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?
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