Don’t Transfer Amex Points To Avios Without Reading This Post!

Earlier Ben posted that American Express Membership Rewards is offering a 40% bonus on points transfers to British Airways Executive Club through September 17, 2017. This is effectively a 75% increase over the previous transfer ratio, and can be a pretty fabulous deal.

I’ve seen lots of excited buzz about this promo (and I’m excited too), but haven’t seen nearly enough caveats surrounding who should or shouldn’t take advantage of this deal. Several OMAAT parents have sent enthusiastic texts this morning about their new Avios balances, so before anyone else gets ahead of themselves, I figured I’d go through the potential pitfalls.

British Airways isn’t a beginner’s currency, and there are definitely some things to watch out for.

Avios aren’t equal to Amex points to start with

Keep in mind that Ben values Membership Rewards points at 1.7¢ each, but British Airways Avios at only 1.3¢ each. That would make 1,000 Membership Rewards points worth ~$17, and with the transfer bonus you’d get ~$18.20 worth of Avios.

So the increased transfer ratio is certainly a potentially great deal, but not automatically a great deal.

Ultimately, it comes down to how you’re going to use those Avios. Because I’ve seen people suggesting some really horrible options.

Terrible, no-good, and borderline-depressing uses of British Airways Avios

Not to put too fine a point on it, but there are some downright-lousy ways to use British Airways miles. This is somewhat true of all mileage currencies (buying Coronas in the SkyClub), but with British Airways the bad deals aren’t as intuitive, and can be exceptionally poor values.

These include:

Why aren’t these good deals? Because British Airways has a progressively punitive award chart.

To start, the pricing is distance-based, so the further your flight, the more miles you’ll pay. If you were going to or from London, for example, the zones would look like this:

Avios-Reward-Zones-1

You also pay for every segment, so if you fly from Los Angeles to New York, and then New York to London you pay for a Zone 4 award and a Zone 5 award. This adds up quickly if you aren’t traveling between hubs.

Beyond that, the mileage costs increase dramatically for premium cabins. Business class requires double miles. First class is charged at triple the rate of economy. (For longhaul planes with Premium Economy, business is triple and first is quadruple, so this can be even more egregious). 

And then you add in peak and off-peak pricing!

Zone // Flight DistanceEconomy
Off Peak // Peak
Premium Economy
Off Peak // Peak
Business
Off Peak // Peak
First
Off Peak // Peak
Zone 1
1-650 miles
4,000 // 4,5005,750 // 6,7507,750 // 9,00015,500 // 18,000
Zone 2
651-1150 miles
6,500 // 7,5009,500 // 11,25012,750 // 15,00025,500 // 30,000
Zone 3
1151-2000 miles
8,500 // 10,00012,750 // 15,00017,000 // 20,00034,000 // 40,000
Zone 4
2001-3000 miles
10,000 // 12,50020,000 // 25,00031,250 // 37,50042,500 // 50,000
Zone 5
3001-4000 miles
13,000 // 20,00026,000 // 40,00050,000 // 60,00068,000 // 80,000
Zone 6
4001-5500 miles
16,250 // 25,00032,500 // 50,00062,500 // 75,00085,000 // 100,000
Zone 7
5501-6500 miles
19,500 // 30,00039,000 // 60,00075,000 // 90,000102,000 // 120,000
Zone 8
6501-7000 miles
22,750 // 35,00045,500 // 70,00087,500 // 105,000119,000 // 140,000
Zone 9
7001+ miles
32,50 // 50,00065,000 // 100,000125,000 // 150,000170,000 // 200,000

So a first class Cathay Pacific flight between Los Angeles and Hong Kong (7,260 miles) would require 200,000 Avios per person each way. That’s ridiculous.

In comparison, booking the round-trip through AsiaMiles, which is also a transfer partner of Membership Rewards, would require just 180,000 points. And you’d get better availability!

(Update: apparently LAX>HKG awards are pricing at Zone 8, despite the flight distance, so it’s “just” 140,o00 each way. That’s still too many miles though).

