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I naturally categorize miles and points into two groups:

  1. Broadly useful
  2. Niche programs

The first type of miles are the miles you want to stockpile if you’re hoping to follow a simple mile-accumulation strategy to meet all your future travel goals. Ideally these miles benefit from cheap award charts across all classes of service and to all regions without incurring fuel surcharges on awards.

By contrast, niche programs have some great values on their award charts, but lots of flaws. Maybe the program collects fuel surcharges on most awards, or charges too much for redemptions in premium cabins, or simply doesn’t release much Saver award space on flights.

Niche programs can be ignored by those who merely dabble in miles collection, but serious miles collectors should know the strengths of and collect miles in niche programs too.

  • Which miles do I consider broadly useful?
  • Which programs do I consider niche programs?
  • What are the niche programs’ strengths?

Broadly Useful

None of these programs is perfect, but I consider all the following programs to be broadly useful programs in which a person could exclusively collect miles and still get a fair deal on the vast majority of potential redemptions:

  • American Airlines
  • United
  • Starwood Preferred Guest
  • Ultimate Rewards

American Airlines

American Airlines miles offer good value on most routes in all cabins. The oneworld alliance great members like Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and LAN, and American miles can be redeemed on 24 airlines.

There are some weaknesses with American Airlines miles:

  • American Airlines collects fuel surcharges on British Airways flights. British Airways award space is the most available award space to Europe and Africa. If you avoid booking British Airways flights with American Airlines miles, you are hamstrung to Africa especially.
  • I–and the experts–anticipate a devaluation announced in late 2015 for awards booked in early 2016 or later.
  • Awards to the Middle East and India are overpriced.

United

Even after 2014’s devaluation, I still think United miles are among the most broadly useful airline miles to stockpile for a few reasons:

  • Award space is good on United and partners.
  • United is a member of the Star Alliance, the largest alliance in the world, with good coverage of every continent.
  • United never imposes fuel surcharges on awards.
  • United’s economy awards are fairly priced.
  • United’s Business Class awards on its own planes are not outrageously priced.

Of course, the big problem is that partner First Class awards are basically out of reach. Who has 240,000 United miles for one roundtrip to Asia in First Class?

Still, I’ll almost always be happy when folks come to my Award Booking Service with a stash of United miles.

Ultimate Rewards

Since Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 instantly to United miles, Ultimate Rewards are at least as useful as United miles. With the added flexibility of transferring to niche programs like British Airways, Singapore, Virgin Atlantic, Southwest, and Korean plus hotel programs, Ultimate Rewards are the second most flexible currency overall.

Starwood Preferred Guest Starpoints

The most flexible and broadly useful points are Starpoints, which transfer to American, Alaska, and 27 other airline programs mostly at favorable rates. Every day, 20,000 Starpoints transfers to 25,000 American Airlines or Alaska Airlines miles.

The big drawbacks with Starpoints:

  • Most transfers take days.
  • 2 Starpoints transfer to 1 United mile. Since United devalued, I’d love that transfer to get revalued to 1:1 like with American, Delta, Alaska, and dozens of other airlines.

Intermediate Usefulness

These three programs have bigger warts than the programs above, but are too broadly useful for me to call “niche” programs.

  • Delta
  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Express Membership Rewards
  • Citi ThankYou Points

Delta

Delta has some definite strengths:

  • There are good value awards and decent space to Australia (Virgin Australia), Africa (Air France), Europe (various partners), Asia (various partners), and South America (AeroMexico). Very few of these awards have fuel surcharges.
  • The often-times higher prices are offset by the ease with which you can earn Delta miles from Delta cards, Membership Rewards-earning cards, and Starpoints-earning cards.
  • Since January 1, 2015, Delta allows one way award redemptions for half the price of roundtrips.

But the weaknesses are far greater than with competing US-based airlines:

  • Delta doesn’t offer much Saver award space on domestic flights, making it hard to get to a gateway to connect to partner award space abroad. This is a huge drawback.
  • Delta collects fuel surcharges on a bunch of its partners.
  • Delta collects fuel surcharges on all awards originating in Europe. This essentially means that its miles can be used for one ways to Europe, but are a terrible value for one ways home.
  • Delta miles cannot be redeemed for three-cabin international First Class.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines has a hodge-podge of partners that fly all over the world.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 2.54.32 AMAlaska has access to some of the world’s most coveted award space like Emirates First Class space with no fuel surcharges.

Some of the award charts are very cheap–there is a different one for each partner to each region–you can book one way awards for half the roundtrip price, and you can even get a stopover on one way awards.

The only thing that holds Alaska miles back from being more widely useful is that you cannot freely combine partners on Alaska awards. Each direction needs to be all one partner’s flights or all one partner’s flights plus Alaska flights. This rule hampers your options incredibly, especially if you don’t live in a city where Alaska flies!

Membership Rewards

Membership Rewards have a large number of partners, but none of them is in the most useful category above. All are 1:1 partners in case otherwise noted.

  • Delta Airlines
  • AeroMexico
  • Air Canada (Aeroplan)
  • Alitalia Airlines
  • All Nippon Airways (ANA)
  • British Airways Avios
  • Cathay Pacific
  • EL AL Israel Airlines 1,000 MR to 20 EL AL point
  • Air France & KLM Flying Blue
  • Emirates
  • Frontier Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Iberia Plus Avios
  • JetBlue 250 MR to 200 TrueBlue Points
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Virgin America 200 MR to 100 Elevate Points

Delta is in this intermediate category, and the rest of the programs are in the niche category below including Virgin Atlantic, Aeroplan, ANA, British Airways Avios,  Flying Blue (Air France), Hawaiian, and Singapore. The big problem is that all the global partners impose fuel surcharges on most of their awards.

You can creatively mostly avoid fuel surcharges, but you have to work hard enough that this program can’t be in the “Broadly Useful” category.

Citi ThankYou Points

ThankYou Points now transfer to 11 airlines at a 1:1 rate:

  • Cathay Pacific Asia Miles
  • EVA Air Infinity MileageLands
  • Etihad Guest
  • Garuda Indonesia Frequent Flyer
  • Qatar Privilege Club
  • Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer
  • Thai Airways Royal Orchard Plus
  • Air France/KLM Flying Blue
  • Malaysia Airlines Enrich
  • Virgin Atlantic Flying Club
  • Qantas miles

I don’t know of a single high value use of the eight programs that are not in bold. But between Singapore KrisFlyer, Air France Flying Blue, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, and the ability to use ThankYou Points for 1.25 to 1.6 cents each toward any flight on any airline, this program belongs in the intermediate category.

