British Airways

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Are you better off using Avios or American Airlines miles for a trip to South America?

I’m at the beginning of probably nine months of travel, with almost no flights booked and only the vaguest sense of where I’ll head and how I’ll get there. I’m having an absolute blast in Bogota, Colombia, so I think I want to go to Cali or Medellin, Colombia after a quick trip back to the United States.

I am looking at flying from Philadelphia to Colombia in about two weeks, and my most convenient options–one stop in Miami versus 2+ stops–are on oneworld flights. I can book those flights with American Airlines miles, British Airways Avios, or cash.

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Things are complicated further by close-in ticketing fees, Cash & Avios awards, my point valuations, and my mileage balances, so I thought what better way to tease out the best value than a little early-morning math!

Even if you never want to go to Colombia (big mistake!) or you mainly focus on miles other than American and British Airways, this post should illuminate how to decide which miles to use for a certain trip and whether to use miles at all or just to pay cash.

  • Which is the best value to Colombia: AA miles, BA miles, or cash?

Sometimes you can go really far for not very miles by finding underpriced countries on your favorite award chart.

Award charts, by their nature, group several countries together for a single price. The countries at the extremes of each group are often underpriced relative to the rest of the group, leaving you the chance to get a great deal with your miles.

Here are five examples of underpriced countries on the American Airlines, United, Delta, US Airways, and British Airways award charts.

1. Peru, by American, United, and Delta

Peru is the farthest south country in Northern South America on the American Airlines, United, and Delta charts. I’ve previously called Peru the Best Destination for Lie Flat Seats because it is the only country in its region with lie flat seats offered by United, Delta, and American’s partner LAN.

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The most distant country in Northern South America is Peru

You can book a one way award from the United States to Peru for as little as 15,000 American Airlines miles each way in economy on these dates: between January 16 – June 14 and September 7 – November 14. That’s only 2,500 miles more than a one way award within the continental United States and cheaper than an award to Hawaii despite Peru being farther award from the continental United States than Hawaii.

You can fly flat beds to Peru for:

  • 30,000 American Airlines miles each way (LAN)
  • 35,000 United miles each way (United)
  • 90,000 Delta miles roundtrip (Delta) [45,000 miles each way starting 1/1/15]

That’s cheaper than flat beds to Hawaii, despite Peru being farther away from the continental United States. Those prices are also a huge discount on the prices to Chile, Brazil, and Argentina which are just a few hours more of flying.

Peru also happens to be my favorite country to visit. Here’s my Top Ten Things to Do, Eat, and See in Peru.

  • What are the other four underpriced countries?

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US Airways, American Airlines, and British Airways are all members of the oneworld alliance who should be equally sharing award space on their own flights with their partners.

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For the first time, I’ve found a case where US Airways “Low” (their name for “Saver”) price award space is not bookable with American Airlines or British Airways miles.

Either the US Airways space is phantom, or it isn’t being shared with American Airlines and British Airways, which would be a huge problem because American Airlines and British Airways awards are often cheaper than US Airways awards.

Refresher on Partners Sharing Space

As a refresher, airlines usually share all their capacity-controlled Saver award space–whatever that’s called like “MileSAAver” or “Low”–equally with their own members and their partners. There are a few exceptions, but US Airways economy Low space has never been an exception, so I would expect US Airways miles, American Airlines miles, and British Airways Avios to be able to book it equally.

Airlines never share their less capacity controlled seats with partners–award space with names like Medium, High, AAnytime, and Standard.

That means that any Low award space at usairways.com, any MileSAAver award space at aa.com, and any British Airways award space at ba.com should be available equally to all three types of miles. (British Airways doesn’t have tiers of seat availability.)

Why This Matters

US Airways flies from Sarasota, FL to Charlotte, NC, which is a distance of 547 miles.

  • US Airways would charge 25,000 miles and $36 for the one way flight at the Low level.
  • American would charge 12,500 miles and $6.
  • British Airways would charge 4,500 Avios and $6.

