First Ever Ultimate Rewards Transfer Bonus on Cusp of Avios Devaluation

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Update 6/25/19: The award prices speculated in this post have been confirmed.

For the first time ever, Ultimate Rewards is offering a transfer bonus to one of their loyalty program partners: British Airways Avios. Through June 16, 2019 at 11:59 pm ET, you will earn 30% more points for Ultimate Rewards to British Airways transfers. That means 10,000 Ultimate Rewards translates to 13,000 Avios, and 20,000 Ultimate Rewards is 26,000 Avios.

The fact that there is an Ultimate Rewards transfer bonus is exciting news in itself. Just make sure you book before May 30 if you are transferring your Ultimate Rewards for the purpose of redeeming on a British Airways partner airline.

At the end of April British Airways announced that from May 30, 2019 onwards, British Airways Avios awards flying partner airlines will cost more to book. They did not announce how much the Avios partner award chart would be devalued, but just that it would be. Which is bad form if you ask me.

BA Avios prices to fly their own airline, Aer Lingus, Iberia, or Vueling will remain the same.

The Deal with the Devaluation

We know very little officially, just what BA announced in an email: Avios prices to fly Alaska Airlines, Air Italy, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Japan Airlines, LATAM, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, S7, Sri Lankan and Royal Jordanian Airlines will increase as of May 30, 2019.

Seat 31b has speculated what some of the new award chart will be based off of conversations pricing awards with BA agents over the phone, who apparently can already see what the new prices will be as of May 30.

Since then, The Points Guy pieced together a more comprehensive speculative chart, also based off of phone calls asking what the future rates will be.

The General Gist

As always, Avios prices are based on how far you fly, per segment, as opposed to which regions you fly between (how the majority of airline mileage programs price their awards), it’s almost always a better deal to redeem for short-haul vs long-haul. Most prices flying Business and First Class are bad deals. For these reason Avios are known as the points to use for short, direct, economy flights in expensive markets when the cash price is high.

The distance bands most people redeem Avios Zones 1 through 4:

Flight DistanceCurrent Economy PriceMay 30 Economy Price  
Zone 1: 1 - 650*4,5006,000
Zone 2: 651 - 1,1517,5009,000
Zone 3: 1,152 - 2,00010,00011,000
Zone 4: 2,001 - 3,00012,50013,000

The shortest distance bands are unsurprisingly (as the most utilized) taking the biggest hit. If you’re someone who transfers their Chase Sapphire Reserve Ultimate Rewards to British Airways Avios to redeem on short, economy flights, you’ll want to make double sure you’re checking the cash price from May 30 and on. Redeeming your Ultimate Rewards for 1.5 cents each toward a cash ticket may mean using less points than what the Avios program would require.

*The 1 – 650 distance band pricing doesn’t apply to partner flights flown within, to, or from the United States. That rule will likely not change. Partner flights within, to, or from the US between 1 and 1,151 miles long all cost 7,500 Avios one way now, and will cost 9,000 Avios one way as of May 30.

Taxes and fees will remain the same. To avoid fuel surcharges when redeeming BA Avios, redeem them on one of the following airlines:

  • American Airlines flights within the USA, Mexico, Canada, Caribbean, Central, and South America.
  • Alaska Airlines flights
  • All LATAM international flights
  • Some LATAM domestic flights
  • Aer Lingus flights
  • British Airways flights within Europe
  • Qantas domestic flights
  • S7 flights
In the Gaitan Neighborhood of Bogotá, Colombia. Photo by Fernando Garcia

To put things in perspective: A 10% jump from 10,000 Avios to 11,000 Avios to fly from Miami to Bogotá is not a big deal when the same flight would cost 17,500 American Airlines miles (off peak dates, on AA only) to 20,000 American Airlines miles (on AA peak dates or on LATAM). While no one likes devaluations, this one is not that bad if the prices turn out to be what’s speculated. What is bad is British Airways’ lack of official communication about what the price jumps will be.

Some Awards I’m Happy to See Sticking Around

  • West Coast to Hawaii on American Airlines/Alaska: This award will go up 500 miles in price, but that’s so nominal enough of a change that I wouldn’t consider this award price devalued.
  • Remember that award prices flying British Airways, Iberia, and Vueling will not change on May 30. That means redeeming 42,500 BA Avios on Iberia Business Class between Sao Paulo and Madrid (with no fuel surcharges departing Brazil) will remain an option, which is my favorite Avios redemption I’ve ever made.
42.5k Avios + no fuel surcharges departing Brazil, São Paulo > Madrid. That’s 10 hours in flat bed in a market that typically costs around that much to fly economy. I highly recommend this sweet spot as a part of a round-the-world trip!

Again, the new potential award chart above is exactly that…speculative. It’s probably right as those prices are from the mouth of British Airways customer service reps, but it’s not official yet.

What about the Iberia Avios and Aer Lingus Avios Programs?

British Airways is not the only airline to use Avios as their reward currency. While Iberia and Aer Lingus Avios award prices are also distance-based and similar to British Airways’ Avios prices, they are separate programs. But will Iberia and Aer Lingus also increase their prices to fly partners? No idea. For now, they haven’t announced anything, and if they don’t, then transferring to Iberia or Aer Lingus instead may prove to be the better option in the future flying partners.

We’ll have to keep an eye on what happens with Iberia and Aer Lingus’ partner award prices post May 30. I expect they will follow suit with BA Avios.

When to Transfer

As always, if you have an immediate, high-value use, this transfer bonus is a great deal. You shouldn’t ever transfer bank points–by bank points, I mean transferrable travel currencies like Chase Ultimate Rewards, Amex Membership Rewards, or Citi ThankYou Points–unless you have a specific reason/immediate use for them. Don’t let transfer bonuses tempt you into forgetting that bank points owe much of their value due to the fact they’re transferrable. Make SURE there is viable award space for your desired travel dates(s) before transferring. And don’t forget to book before May 30 if your Avios award flies Alaska Airlines, Air Italy, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Japan Airlines, LATAM, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, S7, Sri Lankan or Royal Jordanian Airlines.

Bottom Line

It’s exciting to finally see Ultimate Rewards offering a transfer bonus to a travel partner. For years Amex Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou Points, and various hotel loyalty programs have been offering transfer bonuses as an incentive to funnel your points into a specific airline mileage program. Hopefully this means more Ultimate Reward transfer bonus offers are in our future now that they’ve broken the seal. This Ultimate Rewards to British Airways Avios 30% transfer bonus lasts through June 16, 2019.

What’s not cool? That British Airways Avios program is increasing the prices on their award chart to fly partners as of May 30. And even worse, they won’t tell us by how much. If you had a BA Avios partner award in mind, and you’ve got Ultimate Rewards, I’d transfer them as soon you check award space, in case your award gets more expensive May 30.

When completing a transfer from Ultimate Rewards to BA Avios, don’t be alarmed if you don’t see see evidence of the bonus points on Chase’s website. Log into your British Airways account after making the transfer and you should, more or less instantaneously, see the transferred points as well as the bonus points reflected in your Avios balance.


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