Singapore miles allow fuel-surcharge-free awards on United flights often for fewer mile than United would charge for the same award including to Hawaii, Europe, South America, and within the continental US; they’re the only way to book Singapore Suites; and they have awesome stopover rules.

Flying Blue miles allow you to book some Delta flights for fewer miles than with Delta miles, and allow access to Promo Awards like 12,500 miles one way to Europe or Israel.

Virgin Atlantic miles aren’t just about 17,500 mile awards to London or 27,500 mile Premium Economy awards to London. They also allow 45,000 mile roundtrips to South America on Delta and a few other high value awards.

Citi partners with American Airlines. If Citi ever adds American Airlines as a 1:1 transfer partner, ThankYou Points will shoot to the most useful category.

Niche Usefulness

The absolute wrong conclusion to draw about the programs in this section is that they are not useful. Each program listed here–and many programs not listed here have some incredible, high-value awards. But most of their awards are a poor value.

You shouldn’t focus all your miles collecting in these programs, but you should know their strengths in case your travel goals overlap with their strengths, and you have transferable points. Here are some of my favorite niche programs and their strengths:

Of course, each of these programs has major flaws. Southwest points can’t be used for First Class, international travel beyond the Caribbean, or any partners. Any Avios awards with layovers get pricey very quickly. Almost all the international programs collect big fuel surcharges on most awards (but not on the awards mentioned above where there are no or small surcharges.)

Because of the weaknesses, I rarely collect miles in niche programs unless there’s an extremely attractive credit card sign up bonus, but I constantly consider the programs as transfer options for my Membership Rewards, Ultimate Rewards, ThankYou Points, and Starpoints to take advantage of their one or two sweetspots.

Action Item

If you’re currently collecting niche miles with your day-to-day credit card spending, put more of your spending on cards that earn more widely useful miles and points like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express with 25,000 bonus Starpoints after spending $5k in the first six months, which earns the most versatile points of all.

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Your Take

Are any of the programs listed here mis-categorized for you? Is one of the niche programs perfect for all your awards? Does one of my “generally useful programs” never seem to offer you value? Am I letting United miles off too lightly for its big devaluation last year?

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This blog became famous because I was the first to articulate how to book free one ways on United and US Airways awards.

A free one way is a one way trip to or from your home airport that is tacked onto another award for no extra miles. Free one ways cut your flight bill in half for a second trip without adding to the price of the first trip!

American Airlines killed free one ways on its awards in April 2014 by nixing all free stopovers because free one ways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport. Delta killed its free one ways on January 1, 2015 with the elimination of free stopovers on its awards (though in return, we do now get to book one way Delta awards.)

What’s the current state of free one ways with major frequent flyer programs?

If you get confused during this post, please read my Introduction to Free One Ways.

Alaska Airlines

Free one ways are possible on one way Alaska Airlines awards. That means you can book two free one ways per roundtrip awards.

Alaska has an amazing group of partners:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • Horizon Air
  • AeroMexico
  • Air France
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways (fuel surcharges)
  • Delta
  • Emirates
  • Fiji
  • KLM
  • Korean
  • Qantas
  • Ravn Alaska (flights within Alaska)
  • PenAir (flights within Alaska)

Unfortunately you must book only one partner each one way award (you may add Alaska Airlines flights as well.) And unfortunately most Alaska Airlines awards need to either start or end in the United States.

Abide by those rules, though, and enjoy some amazing free one way opportunities.

For full details, see Free One Ways on Alaska Airlines Awards.

American Airlines

Free one ways are impossible on awards booked with American Airlines miles. Free one ways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport, and American has eliminated the chance to take any free stopovers on awards.

British Airways

Free one ways are impossible on awards booked with Avios. Every flight on an Avios award has a mileage cost (determined exclusively by its distance and the cabin you book.) If every flight has a cost, there’s no way to get one for free as a free one way.

Delta Airlines

Free one ways are impossible on Delta awards since stopovers were eliminated on January 1, 2015.

United Airlines

Free one ways are possible on both international United awards and awards between the mainland and Hawaii. Free one ways are not possible on awards wholly within the mainland United States and Canada.

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Roundtrip award from Los Angeles to Honolulu with a later free oneway to Newark

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You can either have a free one way BEFORE your main roundtrip award TO your home airport or AFTER your main roundtrip award FROM your home airport.

United’s routing rules are pretty lenient for free one ways. You can do some amazing backtracking. You can also do “cheap one ways” where you fly the extra leg to a distant land and pay far fewer miles than you “should.”

You will get a lot of errors trying to book free one ways on united.com because united.com’s multi-city search tool is broken. Don’t despair. Find all the space you need with one way searches, then call in to book.

For full details, see Master Thread: Free One Ways on United Awards.

While American, US Airways (by ending its mileage program), and Delta killed its free one ways recently, and free one ways have never been possible with Avios, free one ways are still possible on awards booked with United and Alaska miles.

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British Airways Avios accounts have been hacked.

Apparently in some cases, points have been used. In others, British Airways drained an account to zero to prevent points from being used.

I tried to log in to my account and my correct password is being rejected.

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Folks are contacting British Airways on twitter and being told to DM information.

Folks who are calling British Airways are reporting interminable holds.

I predict British Airways sorts all this out in a few days or weeks and all points are restored. My account had under 1,000 Avios, so I will not be doing anything. If you try to contact British Airways, report your success or failure in getting your points or making a booking in the comments.

Hat Tip Dan’s Deals via JB

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British Airways Avios are, counter-intuitively, way better for domestic travel within the United States than for trips to Europe.

That’s because the highest value uses of Avios are short, direct, economy flights on partners without fuel surcharges. Within the United States, there are no fuel surcharges on American Airlines, US Airways, or Alaska Airlines flights, all of which are bookable with Avios.

Read: British Airways Avios Basics

This year, for the second straight year, I’ll be following my basketball team through March Madness. One of my favorite hobbies is following college basketball, and this is a fun way to see the team and explore new cities I wouldn’t otherwise visit.

Following a team during March Madness involves a lot of uncertainty. You don’t know where your team will play until 2-5 days before their first game. At that point, you know all the places they’ll play if they win, but not how far they’ll advance. Miles that are good for last-minute bookings and for cheap or free cancellations are ideal. Avios are extremely well suited for the job.

Even if you aren’t a basketball fan, this post should illuminate the many advantages of booking domestic Avios awards.