Alaska awards to Hawaii are a similar story. Alaska codes their front cabin as “First class” and their North America to Hawaii flights all fall within Zone 4.

That means you’d pay 50,00 Avios for a non-stop one-way in first! Even with the promo you’d be spending ~72,000 American Express points for a round-trip, which is hard to justify given the retail price of those flights.

If your travel goals consist of any of the above options, Avios are probably not going to be the best points currency for you. Which is fine, because if you have American Express Membership Rewards points you have oodles of alternatives. That’s the point of a flexible points currency, after all.

Potentially decent values, but super-limited availability

Ruling out the first group of options still leaves plenty of ways to use Avios. But there are some potential snags that can make a few of them impractical based on the extremely limited award availability offered by the partner airlines that serve the routes:

If you find award space on any of these flights, that’s great! Fabulous uses of Avios, and with the transfer bonus these can be great deals.

But don’t assume they’re going to be available. Check space, then transfer your points.

So how should you use Avios?

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are some fabulous uses of Avios out there, including:

  • Reward Flight Saver trips on British Airways (more shortly)
  • Shorter non-stop flights on partner airlines that would otherwise be expensive
  • Upgrades on British Airways

These options can all give you a great value for both your Avios, and your American Express points.

Reward Flight Saver

The Reward Flight Saver scheme is one of the best uses of Avios. Basically how this works is you pay the miles as per the chart, but a flat-rate for the taxes and fees:

  • A one-way British Airways flight in Europe is $27.50 in economy and $40 in business, plus the Avios
  • Comair flights in southern Africa are $44 in economy and $50 in business, plus the Avios

To see how this works in practice, let’s look at flights between London and Madrid. These are Zone 2 flights, so will require 7,500 Avios in economy, or 15,000 Avios in business.

The British Airways flights are listed first, as usual. Selecting any of the economy fights with the Reward Flight Saver symbol shows economy taxes at $27.50:

Or $40 in business:

Meanwhile flights on Iberia have the same Avios requirement, but higher taxes and fees. Economy flights have $47.91 in taxes:


And business class is $64.44:

There are generally better options than using British Airways Avios for flights on Iberia regardless, but this provides a nice illustration.

You still want to check the math though, because these flights can also be super inexpensive to purchase.

Let’s look at flights between Cape Town and Johannesburg, for example. For a random date, British Airways is selling economy tickets for $75 all-in, or 7,500 Avios + $44 for Reward Flight Saver. Based on Ben’s valuations, that math looks like this:

(7,500 AVIOS x $.013) + $44 = $141.50

That doesn’t even factor in that you would earn miles on the purchased flights, so I would personally probably not use miles here.

Unless you’re traveling with a ton of checked bags, it’s tough to justify business class on a flight that isn’t even a thousand miles, but it’s an option. British Airways is selling that same one-way flight for $278, or 15,000 Avios + $50 for Reward Flight Saver:

(15,000 AVIOS x $.013) + $50 = $245

In this case you’d “save” ~$30 using miles compared to paying outright, so that could make more sense.

Of course, this math will all vary based on how you personally value your miles, so be sure to fill in your own numbers.

You should never speculatively transfer miles anyway

We harp on this often, and Travis addressed it specifically last time there was a transfer bonus between American Express and British Airways.

This 40% is a potentially awesome deal, and it’s hard-coded into the transfer ratio through mid-September. It’s not a glitch, or something you have to take advantage of today for fear of missing out. You have two entire months to look at ways to take advantage of the transfer bonus and determine if this is a good deal for you.

And if it is? Transfers between Membership Rewards and British Airways are instant. Like magic! You can find a great award option, transfer your points, and redeem your Avios in mere minutes. There’s no reason to transfer points “just because”.

Will I be taking advantage of this promo?

It depends. I currently have an abundance of Avios due to taking extreme advantage of the recent 3x promo on their shopping portal (if you have to re-tile a bathroom, getting 21x points certainly doesn’t hurt). So even if I believed in “stocking up” I don’t really have a need to.

