How to redeem British Airways Avios points (reader question)

Reader Yuliya asked the following question on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog, and I figured I’d answer it here since I assume at least some others can benefit from the answer:

Hi Lucky,

I am very happy to learn about your blog I am new to the mileage concept.

I have about 105,000 avios points (mostly came with the credit card promotion). I would like to use them for Europe so I tried using ba website but it seems that taxes/surcharges are higher than the actual ticket.

Thank you so much for your help.

There’s no doubt British Airways miles have been devalued massively since the program’s rebranding a couple of months ago. Nonetheless if you do still have a balance of Avios points, like Yuliya, there are some things to keep in mind.

First, it seems like Yuliya is trying to use points for economy, given that the taxes and fuel surcharges are about as much as the actual ticket. And unfortunately Yuliya is correct, since fuel surcharges make up the majority of a fare between the US and Europe nowadays.

In the past British Airways would only impose fuel surcharges for award redemptions on their own flights, and not their partner airlines’ flights. But in the meantime they also impose fuel surcharges for award redemptions on their partners for transatlantic flights. For example, a coach award between Miami and London on American will run you over $600, in addition to the miles:

So obviously that’s not a very good use of miles. Along the same lines, British Airways imposes fuel surcharges for redemptions on all of their partner airlines in the meantime, with the exception of LAN (on all routes) and American (though they do impose fuel surcharges for travel to Europe and Asia).

This raises the question, how do you get more value out of Avios points?

Use miles for first or business class

$600 is a lot to pay for a coach award, but if you can pay a similar amount in taxes and fuel surcharges for business class to Europe, it becomes a comparatively better value. Nonetheless if flying to London in first or business class the taxes will be a good bit higher, given that the UK charges a high air passenger duty for premium cabin passengers. Still, I’d rather pay $800 for a business class ticket than $600 for a coach ticket, given that a business class revenue ticket could be over five times as much as a coach ticket when paying cash.

But not everyone values first and business class travel, and would rather stick with visiting as many different places as possible, even if it’s in coach.

Use miles to travel to South America

British Airways doesn’t impose fuel surcharges for award travel on American or LAN to South America, so you could save a ton of cash by instead using your Avios points to travel to South America. For example, New York to Buenos Aires roundtrip will only run you about $100 in taxes.

 Travel to Hawaii

In many instances, Avios points actually leave you best positioned for award redemptions to Hawaii. Since their award chart is distance based, British Airways only charges you 25,000 miles plus about $20 in taxes for a roundtrip ticket between Los Angeles and Honolulu. That’s the lowest redemption rate among any airline.

Use miles for a last minute award/short distances

It’s no secret that the biggest benefit of the new Avios program for short-haul flyers is that the award chart is distance based, which makes some routes a real bargain. But another thing to keep in mind is that many airlines charge close-in ticketing fees of up to $75, so you can save quite a bit bit by booking through British Airways, since they don’t have close-in ticketing fees. Los Angeles to San Francisco roundtrip is only 9,000 miles plus $5 in taxes/fees. When booking last minute, that’s a real bargain.

Anyway, nothing earth shattering here, but those are just a few alternatives to using Avios points to travel to Europe, and there are tons more.

Filed Under: Advice, Awards
  1. Don’t forget about the 2-4-1 voucher that allows 2 people to redeem miles required for 1 to travel and pay the taxes and fees on both tickets (for use on BA metal only). In economy, this would generally still be a bad deal, but it can be much better for business/first.

    You earn this by spending $30,000 or more in a calendar year on your Chase British Airways Visa Signature card.

  2. Always helpful, your Avois examples refreshed my memory that BA is applying these massive fuel surcharges to even partner awards across the Atlantic. SA and within NA are definitely the best value.

    A potential homework assignment for ya:
    Help us break down the benefits of funneling miles into Alaska Airline’s program.
    I’d bet at least half your readers aren’t business travelers or people who fly often enough to make elite status a realistic goal with one airline. For most of us, credit card bonuses make up the bulk of our miles, and for the rest we must be patient over a number of years to collect enough real flight miles to add up to a free ticket.
    But I’ve been drawn to Alaska’s program lately because I can funnel my AA and Delta flight miles into this one account, instead of those two separately. Add a well-timed Alaska credit card bonus, and I’d have enough for free tickets with Alaska. Maybe you can help us see the benefits in this, the potential cons, and the best way to spend Alaska miles.