Award #1: Tampa to Charlotte

Through a stroke of luck, my team plays up to two games in Charlotte the first weekend. Charlotte is a US Airways hub, so there are direct flights from all over the country to Charlotte that are bookable with Avios.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 2.11.30 PM
Direct flights from Charlotte on US Airways, according to Wikipedia

My first task was to get from Tampa to Charlotte for the first weekend. Award space on the direct US Airways flight can be excellent a month or two in advance.

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Award Space from Tampa to Charlotte on Direct Flights is Available on all the Green Days

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t 100% know where I needed to be for the first weekend until this week, but I wanted to book award space farther in advance.

Advantage #1: The cancellation fee on Avios awards is $55 or the taxes paid on the award, whichever is less. Most award cancellations cost $150+.

I went right ahead and booked Tampa to Charlotte last month for 4,500 Avios + $5.60, which are always the taxes on a one way award within the United States. I knew if I had to cancel the award to go to a different city, I could get back my 4,500 Avios just by canceling the award. I’d pay no additional fee, and I’d just forfeit the $5.60 I paid in taxes. This is very unusual. Delta, American, United, and US Airways all charge $150+ to cancel an award and get your miles and taxes back.

I did end up canceling my award.

I learned that if I stayed in Tampa a few hours longer, I could have lunch with distant cousins I haven’t seen in 25 years. Award space was open on a later direct flight on US Airways, so I canceled my first award and booked the later flight. The net cost of the switch was $5.60.

Advantage #2: No late booking fee. American, United, and US Airways charge $75 to book an award within 21 days of departure.

I made my new booking just four days before departure. I still paid just $5.60 out of pocket, the unavoidable government taxes.

Advantage #3: Domestic awards start at 4,500 Avios. Southwest would have charged 8,100 points. United and American would have charged 12,500 miles.

Because Tampa to Charlotte is under 650 miles flown, the direct flight costs just 4,500 Avios. American charges 12,500 miles for the same flight.

If I hadn’t used Avios, I would have booked my trip with cash instead on Southwest. Southwest’s charges around $150 or 8,100 points for the trip, and the routing is not nonstop.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 2.06.04 PM

Domestic Avios awards are often way cheaper than other options.

Advantage #4: I’m going to get a free checked bag on my trip. Some airlines charge $25 for a checked bag.

When I fly US Airways domestically, I get a free checked bag because of my US Airways® Premier World MasterCard®, which many of us have, and which everyone should get in the next month. These are the terms and conditions of the free checked bag.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 12.54.40 PM

You are not required to book the ticket with your US Airways card, but you do need to add your US Airways number to your reservation, so that the computer knows to give you a free bag. Avios awards will automatically have your British Airways number attached to them. You need to call US Airways at 800-428-4322 to add your US Airways number to the booking.

(By the way, I prefer to travel with no checked bags ever–even on monthlong world trips–but I have been carrying my tennis bag on this trip.)

Award #2 Charlotte to Atlanta

During March Madness, your team plays either Thursday-Saturday or Friday-Sunday, and then you have mid-week off. I spend those mid-weeks visiting friends and family on the East Coast. Next stop Atlanta.

I didn’t want to book a flight. I wanted to rent a car in Charlotte and drop it off in Atlanta because it is only a 3.5 hour drive. Sometimes one way rentals are just as cheap as normal rentals, but this time the cost was prohibitive.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 2.45.57 PM

Luckily, I could book the nonstop US Airways flight for 4,500 Avios.

This award has all the same advantages as the last award in terms of super cheap cancellation, no late booking fee, costing so few miles, and allowing a free checked bag in conjunction with my US Airways credit card.

Award #3: Atlanta to Syracuse

If we win two games in Charlotte, we head to Syracuse for up to two more.

Delta has direct flights on the route, and the ideal flight was priced at 12,500 SkyMiles for weeks as I watched it. But I never booked because I didn’t know for sure whether we’d be playing Syracuse, and I still don’t. Now the award costs 25,000 SkyMiles one way because Delta jacks up the price of most awards in the last few weeks. Note how the price drops from 32.5k to 25k to 20k to 12.5k farther out.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 2.56.04 PM

Because of price and cancel-ability, I was back to looking at Avios. Wandering Aramean has an awesome tool that shows how many Avios your award will be if you connect in different cities. These are the results for Atlanta to Syracuse.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.11.47 PM Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 3.11.59 PM

Note that routing via Chicago is way more miles flown than via Charlotte or Philadelphia, but because both Atlanta to Chicago and Chicago to Syracuse are just under 650 miles flown, the total award is the cheapest possible 9,000 Avios price.

There was only award space on my preferred date via Chicago on aa.com at the MileSAAver price. It did not appear on ba.com, so I called British Airways at 800-AIRWAYS to book the space because Avios can book all American Airlines MileSAAver space.

Advantage #1: The cancellation fee on Avios award is $55 or the taxes paid on the award, whichever is less. Most award cancellations cost $150+.

I paid $5.60 in taxes, so in the event we don’t advance to Syracuse, I cancel and get back my Avios.

Advantage #2: No late booking fee. American, United, and US Airways charge $75 to book an award within 21 days of departure.

I booked only two weeks in advance.

Advantage #3: Domestic awards with a connection start at 9,000 Avios. Delta would charge 25,000 miles for the direct flight.

Advantage #4: I’m going to get a free checked bag on my trip. Some airlines charge $25 for a checked bag.

These flights are on American Airlines, so my US Airways card’s benefits don’t help. I also have the Citi Executive American Airlines card though, and its free bag benefit is equivalent to the free bag benefit on the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®, which comes with 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.

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If you have the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® you get a free checked bag on domestic American Airlines flights, no matter how you booked them, as long as you add your American Airlines number to your itinerary at least a week in advance. You can do this by direct messaging @AmericanAir on twitter or by phone.

One other note on this award, I hate the timing of it. I’d have to get up at an extremely early hour. The day before my flight, I’ll attempt to pay $75 to switch to a better flight. I value a good night sleep at more than $75.

Bottom Line

Avios domestic awards have four major advantages:

  1. The cancellation fee on Avios awards is $55 or the taxes paid on the award, whichever is less. The taxes on a one way domestic award are $5.60, making that the cancellation fee.
  2. No late booking fee. American, United, and US Airways charge $75 to book an award within 21 days of departure.
  3. Domestic awards start at 4,500 Avios. Other nonstop awards are 7,500 or 10,000 Avios. Connecting awards start at 9,000 Avios.
  4. I’m going to get a free checked bag on all three trips because I have the right credit cards, and I added the right frequent flyer number to my reservations. Some airlines charge $25 for a checked bag.