But I frequently use Avios for my family, and will make a point of outlining some of that travel to see if I’ll need additional Avios. If a great deal comes up for British Airways business class I would potentially transfer extra points so as to upgrade to first.

Bottom line

The 40% transfer bonus between American Express and British Airways is a potentially great deal. As with everything though, it’s worth taking stock of your personal situation before going all-in on the promo.

How do you typically use Avios?

Comments

  1. I’ve actually found decent availability in economy from the west coast to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines flights using Avios.

  2. Is that chart the regular award pricing or with the 40% bonus? For instance under 650 miles is now 7,500 miles but the chart shows 4,000 and 4,500. Is this chart updated?

  3. Intra Europe business class starting out of London

    Say you fly into LHR and have a flight to Berlin.

    Get a business class rewards ! You get free access to BA lounge , shower, decent lunch and wonderful Tarmac view and a convenient seat on BA.

    Or AA flights to the Caribbean basin if you live in the South. I live in MIA and the book is open year long.

    all for a few miles more than coach

  4. @vitaminj
    I thought you had called Ben , Tiffany.

    Need to reset my own trigger button
    lol !!

  5. Intra Europe Awards

    Also I booked TATL on Iberia, by transferring Avios to Iberia, the surcharges are lower

  6. @ metahacker — Hmm, is it pricing at Zone 8 even though based on the miles flown it should be Zone 9? That’s still a ridiculous price…

  7. @ Mike — The chart is correct, and not related to the bonus. There are arbitrarily no Zone 1 awards within North America, but the lower prices are still available in other regions.

  8. Tiffany and Travis are probably the best writers on this website. Ben’s non-trip report posts frankly seem pretty shallow in comparison. These kind of in-depth guides are way more interesting and useful than the cheap “check out this points promotion!” and inane, sensationalist airline gossip Ben seems more interested in these days. Even then the guest review of the Qatar QSuites by his friend Yaroslav was probably the best trip report I’ve read on here in the past year.

  9. Mike – for flights up to 650 miles in economy, it’s still 4,500 (4,000 for BA off-peak) for flights not operated by AA

    Tiffany, you write that “Business class requires double miles. First class is charged at triple the rate of economy.” Actually, for flights over 2,000 miles, business class is triple, first class is quadruple

  10. .013? Just transferred and used 50,000 MR for 70,000 avios and 7 one way tix on JAL nrt-pek. Cash value over $8,000

  11. I’ll politely disagree with the assertion that Avios are a terrible currency for transatlantic flights on OpenSkies… they are, except for premium economy btw NYC-ORY. In off-peak it’s 26k one-way and while the taxes say $286 on the flight availability page if you book from EWR, it drops to $153 once you click through to the booking page which will match the JFK taxes. I really don’t think that is a terrible value. And their peak/off-peak calendar isn’t always “intelligent.” Last month, they considered Friday, June 30th (the Friday before the 4th of July long weekend) to be off-peak because it was in the month of June not July. So there are opportunities out there.

  12. Last time they did this there was a huge devaluation not long after… I’m trying to imagine Avios being even less valuable than they are now and it’s difficult.

  13. Your post is a little misleading and not well thought-after. While it’s true you cannot easily manufacture MR, I can easily generate 68,000 Avios through UR (good for o/w first class from the East Coast to London) for ~$380. Add ~$400 of YQ and I have a first class ticket to Europe for ~$780. Not sure what’s bad about it.

  14. Tiffany,
    Just booked my family of 5 in BA first from Boston to London. We will be on the 777-200. We are looking on spending most of the 6 hour flight sleeping. What seats would you recommend? Right now I have 2F, 2K, 3K, 4F, and 4K.
    Thanks.

  15. This transfer is a wonderful opportunity, especially if using a BA Chase Visa certificate in order to buy one first class seat using Avios and get one free. In addition, nothing beats the use of Avios for intra-Australia and Asia flights.

