9 Fun Ways To Use British Airways Avios

Filed Under: British Airways, Chase
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British Airways often gets a bad rap in the miles and points community because of the steep surcharges they slap onto award tickets. The Air Passenger Duty (APD) fee on flights out of the U.K. really hikes up the cash cost of awards.

Not to beat a dead horse, but British Airways’ distance-based award chart doesn’t offer competitive redemption options in many cases, which only exacerbates the issue. However, there are some fun sweet spots in the award chart you won’t want to miss.

Great ways to use British Airways Avios

As a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and the soon-to-be-extinct SPG program, you won’t have any trouble getting your hands on Avios when you need them. Chase also issues the British Airways Visa Signature® Card.

With this in mind, I wanted to share some great ways to use your Avios. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it should get you thinking about how Avios can help you book your next trip or expand it to include more destinations.

Fly Qantas from Melbourne to Perth (and other Australian routes)

Since I’m writing this from Australia, let’s start with a fun Qantas option. You can book a one-way business class award on Qantas from Melbourne (MEL) to Perth (PER) for 20,000 Avios—10,000 for economy class.

While this flight is listed at just over 4 hours, Qantas operates both the Airbus A330 and Boeing 787-9 on the route. Some flights are operated by 737s, so make sure you check before you book, especially if you’re booking business class. Why sit in a reclining seat when you can get a lie-flat?!

Qantas-A330-business

Your Avios can also come in handy when booking flights between Brisbane (BNE), MEL and Sydney (SYD). A one-way economy flight between SYD and either BNE or MEL will only cost 4,500 Avios while business class is 9,000 Avios.

If you’re like me and find it amusing when you can get a lie-flat seat on short-haul flights, then you’ll enjoy booking business class between SYD and MEL on an A330.

Fifth-freedom routes on Qatar Airways

Sticking with the lie-flat short-haul theme, Qatar Airways has three fifth freedom routes that could be a fun way to use your Avios:

  • Bangkok (BKK) to Hanoi (HAN)
  • Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) to Phnom Penh (PNH)
  • São Paulo (GRU) to Buenos Aires (EZE)

The SGN-PNH flight is less than an hour and BKK-HAN is less than 2 hours. With that in mind, the taxes/fees might dissuade you from booking a business class award. However, you only need 9,000 Avios for a one-way business class award and 4,500 for economy class.

Qatar-Airways-Economy

Personally, I’d go for GRU-EZE business class for 15,000 Avios as it’s a little under 3 hours with very reasonable taxes/fees. If you’re deciding which direction to book between GRU and EZE, keep in mind that if EZE is your origin the taxes/fees will be very steep.

Fly around Asia on Cathay Pacific

With Avios, you can book both economy and business class awards on Cathay Pacific throughout the region at reasonable rates. Hong Kong is a great city in its own right but it also provides a bunch of non-stop flights that make it the perfect jumping off point.

Cathay Pacific A350 Business Class

Many awards from HKG will only require 4,500, 7,500, 10,000 or 12,500 Avios for a one-way economy award. Business class awards for the first three award tiers require double the Avios: 9,000, 15,000 and 20,000, respectively. After that, the award chart jumps to 37,500, unfortunately.

Last fall, I took advantage of the Amex Membership Rewards 40% transfer bonus to book a round-trip Cathay Pacific business class award to Seoul (ICN). At the time, you could transfer as few as 250 Membership Rewards to your British Airways account so I transferred 28,500 points — I already had a couple hundred Avios in my account at the time.

Fly around Japan on JAL

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that I need to spend a couple weeks in Japan and flying around the country on Japan Airlines is as good of a way as any to explore.

With economy awards at 4,500 Avios (and 7,500 Avios), you’ll have little trouble visiting Tokyo, Kyoto (via Osaka), Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Sapporo and more.

Something I find really cool is that some domestic awards in Japan cost exactly $0 in taxes and fees. That’s right, a truly cash-free ticket. For example, you can book a one-way award from Osaka (KIX) to Sapporo (CTS) for 7,500 Avios.

