Helpful Tip When Using British Airways Avios for Flights

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I’ve written many times about using British Airways Avios to book flights within North America on BA partners American Airlines and Alaska.  I typically avoid using the points to actually fly on British Airways due to the fees required to do so (if you want to fly across the pond), but they are phenomenal for some redemptions closer to home.

I have talked about the unique benefits of booking a reward flight using Avios here.  Some of those unique benefits include:

• No close-in booking fees
• No online cancellation fee  (off-label benefit) – just lose the taxes that you paid for the flight which is often $5 – $10 for domestic flights.
• Just a $40 change fee – which is much lower than many other airlines (of course, you could potentially just cancel and rebook for even less)
• Potentially free checked bag, priority access in the airport, and priority boarding on American Airlines (this is not a published benefit, but many still report these perks working, though the free checked bag seems to be happening less frequently)

I have talked about my favorite uses of Avios here My favorite uses include the West Coast to Hawaii for 25,000 points round trip, Boston to Dublin for 25,000 points round trip, the Caribbean, and short haul flights in general for as little as 4,500 points each way.

Here is a post on how to use Avios to book an American Airlines flight.

And of course I have a post on how to easily rack up some Avios pointsAlso remember the current 35% transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards-earning cards like The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card® from American Express OPEN or Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card (transfer bonus runs through June 7th).

However, there is one fairly major tip when using Avios that I haven’t given much attention to before.  That tip is to book each direction of your trip independently.  For example, if you want to use your points to fly to from Houston to New York round trip on American Airlines, then book the Houston to New York segment on one ticket, and then book the New York to Houston segment separately on a different ticket.  The reason is you are going to be in a better position if you need to change the return portion of the trip later on.

A clue to this issue is found in section 14.1 in their Executive Club Rules that says: “All permitted changes are subject to capacity limitations and may not be made after the time 24 hours prior to the scheduled departure of the first flight in the Reward travel itinerary.”  If you continue reading the rules you will find that if a cancellation is made more than 24 hours prior to the scheduled departure of the first flight in the reward itinerary the Avios points charged for the reward will be re-credited to the member’s account.  Avios will not be refunded for partially flown bookings.  If you cancel within 24 hours you will not get your points back unless you are prevented by traveling due to an “event beyond your control” and you have informed British Airways promptly, provided evidence of the event if requested to do so, and paid the applicable fee specified on

I learned some of this the hard way when I used some Avios to fly my aunt to help her daughter after a major fire at the family’s home.  We booked her on American Airlines using Avios.  Originally she was going to be there for about ten days or so, but after getting there she realized she needed to stay longer to aid them, as they were going to be moving into a rental house during that time.  I had booked her on a round trip yet since the outbound was flown, I was unable to change the return.  I was on vacation in London at the time, so admittedly I didn’t try for very long to get the flight changed, but what I did try online and via a call to British Airways didn’t work.  I couldn’t cancel and get the points back, and I couldn’t change the flights since the first flight in the itinerary had been flown.

Instead I just cancelled her return ticket and re-booked a one-way return for a new date so she could stay and help longer.  I got the $5.00 in taxes back from British Airways for the cancelled return, but the Avios used for the return were never to be seen again.  However, if I had booked her on separate tickets for the outbound and return, I could have simply cancelled the return as long as it was at least 24 hours before departure, gotten my Avios back (but not the $5.00),  and then just re-booked for the desired date.  Even if they had let me change the return flight for $40, I still would have been further ahead by booking each direction of the trip individually.

It was one of those things I just didn’t think about until it happened to me.  Luckily my loss was pretty minor since Avios are relatively easy to come by, but now you can avoid making the same mistake I did!


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  1. That rule does not apply now, you can – at least for flights on BA metal – change the return once you have flown the outbound, as long as the return is still over 24 hours away.

    Needs a phone call though, and not sure if it applies to partners.

  2. PS. Whilst booking 2 one ways would get around this, you often find on BA that the fuel surcharges on long haul Avios redemptions are a lot higher when booked as 2 one ways than they are for a return.