  3. Lucky,

    I wanted to share a tip that might help some of your readers. If you don’t live in an AA hub, you might want to book using Avios as a series of one way awards. Here is why:

    I am going to POP in the Dominican Republic in June. I live in TPA. AA with a conection in MIA is the way to go. I can book the trip using AA miles for 35,000 in Y or 60,000 in First to Miami and Business to POP.

    Using Avios points, TPA to POP is 24,000 in coach or 48,000 in business with TPA to MIA in coach, since AA doesn’t offer a business class on that route. So, immediately I can see BA miles are a better deal than AA miles on this route.

    If you want coach, then go right ahead and book it, but if you want to sit up front, there is even a better deal. Book your TPA to MIA RT in coach for 9,000 miles, then make a seperate booking for MIA to POP RT in business, that will only cost you 30,000 points, so the whole trip will cost you 39,000 instead of 48,000 … since you are geting coach TPA-MIA anyway, you might as well only pay for coach, otherwise BA will try to charge you for business the whole way.

    Hope this helps some people.

  4. Hello Lucky,

    Thanks for everything you do, and thanks for the post on Avios. Like many people, I’m stumped to find good-value uses for my Avios points. I was wondering if I could get your opinion on a non-flight alternative: train tickets.

    I’m planning an ambitious European vacation this summer for my girlfriend and I. The flights and hotels are taken care of with points and miles. We had planned to travel within Europe (London-Paris-Rome) by train, and were surprised at just how expensive train tickets were. Well, a little exploration of the Avios website reveals that you can redeem 9000 Avios points for a standard round-trip ticket on the Eurostar (Chunnel) train from London to Paris. Better still, this includes taxes, so there’s no “surcharge surprise.” What I need to find out, however, is whether or not I can book one-way tickets. I also need to look at higher levels of service (26,500 Avios for Standard Premier London-Paris) and see if Avios point level is worth it.

    So at least there’s an option to use Avios points for train travel, at least from London to Paris or Lille or Brussels. Have you ever heard of any other way to redeem points/miles for train tickets – and more importantly, would it be a good redemption?

  5. @ ATC — Right, good point. Doesn’t help those looking to avoid fuel surcharges, but otherwise quite a good deal and how I’m using my Avios points.

    @ n/a — Fantastic suggestion, and going straight to the top of my “to do” list.

    @ Mike S — Excellent point. Beyond that I’ve found that BA incorrectly prices some awards when multiple airlines/cabins are involved, so it’s more expensive than it’s supposed to be. But yeah, the fact that they charge triple miles for first class domestically is very annoying.

    @ al613 — If he’s flying a single airline the whole way, I can’t imagine they wouldn’t accommodate him either way.

  6. @ Peter — I learn something new every day! I just searched and can’t find the option to use Avios points for a train ticket. Can you tell me where you found that? I’d say that’s a great value assuming there’s no fine print.

  7. Thank you for this! I was wondering what to do with my remaining Membership Rewards points (about 50K) now that Continental is no longer a transfer partner. I live near LA and 25K miles to Hawaii is a super deal to me!

  8. @ KateFromCA — Just keep in mind that Membership Rewards is running a 30% transfer bonus to Avios through the end of the month, so that lowers the cost even further to 20,000 points. 🙂

  9. I didn’t find this option on the British Airways website, but it was on Oddly enough, BA Executive Club members are *not* automatically Avios members, even though BA miles are now Avios points. And it seems like you can’t sign up for an Avios account unless you have a UK address. Odd.

    Anyway, I have found some threads in FlyerTalk discussing the relative value of cash vs points for Eurostar tickets.

    The general consensus seems to be if you buy the Standard ticket at least a couple of months ahead of time, it’s preferable to pay with cash and save your Avios. Nevertheless, if you’re Avios-rich and cash-poor, or you’re just stuck with no other way to use your Avios, it’s a nice option.