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Pay your award taxes and fees with the Arrival Plus then redeem Arrival miles to remove the charge.

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Wandering Aramean writes a Boarding Area blog and also has created a suite of tools that can be used for free by anyone. One I just saw (thanks Million Mile Secrets) is his Avios Map.

The Avios Map works like this:

  1. Type in any airport in the world.
  2. The map shows all the airports you can fly to directly for 4.5k, 7.5k, 10k, and 12.5k Avios in economy.

You can use the map to see where you can go from your home airport for what price. You can use the map to figure out when two awards will be cheaper than one (example below.) You can probably use the map for other creative uses I haven’t uncovered.

Before continuing, make sure you understand how British Airways Avios work. They are an essential currency for any American to understand.

How the Map Works

Along the top of the Avios Map, you type in the city or airport code and hit Go!

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If you choose an American Airlines hub like Dallas/Fort Worth, you get a crowded map like this:

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 12.49.45 PMThose icons are all the places you can go for 12,500 Avios or less one way.

  • Green is 4,500 Avios
  • Yellow is 7,500 Avios
  • Blue is 10,000 Avios
  • Red is 12,500 Avios

If you hold a cursor over any icon, you will see the airport name, city, code, and price.

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The DFW map is so crowded, the only useful information I’d pull from it are all my foreign options.

Here’s a less crowded map when I search Buenos Aires (AEP) on the Wandering Aramean Avios Map. This shows all your options to explore Argentina once you’re down there. You can use the Avios Map to search any airport in the world.
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The map includes all Avios partners, even the ones not on ba.com like Aer Lingus and Alaska Airlines. (You call British Airways to book flights on these partners.) For instance, here is the map from Boston. You can see that Dublin and Shannon, Ireland are both just 12,500 Avios away. Plus there are some options to the Caribbean operated by US Airways.

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And here’s a map of all the 12,500 Avios flights to Maui, most of which are on Alaska Airlines.
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When Two Awards Are Cheaper Than One

Avios is distance based, but many programs are region based. Sometimes you can use a region-based award plus a distance-based award for big savings over just a single region-based award. An easy example:

  • North America to Israel is 45,000 American Airlines miles in economy
  • North America to Europe is 20,000 or 30,000 American Airlines miles in economy depending on the season
  • Europe to Israel is as little as 10,000 Avios one way

You can save up to 15,000 miles by booking the United States to Europe and Europe to Israel as two separate awards (plus you can then stopover in Europe as long as you’d like.)

I have a full post about this example, and there are other examples you can surely come up with when a region-based award plus an Avios award would be cheaper than a single region-based award.

This tool helps you find and plan those examples.

For instance, here is the map from Tel Aviv. You can see the airports in Germany with direct flights on airberlin for 10,000 Avios, plus Madrid and London to Tel Aviv for 12,500 Avios.

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From this map, you’d know that an off peak American Airlines economy award to Europe for 20,000 miles plus any of these flights for 10,000 or 12,500 Avios would be cheaper than a 45,000 American Airlines miles award to Tel Aviv. Plus you could stop in a European city on the way to Israel for zero extra miles for as long as you want. By contrast, on a single American Airlines award, no connections longer than 24 hours are allowed.

Bottom Line

Check out Wandering Aramean’s super easy and awesome Avios Map. You’ll instantly visualize all the direct flights you can take with Avios that cost 12,500 Avios or fewer in economy. Plus you can use it to hack situations where two awards are cheaper than one.

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Through 11:59 PM tomorrow February 25, 2015, British Airways is offering a 50% bonus on the purchase of Avios. This is the biggest bonus ever offered on the purchase of Avios.

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The maximum Avios you can purchase in a year is 35,000. With a 50% bonus, that means you can add 52,500 Avios to your account. Americans are being offered those Avios for 1.88 cents each, but with one simple trick, you can drop the price to 1.43 cents per Avios!

The Trick

If you set your British Airways account address to a country that uses the euro, say France, you will be sold Avios in euros instead of dollars. The euro price on this sale is way cheaper! (Hat tip this Flyertalk thread and user Lefly)

The cost to purchase 52,500 Avios for people with an American address is $988 or 1.88 cents per Avios.

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To change your address, click “Manage my account under Executive Club on any page.
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Click “Update my personal information” on the left side of the screen.

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Give an address in a euro-using country.Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 12.38.40 PM

Hit Continue about three times. The first time I tried to make the change, I stopped a screen short. You’ll know if you succeeded because when you go back to the Purchase Miles screen, you will be offered the Avios in euros.Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 12.41.04 PM

The price of 52,500 euros is 661 euros or $749.30 after the dramatic slide in the euro. That’s under 1.43 cents per Avios.Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 12.42.27 PM If you purchase in euros–actually any purchase from BA.com–make sure you use a card that charges no foreign transaction fees. If I purchase my Avios–and I’m on the fence, it’s really close for me–I’ll use the Citi ThankYou® Premier Card because it has no foreign transaction fees, and I am working on my 30,000 point bonus for spending $3,000 in the first three months of the second year of having the card.

Does Putting Your Account in France Mess It Up?

There was an interesting question in the FlyerTalk thread: if I set my British Airways account to France, will I mess up my ability to transfer in Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards?

After setting my account to France, I initiated a 1,000 Ultimate Rewards transfer to my British Airways account that was already stored on chase.com. The transfer went through instantly as usual, so changing your address doesn’t appear to mess this up.Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 12.46.45 PM Screen Shot 2015-02-24 at 12.46.53 PM

Eventually you can change your address back to your home address, but British Airways makes you wait six months between address changes.

Is This a Good Deal?

The best uses of Avios are short, direct, economy flights on partners without fuel surcharges. This is doubly so in view of the impending devaluation of Business and First Class awards that is coming in April.

At 1.43 cents per Avios, domestic (including Hawaii) one way awards that cost XXX Avios plus $5.60 in taxes one way would cost:

  • 4,500 Avios (like Tampa to Charlotte): $69.8 all in
  • 7,500 Avios (like Dallas to Chicago): $112.9
  • 10,000 Avios (like Dallas to New York): $148.6
  • 12,500 Avios (like Seattle to Honolulu): $184.4

Those are pretty good deals. I’ve seen cheaper with cash on every route, and I’ve also seen a lot more expensive.

