Book British Airways Award Flights Like a Pro: Part 2 – What Does a Distance Based Award Chart Mean?

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Update: Beginning February 2, 2016, British Airways will no longer offer 1-way, short-haul (under 650 miles) coach award tickets on partner airlines in North America for 4,500 British Airways Avios points.  Instead these flights will cost 7,500 British Airways Avios points.

I get a lot of questions on British Airways Avios points, and started a series on how to use British Airways Avios points a long time ago and finally finished writing it.

British Airways Avios points are 1 of my favorite airline points because they’re so flexible.

British Airways Avios Part 2 What Does A Distance Based Award Chart Mean

British Airways Avios Points Are Very Flexible

Book British Airways Award Flights Like a Pro:

British Airways Avios points is a distance-based program, where the price of an award ticket depends on the length of each flight in your itinerary.  Usually, other airlines (including most US airlines) have region-based programs, which charge for award tickets based on the regions regions of the origin and destination cities.

How Do Distance-Based and Region-Based Programs Compare?

For example, American Airlines has a region-based program while British Airways Avios is a distance-based program.  Both airlines are members of the oneworld alliance.

Some trips are better booked with American Airlines miles, like international Business Class or First Class flights with connections.  But you get a better deal using British Airways Avios points on nonstop, domestic, coach flights.

1.   Bangkok to San Francisco on Cathay Pacific

You would use 67,500 American Airlines miles for a 1-way Business Class award ticket from Bangkok, Thailand, to Hong Kong, China, on Cathay Pacific and a 1-way First Class award ticket from Hong Kong to San Francisco on Cathay Pacific.

Because that’s the price for a First Class ticket from Asia Zone 2 (Bangkok) to North America (San Francisco).

British Airways Avios Part 2 What Does A Distance Based Award Chart Mean

You’ll Pay 67,500 American Airlines Miles Flying From Bangkok to San Francisco

However, British Airways charges a separate price for each flight in your itinerary.  So the same flights would cost you 120,000 British Airways Avios points!

  • 15,000 British Airways Avios points from Bangkok, Thailand, to Hong Kong, China, in Business Class
  • 105,000 British Airways Avios points from Hong Kong, China, to San Francisco in First Class
British Airways Avios Part 2 What Does A Distance Based Award Chart Mean

Flying From Bangkok to San Francisco Costs 120,000 British Airways Avios Points!

So you would save 52,500 miles (120,000 British Airways Avios points – 67,500 American Airlines miles) using American Airlines miles.

However, British Airways Avios are great for short-haul flights that are otherwise expensive with cash.

2.   New York to Toronto on American Airlines

Because British Airways Avios is a distance-based program, short flights are priced much cheaper than in region-based programs.  So any flight that is less than 650 flown miles costs only 4,500 British Airways Avios points 1-way!

For example, New York to Toronto is a short flight (357 miles).  A round-trip ticket for the weekend of December 20, 2014, to December 22, 2014, on American Airlines would cost ~$274.

British Airways Avios Part 2 What Does A Distance Based Award Chart Mean

You’ll Pay ~$274 for a Round-Trip Ticket From New York and Toronto

Or you could pay 25,000 American Airlines miles and ~$59 in taxes.  But this means you’re paying 25,000 American Airlines miles for ~$214 of the fare, which works out to ~0.86 cents per mile (~$214 fare / 25,000 American Airlines miles).  That’s not a very good value!

British Airways Avios Part 2 What Does A Distance Based Award Chart Mean

25,000 American Airlines Miles Plus ~$59 for the Same Ticket

However, you would only pay 9,000 British Airways Avios points + $56 in taxes for the same flight!  I’d rather pay 9,000 British Airways Avios points instead of 25,000 American Airlines miles!

British Airways Avios Part 2 What Does A Distance Based Award Chart Mean

Or You Could Pay 9,000 British Airways Avios Points Plus $56

In this case, using Avios points is a much better deal!

Are There Other Benefits to Using British Airways Avios Points?

1.   Unlimited Free Stopovers

With British Airways Avios points, you pay for flight as if they were separate trips.

For example, if you book an award ticket from Washington, DC, to Tampa, with a connection in Miami, you would pay 12,000 British Airways Avios points:

  • 7,500 British Airways Avios points for the Washington, DC to Miami flight
  • 4,500 British Airways Avios points for the Miami to Tampa flight

But, this means you can have a free stopover in Miami!  Most airlines require you to connect to your next domestic flight within 4 hours.

But British Airways allows you to have unlimited free stopovers in your connecting cities, because you are paying for the flights separately.  Although, you may have to pay a small amount of extra taxes.

