British Airways Avios can simultaneously be one of the most valuable and one of the most frustrating points currencies out there. British Airways has a distance based award chart, meaning the currency is valuable in instances where other points wouldn’t be as valuable. However, British Airways also imposes big surcharges on many award redemptions.
In this post I wanted to look at some of the great ways that you can redeem British Airways Avios without paying huge fees. Let me of course start by noting that international travel is still complicated in some cases, so some of the redemptions I list might not be particularly practical at the moment (especially within Asia). However, I’m hopeful things will improve, so skip the redemptions that don’t interest you.
First I wanted to look at some of the best ways to earn Avios.
How to earn British Airways Avios
The great news is that even if you’re not a British Airways frequent flyer, there are quite a few ways to earn Avios (“Avios” is the name of British Airways’ points currency).
Get a US Avios credit card
British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus, all use Avios as their points currency. There are three credit cards issued in the US that directly earn Avios:
- Aer Lingus Visa Signature® Card (review)
- British Airways Visa Signature® Card (review)
- Iberia Visa Signature® Card (review)
You can find a detailed comparison of the three cards here. Note that Qatar Airways now also uses Avios as its points currency, but Qatar Airways doesn’t (yet?) have a US-issued credit card.
Transfer points from a bank currency
There are lots of ways to earn Avios with US credit cards, way beyond the above three credit cards.
British Airways Executive Club is also transfer partners with Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One, and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Points transfer at a 1:1 ratio, and historically we’ve even sometimes seen transfer bonuses. Ideally, I’d wait until there’s such a bonus to transfer points, as that will make your rewards stretch even further.
Buy Avios outright
In addition to being able to earn Avios through credit cards, this is a points currency that often also goes on sale. We sometimes see bonuses of up to 50% for purchasing British Airways Executive Club Avios and purchasing Iberia Plus Avios. Note that the Iberia promotion is often the better deal.
The basics of redeeming British Airways Avios
British Airways has a distance based award chart, though it’s different depending on the airline you’re flying.
Here’s the award chart for travel on British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus:
*Not available in North America
Then here’s British Airways’ award chart for travel on partner airlines, excluding Aer Lingus and Iberia:
Zone // Flight Distance
*Not available in North America
The basic things to be aware of include the following:
- For the British Airways award chart, peak and off-peak pricing varies based on the day you’re flying
- Pricing is per segment, so no matter what type of award you book, you’ll pay individually for each segment
- Travel on British Airways and many partner airlines is subjected to carrier imposed surcharges, which is the frustration that many people have with the program (separately there’s the UK Air Passenger Duty, which applies for itineraries originating in the United Kingdom)
I agree with those who are frustrated by the surcharges that apply to long haul British Airways flights. For example, having to pay ~$800 in addition to the 50,000 Avios for a one-way business class award ticket from New York to London is rough. However, note that the British Airways Visa Card offers an award surcharge rebate that can help offset that somewhat.
The best uses of British Airways Avios
The good news is that there are many better ways to redeem Avios, as I’ll cover in this post. What I appreciate about Avios is that the currency is useful in different ways than other points currencies. Avios are complementary to many other currencies, which is to say that I redeem them differently than I redeem most other points currencies. The program has some great award sweet spots.
Below are some of my favorite redemptions that minimize carrier imposed surcharges and maximize the distance based aspect of the award chart. With that out of the way, in no particular order, below are some of my favorite uses of Avios.
Travel to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines
You can redeem just 13,000 Avios for a flight of under 3,000 miles in economy, which includes flights from the west coast to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines. Alaska Airlines makes a fair amount of award space available, and given how much these tickets can cost in peak season, this represents a great deal.
While I consider Hawaii to be the sweet spot, there’s also a lot of value to be had in redeeming Avios for Alaska flights up and down the west coast. For example, for 9,000 Avios you can book a one-way ticket covering a distance of up to 1,150 miles, which will get you up and down the west coast easily.
Travel on American domestically or to the Caribbean
British Airways’ distance based award chart can really come in handy either for short haul travel within the United States, or for travel to the Caribbean. There aren’t typically fuel surcharges for domestic awards or flights to the Caribbean, Latin America, etc., while there typically are for flights to Europe or Asia.
This is an especially good option for flights to the Caribbean, where cash tickets are typically really expensive, while mileage tickets are reasonably priced. For example, you could redeem just 11,000 Avios plus taxes and fees for a one-way ticket from Miami to St. Kitts, which is a great value.
Travel short haul within Europe on British Airways
While ultra low cost carriers are doing a lot to lower the cost of airfare within Europe, there are still some markets that are super expensive, especially last minute. For just 4,000 Avios one-way, plus some carrier imposed surcharges, you can fly nonstop from London to any destination in Europe that’s within 650 miles.
Always be sure you check the cost of paid airfare, because sometimes paid tickets are cheap as well. However, there are lots of cases where this represents a great deal. Note that the below pricing shows the option to redeem more Avios and pay less in cash, but you can modify that.
Some may disagree, but I think it can also be worthwhile to redeem Avios for Club Europe, which is British Airways’ regional business class. This will typically cost you roughly twice as many Avios, but you’ll get priority security, lounge access, priority boarding, a blocked middle seat onboard, and free food and drinks. Personally I think that’s worth it for an extra 4,000 Avios or so.
