Update: This offer for the British Airways Visa Signature® Card has expired. Learn more about the current offers here.
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.
So in this post I wanted to look at some of the great ways that you can redeem British Airways Avios without paying those huge fees. This is an update on a post I wrote a while back. I figured it made sense to overhaul that post to reflect the state of things in 2019.
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 tons of ways to earn Avios, which is how they refer to their points currency.
Earn up to 100K Avios with the British Airways Visa
The $95 annual fee British Airways Visa Signature® Card is offering a welcome bonus of up to 100,000 bonus Avios, depending on how much you spend. The thresholds are as follows:
- 50,000 bonus Avios after spending $3,000 within the first three months
- 25,000 additional bonus Avios after spending $10,000 total within the first year
- 25,000 additional bonus Avios after spending $20,000 total within the first year
Regardless of whether you plan on just completing $3,000 of spend to earn the 50,000 Avios, or whether you put $20,000 of spend on the card (which is the equivalent of earning six Avios per dollar spent on non-bonused spend for your first $20,000), this is a great bonus.
I applied for this card last year, and found it to be well worth it, as I earned over 100,000 Avios with it.
Transfer Avios from Amex and Chase
British Airways Executive Club is transfer partners with Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, so there are lots of ways to earn Avios beyond just the British Airways Visa Card.
The basics of redeeming British Airways Avios
British Airways has a distance based award chart, as follows:
|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|
The basic things to be aware of include the following:
- Awards on most partner airlines price at the peak levels
- Variable (peak and off-peak) pricing only applies for travel on British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus
- 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
I agree with those who are frustrated by the surcharges that apply to longhaul British Airways flights. For example, having to pay $400+ in addition to the 50,000 Avios for a one-way business class award ticket from New York to London is rough.
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 they’re 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.
In no particular order, here are some of my favorite redemptions that minimize carrier imposed surcharges and maximize the distance based aspect of the award chart:
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 crazy expensive. So 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 longhaul configured aircraft Cathay Pacific flies on short routes. You can fly their new fully flat business class between Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City, for example. The cost? 15,000 Avios plus $41.60.
Travel on LATAM to/from/within South America
There typically aren’t any carrier imposed surcharges for travel on LATAM, so redeeming Avios for travel to, from, or within South America is an exceptional value. For example, for 12,500 Avios in economy or 37,500 Avios in business class you can fly one-way between Miami and Lima. Or for just 4,500 Avios you can fly from Lima to Cuzco in economy, just to give another example.
Travel within Japan on Japan Airlines
While you’re best off taking the train for most transport within Japan, there are some markets where flying makes the most sense. For just 4,500 Avios and very minimal fees, you can fly just about anywhere within Japan. For example, the below flight from Tokyo to Sapporo costs 4,500 Avios plus $2.58.
Travel to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines
You can redeem just 12,500 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. You do have to book these tickets by phone, though.
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 7,500 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 short-haul within Europe on British Airways
While the 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 within 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.
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.
British Airways’ Club Europe
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 12,500 miles in economy. If you want to fly business class, the same route will cost you 37,500 Avios, which would get you their flat bed “premium” transcontinental service.
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 longhaul first (which is very few routes, as Qatar only has three cabin first class on A380s), or those traveling within the Gulf region in the forward most cabin.
So 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.
Note that the airline seems to have recently started selling access to this lounge to business class passengers, though it seems like it’s only inconsistently offered.
Qatar Airways’ Al Safwa Lounge Doha
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 you’re not charged the huge carrier imposed surcharges. Instead of paying ~$500 in surcharges, you pay ~$20 in surcharges.
I also happen to think that Aer Lingus’ business class is better than British Airways’. In terms of the number of Avios required:
- Aer Lingus flights between Ireland and Montreal cost 10,000-12,500 Avios (off-peak/peak) in economy, or 31,250-37,500 Avios (off-peak/peak) in business class
- Aer Lingus flights between Ireland and Boston, Chicago, Hartford, Minneapolis, 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 Air Italy
Meridiana was recently rebranded as Air Italy, after a 49% investment from Qatar Airways. Air Italy operates flights from Milan to Miami and New York, and in a few months will also be launching flights to Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Toronto.
The catch is that they have hefty surcharges if redeeming for a ticket originating in North America, but not if originating in Europe. So you’ll want to redeem Avios from Milan to North America, and not the other way around, making this a great option for a one-way ticket.
For example, a one-way ticket from Milan to New York will cost you 75,000 Avis plus $215.90.
Travel on Iberia across the Atlantic without fuel surcharges
Iberia has the same parent company as British Airways, so many aspects of the airlines are aligned. You want to redeem British Airways Avios on Iberia? You’ll pay the full carrier imposed surcharges. In this case, we’re talking $531.40 plus 34,000 Avios for a ticket from Chicago to Madrid.
However, Iberia runs a parallel Avios program, and there’s a really cool trick to it. You don’t pay the hefty carrier imposed surcharges on Iberia if you book directly through that program. That same exact flight through Iberia Plus will cost you 34,000 Avios plus $98.79, so you’re paying over $400 less. That’s a heck of a deal.
The only catch is that in order to be able to transfer points between British Airways and Iberia, both accounts need to be open for 90 days. However, Iberia Plus is also transfer partners with Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, so you can transfer over points directly from those programs.
Travel on American… when there’s award space
There’s a reason I’m putting this one last. American generally isn’t great about making saver level award seats available.
However, there are certainly instances where there is award space, and when that’s the case, it can be a great way to redeem Avios. There aren’t typically fuel surcharges for domestic awards or flights to Latin America, while there typically are for flights to Europe or Asia.
Just to give one example, I traveled to St. Kitts a couple of months ago, and paid tickets were outrageously expensive. Meanwhile you can redeem just 10,000 Avios one-way, plus the taxes. That’s a much better deal, and award availability is excellent.
I’d say a real sweet spot of redeeming Avios on American is for travel to the Caribbean.
American’s A321 economy
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. So if you’re someone who is disenchanted at the thought of redeeming Avios for travel on longhaul 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 and Chase points to British Airways, there are lots of great ways to collect Avios.
What are your favorite uses of British Airways Avios?