JAL Osaka to Sapporo

I haven’t booked this particular award, but it seems British Airways will still ask for your credit card information and fail to process the $0 payment. As a workaround, people have made a small donation before reaching the payment page. Oh well, a dollar to book still makes me happy.

Once you’ve finished exploring Japan, you can fly from Tokyo to Seoul for only 7,500 Avios or Busan for only 4,500 Avios.

Use off-peak awards to fly Aer Lingus to Ireland

Now that Aer Lingus is part of the Avios program, you can book at off-peak award rates and get some great value when flying from the east coast or Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Ireland — both Dublin (DUB) and Shannon (SNN).

For 13,000 Avios you can book a one-way economy award during off-peak dates from ORD, Boston (BOS), Newark (EWR), New York (JFK), Washington Dulles (IAD). You can even book from Hartford (BDL) and Toronto (YYZ).

For those who want to fly Aer Lingus business class, you’re looking at a respectable 50,000 Avios.

Aer Lingus Business Class A330

Other parts of the country aren’t left out either. While a one-way award from Los Angeles (LAX), Miami (MIA), Orlando (MCO) or San Francisco (SFO) will cost more, it’s still only 16,250 Avios. A business class award will cost 62,500 Avios.

If you want to fly to SNN, you’ll need to fly out of BOS or JFK to get a non-stop.

Move your Avios to Iberia to book cheap awards to Spain

While Aer Lingus and Iberia are also part of the Avios program, British Airways might be the one that most often comes to mind. If you’re someone with a lot Avios with British Airways, don’t forget that you can move your Avios to Iberia to get some great award rates.

Like British Airways, Iberia has both peak and off-peak award rates so you’ll want to shoot for off-peak dates to really squeeze out the most value for your Avios.

Iberia Business Class

With Iberia Avios, you can book a one-way business class award on Iberia to Madrid (MAD) from BOS, JFK or ORD for 34,000 Avios and very reasonable taxes and fees. To make this an even better deal, take advantage of the occasional award sale offered by Iberia. Recently, you could book this same award for only 25,500 Avios.

To combine Avios, you will need to have had each account open for at least 90 days. For a complete rundown on how to move Avios between British Airways and Iberia (or Aer Lingus), check out the guide Tiffany put together.

British Airways Travel Together Ticket

For those with the British Airways Visa Signature® Card, don’t forget that you can earn a Travel Together Ticket when you spend $30,000 on the car during a calendar year.

While that’s a good chunk of spend, you can get some really good value out of it, especially if you’re already working the minimum spend for a big sign-up bonus.

British Airways 787 First Class

The biggest downsides to the Travel Together Ticket are that you are still responsible for the taxes and fees for BOTH tickets and you must start your journey in the U.S — if only we could ditch the surcharges by starting in Hong Kong!

If you really want to squeeze out all the value possible, here are a few things you can do.

First, book a first class award. For better or worse, the taxes and fees you’ll pay on a first class award will be the same as a business class award.

Second, don’t fly to London. If you’re flying out of London, you’re going to get hit with the Air Passenger Duty (APD) fee. Save yourself a couple hundred bucks and just connect to somewhere else.

Third, fly from the west coast to maximize your time in first class — assuming you enjoy long flights.

Following these guidelines, you could book a first class award on British Airways from LAX to DUB for 200,000 Avios plus ~$2,200 for 2 people. Not the cheapest award you’ll ever book, but 100,000 Avios and ~$1,100 per person isn’t bad for first class, especially when you considered how easy it is to earn Avios.

Upgrade a premium economy ticket on British Airways

It’s not often that I think upgrading cash tickets is a good idea but, occasionally, it might make sense to upgrade a premium economy ticket on British Airways to business class.

British Airways Business Class 777

Yes, I know British Airways’ business class product gets ripped by just about everyone, but a lie-flat seat to help you sleep might be worth it. If you find a good premium economy fare between the U.S. and Europe, it might make sense to book with cash then upgrade — just look for award space in business class to see if it’s possible.

