Avios

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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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.

Screen Shot 2014-11-05 at 8.17.49 PM

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?

Qantas is refurbishing its A330s with “fully flat beds in business class.” Right now the A330s serve the following routes.

  • Sydney-Melbourne
  • Sydney-Brisbane
  • Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane to Perth
  • Sydney/Melbourne/Brisbane to Singapore
  • Melbourne/Brisbane to Hong Kong
  • Sydney-Bangkok
  • Sydney-Jakarta
  • Sydney-Manila
  • Sydney-Honolulu
  • Sydney-Shanghai

I have medium hopes for the new beds, which will roll out starting in December 2014. The reason I am not more excited is that the picture accompanying the press release looks to me like an angled lie flat beds, not fully flat beds.

A330-Business-Suite-Fully-Flat-1024x756This jives with my experience in business class on the Qantas A380. I was expecting fully flat, but I got a small and uncomfortable angle.

Still these new beds can be great news for anyone flying between Hawaii and Australia, Asia and Australia, or within Australia.

  • More info about the new beds
  • Which miles to book the new beds
  • The award space picture

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Sunday I read a post on Gary Leff’s blog that said that Iberia Avios had massively devalued its award chart for flights on oneworld airlines.

I looked up the Iberia award chart for oneworld flights and came to the same conclusion as Gary–that Iberia had put out a new, worse award chart. I wrote a post Sunday and another yesterday about the changes and how to beat them.

It turns out my posts were mistaken. Iberia hasn’t touched its award chart since November 2011.

The reason I was wrong is that I had misunderstood Iberia’s program. I had thought it was identical to British Airways’ program (except that Iberia charges lower fuel surcharges on its own flights.) In fact, it had always had a far worse award chart for most flights than British Airways offers.

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 12.47.16 PM
Iberia’s Terrible Award Chart (Then & Now)

My goal is to know everything about every frequent flyer program to wring out the best deals for myself and pass them along to my readers. I came up short of that goal in my posts about an Avios devaluation that never happened. I’ll keep working towards my goal though, (and tomorrow I expect to make a very valuable contribution to the milesphere.)

  • Who gets credit for figuring out my mistake about Iberia Avios?
  • Why do I now think that we won’t see a no-notice British Airways Avios devaluation?
  • What will I do not to repeat my mistake?

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Well, this is embarrassing. As it turns out, there was no devaluation of the Iberia Avios program. The rates in this post have been consistent since November 2011.

Almost no one in the world knew the rates for Iberia Avios oneworld redemptions because they weren’t bookable online. Thankfully this FlyerTalk thread and in particular these two posts set the record straight.

Travellair said:

“I don’t know what the fuss is all about. These have been the same Avios amounts for Oneworld redemptions through IB Plus since 2011. (I have printouts).

Surely they are not competitive, but there have been no changes at all.
Back in November 2011, what IB Plus did was maintain their own distance bands for Oneworld redemptions and simply adjust x15 the original IB Plus Point amounts, therefore, causing such disparities. (Even though the amounts shown are for return trips, compulsory for Oneworld redemptions under IB Plus)

My guess is that whoever first stated that this had been a devaluation simply hadn’t studied or compared the chart before and assumed they were the same as BAEC and that now an increase had taken place.”

Raffles said:

“I just found this in an FT thread from 2005:

As for a Oneworld-award the price seems to depend on the amount of miles your journey covers. AGP-MEX direct is 5678 miles, and AGP-MAD-LHR-MEX (for example) would be 6582 miles. Most routings would fall into the 5,001 – 8,000 mile category, which costs 3200 points in Tourist (economy) class.

… which corresponds to the above, and to the 48,000 quoted on the new table.

So nothing happened ….?!

Here is the thing. You cannot book OW redemptions online with IB, never could. And as they were non refundable, no-one did. So no-one knew the rates.”

Here is the current (and past Avios) prices for flights on Iberia:

Screen Shot 2014-08-24 at 12.51.42 PM

  • What is the partner award chart?

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This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy here.

Anatomy of an Award posts highlight real awards I’ve booked to show you the techniques needed to book your dream trip.

I recently booked my brother a pair of awards that will allow us to visit Hong Kong, Beijing, and Seoul together. His awards cost about 100,000 airline miles and bank points and zero out of pocket.

from gcmap.com
from gcmap.com

The main award was a United award, but United awards only allow one stopover in addition to your destination, so I needed to add an extra Avios award for one segment between Hong Kong and Beijing.

