Book British Airways Award Flights Like a Pro: Part 1 – Love it or Hate it; An Introduction to British Airways Avios

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I’ve been getting a lot of questions on British Airways Avios, perhaps because of the recent Chase British Airways credit card offer, so here’s a series on how to use Avios miles.  Please comment if you have any questions and I’ll try to answer your question in the comments or in future posts in the series!

Book British Airways Award Flights Like a Pro:


British Airways, like American Airlines, is a member of the oneworld airline alliance.

The oneworld alliance is a group of 12 airlines including:

oneworld together flies to over 750 destinations.  Malaysia Airlines is scheduled to become a oneworld airline soon.

British Airways also has non-oneworld alliance partners such as Alaska Airlines, Aer Lingus, Open Skies etc.

This means that you can use your British Airways miles not only for travel on British Airways, but also on their oneword and non-oneworld partners.

British Airways Avios also has a distance based award chart which makes it a great value to use Avios for short-distance flights, but a bad value (compared to other US frequent flyer programs) to use them for long-distance flights.

So one of the best ways to use Avios points is for short distance flights.  For example, it costs only 4,500 Avios for a flight up to 649 miles and 7,500 Avios for a flight up to 1,149 miles.

However, you have to break your journey up into segments and add up each segment to get the total price of your award.  You can check how many Avios points are needed for each segment by using the British Airways Avios Calculator.

I use the Great Circle Mapper to calculate the distance between airports.

For example, you want to fly from Kansas City to Detroit, which is only 629 miles.  Great, you say, that’s only 4,500 Avios since that is less than 649 miles.

But American Airlines (a British Airways partner airline since British Airways doesn’t fly from 1 US city to another US city) does not fly directly from Kansas City to Detroit, but via Chicago or Dallas.

So you will have to break your flight down into the segments flown:  The first segment from Kansas City to Chicago which is 403 miles and the second segment from Chicago to Detroit which is 235 miles.

Since each of these segments are LESS than 649 miles, you will pay 4,500 Avios for EACH segment or 9,000 Avios miles (4,500 Avios for the 1st segment + 4,5000 Avios for the second segment) for the entire trip.

This is different from, say, American Airlines which charges you a flat rate of 12,500 miles for 1-way travel anywhere in the US.

With Avios, you could pay MORE or LESS than 12,500 miles for 1-way travel within the US.

Is Avios right for you?

British Airways Avios is a very divisive program because folks either love the program or hate it.  For example, see the comments in this post when I first shared the news that the British Airways 100,000 mile credit card was back.

To be clear – British Airways Avios, more than any other miles and points currency – requires YOU to research how to best use them for your travel needs.

Unlike many US mileage programs like American Airlines or United, British Airways has a distance based award chart. What this means is that using Avios for certain flights is a GREAT value, but a TERRIBLE value for other flights.

See Post 2 for a more detailed discussion on the distance-based award chart.

My personal view

I don’t see Avios as a primary program to collect miles in, but I do see them as a great complement (for short distance flights) to my more valuable American Airlines, United, & US Airways miles (which I use mainly for long distance international flights).

As I wrote earlier, “Big Travel with Small Money doesn’t always mean first class award redemptions to exotic new lands and five star hotels.  Big Travel with Small Money also means saving money and traveling more often than you could otherwise do.”

And in the right circumstances, British Airways Avios miles will save you money and let you travel more often.

I personally feel that British Airways Avios is a must have in a mile-and-points collection.  Because it gives you a lot more options – particularly for short-distance flights, flights on American Airlines from the US to South America, flights in business and first class to Europe, and select redemptions on partner airlines.

But I wouldn’t go out of my way to transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points into Avios (I prefer using Chase Ultimate Rewards points on United or Hyatt).  Nor would I credit flights for which I pay for my ticket and earn miles to British Airways instead of American Airlines, since I find American Airlines miles more useful.

But I would consider the limited time Chase credit card offer for 50,000 Avios points after your 1st purchase, or 100,000 Avios points after spending $20,000.  Especially since the previous offer was for 25,000 Avios after 1st purchase, and an extra 25,000 Avios after spending $2,500 within 3 months.

50,000 miles can get you a fair amount of domestic travel on American Airlines or a return ticket in coach from the US to South America without fuel surcharges.

And, as we’ll see later in the series, it could even be worth it for economy class travel on a few routes (even after fuel surcharges).