It might even be worth booking with points through the Chase travel portal or Amex Travel if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve® or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express to get 1.5 or 1.54 cents per point, respectively.

To calculate the number of Avios required to upgrade, just subtract the premium economy award price from the business class award price. Remember, the difference can vary between peak and off-peak award prices. The difference in taxes and fees shouldn’t be too much.

West Coast to Hawaii on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines

Using Avios has long been a popular way to book economy award flights from the west coast to Hawaii.

At just 12,500 Avios for a one-way award, it’s easily the best option if you want to fly either American Airlines or Alaska Airlines.

Watch out for steep taxes and fees

As you’ve seen with some examples above, taxes and fees can be rough. Make sure you keep an eye on the taxes and fees as your cash cost could wreck what looks like a solid award option.

I ran into this issue with a round-trip booking between Singapore (SIN) and Kuala Lumpur (KUL) on Oneworld partner Malaysia Airlines.

In fact, when I booked my flights, a cash ticket was cheaper than the taxes and fees on an Avios award. This is still an issue on this particular award as you can see in the image below:

Malaysia Airlines Avios Cash Comparison

When you account for the conversion rate, a cash ticket is less than $100 while the taxes and fees on an Avios award are over $120.

Bottom line

Look, I know the taxes and fees put a real damper on many British Airways Avios awards. That being said, there are a number of ways to extract some great value from the program. Whether it’s booking short-haul flights or a first class award with the British Airways Travel Together Ticket, there’s a lot to work with.

With multiple transfer partners and a co-branded card of its own (particularly with the current bonus on the British Airways Visa Signature® Card), don’t sleep on British Airways Avios. We’ve only just scratched the surface of the many fun redemption options that can be booked with this distance-based award chart.

Other ways to earn Avios

What are some of your favorite Avios awards?

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Comments
  1. One of the “best value” tickets you’ll find with Iberia Avios is the Puente Aéreo between MAD and BCN (and viceversa). You’ll be able to get a one-year open date ticket for just 4.500 Avios (Economy) and use it whenever you need it. If you have to fly between these two cities this is the best option even if you know the exact flight you want to fly.

  2. Some neat tricks, thanks for sharing. Also, FYI, the city associated with GRU is called São Paulo. Not Paolo. Paolo is an Italian spelling, not Portuguese, and the city is in a Portuguese speaking country, not Italian.

  3. Great post Spencer I hope your having a great time in Australia and as someone who lives in Perth I hope you visited or are visiting Perth

  4. Spencer, this was a great list. BA’s award chart, like the carrier itself, holds a passionate love-hate place in my heart. You covered many important points about using Avios and I’d like to add one that’s probably not important to most readers, but is vital to me: for Asia travel last-minute, BA is utterly, completely useless. Avios cannot ever be used for any Cathay flight that departs in the next seven days. Avios cannot ever be used for any Dragon flight that departs in the next seven days. This restriction is unusual in the industry, arbitrary and infuriating, for anyone who watches for availability using various sources, finds the seat 3 days before flight, and has to decide which points to redeem with. Avios often offer the best value, but aren’t usable, so I end up spending Aadvantage miles or worse. So yes all your list is excellent but readers should know that advance booking is the only way to use their Avios for Asia travel.

  5. It certainly used to be the case (forgive me if it’s changed) but how about using them to fly to Hong Kong and avoiding all taxes, fees and surcharges?

  6. @ Personally, I’d go for GRU-EZE business class for 9,000 Avios as it’s a little under 3 hours

    I would love to see you booking GRU-EZE for 9000 avios in business. In fact, not in theory.

    Band 1 of the Executive Club covers direct flights up to 600 miles (and then a flight would cost 4500 avios in economy and 9000 avios in business peak).

    GRU-EZE is 1069 miles. So there is no way it would cost 9000 miles in business.