  16. Thanks for the in-depth and informative post…
    I just made a transfer and booked an award that would fall under your ‘terrible/depressing’ category…
    Hear me out here…
    Booked GVA-LHR-SJC in Y/F off-peak (Y for the short sector because I am cheap and with the segment pricing can’t justify spending more Avios on Club Europe) for a total of 89,000 Avios + $360 fuel surcharge. That is approx. 63,000 MR with this 40% promo. For the transatlantic award F market, there is only BA/LH/LX/AF. LX and AF are out as I am not elite with either of their programs. The only other option is LH F but that is not bookable until 2 weeks before departure, and cheapest would be 70,000 miles with AC (or lower taxes but 110,000 miles with UA) so getting a West Coast F award for 63,000 MR and lower fuel surcharges for starting outside the UK is not too bad in my eyes…
    Am I missing something here?

  17. I think it’s misleading to say transatlantic is a bad value. JFK-MAD on Iberia can be as low as 68k roundtrip in business, which would be ~49k with the bonus – a great price for r/t TATL business.

  18. Thought I might learn something when I read the title, but nothing new here. All this is well known among the frequent travellers. Agree with other comments about some of this being mis-leading. Maybe this is geared for the less experienced travellers.

  19. Wonderful post, Tiffany.

    Last week, I tried using my father’s “travel together certificate” for my mother and me, as it is set to expire in October and he won’t be traveling before then. The agent found the award space and said I was 13,000 avios short and then the booking would be complete, so I transferred 17,000 MR points into 13,600 avios while on the line with the agent (we have a household account, and I knew it was a crap exchange rate, but inconsequential). Then, at the end of the booking, the agent couldn’t get the reservation to go through and after contacting his superiors, learned it is because the primary cardholder must travel on the reservation, despite the fact that my mother and I have successfully booked via phone before using his Travel Together certificate. Anyway, the only reason I transferred the points then was to complete this booking as the agent advised, otherwise I never would have at that ratio. When he couldn’t complete the booking I said I wanted my MR points back since I only transferred them since he thought he could book this award, and they refused to do so. Now, the change of transfer rate + bonus have collectively rubbed salt in my wounds, as Al-Bakar might say…is there anything I can/should try to do??

  20. How I enjoy your reasoned posts Tiffany

    Just few days ago there was a post on BoardingArea with a title “How I saved £4,500 on First Class flights” – I do hope the author comes across your analysis…

  21. I recently found a good solution in using BA Avios and happy to share. As BA Gold you receive upgrade vouchers once you reach 2.500 tier points. Via your exec club portal you can redeem the voucher in combination with avios making long haul business and first off peak flights very cheap. These can be used for two passengers at the same time. I recently booked two tickets for 78K avios and the voucher from HKG to LHR in BUS (as this is the cost for the PEY fare that is than upgraded to C/J through the use of the voucher). The one way tickets would have been 3.500 GBP each. F Cabin was available at the cost of C/J fare together with the voucher. Generally, routes with mulitple flights/day or less frequented routes (ie KUL, HKG, SIN) show excellent off peak and voucher use availability).

    Note, on top of that if you are booking oneway segments starting outside of Europe (ie from Asia or the US) your taxation levels on tickets are much more favorable than doing the same out of the UK/Europe.

  22. What is the best way to check on AA award availability using BA Avios? I’ve looked up several routes I know they fly over many months. I can’t even find 1 seat available from SFO-LAX.

  23. Frankly it’s best if you live in Europe. I’m accruing 200k worth of avios but I plan on burning through them in year mostly in short haul 9k avios and a few longer ones. Easy to get 2 cents per point in Europe. I would never utilize this service in the US.

