As I mentioned previously, over the coming days and weeks you’ll see the occasional post from a fellow reader who has applied to write for OMAAT on an ongoing basis. It’s possible that posts will still be in the publication queue after we’ve announced our decision, so we’ll be publishing these anonymously. We hope you enjoy the different perspectives!
Some folks seem to malign the British Airways Avios program as “worthless” given its reputation for high redemption levels on long-haul flights and excessive surcharges.
But like most of you know, distance based award charts offer some real opportunities. And with British Airways Avios readily transferable from Chase, Amex, and SPG currencies, program members have multiple pathways to pad their Avios balances.
As a Chicagoan based out of a oneworld hub, I have been a power user of Avios since the program’s 2011 inception. This is coming from someone who has never actually flown a plane with “British Airways” painted on the outside. Try explaining that to a layperson.
I also happen to be a millennial, with an affinity for wanderlust and a healthy aversion to commitment, and a tendency towards booking several short haul flights per year within 21 days of departure.
The last-minute travel bug reaches peak severity during polar vortex season!
No thanks Chiberia, 7,500 Avios and $5.60 later you can catch me in Palm Beach
I need a loyalty program which rewards its members with generous regional redemption rates but doesn’t stick it to them with close-in booking fees.
Enter Avios, my raison d’etre.
Not a bad chunk of the continent in reach with just 7,500 Avios
Given oneworld’s broad footprint, valuable Avios redemption opportunities touch almost everywhere. And while using Avios for the shortest Tier 1 and Tier 2 flights is an obvious use, there are some great values for longer flights in certain markets as well.
|Zone // Flight Distance||Economy|
Off Peak // Peak
Off Peak // Peak
Off Peak // Peak
Off Peak // Peak
*Not available in North America
|4,000 // 4,500||5,750 // 6,750||7,750 // 9,000||15,500 // 18,000|
|6,500 // 7,500||9,500 // 11,250||12,750 // 15,000||25,500 // 30,000|
|8,500 // 10,000||12,750 // 15,000||17,000 // 20,000||34,000 // 40,000|
|10,000 // 12,500||20,000 // 25,000||31,250 // 37,500||42,500 // 50,000|
|13,000 // 20,000||26,000 // 40,000||50,000 // 60,000||68,000 // 80,000|
|16,250 // 25,000||32,500 // 50,000||62,500 // 75,000||85,000 // 100,000|
|19,500 // 30,000||39,000 // 60,000||75,000 // 90,000||102,000 // 120,000|
|22,750 // 35,000||45,500 // 70,000||87,500 // 105,000||119,000 // 140,000|
|32,50 // 50,000||65,000 // 100,000||125,000 // 150,000||170,000 // 200,000|
General rules for pinpointing sweet spots in the British Airways award chart include:
- Identifying routes which fall within the first few distance zones
- Matching identified routes with expensive cash fares using search tools such as airline websites, Google Flights, and OTAs (e.g. Kayak)
- Searching for sufficient British Airways or partner award space using BA’s award engine and tools like Expert Flyer
Routes where there is a single program or partner airline operating between a city pair are often great candidates for maximizing Avios value given the absence of price competition.
Let’s take a quick trip around the globe to scan a few hidden yet valuable routes.
Cathay Dragon, Hong Kong – Penang, Malaysia
Cheapest round trip business class fare = $1,242
Redemption cost: 40k Avios + $61
Minimum return: 3 cents per Avios
Award space: multiple seats available on most dates
Although the distance between Hong Kong and Penang clocks in at 1,483 miles placing it in British Airways’ Zone 3, expensive business class fares still make Avios redemptions an attractive option for this route.
Cathay Dragon is the only airline which directly services this city pair and operates the route mostly twice daily via A330s. The 24 regional business class recliner seats seem sufficient enough for a four hour flight.
Penang island is one of those unique Eastern melting pots fused together from Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures. Nowhere does this better manifest than in the food, which is just so mind blowingly good that the local fried rice and curry are worth the Avios alone (maybe don’t try a hypothetical points vs cash return valuation on this one though 😉 ).
I took full advantage of this street foodie’s heaven on earth when I visited as a college “student” during the Spring 2008 voyage of Semester at Sea. Ahhh the fantasy life that is Semester at Sea, how I miss thee.
Hawker stall on Penang Hill, home to the best fried rice on the planet
Keeping the hard sell going, Penang itself may not actually even be the ultimate destination for travelers on this route. Penang is an ideal jumping off point to grab a ferry or a short hop flight to the “Jewel of the Kedah,” the blonde beach paradise island of Langkawi.