However, I wouldn’t spend $20,000 to earn the remaining 50,000 miles (unless I was qualifying for the Travel Together companion pass after spending $30,000 within a calendar year).

Again, to be clear, the Chase British Airways credit card is NOT the best credit card deal available (that would be using the 2-browser trick to get 100,000 American Airlines miles or getting the Southwest Companion Pass), nor is this the best Chase credit card.

I’d argue that the Chase Southwest, Sapphire Preferred, Ink Bold, and United Explorer with 50,000 miles/points are much better deals.

But it is a way to quickly get some British Airways Avios points.

Why folks HATE British Airways Avios

1.   High Fuel Surcharges & Taxes.  Like most European and Asian airlines, and UNLIKE most US frequent flyer programs, British Airways charges fuel surcharges on most award tickets.

This means that instead of paying $2.50 for a First Class award ticket on American Airlines from New York to London using American Airline miles, you’ll pay $412.70 if you use British Airways miles for the SAME flight on American Airlines.

British Airways Avios 5
You pay $410.20 more in taxes for the SAME flight if you use Avios instead of American Airlines miles

That’s $410.20 ($412.70 using British Airways miles – $2.50 using American Airlines miles) more for a ticket on the same flight with American Airlines just because you used British Airways miles!

Stay tuned for Part 3 – Taxes and Fees where we look at taxes and fees in more detail and see which routes have high fuel surcharges and which routes do not.

In short, this usually means that it is not a great value to redeem award flights in coach since paying the fuel surcharges is sometimes the same price as buying a regular ticket.  But it could make sense in some cases.

2.   Pay by Segment.   The more segments on your British Airways award trip, the more Avios you will pay.

For example, an award flight on American Airlines in Business Class from Kansas City to Chicago, Chicago to London, & London to Paris will all cost a total of 100,000 miles.  I’d still pay 100,000 miles even if I flew directly from Chicago to Paris on American Airlines.

British Airways charges by segment, so I’d pay more for my trip from Kansas City to Chicago, Chicago to London, and London to Paris than I would if I flew less segments.

This is great for folks who use Avios for direct flights and not so great for those who can’t use Avios for direct flights.

3.   Very Expensive for Long Distance Flights.  British Airways Avios has a distance based award chart, which makes it VERY expensive (both in miles as well as fuel surcharges) for long distance award flights, in particular Trans Pacific flights to Asia, flights to Africa and India from the US.

For example, it costs 105,000 Avios points + taxes and fees for a flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific First Class.

The same flight will cost only 67,500 American Airline miles + taxes.  That’s a difference of 37,500 miles (105,000 British Airways Avios – 67,500 American Airlines miles) just because you used Avios instead of American Airlines miles!

4.   Poor Telephone Customer Service.  British Airways Executive Club has long wait times, limited telephone hours from only 7:00 am to 8:00 pm EST, and customer service agents who aren’t particularly friendly.

However, with the exception of Air Berlin, Alaska Airlines and Aer Lingus, you can book most partner airlines online at British

See my earlier posts on how to find:

  • British Airways award availability for British Airways flights
  • Cathay Pacific Award Availability
  • LAN award availability to South America (coming soon!)
5. Travel Together Companion Pass.  If you spend $30,000 within a calendar year you earn the Travel Together Companion Pass which lets you take a companion for free with any paid or award ticket.

But the pass is valid for flights ONLY ON BRITISH AIRWAYS flights.  NOT on partner airlines.

And you do have to pay the fuel surcharges. 

For example, you’d have to pay ~$400 per award ticket in Business or First Class to London from New York, in addition to 60,000 Avios miles in First Class or 40,000 in Business Class.

Yes, that’s not cheap, but I’d reluctantly pay $800 + 40,000 Avios miles for 2 Business Class awards to London since that is still less than the price of coach travel.  I quite liked my last British Airways First Class flight!

6.   Change Fees.  Unlike United and American Airlines, British Airways charges a $40 fee to change the dates of travel. 7.  Not Able to Hold an Award Ticket.  You can’t put a British Airways award on hold, since they only allow instant ticketing. 8.  Cannot Cancel an Award Flight Within 24 Hours of Departure. You can’t cancel and redeposit the Avios in your account within 24 hours of departure.

There is a wishy-washy exemption clause (clause 15.2) for exceptional circumstances which may get you your points back, but it is at British Airways’ discretion.  You don’t usually win when Airlines exercise discretion!