  3. Raffles, thanks for the info. Yeah this post is geared more toward using partners, but you would think that rule might be consistent…though maybe not. I know I wasn’t able to do it in Feb, but only called in once and tried online. I don’t really recommend redeeming Avios for long haul on BA in most cases due to the crazy fuel surcharges, but def makes sense to compare prices RT vs OW if you do decide to do that. Thanks again!

  4. If you are flying in the winter it is good to book as a RT to protect both flights in case of a travel waiver.

  5. Another great post – thanks!

    I redeemed avios for a NYC to Vancouver flight on Cathay and was wondering to what extent does my AA status apply on Avios redemption. Do I still get priority boarding or access to preferred seats?

  6. good find, if I understand this correctly the advantage comes when a change is made on the return.Also the taxes are not always the same on the out bound and in bound. Example tpa/sxm 5.00 sxm/tpa 63.00

  7. gomike, always weigh the pros and cons, but outside 24 hours you can cancel the flight yourself and only lose the taxes, so again just weigh the pros/cons for your situation.
    Lina, (update) propoganda is right – your AA status itself isn’t the kicker, but the equivalent that gives you in OneWorld would be relevant. Sorry for the confusion and hope that helps!
    SC Parent, glad it helped!
    bluecat, good question. I book AA flights online most of the time, so in that case it wouldn’t matter. If you are booking a flight or partner you have to call in for it is possible. I have also been successful getting out of the phone fee by explaining the website wasn’t working, but that is YMMV.
    Jim, yes the advantage is primarily the return (though if something happened last minute to the outbound then at least you are only out half the number of miles).

  8. Based on this their is no reason to book a round trip, you will only help yourself by booking one ways. Also, after I book I send AA a SM to delete my BA# and add my AA# then my gold ststus shows up and lets me pick exit rows seat.

  9. You can absolutely use your AA status on any oneworld flights booked with Avios. Just change your FF# from BAEC to AAdvantage after you ticket the Avios reservation online using the PNR to pull up the itinerary on or No need to call or message AAdvantage.

  10. Jim, I think there are probably some cases where RT makes sense, but often I think one-ways will be the way to go. I use to get the AA PNR then add to your AA account.
    Propoganda, absolutely right. I use checkmytrip, but all the same premise. Thanks for weighing in!

  11. MP, just signed up for Avios account, eyeballing a transfer bonus from the new Gold Amex once those rewards come in, thanks for the tip!
    But, during the sign up, it asked for “promotional code”. It’s too late for me, but do you know of an Avios promo code that would benefit the referrer or the new Avios member?

    Also, got my tshirt, thank you! Putting it in my bag for an upcoming trip 🙂

  12. Hi MP, I booked (redeemed miles) two Avios tickets for family members on date 5/31/13. They could not make the trip; thus, I cancelled the booking on-line last Saturday 5/25/13. I got the “currently processing the refund” email from BA that morning, but I had not seen the miles re-deposit back to my account. May I ask you how long does it take BA to process? Should I call the BA? Thanks.

    • Nguyen, mine was very quick if not instant. However, I did read there were some BA refund processing problems recently. I would give them a call.
      Simona, I don’t know of one. Maybe someone else does! Glad you got your shirt. 😉

  13. Sorry if i am off the topic here. but is the Chase BA card churnable? If so, how far between the cancelling and reapplying? Thanks!

  14. I recently used Avios for west coast to Hawaii. I am also a card holder of the AA Citi card which receives priority boarding, free checked bags, etc.

    How can I be assured I will receive this perks? The booking was made via, but the flight is AA metal.

    I called AA and they confirmed they see I am a citi card holder on my reservation. Am I good to go with the perks on the reservation?

    • Dave, those benefits are attached to your AA profile and if your AA number is now on the rez it should work. Nothing is 100%, but it should.

  15. The free baggage may work because you have an AA branded CITI card..

    For 99% of the an AA flight using Avios may get you priority access, but definitely NOT free baggage unless you have OneWorld status or hold AA credit card in your name and are flying.

