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The $95 annual fee British Airways Visa Signature® Card is offering a sign-up 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 sign-up bonus. I even applied for the card a few months ago, and have earned 100,000 bonus Avios. Keep in mind that this card isn’t subjected to Chase’s 5/24 rule, meaning a lot of people should be eligible for the bonus.
One piece of feedback I often get from readers regarding Avios is “yeah that’s a lot of points, but Avios are worthless and can only be redeemed with high fees.” While I share the general frustration, in this post I wanted to look at some great ways to redeem British Airways Avios without huge fees.
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
|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:
- All awards on partner airlines price at the peak levels
- Variable (peak and off-peak) pricing only applies for travel on British Airways, and you can find the calendar for that here
- 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 $500+ in addition to the 60,000 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 a different way than other points currencies. Avios are complementary to many other currencies, which is to say that I need 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 part 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 on the A350 between Hong Kong and Ho Chi Minh City, for example. The cost? 15,000 Avios plus $41.60 (so there are carrier imposed surcharges, but they’re mild).
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 37,500 Avios you can fly business class from Miami to 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 $2.63.
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 shorthaul 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.
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. For example, you can fly roundtrip 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’ shorthaul 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.
Travel on Aer Lingus across the Atlantic
I just recently wrote a post about the value of redeeming British Airways Avios for travel on Aer Lingus across the Atlantic. While the mileage redemption rates are similar to what you’d pay on British Airways, the catch is that you’re not charged 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 Boston, Chicago, Hartford, New York, Toronto, and Washington cost 20,000 Avios in economy, or 60,000 Avios in business class
- Aer Lingus flights between Ireland and Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando, and San Francisco, cost 25,000 Avios in economy, or 75,000 Avios in business class
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 $506.10 plus 50,000 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 Executive Club will cost you 50,000 Avios plus 83.64EUR, so you’re paying $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. So just go ahead and open an Iberia account, because you never know when that will prove useful. For more on that process, see this post.
Travel on American… when there’s award space
There’s a reason I’m putting this one last. American’s saver level award availability on their own flights is abysmal at the moment. So it’s tough to plan around award availability when the airline barely releases any. 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 want to visit the Park Hyatt St. Kitts, but flights from Miami to St. Kitts are outrageously expensive, despite it only being a two hour flight. Like, we’re talking $800+ roundtrip, and that’s when booking way in advance. Meanwhile you could book that flight for just 10,000 Avios each way, which is a steal. Best of all, this is a route where award availability is actually wide open.
Other ways to earn British Airways Avios
In addition to the excellent sign-up bonus on the British Airways Visa Card, you can also convert several points currencies to British Airways Executive Club. Specifically, you can convert:
- Amex Membership Rewards points, which can be earned on cards like the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express, The Platinum Card® from American Express, The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express, The Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN, etc.
- Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which can be earned on cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve℠ Card, etc.
- Starwood Preferred Guest points, which can be earned on cards like the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express and Starwood Preferred Guest® Business Credit Card from American Express
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.
What are your favorite uses of British Airways Avios?