The bottom line with all miles sales is that they are a good deal if you have an immediate, high value use for the miles, and a poor deal otherwise. As I said, I’m on the fence, though I do think I can burn about 50,000 Avios by the end of the summer.

Bottom Line

The biggest ever bonus on purchasing Avios ends tomorrow. Ignore the 1.88 cent price for Americans. Anyone with a euro-zone address on file with British Airways and a no-foreign-transaction-fee credit card can get the Avios for 1.43 cents each. The sales are consummated by points.com, so there is no bonus for an airline or travel purchase on your credit card.

The best deals with Avios are short, direct, economy flights on routes/airlines without fuel surcharges. That includes all domestic flights and all these flights.

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We’ve been getting bad news in the miles world lately, so let me state unequivocally: miles still offer unmatched value to travel the world more, better, and cheaper.

Here’s a round-the-world (RTW) trip you can take with miles that took me me about 10 minutes to find the award space for.

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There’s nothing particularly important about the cities or even the regions where this trip stops. It just shows an easy RTW award using one way awards. (This is the way to construct RTW awards now that American and Delta eliminated their true RTW awards in 2014.)

The Award

  • Virgin Australia flat bed Business Class from Los Angeles to Sydney: 80,000 Delta miles
  • Etihad First Class on its A380 from Sydney to Abu Dhabi: 60,000 American Airlines miles
  • airberlin flat bed Business Class from Abu Dhabi to Berlin: 25,000 British Airways Avios
  • airberlin and US Airways economy from Berlin to Los Angeles: 20,000 American Airlines miles

That’s 185,000 miles for an award that features mostly flat beds.  One person could get the necessary miles from four credit cards.

There’s nothing crucial about choosing the three cities I chose for stops. You can choose other cities–or see many cities in each region.

The Search

The searching took me about 10 minutes. I chose a November/December time frame for the search to maximize the weather in Sydney and Abu Dhabi and because many people get some free vacation days around Thanksgiving.

I did not search sequentially. I started my search by looking for Etihad First Class award space, which is the second part of the trip. This follows the basic principle to always search the hardest leg of a trip first. Not that Etihad First Class award space on its A380 from Sydney to Abu Dhabi is hard to find, but it is harder to find than the other awards on this trip, which are all gimmes.

Sydney to Abu Dhabi Search
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A seat plus a couch/bed in First on the Etihad A380

First Class award space from Sydney to Abu Dhabi is excellent in November. All those days below that say “Miles 121597″ have award space you can book for 60,000 American Airlines miles.

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But note that there are two daily flights, and only the evening one is on the A380.

For full details on searching etihad.com, the A380 First Class Service, and award space on the route, see Amazing Award Space for 2 on Nicest First Class in the World? 14 Hours in Etihad A380 First Class for 60,000 Miles.

Los Angeles to Sydney Search

After picking November 22 from Sydney to Abu Dhabi, I circled back to the beginning and searched from Los Angeles to Sydney. There is award space nearly every day in Business Class on Virgin Australia on the route. It costs 80,000 Delta miles per person and is searchable on delta.com.Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.38.14 AM

I picked November 12 for the Los Angeles-to-Sydney leg. Look at the award space that day:Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.39.32 AM

  • Delta’s nonstop bed is 175,000 miles.
  • Connecting in Korea is 80,000 miles but adds 10 hours.
  • Virgin Australia’s nonstop bed is 80,000 miles.

Easy choice with the Virgin Australia bed.

For more info on the search, product, and award space, see Award Space for 12 to Australia over Christmas and New Year.

Abu Dhabi to Berlin Search

airberlin, the oneworld member, has daily flights from Abu Dhabi to Berlin. airblerin flights do not have fuel surcharges, so they are a great way to use Avios.

Award space is exellent on the flights in economy and flat bed Business Class.

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The award costs 12,500 Avios in economy and 25,000 Avios in Business Class plus nominal taxes.Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.43.20 AM

This award will go up to 37,500 Avios in Business Class with the April 28, 2015 devaluation of Avios.

Here’s how to search on ba.com.

Berlin to Los Angeles Flight

For the last award, I wanted to book economy. Early December is part of American Airlines’ off peak season for economy awards between the United States and Europe (October 15 to May 15 every year.) These awards cost only 20,000 American Airlines miles.

Since we’re looking at daytime flights, economy seems bearable.

I found the following award for 20,000 AA miles + taxes.

Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.52.04 AM Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 1.52.08 AMairberlin space is excellent to the United States this winter.

The full trip looks like this.

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  • November 12: Los Angeles to Sydney in Virgin Australia Business Class
  • November 22: Sydney to Abu Dhabi in Etihad First Class
  • November 25: Abu Dhabi to Berlin in airberlin Business Class
  • December 2: Berlin to Chicago to Phoenix to Los Angeles in airberlin/US Airways economy

The total cost is 80,000 Delta miles, 80,000 American miles, and 25,000 British Airways Avios plus about $190 in taxes, no fees or fuel surcharges.

Getting the Miles

American Airlines miles are super easy to get.

Right now the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card also comes with other awesome benefits like a 10% rebate on miles used for award bookings.

The business version, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, also comes with 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months. This card comes with 2x miles on select business purchases and a 5% miles bonus on renewal. One person can have both cards, and that would earn more than the 80,000 American Airlines miles needed.

The third card you’d want is the Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-BenzThe Platinum Card from American Express Exclusively for Mercedes-Benz comes with 50,000 Membership Rewards after spending $3,000 in the first three months. The card has a $475 annual fee in the first year. But it comes with huge benefits like airline fee reimbursement, airport lounge access, and hotel status. For more info on setting up and maximizing the benefits, see Get the Most Out of Your Platinum Card.

The last card is the next Membership Rewards or Delta co-branded card that offers a 50,000 point/mile bonus. These offers are frequent, but I don’t know of any others right now besides the Mercedes-Benz Platinum card above.

With these four cards, you’d have 106,000 American Airlines miles and either 100,000+ Membership Rewards or 50,000+ Delta miles and 50,000+ Membership Rewards. Membership Rewards transfer 1:1 to Delta miles and British Airways Avios, so you can spread them around to have 80,000 Delta miles and 25,000 Avios.

Bottom Line

It’s really easy to put together a dream RTW trip with miles because miles still offer an incredible value. There’s nothing special about living in Los Angeles or visiting Sydney, Abu Dhabi, and Berlin as in my example. No matter where you live and want to go, these great deals exist. (I felt sad not including this flight in my example.)

What is your favorite string of one way awards that creates a RTW award?