    There are actually a few other nice options that appear on the Avios site, that don’t show up on the British Airways site, like platinum seat tickets to West End theater productions (12500 Avios). I’ll definitely research the value of those.

  10. @al613 with AA even if they have two separate tickets, as long as they’re going AA to/from a oneworld ticket they would be protected:

    “If a customer is holding separate tickets on AA or another oneworld carrier, customers holding separate tickets where travel is on oneworld airlines should be treated as through ticketed passengers. In the event of a disruption on the originating ticket, the carrier responsible for the disruption will be required to reroute the customer to their final destination. The ticket stock of the second ticket must be of a oneworld carrier, eligible under the Endorsement Waiver Agreement. You may contact AA Reservations 1-800-433-7300 (U.S. and Canada) or outside the U.S. and Canada, reference Worldwide Reservations Numbers for additional information if the separate ticket is for travel on a oneworld carrier.”

  11. Folks, Don’t forget the infamous IPC-PPT hop with Avios. It’s 20k miles RT in Y on LAN and usually costs $1,000+. Also flights in/out of Japan like HND-PEK are quite a steal with where you’ll often see 4-6 cents per mile.

  12. I was thinking about using my Avios points for a OneWorld around the world ticket. I think I have enough Avios miles to purchase an around the world ticket for Zone 9, Total Trip Miles of 35,001-50,000. Does British Airways charge the same high taxes on partner flights on one of these tickets? If so, I’d have to pay these high taxes on up to 16 segments:(

  13. Lucky, can you comment on whether it is still a good use of Avios points for CX flights, say LAX/YVR/SFO –> HKG/DPS/SIN? Does BA now charge fuel surcharges for these routes as well?

  14. @ JV — BA has imposed fuel surcharges on Cathay Pacific redemptions for a long while now, unfortunately. Now US to Hong Kong will cost you a minimum of 140,000 miles roundtrip in business class or 210,000 miles roundtrip in first class. It’s not nearly as good of a deal as it used to be, unfortunately.

  15. @ AlwaysTravel — Unfortunately for the most part they do, with the exception of flights on LAN and flights on American (with the exception of Europe and Asia).

  16. Yeah in similiar boat as KatefromCA. Wife and I have about 140K MR points each from signup bonuses and always are looking at our options on using them. I live in Charlotte and flight to Chicago is around 9K miles roundtrip and it can be a $400 flight so that’s a great value at over 4 cents per mile.

    Although we are keeping our fingers crossed for MR adding another Airline Partner… I can think of 1 major airline here in Charlotte we would love it to be 🙂

  17. I thought the short notice option of the 9k award would be great, but then I found out there was often no availability on the routes I wanted.

    For the short haul in Europe, there are fees/taxes (at a reasonable amount) but you must have been credited 1,000 miles in the last year.

  18. The availability of Hawai’i flights from LAX is extremely limited. I found availability from early to mid-December (American’s schedule only goes to mid-December) but nothing in May-July.

    So, a sort of warning: gotta plan ahead on these popular routes since they are capacity-controlled, it appears. Still a great deal for 25K roundtrip (now 20K MR points with the bonus) since most others charge 50K+.

  19. Condolences to me. We have 700,000 Avos points – argh ! I like the Chase companion cert (2 for 1) on BA First with $30,000 in cc spending.
    I missed the Easter Island deal. Still contemplating South America on Avos. Oh well…

  20. Right now there is something odd with AVIOS. Look for a miles ticket (any class) between LAX or SFO and LHR between May and October and you’ll find almost no inventory whatsoever. It really sucks, especially after having actually earned the 30k spend companion voucher.

  21. @ Russell — Unfortunately BA has drastically reduced award space on their own flights over the past few months, so you’re not alone, if it makes you feel any better.

  22. I’m in SLC, and my wife and I both have over 100K Avios miles each from the Credit Card promo. I’m finding it extrememly difficult to find any value whatsoever for these. I was hoping to take my wife to Europe for a few weeks using miles, but I find it less expensive to buy a ticket outright on another airline. Maybe I can find a need to fly to Denver or something.

