The British Airways loyalty program, Executive Club, offers some unique value propositions. Partnerships with American Airlines and Alaska Airlines in the United States, as well as the rest of the oneworld alliance, provide ample opportunity to put it to good use. The airline also has a U.S. credit card, and you can transfer additional points from Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership rewards. Thus, flying on British Airways isn’t necessary to earn or redeem Avios points.
Awards are priced in ways that can be incredibly cheap or incredibly expensive depending on distance, number of connections, and the imposition of carrier surcharges. It’s probably unlike any other airline loyalty program you’re familiar with, which is why we’ll discuss some great ways to put those points to use. Avios are generally worth about 1.5 cents per point (CPP). Some of the examples here will show how to obtain two or three times that amount through careful use.
We looked at real flights at least six months in the future (to avoid the higher prices you might find just a few weeks before departure) and compared them to the number of Avios required to book the same itinerary. Although we called out specific examples, the British Airways award chart has little to do with where you live and everything to do with the distance that you travel. Sometimes a particular award is only useful if you fly that specific route; in other cases the itinerary we use is just an example of many similar options.
Note: All sample itineraries were found using the Matrix search engine, a free service of ITA Software.
(1) Add Unlimited Stopovers
First and foremost, you should understand that redeeming Avios works differently from most other loyalty programs. Often the airline charges just one price to get you to your destination. British Airways charges separately for every flight, and it charges more for longer flights. Use a website like GCMap.com to determine the distance of your flight and match it to the award chart below.
|Distance (miles)||Economy||Premium Economy||Business||First|
|1 to 650||4,500||6,750||9,000||18,000|
|651 to 1,151||7,500||11,250||15,000||30,000|
|1,152 to 2,000||10,000||15,000||20,000||40,000|
|2,001 to 3,000||12,500||25,000||37,500||50,000|
|3,001 to 4,000||20,000||40,000||60,000||80,000|
|4,001 to 5,500||25,000||50,000||75,000||100,000|
|5,501 to 6,500||30,000||60,000||90,000||120,000|
|6,501 to 7,000||35,000||70,000||105,000||140,000|
|7,001 to 10,000||50,000||100,000||150,000||200,000|
This chart provides peak pricing for travel on British Airways, which also applies to all partners on all dates. Off-peak pricing may be available on select dates for travel on British Airways only.
The cost of your award will tend to increase if you add a connection to your itinerary. All of the examples in this article will use non-stop flights, which tend to provide a better value. Also note that while the cheapest awards cost 4,500 Avios each way in economy class, a recent change in 2016 raised this price to 7,500 within North America.
British Airways doesn’t care if you add a stopover — perhaps one, two, or even ten. Adding stopovers doesn’t increase the cost of an award because the program only looks at the number of flights and the distance traveled, not how long you spend at each connecting point. Keep in mind, though, that some taxes and fees may increase (they’re normally waived for passengers making short transits).
(2) Upgrade to Business Class
A second important strategy for redeeming Avios is to avoid flights with high carrier surcharges. The Executive Club loyalty program collects carrier surcharges on all award travel, but if the surcharge is low or non-existent, then there’s not much to collect.
Most travel on British Airways, especially long-haul international flights, will have very high surcharges. Ironically one of the worst ways to redeem Avios is for travel on the very airline that operates the loyalty program. Try to use them for travel on partner airlines.
On the other hand, it’s a good idea to use Avios to upgrade a paid ticket. The cost of an upgrade is always the difference for an award ticket between two cabins. Customers can only move up one cabin, so consider purchasing a premium economy fare (World Traveler Plus) and then redeem Avios to reach business class (Club World). You’ll still earn miles for the fare originally purchased.
The difference in price between premium economy and business class on this round-trip flight from Seattle to London is $2,676. Upgrade this round trip itinerary for 50,000 Avios to obtain a value of 5.35 CPP.
(3) Aer Lingus Business Class — Boston to Dublin
The third key lesson in redeeming Avios is to avoid travel in premium cabins, which is why most of the examples in this article are for economy class. Premium cabins can require redeeming three or four times the number of Avios required for the same journey in economy class. Contrast this with most other airlines that collect roughly 50% more miles for business class or 100% more miles for first class.