We are not getting Chinese visas for Beijing, so I also had to time our flights to get us as close to 72 hours in the city as possible without exceeding the limit for visa-free transit.

Finally, he had enough miles for one way in business class and one way in economy.

These awards demonstrate the limits of United awards, how to see more cities than a United award will allow, and the problems with multi-city searches on united.com. They also showcase, the kind of award planning you can get from my Award Booking Service.

  • Why could I not book the entire trip as a single United award?
  • Why did I choose Avios for the second award, and how did I choose which flight to book with Avios?
  • How did I ensure I got as close to 72 hours in Beijing as possible?
  • How did I book one way in economy and one way in business class on his United award? How did I choose which direction for each class?

Anatomy of an Award posts highlight real awards I’ve booked to show you the techniques needed to book your dream trip.

I recently made a last-second decision to head to Las Vegas and Phoenix for three days for a mix of work and pleasure.

I planned and booked the trip in 10 minutes with miles and points, saving myself $1,500 in the process and getting to fly First Class on one long flight. The cost? Only 40,000 Hawaiian Miles, 8,500 British Airways Avios, and $102.50.

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When you need to make a last minute trip for a family or work emergency or when you want to take a last minute trip for spontaneous adventure, having balances with the right types of miles is key.

  • When I decided to travel to Phoenix and Las Vegas, what miles did I immediately think to use?
  • How did I find my direct flight options?
  • Which airlines charge a booking fee for last-minute awards and which don’t?
  • How did I search for award space?
  • How did I book my awards?

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Super Reader Jorge sent me an awesome spreadsheet that instantly does all the math on British Airways’ Cash & Avios awards, so you can quickly see whether booking one is a good deal.

Usually when redeeming British Airways Avios for an award ticket, you are offered a menu of prices. You can pay the normal amount of miles + taxes + fuel surcharges (though there are no fuel surcharges on these partners.) Or you can pay fewer Avios and more cash. Here’s a typical menu of six options on a one way economy award from Los Angeles to Lima.

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 11.54.29 PM

  • What does Jorge’s spreadsheet do with those options?
  • How can you use the spreadsheet when booking Avios awards?

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JB books awards for the MileValue Award Booking Service. He was an expert on the now-defunct American Airlines Explorer Awards and had been planning to book one for himself. With that option gone, he improvised this solution to the problem of how to book a round-the-world trip in a world without Explorer Awards.

By combining the strengths of American Airlines’ zone-based award chart and British Airways’ distance-based award chart, you can actually improve on the now-defunct American Airlines Explorer Award for only a few extra miles.

I was banking American Airlines miles for two years for my wife and me, so I was upset when American eliminated Explorer Awards several weeks ago with no notice as part of the 17 changes to the American Airlines and US Airways loyalty programs.

I wanted to book the trip of a lifetime, and Explorer Awards were perfect for that.

Explorer Awards allowed 16 segment/15 stop around-the-world trips using all of American’s oneworld partners.

After a sufficient grieving period, I started thinking about what to do with all those American Airlines miles I had saved. I ended up putting a trip together with eight stops and 35,879 miles flown. I booked it as a series of American Airlines and British Airways awards.

When I priced it all out, I realized it was not much more expensive than an Explorer Award and had a lot more flexibility.

Planning My Trip

Here is my trip.

final with ewr

This itinerary has stops in Berlin, Paris, London, Cape Town, Sydney, Auckland, Singapore, and Hong Kong–AKA the 5 continents tour.

Here is how I went about constructing the itinerary, and some of the choices I made to maximize routes, keep taxes/fees low, and pick cities compatible with the oneworld network.

Searching

All mileage is listed as economy/business.

Scott’s post about how and where to search for oneworld space came in handy here. I used the British Airways, American Airlines, and Qantas sites to search, verify availability, and determine taxes.

JFK to Helsinki to Berlin
20K (offseason) or 30K AA miles and $18 in economy / 50K AA miles and $18 in business on Finnair

I searched the American Airlines site for this award, since it shows Finnair and Air Berlin award space.

There was plenty of award space via London, but by avoiding British Airways’ fuel surcharges and the United Kingdom aviation taxes, I saved $317 in economy / $482 business! Per person!

Berlin to Paris
4.5K British Airways Avios and $38 in economy on airberlin. There are no fuel surcharges on airberlin flights.

I searched the British Airways site for this.

Paris to London
4.5K British Airways miles and $27 economy in British Airways economy. On intra-Europe flights, British Airways collects a flat cash payment instead of taxes and fuel surcharges.

I searched the British Airways site for this.

