Avios

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

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

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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:

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

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 8.29.19 PM

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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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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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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.

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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:

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  • What is the partner award chart?

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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?

I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

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.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 9.04.07 AM

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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I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

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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I earn a commission for some links on this blog. Citi is a MileValue partner.

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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