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Remember that Avios devaluation from last week? British Airways is jacking up the number of Avios you need to redeem for mid- and long-haul Business Class awards and for First Class awards. Of course, I said it was no big deal since the best Avios awards are short, direct, economy redemptions on awards without fuel surcharges.

Iberia and British Airways are owned by the same company but maintain separate loyalty programs that both call their miles “Avios.” You can freely convert British Airways Avios to Iberia Avios as long as you have both accounts and they’ve been open for at least three months. Open your Iberia Avios account now to start that clock for the existing benefit of Iberia Avios and the upcoming one that this post is about.

Iberia and British Airways Avios currently have identical charts.

The Current Reason to Use Iberia Avios

The current reason to use Iberia Avios is to book Iberia flights.

Iberia collects far lower fuel surcharges on its own award flights than British Airways collects. For instance the same New York to Madrid flight in Iberia Business Class costs 40,000 British Airways Avios + $456.

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The same flight costs the same 40,000 Iberia Avios + 75 euros ($85.) That’s a savings of $371 by using Iberia Avios for an Iberia flight.

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For other partners, Iberia and British Airways collect identical surcharges, so I find it easier to use British Airways Avios for all other awards.

The Reason to Use Iberia Avios April 1

Iberia Avios is changing its chart April 1. (The BA Avios changes happen April 28.) Most of the changes mirror the negative changes to the BA chart, but Iberia is adding an Off Peak Season and it lowers the price of awards from the United States to Spain for much of the year.

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For the off peak season, flights to Madrid from:

  • New York and Boston are 34,000 Iberia Avios one way in Iberia Business Class
  • Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles are 42,500 Iberia Avios one way in Iberia Business Class

The off peak season is all the dates below NOT highlighted in red. The only summer dates included are in early June and September. Most of the rest of the year other than Christmas and New Year is off peak.

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There is good award space on Iberia in Business Class, often for two passengers during all of the off peak windows including those in the summer. You can search this on iberia.com or ba.com.

The Product

Iberia A330s and “new” A340-600s feature fully flat 6’6″ beds in Business Class.  The A340-300 and old A340-600s feature angled seats. Check your operating airplane carefully.

The Bottom Line

Starting April 1, this will be a great chance to book a one way Business Class award to Europe for 34,000 miles. Of course, like all Avios awards, you will need to pay extra Avios for each segment of your award including the connecting flights. That means if you don’t live in New York, Boston, Chicago, Miami, or Los Angeles, or you don’t want to go to Madrid, your award will cost more miles.

Open your Iberia Avios account now, and in three months, you can freely transfer British Airways Avios to Iberia Avios to take advantage of the deal.

Hat Tip Head for Points

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Well, it’s January 31. So today is your last chance to transfer. Since I posted this initially, I have two other posts on Avios:

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American Express Membership Rewards transfers to British Airways Avios will come with an automatic 40% transfer bonus from now through January 31, 2015.

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Is this British Airways transfer bonus a good deal? Should you take advantage of the 40% transfer bonus?

Until January 31, 2015, you can transfer increments of 1,000 AMEX points to 1,400 Avios automatically at membershiprewards.com.

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If you have a use for Avios, this is a fantastic deal.

Avios are great for short, direct, economy tickets on airlines and routes without fuel surcharges.

For more information on Avios partners (all 18 of them), searches, award rules, fees, and how to avoid fuel surcharges, see: FREE FIRST CLASS 2014: BRITISH AIRWAYS AVIOS BASICS

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British Airways Avios has gutted its award chart for some awards booked April 28, 2015 or later.

All the best deals on the chart, though, are untouched, and mostly the bad deals were made worse. In my mind, the devaluation is no big deal.

Here’s the first sentence of my beginners’ post on Avios:

British Airways Avios are very often the best miles to book short, direct, economy flights.

That remains 100% true as no economy awards went up in price. Some Premium Economy awards, some Business Class awards, and all First Class awards went up in price. I already thought those were not a very good deal with Avios and didn’t book them.

For most Americans, British Airways Avios are best used for economy awards on American Airlines, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines on direct, economy flights within the Western Hemisphere. These awards are cheap in miles and have no fuel surcharges. None of these awards went up in price.

Here is the new Avios award chart:

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 1.00.40 PM

 

Economy award prices are unchanged. First Class awards went from triple the economy price to quadruple. Business Class awards used to always be double the economy award price. Now for flights 2,001+ miles in distance, they are triple the economy price.

I have never, to my knowledge, booked one of the awards that is increasing in price. Here are the awards I book:

Domestic and Hawaii Awards for 4,500 to 12,500 Avios

I just booked Tampa to Charlotte for 4,500 Avios. It would have cost 12,500 American Airlines miles. The award still costs 4,500 Avios under the new Avios chart.

(I booked the award speculatively because the cancellation fee is only $5.60.)

In the last year I’ve booked several 12,500 Avios awards between Los Angeles and Hawaii. Other airlines charge 15,000 to 22,500 miles for the same award.

(There are 10 cities with 12,500 Avios awards to Hawaii.)

Intra-Australia, Intra-South America, Intra-South Africa, Intra-Asia, Intra-Europe

I’ve booked myself awards on the other five inhabited continents with Avios:

None of these awards are going up in price either. Some were in Business Class, but they were all less than 2,000 miles flown–the part of the Business Class award chart that stays the same.

Am I Overstating my Case?

Am I being too flippant by saying this just isn’t news?

I don’t think so.

There are conceivably a few good-value awards that are going up in Avios price. For instance, New York to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver in American Airlines and Cathay Pacific First Class goes from 37,500 to 50,000 Avios for awards booked April 28 or later. That stinks. But the vast, vast majority of great-value Avios awards are untouched by this devaluation.

Also, people who have the British Airways Travel Together companion pass from spending $30,000 a year on a British Airways Visa card are seeing the value of that pass go down as longhaul Business and First Class prices go up. That stinks too. But I already argued against getting that companion pass in the first place. The fuel surcharges make it worth so little that there are many better ways to spend $30,000 across other credit cards for better rewards.

The bottom line is that this is the first time British Airways has touched its chart in three years. Airlines don’t like to constantly devalue their charts (except Delta with back-to-back devaluations last year) because it upsets customers. That means this devaluation might buy us a few years until the next one from British Airways. If this devaluation buys us another three years of current economy award prices, that changes today’s devaluation from “mostly no news” to “fantastic news.”

