Maximizing Ultimate Rewards: British Airways Avios

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This post is part seven of a series about how to maximize value when transferring your Chase Ultimate Rewards to loyalty program partners. 

Maximizing Your Ultimate Rewards Series Index

There are two major components of British Airways Avios to note. A) they are distance-based miles, and B) British Airways collects fuel surcharges on Avios awards when flying a partner airline that charges them.

A) Distance-Based Miles

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.

B) Fuel Surcharges

British Airways is a member of oneworld Alliance, meaning you can redeem BA Avios on any oneworld partner as well as two non-allied partners (Aer Lingus and Alaska). That doesn’t mean however that you’ll always want to. British Airways collects massive fuel surcharges on most of those partners.

These flights are the exception–you can book them with Avios without fuel surcharges:

  • 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 and airberlin flights
  • British Airways flights within Europe
  • Qantas domestic flights
  • S7 flights

In a few words, the way to maximize Avios is by redeeming them on short, direct, economy flights since they’re distance-based miles, flying one of the above airlines to avoid fuel surcharges.

In practice, what does that look like?

Redeeming Avios Domestically

British Airways Avios can be extremely valuable for domestic awards when the cash flight is expensive and redeem a region based mile isn’t worth it. British Airways also does not collect fuel surcharges on American Airlines nor Alaska Flights within the western hemisphere.

Here is the chart for award bookings of flights that touch the United States:

Screen-Shot-2015-10-28-at-2.50.49-PM

For perspective, American Airlines charges 7,500 American Airlines miles for direct flights of 500 miles or less, and United charges 10,000 United miles for flights of 700 miles or less. So you can see that the strength in British Airways chart lies in short distance redemptions.

I also love that for 25,000 Avios and $11, you can fly roundtrip on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines planes from the West Coast to Hawaii. Here are the possible routes.

Screen Shot 2015-12-03 at 6.21.15 PM

Redeeming Avios Internationally

As I said above, flying the follow airlines in the follow circumstances, British Airways won’t collect fuel surcharges.

  • 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 and airberlin flights
  • British Airways flights within Europe
  • Qantas domestic flights
  • S7 flights

Between the United States and the Americas and the Caribbean

Awards between the United States and Mexico, Canada, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean on American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and LATAM have no fuel surcharges, just government taxes. Many short, direct American Airlines flight in economy to Central America, Mexico, or the Caribbean are going to be cheap in BA Avios.

For example, here’s an American Airlines flight between Dallas and Belize city.

That would cost 12,500 American Airlines miles from September 7 – November 14, April 27 – May 20, or any other time of year it would cost 15,000 American miles.

It’s an even better deal between Miami and Bogotá, which normally costs 17,500 American miles during those some Off Peak dates or 20,000 any other time.

Here’s an example of a longer flight that is also cheaper redeeming BA Avios rather than American Airlines miles: If you already happen to live in Miami, it costs 25k Avios and no fuel surcharges to Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro. It would cost you 30k American Airlines miles to fly the same flight (or 30k United/30k Delta to fly one of those airlines down there).

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 8.30.40 PM

All LATAM Flights Except Some LATAM Domestic Flights

There are lots of short, direct, economy flights on LATAM that are cheap in BA Avios. LATAM Peru flights have no fuel surcharges, like this one from Cuzco to Lima…

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 8.44.48 PM

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 8.45.08 PM

But there are fuel surcharges on other LATAM affiliates like LATAM Argentina. See this post on intra-Argentina flights for more info.

LATAM between Santiago and Auckland falls in the 30k Avios price bracket (+ taxes only), which is quite a good price between the regions. The same flight would cost 45k American Airlines miles.

Sao Paulo to Frankfurt is even better. 

It only costs 30,000 BA Avios + taxes (fuel surcharges are illegal departing Brazil), while the same flight would cost 50,000 American Airlines miles.

Flights on airberlin and Aer Lingus

You can get to Europe without fuel surcharges on airberlin and Aer Lingus flights. (OK technically Aer Lingus flights have fuel surcharges, but they are about $30, so I am putting them here.) Airberlin flights are bookable online. You can look up Aer Lingus award space on united.com, but you have to call 800-AIRWAYS to book Aer Lingus flights with Avios.

From the New York City, it’s only 20k Avios to Berlin.

This same flight would cost 30k American miles, or 22,500 during Off Peak season (January 10 – March 14, November 1 – December 14).

Even from Chicago, airberlin economy to Berlin is 25,000. During peak tourism times that’s going to be cheaper than redeem American miles.

There are also no fuel surcharges collected on airberlin flights or Aer Lingus flights within Europe.Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 9.11.17 PMScreen Shot 2016-07-25 at 9.11.24 PM

Intra-Europe on British Airways

British Airways collects a flat fee on its own intra-European flights in lieu of taxes and fuel surcharges. The flat fee is fairly low–$27.47 from Milan to London–and is often lower than taxes would be on the same route.

4,000 Avios + $27.47 is cheap, but before booking an intra-Europe Avios award be sure to check low cost carrier options if you’re not going to have much luggage, as sometimes it may not be worth using your Avios. We value BA Avios at 1.6 cents for reference.

Qantas Flights within Australia

British Airways collects fuel surcharges on Qantas long haul flights, like those between Los Angeles and Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane. Those flights cost too many Avios anyways.

But British Airways doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on domestic Qantas flights like Sydney to Melbourne. 4,500 Avios + $13.44 is a lot cheaper than redeeming 10,000 American miles for the same flight.

You can redeem 10k BA Avios on Qantas or LATAM between Sydney to Auckland with no fuel surcharges (the taxes are just expensive between those two countries). That’s cheaper than the 15,000 American or United miles required to fly between the two countries.

 

Pro Tip: Combining Region-Based Miles with Avios

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 Iberia economy (it’s only a 1.5 hour flight). You save yourself miles and get to see Madrid as well as Morocco.

Newark to Madrid with United miles, Madrid to Casablanca with Avios
Newark to Madrid with United miles, Madrid to Casablanca with Avios

British Airways collects fuel surcharges on Iberia, but they are quite reasonable. Madrid to Casablanca, Morocco will only run you $28.97 in out of pocket costs.

Again, flying straight to Morocco from North America would cost 40k United miles in economy or 80k United miles in Business Class.

Read more examples about using BA Avios to cross into other award regions in How to Combine Region-Based Miles with BA Avios to See More and Pay Less.

Bottom Line

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.

Be careful to avoid fuel surcharges, British Airways collects them on Avios awards whenever the airline you fly charges them. One of the best ways to maximize your Avios is by redeeming them on short(er), direct, economy flights, but as you’ve seen in this post, there are some flights that cross continents and even oceans that are cheaper with Avios than the alternative.


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