London to Johannesburg to Cape Town
30K AA miles and $500 economy / 37.5K AA miles and $750 business on British Airways.

This represents both high departure taxes from the United Kingdom and high fuel surcharges on British Airways flights. Sometimes you just have to pay those if you want to enjoy time in London and want to fly somewhere that British Airways flies most conveniently and comfortably.

I searched the American Airlines site for this.

My Gamble

I had planned on a London to South Africa leg in business or first class, but I could not find any business/first space to Johannesburg or Cape Town further than 2 months out from today. Nothing. Clearly they are keeping a tight leash on that premium space (economy was widely available).

I looked at the Johannesburg airport Wikipedia page for other American Airlines-partner airlines I could take.

Etihad connects via Abu Dhabi, but that would break the American Airlines award into two award tickets because I am transiting the Middle East region. Flying Qatar Airlines has the same issue.

So I skipped this leg for now. I feel fairly confident that I will find business class space closer to the date, and worst case I fly economy. This is also a good time to point out two benefits of booking multiple AA and BA awards compared to the old Explorer Award: I can book a leg later, and if I want to book First Class for just this leg, I can do that without increasing the price of the entire set of awards.

minus lhr-jnb
So far, with the big hole from London to South Africa

Cape Town to Johannesburg to Sydney
37.5K AA miles and $160 economy / 50K AA miles and $190 business on British Airways then Qantas.

I searched the American Airlines site, since British Airways and Qantas are searchable there.

Award space for this route is scarce. Unlike London to South Africa on British Airways, which has good availability closer to the date of departure, the Qantas flight from Johannesburg to Sydney is uniformly spread thin. I found some space close to the dates I wanted, so I decided to go back and change my other flight legs to accommodate the direct flight I found on Qantas. Always work backwards from the most difficult segment.

Sydney to Auckland
10K Avios and $50 in Qantas economy
(4 hour flight so I chose economy)

I searched the American Airlines site for this.

Auckland to Sydney
10K BA and $50 in Qantas economy
(4 hour flight so I chose economy)

I searched the American Airlines site for this.

Sydney to Singapore
25K AA miles and $74 economy / 35K AA miles and $74 business on Qantas

I searched the American Airlines site for this.

Singapore to Hong Kong
10K BA miles and $54 economy on Cathay Pacific
This is a 4 hour flight so I will do it in economy

I searched the British Airways site for this.

Hong Kong to Newark
35K AA miles and $33 economy / 55K AA miles and $33 business on Cathay Pacific

There was plenty of direct Cathay Pacific space that you can search on the Qantas website. I called American Airlines to confirm they could see it, and to get the taxes.

Here’s the final routing again.

final with ewr

Comparison Between American Airlines Award and Multiple AA/BA Awards

Now, let’s compare how much the old Explorer award would have cost versus the AA/BA mix of awards I used. I’m including the economy/business mileage numbers.

The Explorer Award was based on total mileage. For a 35,879 mile trip it would have been:

Total Countable Trip Miles = 35,001 – 50,000
Economy: costs 160,000 AA miles plus taxes
Business: costs 220,000 AA miles plus taxes

The final tally of AA/BA miles and taxes on my actual trip broke down to this:

AA: 167,500 miles and $863 economy / 227,500 miles and $1143 business
BA: miles: 39,000 and $219 all in economy

The grand total is 206,500 miles and $1007 economy / 266,500 miles and $1257 business.

The mostly business class award I booked will use 266,500 miles while an all business class Explorer Award would have cost 220,000 miles. I paid 46,500 miles extra. But for paying extra, I got some important advantages:

1) unlimited number of segments (the Explorer Award was limited to 16)
2) unlimited routing and date changes with some change fees (the Explorer Award allowed only date and cabin changes, not routing or airline changes)
3) you can backtrack, transit cities multiple times, and have unlimited open jaws (Explorer Awards had strict rules on these)
4) you can tinker with the itinerary before and during travel

I don’t know if that completely mitigates having to pay extra miles, but it certainly lessens the sting quite a bit.

And importantly, my stash of American Airlines miles didn’t become useless with the abolition of Explorer Awards. I was still able to book the trip of a lifetime for just a few more miles.

Recap

With some British Airways Avios and the same amount of AAdvantage miles as a comparable Explorer award would have required, I am to able to book my around the world trip and have a lot of flexibility to make changes before and during travel.

Are the BA miles worth it for the extra flexibility? What do you think?

If this kind of trip gets you excited, and simultaneously bewildered about how to book it, consider hiring our Award Booking Service.