  24. winter is coming i e devaluation

    last time BA devalued right after such a promo

    i dont trust these clowns

  25. Always enjoy your posts Tiffany! You have persuaded me to wait a few weeks. Of course, everyone’s situation is different, so one person’s ok-ish redemption is another’s horrible one. We did a redemption I have no regrets about that for people with more flexibility would be terrible. Two business class and one first HKG-JFK last winter high school holidays. (On the outbound we were able to get three business with American miles.) BA’s calendar opened first and even though I was checking American precisely after midnight when their calendar opened, I never could find the seats. It made it feasible for us to extract maximum time for an amazing Southeast Asia trip, and yet still get back precisely when we needed for dance team and school resuming. A bit frustrating to spend so much, but totally worth it. I believe the business seats were about 105,000 and the first 140,000. Most of the points had been earned with transfer bonuses or 5x spending on Ink. We have also used them for short flights in Asia, South America and Australia.

  26. This is a good post. I don’t get the comments about how great Avios A4 for booking tatl award flights in premium cabins as the fuel charges are insane.
    It is also like a needle in a haystack finding awards on AA with Avios on most routes that should have some availability.I try to love Avios and there can be value there but to speculatively move MR points is tough for me with out a plan in place to burn them before the next devaluation.
    I also think that this promo will increase demand for what good awards are out there over the next few months.

  27. @ Airways and Travels — If you’re manufacturing spend, that changes the math entirely, as your valuations will necessarily be different. And really, my main point here (and my philosophy in general) is that not every deal is great for everyone. If this one is awesome for you, that’s great!

  28. @ Geo — Hmm, that’s tricky. I like your picks, as having everyone in the same aisle is nice. The only thing about the center seats is that they are quite good for talking and interacting with your travel companions, so I’d make sure the people in the F seats aren’t light sleepers or easily disturbed. Sounds like a great trip!

  29. @ Dean @ Henry — As long as you’re comfortable paying fuel surcharges (many aren’t), then those are great! It sounds like you’ve already done the analysis and research to use Avios wisely, which is the key consideration.

  30. @ ejg239 — Hmm, it’s interesting that you’ve been able to book it before when he wasn’t traveling, because the technical rule has always been that the primary cardholder has to travel. Maybe try calling again and seeing if a different agent can book it, since you’ve had luck in the past?

    Otherwise, you might be able to contact Amex and see what they can do. I’ve heard rumors of Amex accommodating customers when transfers went awry, but don’t have any direct experience with it.

  31. @ Aaron — You can look for saver space on aa.com. BA should have access to saver space (the problem being that there just isn’t much saver space).

  32. One thing you are missing that i have taken huge advantage in the last year is Using JAL ex Japan. It’s unreal value in and availability in both business/economy. But once again, I’ve happened to find myself in Japan twice recently.

  33. FWIW — I’m not sure about Coronas, but all wine redemptions in the Sky Club, including bottles of Krug and Dom, are now available at a 2 cents per mile rate (10,000 miles for a bottle of Krug or 12,500 miles for a bottle of Dom), so those are actually arguably excellent uses of Skymiles 🙂

  34. Another major use of Avios – short-haul CX flying HKG-China : 9000 Avios for Zone 1 biz and 15000 Avios for Zone 2 biz.

    The distances are short, but since the main cabin is filled with the most unruly creatures you can imagine, that tiny amount of Avios is an extremely worthwhile premium to avoid having to deal with them.

    I learnt my lesson the hard way on a CTU-HKG flight last year.

  35. NYC-LON can actually be a good deal in off peak (especially close in). 13k + $1xx in YQ / taxes isn’t bad at all.

  36. This deal would have been awesome for me — on Sunday, I booked ORD-MAD on IB using MR points. I’m still kicking myself for missing out on this deal by a day…

  37. Where do i go to transfer membership reward points to BA avios with this 40% bonus? I can only see a 1:1 conversion ratio…

  38. Found 4 business class seats round trip JFK-NRT on JAL for 210,000 Avios miles each. No idea how that figure is computed given your tables above, but it was only 150,000 MR points with the 40% bonus. Those seats retail for $5600, so comes out to about 3.5 cents/MR point. Availability on that route much better on JAL than via Aeroplan or ANA for MR points. Not terrible!

  39. New to all this, but my basic analysis says that a BA companion voucher changes the equation somewhat. Or have I missed the point?

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