Ben has written about the aspirational (for some) St. Regis Langkawi, and other resort options include an SPG category 5 Westin, an SPG category 5 Andaman Luxury Collection hotel, a Tier 2 Ritz Carlton, and a Four Seasons.
The Westin Langkawi
An interesting future possibility?
Keep an eye on potential Avios redemption route Guangzhou – Phu Quoc, Vietnam, if Ben’s prediction of China Southern joining oneworld materializes.
At 1,095 miles, the route would just barely slot into Zone 2 requiring 15,000 Avios each way in China Southern’s regional business class.
Service into Phu Quoc is still quite limited, and so given China Southern’s extensive route network (e.g. LAX, SFO, JFK, YVR, and YYZ), the airline is presumably the most convenient option to reach the Vietnamese island for many of you in North America and beyond.
Vietnam’s government has created a masterplan to transform Phu Quoc into the next Phuket or Bali by 2020. The plan may well be a stroke of genius. I don’t know about you guys, but I am already experiencing some major FOMO from recent trip reports reviewing the category 6 JW Marriott.
An Intercontinental is opening this May and a “six star” Regent property is scheduled to open in 2020, which will hopefully be available for booking with IHG points given the recent acquisition announcement.
Also, what’s the deal with hotel properties self-rating themselves as greater than five star? Seven star Burj Al Arab? Predictions for the first eight star property?
American Airlines, Miami – Liberia, Costa Rica
Cheapest round trip economy class fare = $722
Redemption cost: 15k Avios + $75.38
Minimum return: close to 5 cents per Avios
Award space: at least one seat available on most dates outside of early to mid summer
Cheapest round trip business class fare = $1,141
Redemption cost: 30k Avios + $75.38
Minimum return: close to 4 cents per Avios
Award space: 27 dates with at least one seat available through May; only 12 dates with at least one seat available from June through the end of the calendar year
The distance between Miami and Liberia is 1,101 miles, which puts it in Zone 2.
Again, American Airlines is the only airline which directly services this city pair and operates the route mostly twice daily via A319s. “Business class” is equipped with eight standard domestic first class seats.
Flying this three hour route in economy, which has more award availability and tends to return greater points vs. cash value than business redemptions, will be good enough for most.
Given the popularity of the Hyatt Category 4 Andaz Papagayo as well as the presence of properties such as Marriott’s Category 8 El Mangroove Autograph Collection, redemptions for upscale accommodation are in the offing for points obsessed OMAAT readers.
Comair (Kulula) Cape Town – Port Elizabeth
Cheapest round trip business class fare = $489
Redemption cost: 15.5k Avios + $100 (off-peak)
Minimum return: 2.5 cents per Avios
Award space: multiple seats available on most dates (peak & off-peak)
The distance between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth is 403 miles placing it in BA’s Zone 1.
Comair operates this intra South Africa route once daily via a 737. Its 15 “business class” seats in three 2×3 rows don’t exactly scream luxury width, but given that it’s such a short flight, the value of sitting up front is as much about ease of boarding and deplaning than it is about in-flight comfort.
Low cost carriers SA Airlink and FlySafair also service this route directly, though Comair is the only airline to offer a premium cabin.
Because Comair is an Avios program member along with British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia, Air Italy (Meridiana), Flybe, and Vueling, flyers wishing to redeem British Airways Avios on Comair flights also have access to marginally cheaper off-peak awards.
The drive between Mossel Bay east of Cape Town and Storms River Mouth near Port Elizabeth, known as the “Garden Route,” is highlighted in National Geographic’s “Drives of a Lifetime” coffee table book. See it for yourself by taking the wheel east from Cape Town and flying back!
South Africa is a country that is just so tremendously rich in natural beauty. It is one of those places where the more you go, the more there is to always see. I guess I will have to keep going back. 😉
BA’s distance based award chart combined with oneworld’s extensive network opens up some fantastic short haul redemption opportunities around the globe.
I hope that at the very least I was able to pass on a few interesting sweet spots. Even better if some of you are now spinning your wheels on routings where BA Avios might provide outsized value.
What do you think of these highlighted Avios redemptions? Are you tempted to book one? What other Avios maximizing routes do you feel are overlooked?
As a reminder, this post was guest-written by a fellow reader. Feedback is appreciated, but please keep the comments kind and constructive.