  16. Hi MP! Been following your blog for awhile now, and you have a great info and a great personality!:) Trying to figure this Avios thing out. I am trying to get back from Kauai to SAN next spring break. I don’t see any availability on AA, but on Alaska there are flights showing for the 27,500 level. I notice that on the Alaska site, the flights that fly on AA are only 22k. If I call BA and try to book the flights that are on Alaska for 27.5 k will they be available for the 12,500? I really hope you say yes!! I see a lot of talk about looking for flights on AA, but wondering about flights I see on Alaska directly. Thank you!

  17. Grant:

    Open up a new non-household BA account;-)
    I am about to do it myself to pay my web designer with…Avios trips. I am going to use my office address to avoid BA tracking duplication issues.

  18. Cole, I would stick to using the AA site. Look for AA or AS flights at the MileSaver Off-peak at 17.5k level or MilesSaver at 22.5K. Don’t know when your spring break is, but I see availability on March 12, March 20, and March 23 from LIH-SAN. However, only 3/12 is a direct on AS so the rest will cost more miles to route through LAX. So, yes it can be done for 12.5K Avios, but availability on that route for that time frame is currently pretty spotty. Thanks for the nice remarks. 😉
    TBB/Grant, that is why I don’t use household accounts myself. I book for too many other relatives. The Points Guy has a good post on household accounts

  19. Is it less than optimal to add your FF number either at the airport or after the flight to get (post-flight) credited with the miles? I’m new at this — and the whole change your FF number on your res seems pretty complicated… Or is there a benefit to having in on the res before the flight?

  20. Canceling a trip entirely costs twice as much if you booked it as one-ways. Nevertheless I have always booked my BA awards as one-ways, even before Avios.

    • nsx, I’ve only every just lost the taxes (usually about $5 for domestic trips) when cancelling tickets online before 24 hours, so it would still cost the same the way the process currently works.

  21. Thanks for your response! I am looking for mid April, and I have four kids so I need six tickets, but there are a few days. I may have to pay for some tickets (gasp!!) Keep all the great info coming!

  22. My award booking with Avios has me going BA outbound from LAX to Hawaii on AA metal. My return flight I used AA miles, on Hawaiin air.

    I am a citi AA card holder, as is my wife. We will both be traveling. Our AAdvantage account numbers are on both reservations.

    We will be traveling with infant in lap, so I’m really hoping to get the baggage benefit of the Citi card on each flight….even though neither flight is on AA metal.


  23. Is canceling Avios awards online outside 24hrs really free for everyone? I thought that’s only the case for Gold members…

    • Tom, if you can cancel online you just lose the taxes you paid. This works for anyone, but can always be changed. Has worked for a while now.

  24. Thank you so much for sharing such an informative stuff on British Airways Avios for Flights. I will look forward to your tip from now onwards whenever i will book a airline flight ticket from British Airways Avios. Keep it up

  25. I am unable to find any availability to book 4 tickets to Honolulu from Atlanta. I am using BA site – I don’t see any availability from July 2013 to july 2014. I have booked tickets to Dallas on same site recently. Please help me. My friend booked for June 6 months back using the same process. I am wondering if I am doing something wrong or there is no availability. Thanks, Ken

    • Ken, look for saver on AA then search segment by segment on BA. Alaska won’t show on BA. Have to call in for that.

  26. If you cancel a ticket booked with Avios online, how long until the Avios are re-deposited into your account?

  27. oh no…i just booked 5 one-way tix on AA using avios using our household account. dates are not firm yet, but wanted to grab what i can right now. however, when i test it out to cancel…it says that it cannot process the refund online. is it b/c i booked using our household account? i hope that in case i do need to cancel (over the phone) and rebook…i hope i’m only out the $2.5 per ticket. can anyone chime in on their experience on having to call in to cancel their household account booking? thanks!

  28. Let me just say what a huge con BA avios are!! I have done the exercise many different ways and no matter how you look at them they are the biggest con!
    I looked at booking flights to Dubai, the first thing I did was log in through my BA account and I currently have in excess of 90 000 avios. This what they came back with: for 4 people 50 000 avios and £1895.00. I then went on and tried to book the exact same flights without logging in to my account in other words not using any of my air miles and they came back with a total of £1650.00!!!! Why on earth then would I want to use air miles and pay more!!!! It is the biggest sham, we especially got a credit card affiliated with BA and it has been a huge con!!

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