I always say that we are better off because of Avios. It’s nice that different programs have different strengths. Collect AA miles for international First Class; Avios for short, direct, economy awards; and Arrival miles for low-cost carriers and super-cheap cash flights. The fact that each program has very different strengths means we can use our miles in each program for the best awards and maximize the value of our hobby.

The best awards with Avios did not change today, so the “devaluation” is tiny or non-existent for most folks.

Beat the Devaluation

If this is a devaluation for you, you can beat it by booking your award before April 28. By April 27, you should be able to book all partner airlines into March 2016.

You can also transfer Membership Rewards to Avios with a 40% bonus through January 31.

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Aer Lingus has decided to accept IAG’s takeover bid, which would mean that one company would own the flag carriers of the United Kingdom, Spain, and Ireland, since IAG already owns British Airways and Iberia.

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The deal is far from done because the Irish government owns a 25% stake in Aer Lingus and governments always seem to fear losing control of their home airline. Ryanair even owns 30%, though presumably they’d be happy to sell for the right price.

The BBC has some trenchant analysis of the deal:

For Ryanair, any takeover of Aer Lingus by IAG is about the money, for BA it is about the landing slots at Heathrow airport, and for the Irish government it is all about jeopardising the main transport link into an island economy.

From a purely business point of view it makes sense for the deal to proceed once a decent price has been agreed.

But it will really struggle to get political blessing in Dublin – especially a year out from a general election.

If the deal happens, what will it mean for you?

There are two things that could possibly happen that would have a big impact on your miles.

  1. Aer Lingus could join oneworld. This would be good. You’d have another option with your American Airlines miles. This would probably be offset by losing United as a partner.
  2. IAG could add much larger fuel surcharges to Aer Lingus flights to match British Airways’. This is terrible because it would take the value out of booking Aer Lingus flights.

Aer Lingus to oneworld

If Aer Lingus is part of the same company as British Airways and Iberia, it would make sense to join their oneworld alliance (again since it actually was a member until 2007.)

Currently Aer Lingus is not a member of any alliance and has one-off partnerships with British Airways, United, and more. You can use British Airways and United miles to book Aer Lingus award flights.

The big deal about joining oneworld is that it would give another option with American Airlines miles to and within Europe.

This would be nice, but it would most likely be offset by Aer Lingus needing to cut ties with United, a member of the Star Alliance.

So overall, for me, Aer Lingus joinging oneworld would be a wash.

Bigger Fuel Surcharges on Aer Lingus

Right now Aer Lingus adds tiny fuel surcharges to award flights between the United States and Ireland–under $100 per roundtrip.

That’s fantastic because it means there is another cost-effective way to redeem Avios to Europe. (The only other Avios partner without huge fuel surcharges to Europe is airberlin, which has none.) Famously, Boston to Dublin is 12,500 Avios one way in economy and 25,000 in Business Class plus these tiny fuel surcharges.

But British Airways charges over $800 roundtrip in fuel surcharges between the United States and Europe.

While fuel surcharges do not matter for paid flights–because the base fare can be lowered to get the total fare where the airline wants it–they matter a ton for awards on which you have to pay them. If IAG decided that the smartest way to run an airline was to have $800 fuel surcharges to Europe, and it added them to Aer Lingus flights, there would no longer be good value redemptions on Aer Lingus flights.

This would sting doubly if Aer Lingus cut ties with United, which never collects fuel surcharges on award tickets.

Bottom Line

I’m sure consolidation makes sense in the European airline industry. I’m not sure IAG will be allowed to buy Aer Lingus because governments are always very nationalistic with their airlines. I don’t want IAG to buy Aer Lingus, purely because I think my miles will get less valuable.

I don’t think Aer Lingus being bought by IAG would add useful partners on net. Aer Lingus would probably join oneworld, meaning it added American Airlines but lost United as a partner.

Aer Lingus would probably jack up fuel surcharges, meaning that it became much less valuable to redeem Avios on the airline.

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British Airways Avios are fantastic for short, direct, economy flights on American Airlines, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines because the number of Avios needed for an award is determined only by the distance and cabin of each flight.

One sweet spot with Avios that I’ve noted over and over is that flights from the west coast to Hawaii are 12,500 Avios + $5.60 in taxes each way.

  • From where do American Airlines, US Airways, and Alaska Airlines fly to Hawaii?
  • How can you book these flights with Avios?
  • How much do the flights cost in First Class?
  • How can you get Avios?

American, US Airways, and Alaska all fly to the four major Hawaiian islands: Oahu, Maui, Big Island, and Kauai.

Flights to Honolulu, Oahu

Alaska flights in red. American flight in blue. US Airways flight in black.

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Flights to Kahului, Maui

Alaska flights in red. American flight in blue. US Airways flight in black.

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Flights to Lihue, Kauai

Alaska flights in red. American flight in blue. US Airways flight in black.

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Flights to Kona, Big Island

Alaska flights in red. American flight in blue. US Airways flight in black.

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Chart of Flights

  • AA = American Airlines
  • US = US Airways
  • AS = Alaska Airlines

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Footnotes:

  • 1: Seasonal flight
  • 2: Begins March 5, 2015

Searching and Booking

All these flights can be searched on aa.com.

  • If a US Airways or Alaska Airlines flight shows up on aa.com, it can be booked with Avios.
  • If an American Airlines flight shows up on aa.com labeled MileSAAver, it can be booked with Avios. If the flight is labeled AAnytime, it cannot be booked with Avios.

American Airlines and US Airways flights can be booked on ba.com. Alaska Airlines flights can only be booked with Avios by calling British Airways at 800-AIRWAYS.

First Class

One drawback of Avios is that Business Class awards cost double the price of economy awards, and First Class awards cost triple the price of economy awards.

All three airlines market their forward cabin on these routes as First Class, and British Airways charges triple the economy price, so all of the routes in this post cost 37,500 Avios one way in First Class. I think that’s a terrible deal, since all these routes merely feature recliner seats in First Class.

Canceling Avios Awards

Feel free to book your Avios awards to Hawaii speculatively. The cancellation fee for Avios awards is supposed to be $40, but in practice, you are charged $40 or the taxes you paid on the award, whichever is less.

That means you can cancel Avios awards to Hawaii and get back your Avios for only the cost of losing the $5.60 per person per direction in taxes.

Full info: Another Reason Miles Are Better than Cash: Free Cancellations

Getting Avios

The British Airways card offers 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $2,000 in the first three months and WAIVES its $95 annual fee for the first year. The card earns 1.25 Avios on all purchases.

American Express Membership Rewards transfer 1:1 to Avios with occasional transfer bonuses like the current 40% bonus through January 31, 2015.

Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer 1:1 to Avios.

SPG Starpoints transfer 1:1 to Avios. Every 20,000 points transferred earns a 5,000 Avios bonus.

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The other day, I booked myself a direct flight from Tampa to Charlotte with 4,500 British Airways Avios and $5.60. Avios are the best miles when American Airlines, US Airways, or Alaska Airlines has a short, direct flight where you want to go.

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Because the flight is under 651 miles flow, it costs only 4,500 Avios (from gcmap.com)

 

The same flight costs $481 cash.

Screen Shot 2015-01-06 at 6.18.08 PMI could pat myself on the back and say I got more than 10 cents per mile of value, but those outlandish valuations are one of my big pet peeves.

I would never pay $481 for the one-and-a-half-hour flight. I would book a one stop flight for $166 or use hidden-city ticketing to get the Tampa-to-Charlotte leg as part of a cheaper, larger ticket.

I basically got a $166 ticket for 4,500 Avios in my mind, which is less than 4 cents per mile of value–still awesome!

Interestingly, though, if I were rich, I could definitely say I got 10 cents of value from my Avios. If I had millions of dollars, I wouldn’t flinch at paying $481 for the most convenient, direct flight. If I were willing to pay that for the flight, then redeeming 4,500 Avios would really have saved me $481, meaning I really would have gotten 10 cents of value from each mile.

That’s why, in some senses, the richer you are, the more your miles are worth.

The Other, Big Application of This Idea

The main time I see outlandish valuations of awards is on international First Class tickets. Someone will say something like: “I spent 67,500 American Airlines miles and $40 on a one way First Class ticket in Cathay Pacific First Class that costs $10,000, so I got 15 cents of vlaue per mile.”

I would suggest you only got that much value if you would have spent the $10,000 on the ticket in the absence of miles. That is, if you were really, really rich. If you’d only be willing to pay $1,500 for the ticket, adjust your valuation of your award accordingly.

Of course, none of this is new. I expounded on this exact point in the first ever post on this blog.

Back to My Avios Award

I’m hoping I need the flight I booked from Tampa to Charlotte, but I actually might need to fly to Louisville or Seattle or Pittsburgh that day. In that case, I can cancel my Avios award. I’ll get back my 4,500 Avios and lose only the $5.60 in taxes I paid. I have no qualms booking awards speculatively with these miles because of free or cheap cancellations.

Your Take

Am I right to call people out who would describe my award as 10 cents of value per mile? Are miles worth more in the frequent flyer accounts of rich people?

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Using miles to book trips instead of using cash has tons of advantages:

  • Easier access to First Class and flat beds: An international First Class ticket can cost $10k or the amount of miles you can get from opening a pair of credit cards.
  • Better open jaw and stopover rules: Few revenue tickets allow you to stopover without increasing in price. Many mileage awards allow free stopovers and open jaws for no extra miles.
  • Some mileage awards can be cancelled for free or close to it.

This last advantage–free or very cheap cancellations–is an oft-overlooked benefit of certain mileage programs.

I can afford this seat with miles, but not cash.
I can afford this seat with miles, but not cash.
  • Which program allows completely free cancellations?
  • Which programs allow cheap cancellations, as cheap as $2.50?

Southwest Rapid Rewards Awards

As commenter UAPhil has pointed out numerous times on this blog, Southwest Rapid Rewards are the gold-standard when it comes to cancellations. Here’s his take:

Rapid Rewards points bookings are fully refundable, with no cancellation fees or penalties, and no availability hassles. (Southwest revenue bookings have no change fees, but they are non-refundable with some fairly strict rules on when they must be re-used, so points are actually a more valuable currency than dollars for making Southwest bookings.)

It’s true that if you book a Southwest award for 10k points + $5.60, and you later cancel it, you will get your 10k points back and the $5.60 will even be returned to you as a credit toward a future booking. (I think I’ve even succeeded in having Southwest refund the $5.60 to my credit card, but I can’t find a record of it.)

Since Southwest awards are fully refundable, you can speculatively book with impunity.

British Airways Avios Awards

Last year I booked two friends tickets to visit me in Hawaii from Los Angeles. For each friend, I booked two awards:

  • Los Angeles to Oahu for 12,500 Avios + $2.50 per person. (Domestic airfare taxes have since increased to $5.60 one way.)
  • Maui to Los Angeles for 12,500 Avios + $2.50 per person.

One friend had to cancel.

I called British Airways to cancel his awards. I got back my 12,500 Avios on each award and lost my $2.50 on each award. That’s an effective cancellation fee of $2.50 on each award!

The fee is “supposed to be” $40.

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If your taxes and fees are greater than $40 and you cancel, British Airways will refund your Avios and taxes and fees less the $40 fee. But if your taxes and fees are less than $40, you just forfeit whatever your taxes and fees were and get your Avios back.

Since I pretty much exclusively use Avios for direct domestic flights with $5.60 in tax per segment, my Avios cancellation fee is routinely $5.60.

Lufthansa Miles & More Awards

Miles & More awards have a $60 cancellation fee. That’s $140 cheaper than the cancellation fee on a United award with the same flights.

And it’s certainly much better than trying to cancel a non-refundable cash ticket.

Singapore KrisFlyer Awards

Singapore Airlines awards have a $20 change or cancellation fee. My friend booked one of those super cheap awards between South America and the United States with Singapore miles, and when he decided to change the dates of his stopover in Cancun, he paid just $20 to do so.

Try doing that with a cash ticket!

Recap

The main reason I use miles is to enter into otherwise inaccessible First Class cabins and stretch my travel further. I also love the lax routing rules on many awards that have let me see seven cities on one trip (although that loophole has now been closed.)

Beyond those big things, though, don’t forget to take advantage of the free or cheap cancellations that some types of miles offer. Speculative bookings have a lot of value when your plans aren’t fixed and great award space (or a cheap fare in the case of Southwest awards) is available.

As cash tickets have ever worse change and cancellation rules, award tickets hold extra value for their lax rules on the matter.

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Aer Lingus, a partner of United MileagePlus and British Airways Avios, debuts a Washington-Dulles to Dublin route on May 1, 2015. It has 4 economy seats and 4 business class seats available for awards on nearly every flight through October 2015 at the moment.

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This is in addition to the gold mine award routes to Europe for next summer that I discussed Tuesday.

  • What days will Aer Lingus operate Washington to Dublin?
  • What is the award space picture?
  • What is the cheapest way to book the flight with miles?

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