may be if you stopoff in Berlin for a night.
If you’re flying from Los Angeles to Sydney via Honolulu just purchase the Los Angeles to Honolulu flight for 12.5K and the Honolulu to Sydney flight for 25K Avios on separate tickets. If you just fly Los Angeles to Sydmey direct you’d pay an additional 25K Avios round-trip! Plus you can stopover in Hawaii for as long as your heart desires.
Avios Destination charts:
I’ve made charts for several cities to show where you can fly nonstop with your Avios. Get inspired and go make memories that will last a lifetime! (Note that only the NYC chart has been updated with the new award pricing changes in business and first class that went into effect in April 2015)
-Click to view Direct Avios Flights From Montreal, Toronto, Denver, Detroit, Pittsburgh, S. Francisco, And 6 Ohio Airports
-Click to view 94 Direct Avios Flights From Baltimore/Washington DC
-Click to view 29 Direct Avios Flights From Boston
-Click to view 126 Direct Avios Flights From Chicago
-Click to view 196 Direct Avios Flights From Dallas
-Click to view 12 Direct Avios Flights From Johannesburg
-Click to view 77 Direct Avios Flights From Los Angeles
-Click to view 77 Direct Avios Flights From Miami
-Click to view 99 Direct Avios Flights From NYC
-Click to view 123 Direct Avios Flights From Philadelphia