I’d much rather book the flight with Avios than with US Airways miles. Or if I needed the segment as part of an international award to Asia, I’d want to book it with American Airlines miles.

If US Airways isn’t sharing the space, that makes American Airlines and British Airways miles less valuable.

  • On what routes is US Airways space not bookable with AA and BA miles?
  • What is the root cause of the problem? Glitch or purposeful blocking?

This is the seventeenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. Today: the British Airways Avios program.

Why Collect British Airways Avios?

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

I like international First Class as much as the next guy, but sometimes I just want to fly from Los Angeles to Hawaii or Hong Kong to Tokyo or Chicago to Dallas.

British Airways Avios are completely different than the other major types of miles like United and American miles.

While most major airline miles are region-based, Avios are distance-based.

Different equals more valuable when it comes to miles because it opens up different types of high value awards.

  • What airlines can you fly with British Airways miles?
  • What are the routing rules for British Airways awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special features of the Avios program?
  • How can you book a British Airways award?

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Aer Lingus will upgrade its Business Class seats to fully flat beds in 2015. Aer Lingus flights can be booked with United or British Airways miles.

Boston to Dublin in a fully flat bed will cost only 25,000 British Airways Avios each way!

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The refurbishment of Aer Lingus’ A330s will be a big improvement of the angled lie flat seats that the airline currently features in Business Class.

The new beds will be in a staggered pattern that will offer aisle access to all Business Class passengers except those with a window seat in the first row.

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In addition, Aer Lingus claims to be improving the food and service onboard.

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Business Class will enjoy on-demand dining instead of a designated time, and passengers departing New York and Boston can even pre-dine at the airport lounge to maximize sleep on those very short flights.

Business Class passengers will get free on-board wifi, which is very rare. Most airlines make Business Class passengers pay for wifi.

  • How big is the seat?
  • Which US airline has the same Business Class seat?
  • How can you book Aer Lingus Business Class?
  • What is the award availability in Aer Lingus Business Class on the new beds?

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American Airlines releases a ton of award space on its routes to Hawaii at the last minute.

On almost all of American Airlines’ routes from Los Angeles to the four major Hawaiian islands and Dallas/Fort Worth to Oahu and Maui, there is award space for 4+ people in the next few weeks.

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If you live in Southern California or North Texas, this is a great chance to use as few as 12,500 Avios per person per direction to get to Hawaii during high season when the weather is a perfect 85 degrees and sunny.

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If you live somewhere else, this is a great chance to use 17,000+ Avios or 22,500 American Airlines per person per direction to take advantage of the last-second award space.

If you’d rather fly a different time of year when American Airlines has released no MileSAAver award space, this is a great reminder to look again within a few weeks of departure because American Airlines has been routinely releasing award space a few weeks out on its routes to Hawaii.

  • What is the award space for four people from the continental United States to Hawaii on American Airlines flights?
  • How can you book that space for 12,500 Avios each way?
  • Why might you want to book the space with Avios even if it costs fewer American Airlines miles?

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British Airways has a unique, distance-based award chart that can provide fantastic value for short-haul flights.

Both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards transfer 1:1 to British Airways Avios.

imagesBritish Airways has access to all American Airlines “MileSAAver” award space. Furthermore, on some routes British Airways actually charges fewer miles for the same flight than American Airlines.

Unfortunately, using ba.com is not as straightforward as using aa.com. BA.com is perfect for searching direct flights, but it often misses connecting itineraries, even simple ones with only one layover.

The other day, a reader emailed me saying that he had found MileSAAver award space from New York to Lima on American Airlines, but ba.com wouldn’t find it,. I looked into the problem and found a classic case of ba.com missing an obvious connecting itinerary.