British Airways Avios Part 2 What Does A Distance Based Award Chart Mean

You Get Free Domestic Stopovers When You Book Award Flights With British Airways Avios Points

2.   You Can Mix Cabin Classes

Also, if you need to mix First Class and coach on the same itinerary, you only pay for the class you use on each flight.

Let’s say you want to book a 1-way award ticket from Tulsa to Chicago.  But the only available award seats from Tulsa to Dallas are in First Class, and from Dallas to Chicago are in coach on American Airlines.

If you used American Airlines miles, you would pay the First Class price since 1 flight is in First Class.  So you would pay 25,000 American Airlines miles 1-way!

But with British Airways Avios points, you’d pay 21,000 British Airways Avios points:

  • 13,500 British Airways Avios points for First Class from Tulsa to Dallas
  • 7,500 British Airways Avios points for coach from Dallas to Chicago

How Many British Airways Avios Points Do You Need?

 British Airways Avios points required for each flight
Travel distanceCoach Premium EconomyBusiness ClassFirst Class
0 to 649 miles4,5006,7509,00013,500
650 to 1,149 miles 7,50011,25015,00022,500
1,150 to 1,999 miles10,00015,00020,00030,000
2,000 to 2,999 miles12,50018,75025,00037,500
3,000 to 3,999 miles20,00030,00040,00060,000
4,000 to 5,499 miles25,00037,50050,00075,000
5,500 to 6,499 miles30,00045,00060,00090,000
6,500 to 6,999 miles35,00052,50070,000105,000
7,000+ miles50,00075,000100,000150,000

In general, the base price for each flight is based on a coach ticket.  The prices go up as follows:

  • Premium Economy (not offered on most airlines):  1.5X the price of coach
  • Business Class:  2X the price of coach
  • First Class:  3X the price of coach

You have to pay the British Airways Avios points rate for each flight separately.

Unfortunately, you have to pay 3X the price of coach when flying domestic American Airlines First Class, US Airways First Class, and Alaska Airlines First Class (which are all more like Business Class).

Although, there are 2 major exceptions:

  • American Airlines flights between New York (JFK) and Los Angeles or San Francisco have a Business Class cabin, which is only 2X the price of coach
  • Some American Airlines flights from Miami to Los Angeles also have a Business Class

Also, international flights on American Airlines (including flights to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean) have Business Class, so you only pay 2X the price of coach.

Bottom Line

British Airways Avios points is a distance-based program, which means you can get short-haul tickets for relatively few points!

You’ll pay 4,500 British Airways Avios points 1-way in coach for flights under 650 miles.  And you get unlimited free domestic stopovers.  If you used miles from a US based airline, like American Airlines, you’d pay 12,500 American Airlines miles 1-way.  And you don’t get a free stopover.

But it’s usually better to use region-based programs, like American Airlines, for longer flights, connecting flights, or international award tickets in Business Class or First Class.  That’s because you’ll pay a flat rate for the entire flight regardless of the distance flown.  If you used British Airways Avios points, you’d pay for each flight separately, and for long-haul flights that can get quite expensive!

Where have you gone with your British Airways Avios points?

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5 responses to “Book British Airways Award Flights Like a Pro: Part 2 – What Does a Distance Based Award Chart Mean?

  1. I heard about how great British’s distance base program, but unfortunately, I have never suseccesful book tickets with them. I’m living in Tampa, FL and searching for tickets to Houston, Texas. I even changed segment, date, time, seats, and so on but never see any award seat available.

    Do you have any experience like this? Thanks

  2. I used Avios last year to fly to Hawaii from LAX. 25K miles for ~500 round trip, using my Avios family account to pay for it.

  3. hi,
    This is a great series. I just opened a card giving me 50,000 avios points. Am looking to travel in late July to our adoption agency from NY to Fort Worth then to Miami and then from Tampa back to NY. Is there anything special I should try and do when booking the award? This is the first time I will be booking an award on any airline. Thanks for any help.

  4. I have the same trouble with Avios. I can never find availability on any route that I search. I try different cities, dates, etc. and all I get is “no seats available” on their website. Sometimes I feel like Avios is just some big scam.

  5. Flying from Miami to either Cancun, Grand Cayman or Montego Bay is 4500 Avios each way. These flights are usually anywhere from $280-$450 dollars so they represent a great value for 9000 Avios roundtrip. The same flight with AA would run 17.5k miles each way.

    PLUS if you are traveling with an infant…. BA will only charge you 10% of the mileage where American charges you 100% of the miles.

    My last trip to the Cayman Islands with my wife and 1yr old son was 18,900 Avios. Same would have been 105,000 miles on AA!