  23. @ Nick — You’d probably get more value out of the miles by trying to go to a different destination that doesn’t involve fuel surcharges, like South America, Hawaii, etc.

  24. We are looking at using our 100,000 avios to South America in 2013. Based on an old Points Guy post there used to be great stopover priveleges. Now those are all gone so it is all segments only? Our original plan was roundtrip Santiago with stopovers both ways but now we have to book each city one by one? thanks

  25. Thanks for all the comments. I too have over 200K avios points. I must be missing it, but how do I use these points on AA flights? I tried to do it on the BA website, but it doesnt offer the options. I’d want to fly NYC to CA or NYC to Florida.

    Thanks in advance.

  26. @ Don — You can use the American website to search award availability, and if the space is available with them at the saver level it’s also bookable through British Airways. Otherwise you can find the space on the BA website by clicking “search partner flights.”

  27. Wondering if I have any recourse……….. My husband recently passed, having over 100k in ba points /miles..when I called ba to transfer his poi ts to my account they quickly closed his account saying it didn’t matter if I closed the acct before transferring the points. I told them I was not comfortable closing the acct first…………of course it matters! They then said the points go back to ba—-sorry Charlie
    To compound the issue I was told that we did not have a ‘household’ acct. ??? When we went to Chase bank to open our I individual accounts we told them our plan on using these miles: my husband would spend the required amount to earn 100k miles and I would spend the required $30k to get the. Ompanion ticket. We would then pool our points, get one first class ticket and use the companion voucher for the second ticket. So far I’ve spent two afternoons on the phone with BA and Chase Bank. BA is heartless – to the point of rude and insensitive. I was then told that although I was an authorized user on his card I was not a SECONDARY User…………REALLY? Such jargon………….semantics pure and simple. Chase bank assumes NO RESPONSIBILITY for their neglect to inform us of this HOUSEHOLD acct. How else were we supposed to know about this if not from the bank we are securing this card from? It’s rubbing salt into a bleeding wound. Any advice? Thanks for listening.

  28. Terbix, my condolences. However, the bank and card would have nothing to do with your British Airways accounts, I believe. You must go through the British Airways website to meld your two Avios or former Executive Club accounts into a household account.

  29. just called to book my tickets today. There are availabile seats. However, the agent told me that it would cost me 100K miles for roundtrip in Business from Boston to Dublin. And his manager insisted it. IS there any change?

  30. Forgive me for mentioning this, but we just couldnt bare keeping it in, there is actually a hack for adding more British Airway miles, if anyone is interested i will publish details shortly once I have used them to redeem flights. We have managed to find a hack for Eurostar to receive FREE business class tickets via a membership number. You book a standard premiere return from any location, when on the travelers page, enter the following numbers into the MEMBERSHIP NUMBER section: 03405448.
    Once on this (travellers) page, select the numbers u just enetered above, press and hold the ‘shift’ key for 5 seconds. then press the ‘tab’ key. scroll down and click continue. follow through as you would normally. within 24hrs you get a email saying you have 3000 points! which is equivalent to a first class ticket! FREE! so enjoy while the hack lasts. They normally pickup on these things after a few months. And now i posted it here maybe a few weeks so enjoy while you can.

    Hacker X

  31. Isn’t there any regulations that require BA allows more seats so that we can actually use our miles? It appears that we should all switch to a different credit card, that we can actually use the miles from. WHen trying to get a ticket to europe, my costs were more than what I could have gotten the ticket for, had i just paid for it. I live on the west coast and go to hawaii almost every year – so I will start using them for hawaii. Thanks for the info.

  32. I’m confused as to why when flying from Ecuador to the US on American metal, the British Airways avios taxes are almost twice as much as if you booked with American miles. For example:

    11/15/15 GYE->MIA 7:55am-12:24pm
    Booking with AA miles: 17,500k AA mi + $74.47 taxes pp
    Booking with Avios: 10k avios + $145.63 taxes pp

    Can you explain this? Is it fuel charges, and is there any way to avoid it?

  33. @ MileHighBug — Sometimes they do pass on different fees/passenger facility surcharges. Unfortunately don’t have a very good explanation for that, sorry.

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