Using British Airways Avios can seem challenging and even overwhelming to travel hacking beginners who are most familiar with U.S.-based airlines. You might be wondering, “What can I use Avios points for if I’m not flying to London?”
But, in fact, the best value comes not necessarily from transatlantic flights, but for short-haul flights in many places around the globe.
In this beginner guide all about the British Airways frequent flyer program, you’ll learn:
- the program basics,
- the best way to earn Avios,
- how to search for BA reward flights, and
- how to use Avios points for the best value.
A Beginners Guide to Using British Airways Avios
British Airways Frequent Flyer Program Basics
British Airways is part of the Oneworld Alliance. Their partners include American Airlines, Finnair, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, LATAM, Japan Airlines, and several more.
British Airways also partners with Alaska Airlines, Iberia, and Aer Lingus. In fact, the other airlines that use Avios are Iberia and Aer Lingus.
Knowing which airline alliances and partners an airline is connected to allows you to get more from your miles. In this case, you can use BA Avios to fly on any of their Oneworld partners, as well as their non-alliance partners.
So while you can’t transfer British Airways miles to American Airlines, you can use British Airways miles on American. What’s more, using Avios on American Airlines can sometimes be better than had you booked the flight with AA miles.
Instead of a region based award chart like United or American, British Airways calculates the number of Avios needed for an award flight by distance. This means the number of miles flown dictates how many Avios an award flight will cost.
There currently isn’t a published British Airways Avios award chart, but they do have peak and off-peak redemptions. Their off-peak redemptions can deliver great value on your BA Avios points, especially given you can find off-peak pricing for nearly 8 months of the year on BA flights.
Here’s what we know. The one exception is with the 4,500 Avios in zone 1. Flights that touch North America begin at 7,500 Avios for flights between 1-1,151 miles.
British Airways Miles Chart
The award calendar opens up just about a year ahead of time. In general, it’s best to book flights using Avios points as far out as you know your travel plans. Although, you won’t be charged a last minute booking fee, British Airways reward flight for availability is better the farther out you search.
Keep in mind, however, that all British Airways Avios partners don’t necessarily release their award space as far in advance as British Airways. So, if you’re searching for availability on some of the calendar’s farthest dates, there could be a gap in which partners have award space.
For example, let’s say British Airways opens up their award calendar through September of the following year. But, a partner airline only has their award calendar open through August of the following year. That month gap won’t accurately reflect the award space available on all partners.
One of the major criticisms of British Airways are their tremendous surcharges on some of their flights. As a rule of thumb, you want to avoid these fees as much as possible. Clearly, it doesn’t make sense to redeem an award for X number of Avios and also have to pay $400+ in fees.
What is the best way to earn Avios with British Airways?
If you’re just getting started with travel hacking, you might not realize how to get Avios points. In fact, there are quite a few ways to earn Avios!
While there’s no British Airways American Express card, Chase offers a British Airways Visa Signature card. This co-branded credit card comes with a welcome offer for new cardholders, typically requiring a minimum spend. You can earn 50k Avios after spending $3k within 3 months and an additional 50k Avios after spending $20k within the first year of opening your account.
Keep in mind, the British Airways credit card DOES count against Chase’s 5/24 rule. So, if you’re new to travel hacking, consider wisely whether or not Chase’s British Airways card deserves to be on your list of first 5 cards to get.
If you’ve previously had the British Airways credit card but closed it at some point, you’re eligible to earn the welcome offer again after 24 months has passed since earning the previous one.
Luckily, British Airways also participates as a transfer partner in 3 transferable points programs. Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards points both transfer to British Airways at a 1:1 transfer ratio. Marriott Bonvoy points transfer at a 3:1 ratio. You must transfer in 60k-point increments, but you’ll also receive a 5k Avios bonus, for a total of 25k Avios.
American Express occasionally runs transfer bonuses with British Airways, which allows you an even better return on transferring MR points to BA Avios.
British Airways also has a shopping portal where you can earn Avios for the items you’re planning to buy anyways. You can book BA flights with Avios earned from shopping.
Lastly, the worst travel hacking mistake is to let your points expire. British Airways Avios expire after 36 months with no activity to your account. To reset the expiration date, earn or spend a couple of Avios. For example, if you have the co-branded credit card, make a purchase with it. Or use the British Airways shopping rewards program to buy something you were planning to buy anyways.
How do you search for British Airways reward flights?
British Airways has a pretty decent search tool when it comes to searching for partner award flights. In fact, the general rule of thumb is to use the BA or Qantas websites to search when you’re looking for Oneworld Alliance award flights.
You’ll need to log in with your British Airways membership number to search. If you don’t already have a British Airways number, it’s free to join. Be sure to keep yourself organized by recording your member number and password for future searches.
Because British Airways has a distance-based award pricing system, you’ll want to search for and book BA reward flights that are direct. There are no limits to the number of stops you can take, but you’ll pay separately for each segment.
After you enter your search details, British Airways will ask you if you want to break up your search into segments. Always click no.