  • What is the simple trick to finding award space on ba.com?
  • How can you book American Airlines flights using British Airways Avios?
  • When should you use British Airways Avios instead of American Airlines miles?
  • How can you fly a one way award flight for only 4,500 miles?

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This was the oldest unwritten “Draft” post in my folder. I wrote the title more than two years ago, but none of the post until today. Let me get something off my chest I’ve been holding in for, apparently, a long time.

Two-and-a-half years ago, British Airways went from a traditional region-to-region award chart to their unique distance based chart on which every flight adds to the total cost.

I know of no other program–other than LAN, and raise your hand if you’ve booked an award with LAN kilometers–where each flight segment adds to the price of the award.

Cleveland to New York to London costs the price of the Cleveland-to-New York leg plus the New York-to-London leg whether you stop in New York an hour or a month.

Each segment’s price is based only on the distance flown and the cabin of the flight. Here is the British Airways award chart for one way economy flights:

  • Up to 650 miles flown: 4,500 Avios
  • 651 to 1,151 miles flown: 7,500 Avios
  • 1,152 to 2,000 miles flown: 10,000 Avios
  • 2,001 to 3,000 miles flown: 12,500 Avios
  • 3,001 to 4,000 miles flown: 20,000 Avios
  • 4,001 to 5,500 miles flown: 25,000 Avios
  • 5,501 to 6,500 miles flown: 30,000 Avios
  • 6,501 to 7,000 miles flown: 35,000 Avios
  • 7,001+ miles flown: 50,000 Avios

The program has a lot of drawbacks:

  • Fuel surcharges on most partners but not these ones
  • Charging double the economy price for business class
  • Charging triple the economy price for first class
  • Treating domestic “First Class” on two-cabin American Airlines and US Airways planes as first class
  • Connecting awards get prohibitively expensive quickly

But British Airways offers extremely high value awards too. Most high value awards are:

  • Direct flights
  • short-to-medium haul
  • economy class
  • flown on partners with no fuel surcharges

What do you notice about those two lists?

I notice that the low value awards with Avios are almost exactly the high value awards with traditional programs like American Airlines or United.

I also notice that the high value awards with Avios are almost exactly the low value awards with traditional programs.

The fact that British Airways has a unique program enhances the overall value of our miles portfolio greatly. Before Avios, there wasn’t a super high value way to use miles from Phoenix to Kauai or Miami to Manaus, Brazil.

Any savvy miles collector will have a lot of different types of miles and points: United miles, American miles, British Airways Avios, Ultimate Rewards, Arrival miles, etc.

Logically when considering how to book a specific trip, you’ll book it with the miles that give you the best value.

If all your miles are good for the same trips, some trips you want to take will probably have no economical way to book them. If your miles are all good for different things, then you’ll have more potential trips covered.

Since I’m so glad British Airways “devalued,” do I want all airlines to copy the Avios program?

Heck no! Part of the value of Avios is the great awards that can be booked with Avios, and part of the value is that those awards are different from other programs.

If all programs were like British Airways’, the second source of value would be gone.

I’m ecstatic that British Airways “devalued” its award chart even if at the time everyone hated it. I’ll continue to diversify my miles and points across the Six Types of Frequent Flyer Miles and laugh all the way to the bank my next destination.

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Qantas will operate its daily flight from Dallas to Sydney with an A380 starting October 1, 2014. This is a large increase in capacity from the current 747 on the route.

The Dallas to Sydney flight will be the longest A380 flight in the world at 16hr55min, so it’s not one I’d be eager to fly in coach.

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The route is in addition to the A380 flights Qantas operates from Los Angeles to Sydney and Melbourne. I flew Melbourne to Los Angeles in Business Class on the A380 last year.

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Business Class on the A380
  • How is award space from Dallas to Sydney in Economy, Business, and First Classes?
  • Is it better to book the flights with American Airlines, US Airways, or British Airways miles?

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The cat is out of the bag. Expect this deal to end any moment now because it’s likely a mistake:

US Airways is not collecting fuel surcharges on British Airways award flights like British Airways’ other main partners do.