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I have already written the ultimate guide to Cash & Avios redemptions.

The gist is that on some, but not all, British Airways Avios redemptions you are given a menu of prices like this:

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 2.59.45 AMYou can spend the full price in Avios (plus government taxes and fuel surcharges on some partners) or you can pay fewer Avios and make up the difference by paying more cash directly to British Airways.

Not all awards offer Cash & Avios options–for instance American Airlines domestic flights don’t–and the “price” of Avios varies widely on Cash & Avios awards.

The pattern generally was that on economy awards, you could save your Avios by paying about 1.3 cents per Avios saved. On business awards, the price was almost 2.6 cents per Avios saved. First class awards were in the middle at about 1.9 cents per Avios saved.

Since I value one Avios at around 1.7 cents, I generally recommended maximizing Cash & Avios awards on economy awards by paying with the minimum number of Avios and maximum amount of cash. But since the “price” was too high on business and first class awards, I recommended not availing oneself of the Cash & Avios options on premium awards.

Now things have improved for the better!

  • How cheap are Cash & Avios awards now?
  • What is the best cabin for a Cash & Avios award?
  • On which Avios partners can you get the best Cash & Avios awards?

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On Monday, I wrote about US Airways and TAM joining the oneworld alliance. That meant that US Airways and TAM flights were now bookable with British Airways Avios, a founding member of oneworld.

In the renewed interest in searching ba.com for award flights, there were some hiccups that people noted in the comments. Often the best way to plan an Avios award is to search aa.com, and then when you find the award space you want, go to ba.com to book it.

AA.com and ba.com didn’t seem to be matching up in the availability that you could book. See these two comments:

Scott, one example [where aa.com and ba.com don’t match] is DFW-HNL, 12-7 to 12-12 (My hub is DFW). AA shows availability. I see availability on the outgoing but not the incoming on BA.

and

So, I tried AA.COM to find one ways from PHX – OGG. For example, PHX-OGG 9/9/14 (or any that week) show available Economy MileSAAver Off Peak. BA.COM shows no flights available.

Why doesn’t ba.com show the same availability as aa.com?

There are two times when ba.com won’t match aa.com on Saver availability. One of the times, you can call British Airways to book the missing award space, and the other time you are out of luck.

What are the two times that ba.com won’t show the same Saver award space as aa.com?

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While other airlines search engines regress in functionality (looking in your direction, Delta), British Airways’ award tool continues to improve. While researching for another article, I came across the slightly modified ba.com and noted a subtle consumer-friendly change.

Though the change is minor, British Airways has exhibited a recent history of positive improvements to their search tool. With these steps in the right direction, we can safely anoint BA.com as the go-to site for comprehensive oneworld partner availability.

Simple Tool
This simple search engine packs a punch relative to its peers.

Scott wrote up a detailed guide on how to use BA.com to search for oneworld partner award space. Make sure to check out his post, Free First Class Next Month: Searching BA.com to Find oneworld Award Availability. We’ve also detailed British Airways recent and noticeable improvements to their site here and here.

What’s the newest change to the BA.com engine? When should you search ba.com versus aa.com versus qantas.com? (Hint: it has nothing to do with what type of miles you want to book your award with.)

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You can currently buy Avios for 1.37 cents each through a miles-transfer promotion. At that price:

  • A roundtrip from the west coast to Hawaii is $347.
  • A roundtrip of less than 651 miles flown each way in the US is $128.
  • A roundtrip from Boston to Dublin is under $450.

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How can you buy Avios for 1.37 cents? Why would you want to?

Did you miss 20k Miles (or Less) to All of South America All Year yesterday? That post is a competing trick with this one, and it might be an even better deal for you.

Chicago to Santiago “should” cost 30,000 American Airlines miles each way in economy. And you “shouldn’t” be able to stop in Peru on the way to Chile (or even layover there.)

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Do not pay 30,000 American Airlines miles for this award!

Instead of playing by American Airlines’ rules, though, we can combine our American Airlines miles and British Airways Avios to book dream trips to South America with more stops for fewer miles.

In the Chicago to Santiago example, we could pay only 15k American Airlines miles plus 10k Avios each way and stop in Peru either or both directions.

I’ve already explained how American Airlines has incredible off peak awards that allow you to travel for large swaths of the year at discounted rates. For Central America and Northern South America–Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and Ecuador–you can fly one way from the US for only 15k miles for seven months out of every year.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 11.02.00 PM An off peak award to Northern South America plus one or more Avios awards creates a dream vacation with more stops for fewer miles.

How do I put it all together?

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