Another award search basic tip is to look in one-way segments. So, let’s say you’re looking for a round-trip flight between New York and Montreal. Search the departing and returning flights separately. You might see additional availability that wouldn’t have come up in a round trip search.
British Airways does a pretty good job of displaying partner availability.
- However, for flights operated by Alaska Airlines, look for SAAver award space on the American Airline website.
- While for Aer Lingus flights, search on United’s website for award availability.
Lastly, you can also use a British Airways Avios calculator to determine how many Avios you’ll need for the route you want to fly. There are 2 tools to calculate the number of Avios needed, the Wandering Aramean tool and BA’s own calculator. I use the Wandering Aramean tool and it’s a great way to experiment with how to use Avios for your potential travel plans.
How to Use Avios for British Airways Reward Flights
So, before going into some specific redemptions, let’s just quickly review the basics of airline alliances. Even though we’re searching for award flights on British Airways and using British Airways currency, Avios, the actual flight booked will likely be flown by one of their partners.
So while you can’t transfer your British Airways points to a non-Avios partner airline, using Avios for flights operated by their partners can be a fantastic value!
To maximize the value of your Avios, you also want to avoid those high BA surcharges we talked about earlier. The more premium class you want to fly, the higher the fees typically get.
“So then, what can I spend BA Avios points on?”
British Airways doesn’t charge surcharges on flights operated by American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and LATAM flights within the United States, to Central America, South America, Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean.
Depending on your departure city, it could be cheaper to use Avios than to book with American Airlines using AA miles.
- Going by the British Airways points chart, flights to these regions will typically fall within the range of 7.5k-25k Avios one-way versus 12.5k-30k one-way with American Airlines.
- In particular, southern U.S. cities like Miami and Dallas will have much cheaper award flights to the Caribbean, Mexico, Central and South America.
- Don’t just assume you’re departing and arrival cities are too far from one another. Use one of the British Airways Avios calculators above to figure out the cost.
For example, you can fly from LAX to Vancouver for only 7.5k one-way, 15k round trip. Compare this with American Airlines, where you’d need 12.5k each way.
Similarly, I did the east coast version of this by flying from NYC to Montreal to ski at Mont Tremblant for just 15k Avios round trip.
Here’s United’s round-trip pricing for NYC to Montreal:
Here’s American’s round-trip pricing for NYC to Montreal:
A few other short-haul 15k Avios roundtrip examples are:
Washington D.C.-Montreal, Toronto, or Miami
Chicago – Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, Atlanta, or Orlando
San Francisco – Portland, Los Angeles, or Salt Lake City
Miami – Turks and Caicos, Grand Cayman, Jamaica or the Bahamas
Los Angeles – San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Tucson, or Los Cabos
Is Machu Picchu on your bucket list? You can fly to Lima with British Airways, but even better might be to book the inter-Peru flight from Lima to Cusco. This short-haul flight can cost a couple of hundred dollars RT, but you can book it for only 9k Avios RT!
Short inter-continent and inter-country flights will be where British Airways Avios shine.
Using Avios to book flights inter-Europe costs just 4.5k one-way with a flat fee of about $30. This is perfect if you’ve used other miles to get to Europe or scored a cheap flight. Use BA, then, to position yourself in your intended destination.
For example, you found a cheap <$200 one-way flight to Paris on a budget airline. But, you want to go to Prague. You might pay for the flight and then use 4.5k Avios to fly to Prague.
Inter-Japan flights are also great redemptions, as these short flights can be pricey! Compare 4.5k Avios one-way between Tokyo and Osaka with the cash price of $200+ at peak times.
Similarly, using Avios on Qantas between Australian cities is an equally great value! Remember, Qantas is in the Oneworld Alliance and can be booked with BA Avios. You can fly from Sydney to Melbourne or the Gold Coast for just 4.5k Avios!
Short-haul value can also be found in Africa. Consider Johannesburg to Capetown for just 7.5k Avios one-way.
But, short-haul flights aren’t the only valuable rewards…
Because BA is distance-based, there may be some situations where it would seem counter-intuitive to consider using Avios. (The world is actually a lot smaller than we think!)
Consider these 3 examples.
- You can fly from 5 Eastern U.S. airports, NYC-JFK, Newark, Boston, Hartford, and Chicago to Ireland for just 13k Avios one-way off-peak. (Peak is 20k one-way.)
- Using Avios miles from western cities like Portland, Seattle, San Diego, Phoenix, and Los Angeles, you can book a round-trip flight to Hawaii for only 25k round trip. This is a total steal!
- Similarly, you can fly Los Angeles to Tokyo, Japan for just 25k Avios one-way. Plus, you’d get to fly partner Japan Airlines known for their high level of quality, service, and comfort.
British Airways is a valuable Oneworld partner and their Avios currency is easy to earn via flexible point transfers and the British Airways Visa Signature card. Their distance-based award chart can return a great value when maximized effectively and play a strategic role in achieving your travel goals.
Have you used British Airways Avios for reward flights? What questions do you have about how to use British Airways Avios?
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