This is huge news because:

  • British Airways flies to more American cities than any other foreign airlines.
  • British Airways has the best route network throughout Europe and Africa.
  • British Airways has gold mine availability on a lot of routes in economy.
  • British Airways has a fantastic Club World (business class product) I’ve flown three times.
  • British Airways looks to have a fantastic First Class product I haven’t yet had the pleasure to fly.

I expect this deal could die within hours or days or weeks because I do think this is a mistake. I am only sharing it because two other major blogs covered it today, and if they’re killing it, I want MileValue readers to have a shot at it first.

  • How much are US Airways awards that include British Airways flights?
  • How do you search for British Airways award space?
  • How do you book it with US Airways miles?

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

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

American Airlines killed free oneways on its awards last week by nixing all free stopovers because free oneways always rely on a free stopover at your home airport.

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

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I’m using my miles and points very idiosyncratically at the moment to do something I’m sure none of my readers would want to do. But I think the lessons from my trip should be applicable for a lot of trips you would want to take.

Starting last weekend in Greensboro, North Carolina, I’ll be following around the University of Virginia’s Men’s Basketball Team for the rest of the season. I’ve been a huge fan for about 13 years, and this is our best team in that time, so I decided before the season started not to miss any of the postseason.

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That means I am booking a lot of last second flights, hotels, and car rentals because where Virginia plays wasn’t determined until last night.

Arrival miles have been the most valuable currency to me overall for this trip because I’ve used the miles from my Barclaycard Arrival(TM) World MasterCard® – Earn 2x on All Purchases to book flights, motels, and car rentals that form the backbone of my trip.

For the flights and hotels I knew I would need, the 40,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months have gotten me $456 in free bookings. I loved the Arrival redemptions because I didn’t have to search for award space, and I could choose the cheapest and most convenient option to stretch my Arrival mile balance.

But I also have to book some speculative flights.

For instance, if Virginia makes the Sweet 16, it will play in New York City 11 days from now. But if it loses in its first two games, it won’t make the trip. I don’t need to go back to New York City unless Virginia is playing, so I wanted to lock in a flight in case Virginia goes, but one that I can cancel for free if Virginia doesn’t go.

Enter Avios.

In Another Reason Miles Are Better Than Cash, I mentioned that British Airways awards can be cancelled for as little as $2.50, which was perfect for my speculative booking.

Why else did I book my next award with Avios? Why not cash? What were all the factors considered?

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Update: D’oh! Dewey Defeats Truman. This offer is dead (and was dead at the time of publication!)

The British Airways card from Chase is back with a new 100k Avios sign up bonus. Like the other recent 100k Avios offers, you need to spend $20,000 in the first year on the card to get the full 100k Avios bonus.

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  • You will get 50,000 bonus Avios after $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • 25,000 bonus Avios after $10,000 in purchases within the first year of account opening.
  • Plus an additional 25,000 bonus Avios after you make an additional $10,000 in purchases also within the first year of account opening.
  • Together that’s 100,000 bonus Avios, which is enough for a round-trip business class award flight. Taxes, fees, and carrier charges are approximately $1,250 per adult in business class based on travel from Seattle to London.
  • Lots of other terms and conditions apply. See Pricing & Terms for more details.

The British Airways card is divisive. For some people, it is one of the absolute best cards, and for other its rewards are nearly worthless.

Who should get this card? Who should not?

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. Most 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?

Qatar Airways has fantastic Business Class award space on its Dreamliner and on its routes from the US to Doha and beyond in 2014. These routes are a high-value way to use Avios or American Airlines miles on a recent addition to the oneworld alliance.

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Your Bed in Business Class on a Qatar 787

Where do Qatar’s Dreamliners fly? Where does Qatar fly in the US? How many American Airlines miles or British Airways Avios do you need to fly Qatar?

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