British Airways revamped its frequent flyer program about a year ago, and while some of the changes were not positive for those who were used to maximizing their previous award chart, I immediately recognized the value of the Avios system for many family travelers who most often use their miles and points to travel within the US, Canada, and the Caribbean.  In case you aren’t familiar with the British Airways Avios program, you can redeem miles not just on British Airways flights, but also on their partners such as American Airlines or Alaska Airlines. The award chart favors short and direct flights, so any time you are looking for a reward seat on a short and direct route that American or Alaska serves, it is worth checking to see if using Avios would be a viable option.

I have redeemed Avios for several domestic flights on American Airlines, but I am most often redeeming them for other family members.  However, last week I was in a situation where my travel plans changed last minute, and instead of coming right back to Houston on the United inaugural 787 Dreamliner flight, I needed to get to the DC area.  Last minute fares for flights from Chicago to one of the DC area airports were $300+.  On top of that, I needed a new last minute ticket from the DC area back to Houston, so I was scrambling to save some money wherever I could.

Knowing that Chicago O’Hare is an American Airlines hub, I immediately looked to see if there was reward availability using Avios.  The flight was short, direct, and on a route that American Airlines operates.  I used the American Airlines website to search for SAAver award availability (the lowest award level), since any flight that American Airlines displays as having SAAver availability should be bookable via British Airways using Avios.

As luck would have it, there was availability from on American flight from Chicago to Baltimore (BWI) for just 4,500 Avios one-way (the flight distance is just under the 650 mile threshold for flights that cost just 4,500 points).   That wasn’t my preferred airport for the trip, but it was impossible to turn down the chance to use just 4,500 points instead of spending over $300.  That is a 6.67 cent per mile return on my points, which is extraordinarily good.  Had I booked that one-way using American Airlines miles, it would have cost me 12,500 miles since they use a different award chart.

In reality, I was getting even more than a 6.67 cents per point return since I had obtained those 4,500 Avios by transferring American Express Membership Reward points to British Airways when they had 40% and 50% transfer bonuses earlier this year.  Assuming these points came during a 50% transfer bonus, then I was effectively getting a 10 cent per point return on my Membership Reward points!  Anything better than a 2 cent per point return is typically considered a very good redemption.

To make things even better, there are no last minute booking fees for using Avios.  Many other airlines (including American) charge fees to redeem miles for rewards within a few weeks of your travel dates, so this was another huge positive for Avios as it saved me the $75 that American would have charged to book a last minute reward ticket.

Another huge positive to using Avios is that for whatever reason doing so gives you PriorityAccess printed on your boarding pass with American Airlines, this allows you to board early and use the “elite” security line.  In the past using Avios has also allowed my relatives to check bags for free on their American Airlines flights, though I am not sure if that is still the case as I didn’t try to check a bag on this trip.  I can confirm that I was still able to cancel an Avios award ticket without any real fees or cancellation penalties (though you will lose the taxes you paid – in my case $2.50).  This is an “off label” benefit that is subject to change, but it worked for me as recently as a couple of weeks ago.

You can earn points that will transfer to British Airways by using an Ultimate Rewards earning card such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Ink Bold Charge Card, or Ink Plus Business Card; by getting the Chase British Airways Visa, or via an American Express Membership Rewards earning card like the Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card or The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card® from American Express OPEN.  My personal preference is to earn Avios via the Membership Reward program due to the periodic transfer bonuses that have been as high as 50% within the last year, but I do appreciate that there are multiple cards that will earn these points.

However you earn your Avios, they are a very valuable type of point to have in your miles and points arsenal.  No other type of point would have been near as useful for the situation I was in last week.  Do you have any other tips for redeeming Avios?  What “off label” benefits of have you noticed?  What trips have you successfully redeemed them for?

 

Disclosure: I do receive a commission if you are approved for a credit card using one of my affiliate links.  Some of the cards mentioned in this post are my links.  As always, thanks for your support!

Posted by Mommy Points | 40 Comments

40 Responses to “British Airways Avios Are Even More Useful Than You Might Think”

  1. DBest says:

    Have the Chase BA card and am considering making a run next year at the Travel Together ticket, using the Bluebird/Vanilla method to spend $30k. Can that pass be also used with an infant-in-arms? Seems like a good deal, almost 3 for 1, and if used for First/Biz there’s plenty of room for the baby.

  2. Andy says:

    How did you get back from DC to Houston?

  3. AlohaDaveKennedy says:

    DBest if Bluebird/Vanilla folds your $30k can be obtained via Spook/Owl (cc account funding). But there still are those high fuel surcharges and London Airport taxes on the Travel Together ticket.

    The AVIOS have proved useful for sending scouts up to Dallas via AA where they met the connecting flight to Copenhagen for the Jambo last year. And for Iberia connector flights when doing Spain.

