Avios are ideal for short, direct, economy flights, especially between regions on award charts. Today I’m going to show you some examples of how you can combine the use of Avios with region-based miles to use less miles overall and see more places at the same time.
First, let’s go over some basics.
- While most major airline miles have region-based award prices, Avios awards are distance-based.
- What I mean by region-based: the price of an award is determined by what region you originate and what region your destination is in (coupled with the cabin). Regions are determined by the loyalty program, but are generally the same with some exceptions (i.e. North America, South America, Europe, etc.)
- What I mean by distance-based: the price of an award is determined by the distance of each segment flown, and the cabin you fly in.
Let’s say you want to go to Morocco. It would cost 40k United miles to fly economy or 80k to fly Business, from the United States to Northern Africa, the region that Unified classifies Morocco in. But if you flew to Madrid first (classified by United as Europe) and then used Avios to hop to Morocco, it would only cost 30k/57.5k/70k United miles in economy/United Business/Partner Business, and 4,500 Avios in economy (it’s only a 1.5 hour flight). You save yourself miles and get to see Madrid as well as Morocco.
Below are examples of actual awards where you can apply this trick to see an extra destination and pay less miles overall while doing it.
Before we go any further, a quick aside about fuel surcharges…
With Avios awards you have to watch out for fuel surcharges. They collect fuel surcharges on any award flight that has fuel surcharges on the equivalent cash flight. Notable exceptions when they don’t collect fuel surcharges:
- On their own flights within Europe
- American Airlines within the Western Hemisphere
- Alaska Airlines
- Aer Lingus
That doesn’t mean you can’t utilize Avios for flights on other oneworld carriers or non-allied partners of British Airways. Some only charge mild fuel surcharges, especially on short flights like the examples I will show you below.
How to See More For Less
United States-> Spain -> Morocco VS. United States -> Morocco
Let’s take a closer look at the example I gave at the beginning of this post.
You can fly from North America to Madrid for 30k United miles in economy, 57.5k United miles in United’s Business Class, or 70k United miles in a United partners’ Business Class. Then you can use just 4,500 Avios to take an hour and half flight in economy to Casablanca in Morocco on Iberia.
The out of pocket taxes and fees for this award are minimal at only $29.
Flying straight to Morocco from North America would cost 40k United miles in economy or 80k in a Business.
United States -> Turkey -> Qatar VS. United States -> Qatar
You could fly from North America to Istanbul for 30k United miles in economy. Then you can use 10,000 Avios to take a four hour flight in economy to Doha on Qatar Airways.
British Airways collects fuel surcharges on Qatar, but they are reasonable at $86 for this award.
Flying straight to Qatar from North America would cost 42.5k United miles in economy.
You could also easily fly into a different European airport (like Paris, for example) for the same price, and take a low cost carrier flight between Paris and Istanbul before heading on to Doha with Avios. Read about how to incorporate an award like this into a round-the-world trip with half the flights in a flat bed for 100,000 Miles.
United States -> Germany -> Poland VS. United States Poland
You can fly United Airlines from North America to Berlin for 30k Aeroplan miles in economy (without fuel surcharges). Then you can use just 4,500 Avios to take a little over an hour flight in airberlin economy to Warsaw in Poland.
British Airways does not collect fuel surcharges on airberlin, so taxes are just $30 for this award.
Since Aeroplan divides their award chart into Eastern and Western Europe, flying straight to Poland from the United States would cost 37.5k Aeroplan miles in economy.
Santiago -> Easter Island -> Tahiti VS. Santiago -> Tahiti
You can fly from Santiago to Easter Island (a territory of Chile) for 10k American Airlines miles in economy, 20k American Airlines miles in Business. This would position you in what most consider the South Pacific region. Then you can use 12,500 Avios (+$30 in taxes/fees) to take a five and a half hour flight in LATAM Chile economy to Tahiti.
Flying straight to Tahiti from Santiago would cost 45k/82.5k American Airlines miles in economy/Business Class.
The savings in this example could be huge, unfortunately I can only call it a theoretical sweetspot as I could not find any LATAM Chile award space between Easter Island and Tahiti. Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever seen it.
No Last Minute Award Booking Fees
Another nice perk of British Airways Avios is that they don’t tack on any extra fees for booking your flight at the last minute. So if you decide in the middle or your Euro-trip that you want to fly somewhere else over the weekend, you won’t have to pay one of those annoying $75 fees that American Airlines AAdvantage or United Mileage Plus would charge.
How to Find Award Space and Book British Airways Awards
You can look for award space right on ba.com– here’s how to use the search tool. You can also book on ba.com.
How to Get Avios
Avios are very easy to collect. Ultimate Rewards are a 1:1 transfer partner of Avios. These cards are your best options:
- British Airways Visa Signature
- Ink Plus
- Sapphire Preferred
- Freedom & Freedom Unlimited
British Airways Visa Signature Card
The British Airways Visa Signature card currently offers:
- 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $2,000 in the first three months on the card.
- Spend $15,000 in the first 12 months for another 25,000 bonus Avios. The maximum bonus is 75,000 total Avios for spending $15,000 in the first 12 months of which $2,000 came in the first three
- 3 Avios per dollar on British Airways purchases and 1 Avios per dollar on other purchases
- $95 annual fee that is not waived
The Ink Plus currently offers:
- 60,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $5,000 in the first three months
- 5 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at office supply stores and on cellular phone, landline, internet, and cable TV services
- 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar at gas stations and hotel accommodations
- 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
- $95 annual fee
You might qualify for a business card and not realize it, so don’t write off the possibility just because you don’t have your own booming startup.
The Sapphire Preferred currently offers:
- 50,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $4,000 in the first three months
- 5,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after you add the first authorized user and make a purchase in the first three months
- 2 Ultimate Rewards per dollar spent on travel and dining at restaurants
- 1 Ultimate Reward per dollar on all other purchases
- No foreign transaction fees
- $95 annual fee
Freedom & Freedom Unlimited
The Freedom and Freedom Unlimited are two separate cards, but are two sides of the same coin. You can read my analysis comparing the two here.
Both cards come with 15,000 bonus Ultimate Rewards after spending $500 in the first three months and 2,500 bonus Ultimate Rewards for adding an authorized user.
This biggest difference between the two cards are their category bonuses. The Freedom Unlimited earns a spectacular 1.5x on everything. The Freedom earns a “meh” 1x on everything except 5x on up to $1,500 per quarter in categories that rotate quarterly.
The Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited earn Ultimate Rewards. Both cards earn points that can be redeemed at a rate of 1 cent each– that’s why all the marketing of the card features cash back language. BUT if you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus card, there is a second way of redeeming the Freedom or Freedom Unlimited’s Ultimate Rewards: transfer them to your Sapphire Preferred or Ink Plus account and from there to airline miles or hotel points. I call this the Freedom Two Step.
For the reasons presented in this post, the Freedom Unlimited is one of the first two cards I recommend everyone get.
As all of the cards that earn Ultimate Rewards are Chase products, before applying for any of these cards remember to consider the Chase 5/24 rule. In short, if you’ve opened any five credit cards in the last 24 months, an application for a new Chase card will be denied.
Avios are different than most of your mileages in that the prices of awards are based on distance. Different equals more valuable when it comes to miles because it opens up different types of high value awards. By combining Avios with your preferred region-based miles, you can maximize the value of your miles and see more places all at the same time.
The easiest way to get a bunch of Avios is through cards that earn Ultimate Rewards, since Avios is a 1:1 transfer partners and there are lots of cards that earn them with large sign-up bonuses.