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Brace yourselves, British Airways is making changes to their award chart effective April 28, 2015, and it is largely bad news. They also made changes to earning rates, though I’m not going to focus on that as much since most of us don’t actually earn our Avios by flying British Airways or their partners. Here in the US, many of us earn them by using co-branded credit cards and transferring in via Membership Rewards and Ultimate Rewards.
Unlike the last time British Airways had an award chart change, they aren’t overhauling the way the entire chart works. They are keeping a distance based chart (though they do use the term zones to describe distance ranges, so don’t get confused). Instead they are tweaking a few rules, adding some variable rates for British Airways and Iberia operated award flights, and making premium long-haul seats pricier regardless of carrier.
British Airways Introducing “Off Peak” Rates for Award Flights on British Airways:
For British Airways operated flights, they are introducing “off-peak” awards depending on the time of the year, the cabin and zone. They say that this means for 2/3 of the year, you will need fewer Avios to fly on economy award flights operated by British Airways. However, if you like to fly in business or first class using your Avios, you will have to spend more Avios, even if you are flying on an off-peak time over what the current rates are now.
British Airways Premium Cabin Awards Getting Pricier:
In business class, you will pay an average of 25% more Avios for travel during off-peak periods and an average 50% more for travel during peak periods. In First Class, you will pay an average 13% more Avios for travel during our off-peak periods and an average 33% more for travel during peak periods.
For example, if you wanted to fly from Houston – London in British Airways business class today it would cost you 50,000 Avios one-way + nasty fuel surcharges. Effective April 28th, it will cost you 75,000 Avios + nasty fuel surcharges (unless it was an off-peak rate, and then it would be 62,500 Avios). First class (like what we booked here) would go from 75,000 to 100,000 Avios + fuel surcharges (unless it was an off-peak date, and then it would be 85,000 Avios).
More British Airways Award Seats Available:
In theory, these changes mean that (at least for this year), there will be a minimum of two business class and four economy award seats available on all British Airways flights that are offered for sale from 355 days before departure up until 45 days before departure. Who knows if that will continue beyond this year, but it may help those who have had trouble finding the British Airways operated award availability they want, albeit at higher prices than before.
Changes to Partner Award Chart:
Partner airlines (other than Iberia) will not benefit from the “off-peak” reduced mileage awards, and instead will still be charged one constant Avios rate around the year. The good news is that the economy prices remained unchanged. This means you can still fly on partners American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, etc starting at 4,500 Avios each way, which is great news.
The bad news is that where business class used to be 2x economy and first class used to be 3x economy, those rates will increase starting with the “Zone 4” flights, which means flights 2,001 miles in distance or longer. Starting with routes of that length or longer, business class is going to be 3x the coach price and first class is 4x the coach price. So, where you can currently fly from Boston – Dublin on partner Aer Lingus for just 25,000 Avios one-way in business class, that rate will increase to 37,500 Avios (a 50% increase). Ouch. Zone 5 flights such as Chicago – Dublin on Aer Lingus will go from 40,000 Avios in business class to 60,000 Avios in business class.
Eliminating “free UK” flight for European Connections Only:
British Airways has a somewhat little known feature that your connecting (or feeder) flight in the UK is free. In other words, if you fly from Belfast – London – Paris, you are only charged for the London – Paris segment. This is going away for flights connecting on to Europe effective April 28th, but will remain for longer haul trips, including to/from North America. So, you can still fly from Houston – London – Belfast/Manchester/Glasgow/Edinburgh/etc and just pay the Avios for the Houston – London segment. You can then still have your stopover in London for however long, and then continue on to the next UK destination without spending additional Avios for that flight.
For those of us who earn our Avios via credit cards and use them primarily to fly partners, this is bad, but not overly horrible. However, there are some real losses, including Aer Lingus business class flights across the pond jumping by 50%, though with the talks that British Airways may be acquiring Aer Lingus, the value of that award without big fuel surcharges may have been short for this world anyway. I think those who occasionally use the British Airways “Travel Together” ticket you can earn from the Chase British Airways card where you don’t pay Avios for the second traveler, will also find these changes to be annoying as they will mean that certificate is now pricier to use in Avios, and you still the same nasty rate with fuel surcharges.
You can make any bookings at the current rates for future travel through April 27th, then on April 28th the new rates will kick in for all future bookings. You will not get a refund for bookings made prior to April 28th in the event the route will get cheaper on Avios, though you could choose to cancel and rebook if that was in your best interest and the availability is still there.
If you have ever wanted to fly from Boston – Ireland for just 25,000 Avios in business class, you have three months to make your bookings.
How do these upcoming changes impact your future award travel plans? If you want to see others’ reactions, you can follow along with the conversation on Flyertalk here.