  4. Dov says:

    The fee for cancelling a BA Avios booking is deducted from the tax paid on the ticket up to a maximum of $40 per passenger in your case since you only paid $2.50 for tax your fee was deducted to = that amount,

    also if you cancel your booking within 24hrs of your travel there will be no Avios Mileage refund but you will get your cash refunded to your credit card with no fee

    The PriorityAccess seems to me as a glitch rather than A benefit

    • mommypoints says:

      @Dov, even my $2.50 was refunded, so in my case even the taxes came back (correction – I have too many transactions going at once, and while it looked like they had been refunded this time, in fact canceling did cost me the $2.50 in taxes). I have had that experience in the past though where you did lose the taxes. I agree that Priority Access is likely not intentional, but for now it is an “off label” benefit.

  5. Linda T. says:

    You mentioned that you were able to cancel an Avios Award booking without any fees. Was that done by phone or online? This could be very useful when planning trips that are very dependent on the weather.

  6. fauxblogger says:

    Great post MP. I often wonder why the expert valuators of miles value at 1.5 to 2.0 CPM when, given high costs of revenue tickets, redemption values are often 3X higher

  7. mommypoints says:

    DBest, I have heard of people doing that. I know at least one had to try a couple agents to get it to work, but it did in the end. They do charge a 10% mileage fee for infants on award tickets, and the fees for flying BA can be nasty, but worth it for some in premium cabins.
    Andy, bought the best fare I could…which wasn’t great.
    ADK, nice!

  8. mommypoints says:

    Linda, I did it online. Since it not the intended way for it to work, I bet you may not have the same luck over the phone.
    Fauxblogger, I think to be conservative. Also, with the traditional programs that require 25K for a domestic RT ticket those ranges are pretty accurate for most. However, Avios really are more valuable than that when used for this type of flight.

  9. Nic says:

    Your title implies that most everyone thinks they are not useful at all. Not far from reality. :)
    I wouldn’t go around collecting avios, since I have them I use them on positioning flights, but apart from that, little to no value.

  10. CU says:

    I don’t know why I have so much trouble with Avios so your post gives me hope. In Connecticut, I routinely search both Logan (Boston) and Bradley (Hartford) but there has never been any award availability for a trip to the Carribean. Same problem with a trip to Hilton Head, South Carolina. Frustrating! I was planning to cancel my BA card and just give up but maybe I won’t now….

  11. Bill N DC says:

    Thanks for these tips. Still have 50+K left from 2 last year’s chase BA visa 100k SU bonus after hubby & I did BA First AMS (C) -HEATHROW (free stopover & Hilton Waldorf club access & free bf 3 nites on 150k HH points) – IAD last April May.

  12. Dov says:

    @mommypoints
    On the Image you posted from the refund page it indicates that the $2.50 was deducted

  13. Jerry Hung says:

    Just to concur on usefulness of BA Avios

    I redeemed for US Thanksgiving for Toronto-Chicago flight, at 9000 r.t. per adult + $52 CAD tax (sigh..), and 900 + $17 for infant

    Retail is $350 CAD, so I got $300 value from 9000 Avios (obtained with AMEX MR 50% bonus), so that’s $300 value/6000 Avios = 5 cents per Avios

    Gonna stock up more at next AMEX MR Avios transfer bonus

  14. Pointsloverrrrr says:

    I’ll bite… Can someone explain the non Vanilla credit funding possibilities (spook/owl)?

  15. mommypoints says:

    Nic, all depends on location/travel goals, but they are very valuable for some…including me.
    CU, in that case all dependent on AA availability, which I generally find to be pretty good, but those are not routes I often search.
    Bill, that sounds like a great trip!
    Dov, you are right. There is a transaction on me cc that looked like it was this refund, but upon further review, the call on the field is reversed and I did indeed lose the $2.50. Post updated, but still much better than what would happen on most other airlines.
    Jerry, nice! I love those transfer bonuses too, I almost always end up clearing out my MR balance when they happen.

  16. Jim says:

    I think people are unsure how to use Avios, they are great for domestic coach travel on American( and the Caribbean)Also travel to Dublin on Air Lingus 50,000 points round trip in business.When I fly under 4 hours I fly coach(Avios)when I fly over 4 hours I fly Business or first (American)

  17. Rich says:

    Called Executive Club this morning to try and use some Avios – availability was showing on AA.com, but the agent was unable to find the same availability (even though I had specific flight numbers and times). I’m wondering if there’s a better way of checking to see what seats may be available…

    • mommypoints says:

      @Rich, it should be there, but sometimes there are BA quirks. Did the BA site show it as bookable when selecting “choose other partners”? Their website goes crazy at times too, but it really should work if it is AA saver availability on an AA operated flight.