Travel within Asia on Cathay Pacific
Airfare within Asia can vary wildly. Thanks to ultra low cost carriers, airfare is cheap in some markets, though in others it’s expensive. Redeeming Avios for travel on Cathay Pacific within Asia is a great deal.
This is especially true for travel in business class, given how many long haul configured aircraft Cathay Pacific flies on short routes. You can fly fully flat business class between Hong Kong and Singapore, for example. The cost? 25,000 Avios plus $83. Of course it’s anyone’s guess when Hong Kong will fully reopen its borders.
Travel on Qantas within Australia
Travel within Australia can be expensive, so redeeming Avios for Qantas’ extensive route network is a great opportunity. Fees are limited, and Qantas is generally great about making award space available on domestic flights.
For example, you can fly one-way from Sydney to Perth for 13,000 Avios in economy. If you want to fly business class, the same route will cost you 38,750 Avios, which would get you the flat bed “premium” transcontinental service.
Travel on Royal Air Maroc across the Atlantic
Royal Air Maroc is one of the newest oneworld member airlines, and opens up some great redemption opportunities.
For example, you could fly from the US to Casablanca in business class for 60,000 Avios one-way, plus roughly $186 in surcharges. While there are surcharges, they’re at least much lower than if flying British Airways.
There are plenty of other situations where it makes sense to redeem on Royal Air Maroc, including for travel to many hard-to-get places in Africa, as well as for travel between Europe and Northern Africa.
Travel in Qatar Airways’ short haul first class
Qatar Airways’ Al Safwa First Class Lounge in Doha is one of the best first class lounges in the world. It also has an interesting access policy, as it’s only available to those in long haul first (which is very few routes, as Qatar only has three cabin first class on A380s and select 777s), or those traveling within the Gulf region in the forward most cabin.
For example, you could fly from Doha to Muscat and use Qatar’s excellent first class lounge. You could arrive 20 hours early, get a bedroom in the lounge, have a nice meal, etc. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but that’s a heck of a deal for experiencing one of the world’s best lounges.
Travel in Qatar Airways’ long haul business class
Qatar Airways’ Qsuites business class is one of the best business class products in the world. Thanks to Qatar Airways Privilege Club recently adopting Avios as its points currency, British Airways has lowered many redemption rates on Qatar Airways. For example, you can now travel between the United States and Doha for just 70,000 Avios in business class, and surcharges are even minimal. This is a pretty spectacular use of Avios.
Travel on Aer Lingus across the Atlantic
Redeeming British Airways Avios for travel on Aer Lingus can be an exceptional value. While the number of Avios required are similar to what you’d pay on British Airways, the benefit is that the surcharges are much lower.
The good news is that these awards are nowadays bookable on ba.com. The bad news is that surcharges are outrageously high when departing North America, while they’re low when flying to North America. So I’d ideally recommend using this when traveling westbound.
I also happen to think that Aer Lingus’ business class is better than British Airways’ (at least the old one). In terms of the number of Avios required:
- Aer Lingus flights between Ireland and Boston, Chicago, New York, Toronto, and Washington cost 13,000-20,000 Avios (off-peak/peak) in economy, or 50,000-60,000 Avios (off-peak/peak) in business class
- Aer Lingus flights between Ireland and Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, San Francisco, and Seattle, cost 16,250-25,000 Avios (off-peak/peak) in economy, or 62,500-75,000 Avios (off-peak/peak) in business class
Travel on Iberia across the Atlantic
British Airways and Iberia have the same parent company, though award tickets on Iberia represent a much better value than awards on British Airways. For example, you could fly from Chicago to Madrid off-peak in business class and pay just 34,000 Avios plus $124.50 in taxes, fees, and carrier imposed surcharges. That’s a phenomenal redemption.
In the past you had to transfer Avios to Iberia Plus to get such low surcharges, but that’s not even necessary anymore nowadays.
What about redeeming Avios for hotels, car rentals, and more?
As is the case with most frequent flyer programs, there are ways to redeem British Airways Avios that don’t include flights. You can redeem British Airways Avios for everything from car rentals, to hotels, to merchandise.
However, it’s almost never a good deal. Using these redemption options, you’ll pretty consistently get under one cent of value per Avios, which I wouldn’t consider to be very good (personally I value Avios at ~1.3 cents each).
Just to give one example, for a night next weekend you can book the Sheraton Times Square New York for 20,650 Avios, which shows as being reduced from 30,250 Avios.
The paid rate for that night, including all taxes and fees, is at most $174.
That’s just one example, but you’ll find a similar pattern with most redemptions.
While redeeming for non-travel experiences might be a good way to minimize fees, it’s not a good way to maximize your Avios otherwise.
If I could only ever collect a single points currency again it wouldn’t be British Airways Avios. However, they also serve a useful and specific purpose for me, and I always value having a sizable balance of Avios.
If you’re someone who is disenchanted at the thought of redeeming Avios for travel on long haul British Airways flights and paying huge surcharges, hopefully the above gives you some good ideas for how you can redeem these Avios.
Between the British Airways Visa Card and the ability to transfer Amex, Capital One, and Chase points to British Airways, there are lots of great ways to collect Avios.
What are your favorite uses of British Airways Avios?