  7. GRU to EZE is 15k and 22 quid. Still reasonable in my view – and what’s 6k avios between friends…

  8. It all depends on availability, as we all know! I have seen many AA and AS seats available for redemption – West Coast to Hawaii, SEA, PDX, or YVR – but they never show on BA search engine. Is there a trick on that?

    And having the BA Visa or a fat-balance Avios account will not change the availability. And availability with BA is lacking!

  9. 10. Caribbean hopping. Those 5th freedom flights are 4500 Avios + $20. ANU-TAB/SKB/PLS, UVF-POS/GND, etc

  10. Another nice possibility is to fly to GPS from GYE or UIO for 7500 Avios.
    @Spencer: you write really nice posts with many information. Thank you for that!!

  11. These are my favorite posts. I’ve got millions of miles with different points currencies, tell me all the sweet spots for each of the programmes. I think a lot of miles experts will say “been there, done that” but personally I find them very useful and it’s good easy content that will benefit a lot of your readers. For example, do a update post on sweet spots for Asia Miles, Korean, LifeMiles, etc. Please and thanks!

  12. @ Kalboz The BA website won’t show Alaska, and they seem to have a problem lately with AA too. That doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t be booked. If the flights are available at the ‘saver’ level copy the date and flight numbers down and call BA. No guarantee, but I can guarantee that if you don’t call you won’t get them.

  13. ALSO another cool type of post I’d love to see (not that you’re asking but…) would be posts about the best redemptions to get to different regions. For instance, US to SE Asia— what are the best ways to redeem miles to get there? US to Southern South America? Etc etc.

  14. Really stating the obvious but BA around Europe is extraordinarily cheap often in Avios terms with minimal tax, with good last minute availability on the routes with more than a single flight (Paris, Frankfurt, Milan, Madrid etc). Ditto UK domestic.

    Best example of Europe is probably London to Moscow – some flights on 777 with proper first class (incl Concorde room access etc), 4 hours of full first class service only 34,000 avios I think and £35 tax.

  15. Thank you @Jim Lovejoy

    Gotta admit that I have called once only to be told go online and book … I should followed the “hang up & call again” rule!

    BTW, I’m looking for 4 seats!

  16. BUD to LHR followed two days later by LHR to PRG for a total of 12,000 Avios plus $55 per ticket. Using AA miles would have been more than double (plus probably a lot more in fees). I was happy.

  17. @Tdv – it’s £50 tax for biz and above but Moscow is a great use of miles. Used to be a jumbo.
    Bit confused that this is slating BA for the most part but written by someone who obviously doesn’t live in the UK. If you have a look where avios can take you from London for £35 tax then the rest of the article is interesting but missing the actual benefit of avios.

  18. Spencer, I have a couple of questions. one, I have an Avios account with BA and I’m located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and everytime I want to use my avios with Alaska, American or Qantas or Cathay Pacific, the BA Avios site always gives me BA flights options and nothing else. Is there something I can do about it?
    Two, how do you transfer avios from BA to Iberia?
    thanks again

  19. Not sure what people mean with ” no taxes fees and surcharges” through HKG? I just redeemed asiamiles for sin-lhr return biz via hkg with a stopover in hkg on the way back. On cx. The taxes fees and surcharges came to over 500 usd. The hk airport fee alone was almost as much as uk apd. I priced the ticket independently and got the same figure !

  20. @Tabea Taxes & fees are illegal on flights originating from Hong Kong, but they are allowed if the flight is a round-trip originating elsewhere. You need to book that as two one-ways (if possible) to take advantage of this.

  21. Mel-Perth is great route in business full lie flat. Very nice cabin. And flying in Japan is indeed very cheap. Did Tokyo to Osaka for minimal amount of avios and £3 per person. Seeing Japanese board full 747 in 20 minutes is also interesting experience. That was the quickest boarding I ever seen.

  22. Thank you Spencer for this post.
    Some sweet spots, why not.
    I just checked from Kul – HKG is only 20K Avios while Kul – Johannesburg is 70K for Biz Class One Way.

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