  18. Nick says:

    Excellent timing Mommypoints! I just wrote a post a few days ago about how much I love Avios on my (Spanish-language) blog. We’ve brought my mother-in-law up from Nicaragua and I was also able to bring my wife and daughter along on a moment’s notice for a biz trip to NYC. I love this program so much…

  19. MileHunter says:

    @mommypoints and others with experience – Alska flights can’t be booked online with Avios since they are not a oneworld partner, is it possible to cancel Alaska award ticket on BA site? If not, and you have to call, it might not be possible to get the $40 cancellation fee waived.

    • mommypoints says:

      @MilesHunter, I don’t have that specific experience with Alaska to say if you could cancel online or not. Hopefully someone else can weigh in!

  20. I 2nd Jim’s comment. Ive foud great use in the Carrib and some other domestic travel.

  21. ORD-TGU says:

    I am an avios lover, earn them via Chase CC on non bonus spend categories, they do earn at a rate of 1.25X per $. I just redeemed 3 coach awards on AA from ORD-SJD at 20K RT each. Fares were at +$700.

    Will also use them next summer on airberlin on their nonstop ORD-TXL

  22. Stephan says:

    People also forget that you can transfer your BA Avios to Iberia Avios and book flights with them (ie: to MAD, BCN and onwards) with lower surcharges than on BA.

    Also, use the Avios in Europe/Australia for short hops.

  23. Alanea says:

    I love my Avios – use them frequently for RDU – DCA.

  24. Kenny says:

    great post! but i think it’s PriorityAAcess ;-)

  25. Jessica says:

    @mommypoints

    I love my BA Avios too. I am from Dallas but moved to Denver about 18 months ago for work. I was totally homesick last week and called my mom friday night. She was here Saturday morning at 10:30am for 4,500 avois and $2.50 for a flight that was over $200! I’m 28 but sometimes you still need your mom to make everything better!

    I also used Avios to get home when my grandma passed. I had plans to use my Avios for Cabo, Belize, Dublin and Spain but they have been more useful than originally thought. Plus they are pretty easy to accrue.

    • mommypoints says:

      Jessica, totally understand about sometimes just needing to be with family. Sorry to hear about your Grandma, but glad you were able to get back home easily.

  26. CP says:

    MommyPoints, any idea whether I’m able to refund the return leg of a roundtrip flight booked with Avios on AA metal?

  27. gbtrotter says:

    Flying my family of four from Sacramento to Costa Rica in February. Lots of space between MIA and SJO – a little harder through DFW. Started with around 250K Avios. This trip only cut that in half so plenty of Avios left and barely any fees to pay.

  28. Claudia says:

    Hate to sound stupid, but I can’t figure out how to book domestic or Caribbean AA flights using Avios. You mentioned that you started at aa.com, but then did you switch to ba.com? I can’t find a way to change from using aa miles to avios miles on the aa website, and when I put in a domestic flight such as ORD to SEA, ba.com says they don’t flight that route.

    • mommypoints says:

      Claudia, not stupid at all. I check for Saver availability at AA, but you do the actual booking at BA. You could choose to just go straight to BA, but I have found AA’s website to be a bit more reliable in checking for availability than BA’s. Sometimes you have to call if the BA website is being unfriendly.

      • Claudia says:

        OK, here’s what I did. First went to aa.com and found a mileage flight from ORD to SEA on March 18th. Then went to BA and signed in and tried to find a mileage flight on that same date–said nothing was available. What am I doing wrong???

  29. Claudia says:

    Ignore that last comment–I figured it out. Thanks for all your help!!!

  30. marilee says:

    Basically AVios in general is difficult to use and I am going to use my other frequent flyer points over AVIOS and would encourage others to as well. It feels like false advertising. I have tried for two years to get a flight to europe in the spring on a weekend date and it has never happened.

    • mommypoints says:

      Marilee, availability on BA to Europe is generally very good, but the fees can be nasty. In the US, recommend using them to fly partners domestically. The availability then mirrors AA.

  31. [...] her blog also. I didn't get the free checked bag though, with original BAEC #, or my CX MPC Gold http://boardingarea.com/mommyp…u-might-think/ http://boardingarea.com/mommyp…eward-flights/ [...]

  32. iDontBelieveYou says:

    Do you work for Avios? Does a family member work for them?
    Personally, I think your article is utter nonsense. Avios is the most pointless, useless and daylight-thieving ‘loyalty’ scheme around. If you believe it is useful or advantageous in anyway, you are either very naive or just a complete moron.

    • mommypoints says:

      IDon’tBeliveYou, if you know how to use Avios they can be one of the most useful type of points on BA partners. If you use them to fly across the pond you will be hit with massive fees, so use them other ways. Let me know if I can help!

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