9.  Domestic First Class costs 3 times Economy.  US Airlines usually have 2 cabins (First & Coach) on domestic flights.  But the First Cabin is actually not really first class, but a slightly better version of coach.  However, you’ll pay 3 times the Avios points to travel in most domestic first class cabins (instead of the usual double price on other US airlines).

Why folks LOVE British Airways Avios

1.  Great For Short Distance Flights.  By far, the best use of British Airways Avios and the main reason why you should have some in your miles and points collection is because British Airways Avios is a GREAT value for short distance flights.

It costs only 4,500 Avios for a flight up to 649 miles.  Compare that to most other airlines which charge you 12,500 for any 1-way award.

Short distance flights are often very expensive on certain routes so using British Airways Avios for short distance flights in the US, South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and Australia could save you money.  We’ll discuss in dept in Part 2 – What Does a Distance Based Award Chart Mean,  Part 3 – Taxes & Fees & Part 12 – The Best Short Distance Awards in the series.

2.   Flights With NO Fuel Surcharges.   The following flights have no fuel surcharges:
  • Flights within North America on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines
  • Flights from the US to South America on American Airlines or LAN
  • Flights departing from Brazil
3.  Flights With LOW Fuel Surcharges.  Certain flights have low fuel surcharges, which we’ll discuss in Part 3 – Taxes & Fees, which make it worthwhile using British Airways Avios for booking those flights.

For example,  you pay only $168.80 + 35,000 Avios to fly from Chicago to Hong Kong in coach on Cathay Pacific.  A regular 1-way flight costs ~$700+, so this isn’t a terribly bad deal since you can save a bit of cash.

British Airways Avios
35,000 Avios + $168.80 for a coach flight from Chicago to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific
4.  Flights to Europe.  As I’ve written before, British Airways has terrific award availability to London.  They fly from 22 US cities (more than ANY other US airline) to London, and it usually is possible to get 4 award seats on many of their flights.

Yes, you’ll pay high fuel surcharges for the flight, but you’ll be able to travel with your family on the same flight.

5.  The Companion Pass.   If you spend $30,000 in a calendar year on the Chase British Airways credit card, you not only earn 37,500 Avios ($30,000 in spending X 1.25 miles per $1 spent), but also get a Travel Together companion pass.

This lets you take a companion on any paid or award flight for ONLY ON BRITISH AIRWAYS FLIGHTS.

For example, you’d have to pay ~$400 per award ticket in Business or First Class to London from New York, in addition to 60,000 Avios miles in First Class or 40,000 in Business Class.

Yes, that’s not cheap, but it is still less than the price of coach travel.

6.  Using Miles to Upgrade.  Using British Airways Avios to upgrade a paid World Traveler Plus (Premium Economy) seat could make more sense in the right circumstance.  That’s because you’d save cash AND you’ll also earn miles and elite status points for the flight in the upgraded class of service.

Stay tuned for more in Part 5 – Using Miles to Upgrade Paid Tickets in the series.

7.  Car Rentals and Hotels.   British Airways Avios points can be used not only for flights but also for hotels and car rentals.

If you’ve earned your Avios points from a credit card sign up bonus or a transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards, you could use your points for car rentals and hotel stays to save spending cash.

You get a value of about 0.5 to 0.80 cents per Avios point when used for car rentals and hotels.  More on this in Part4 – What Else Can I do with Avios Points? of the series.

For example,  a 2 day rental in Toledo, Ohio costs $62 on Hotwire.

British Airways Avios 2
Car Rental on Hotwire for $62

The same rental costs 8,400 Avios points, so you’re getting a value of 0.74 cents per Avios (6,200 cents / 8,400 Avios).

British Airways Avios 3
8,400 Avios for the same $62 Car Rental
8.   No late booking fee and lower cancellation fees.  British Airways does not charge extra fees for booking a ticket within 3 weeks of departure like many other airlines do.  For example, American Airlines charges a $75 fee for booking an award ticket within 3 weeks of departure.

British Airways also charges a $40 fee (versus $150 at most other US airlines) to cancel and redeposit the Avios points in your account.

9.   Household accounts.  You can pool your points together within a household.  However, you can only redeem points for folks within your household account.  More in Part 7 – Household Accounts. Bottom Line:  British Airways Avios are harder to use than most other airline miles.  But they are a valuable addition to any serious miles and points collection! Do you love or hate British Airways Avios? Share it in the comments!

Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)

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