It’s still worthwhile to book business class when you manage to find an award with no carrier surcharges, or if the journey is relatively short. Business class on Aer Lingus between Boston and Dublin is one great example.
The journey is only 2,993 miles — just under the threshold of 3,000 miles and therefore eligible for a relatively inexpensive award that costs 25,000 Avios each way. A comparable flight from New York to London on British Airways is 3,441 miles, and moving up to this higher range costs 40,000 Avios each way.
That means you can avoid the cash price of $3,327.03 and redeem 50,000 Avios instead, which works out to a great value of 6.65 CPP.
(4) American Airlines Economy Class — New York to Miami
Key lessons when redeeming Avios include non-stop travel, short distance, and economy class. Together they look a lot like the U.S. aviation market, which has numerous hub airports and tolerable economy class on flights less than three hours. Using Avios is one of the best ways to book award tickets on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines.
(The British Airways website doesn’t display award space on Alaska Airlines so you will need to call British Airways to book these awards by phone.)
Even with the devaluation, 15,000 Avios is a great value compared to most U.S. loyalty programs that charge 25,000 miles for a comparable round trip domestic flight. Consider using this trick for a cheap weekend getaway, like flying from New York to Miami. Instead of paying $582.20, you’ll get a value of 2.33 CPP.
(5) Alaska Airlines Economy Class — San Jose to Honolulu
Using Avios for travel on U.S. carriers isn’t just a good value for short hops — it’s also one of the cheapest ways to redeem points to Hawaii. Alaska Airlines has more flights from the continental U.S. to the Hawaiian Islands than any other carrier, scattered all across the West Coast. American Airlines operates a couple, too, from its hub in Los Angeles.
Any of these flights will cost just 25,000 Avios round trip in economy class. Compare that to a minimum of 40,000 to 45,000 miles using most domestic programs. It also means this $493.40 flight from San Jose to Honolulu will return 1.97 CPP in value.
(6) American Airlines Economy Class — Miami to Nassau
Avios are also a great option for flying to the Caribbean, not just within the U.S. or to Hawaii. American Airlines offers numerous routes from its hubs in New York, Miami, and Dallas. A short hop from Miami to Nassau would normally cost $333.66. Instead British Airways collects just 15,000 Avios — a value of 2.22 CPP.
(7) Cathay Pacific Economy Class — Hong Kong to Taipei
Booking an inexpensive award within North America is cool, but you really want to book one of those incredibly cheap 4,500 Avios tickets still available in the rest of the world. Just about any other region is a great choice, such as short hops within Asia, Europe, South America, and even Australia.
Consider pairing a short Avios award with a longer award booked with American Airlines miles (or a paid ticket). Remember that American Airlines doesn’t permit stopovers on award travel, but you could still use American Airlines to book yourself an award to Hong Kong, for example, and then use Avios to continue the trip on a later date, maybe heading to Tapei. This one-way ticket would normally cost $451.50 but is only 4,500 Avios — a value of over 10 CPP!
Basically, booking two separate tickets lets you create your own stopover, and using 4,500 Avios is cheaper than redeeming 17,500 American AAdvantage miles for the same intra-Asia flight. You can either book another flight back to Hong Kong, or arrange an open jaw itinerary so that your return journey starts from a different city.
(8) Cathay Pacific Business Class — Vancouver to Hong Kong
Didn’t we start this article by saying that long-haul flights in premium cabins are among the worst ways to use Avios points? Sure, but there are always exceptions like Aer Lingus. Consider this itinerary from Vancouver to Hong Kong is on Cathay Pacific, which has one of the world’s best business class cabins.
Even though it’s a long-haul, international flight, there is no carrier surcharge on this route and total taxes are under $50. Most importantly, departing from Vancouver brings the distance just under the threshold necessary to pay 180,000 Avios round trip. (Departing from Los Angeles results in a longer flight and would cost 300,000 Avios.) Using Avios instead of paying $3,952.20 provides a value of 2.20 CPP.