Great Ways To Redeem British Airways Avios Without Paying Huge Fees

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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 DistanceEconomy
Off Peak // Peak
Premium Economy
Off Peak // Peak
Off Peak // Peak
Off Peak // Peak
Zone 1
1-650 miles*
*Not available in North America
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

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).

Cathay Pacific’s 777 business class

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.

LATAM’s 787 business class

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.

Alaska 737

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.

Sleeping room in Qatar Airways’ Al Safwa Lounge Doha

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

Aer Lingus A330

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.

Iberia’s A340 business class

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.

American’s 737 economy

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:

Bottom line

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?

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  1. Good luck finding 2+ seats on any LATAM flights. Only one that I have ever seen available, without booking 330+ days out, is LIM-IAD

  2. @ Bennett Cunningham — Hah, didn’t necessarily have an answer in mind. Ideally I’d collect a transferable points currency. Would have to put some more thought into which one currency I’d collect, but it would be the one that maximizes longhaul premium cabin redemptions.

  3. I found a sweet spot flying from South America to Australia. We flew a family of 5 from SCL to SYD for 90,000 avios (with the AKL/SYD leg in business class for my wife and I) . It was a great redemption and I believe the fees were $25 per ticket

  4. Hi Lucky. I booked thru BA using 30000 avios and $57 for 2 business tickets on CX for a flight from SGN to HKG. Thanks to anyone at OMAAT

  5. As Cairo expat, Avios has been extremely useful in traveling between CAI-Gulf countries (mainly by QR or at times RJ) or in jumping around between Gulf countries (AUH/DXB/DOH/BAH) by QR at least before Qatar blockade though. Hope Qatar crisis ends soonish.

  6. How about using Avios to fly F short-haul on Qatar throughout the Middle East? A relatively inexpensive work-around to try their First Class Lounge in Doha?

  7. I use it with American Airlines from Miami to South America (cash+points) and the cost from MIA to EZE R/T is 17.5k Avios points + $471.xx (tax included) which is usually cheaper than paying $950~$1,250 per ticket (or more in Christmas).

  8. What about using them for an upgrade from World traveller plus to Club World?
    I think that’s how I’m gonna spend the majority of them, and eventually for a last minute flight within Europe

  9. So Iberia also charges carrier surcharges (just less than BA)? Unless I’m mistaken ORD-MAD direct flight only has $5.60 in taxes right?

  10. Lucky,

    In light of your response to @Bennett Cunningham, it might be useful to remind readers that the companion certificate seems like a good deal but in reality comes with a lot of restrictions that make it ultimately not so great for redemption unless you’re really trying to liquidate Avios. Especially if we’re talking about how to avoid carrier-imposed fees since the companion certificates force routing through London.

  11. Just curious Lucky, but is there any particular reason you never mention the ORD-DUB route when you bring up aer lingus? It’s obviously not a big deal, but it seems like you always list all of their routes except that one.

  12. I still think the UK Amex companion voucher makes long haul redemptions decent value under certain circumstances, despite the surcharges, and especially to the US in First where you don’t have the likes of QR and CX. Obviously you should check cash fares, but the ex-EU business fares are now considerably more expensive with currency devaluation. Also, I think earning Avios (or miles generally) is harder in the UK than US as sign-up bonuses are not as generous, so getting 241 long haul is great. Yes, it has to be on BA metal, but for the US there are loads of destinations and open-jaws are possible. Some need a bit of planning but others have good availability or lots of frequencies.

    We have LHR-MIA return in F for Christmas. That was 200k Avios and £1050 all in for two people. The cheapest direct Economy at the time of booking (June) was over £1k pp. I would consider this great value. I understand the YQ is higher ex-US so that may not be as good.

  13. You can also redeem Avios for WDH to JNB.

    I visited many Caribbean islands using Avios from MIA on AA metal. St Lucia, Grenada, Barbados, Roatan, Eleuthera, St Kitts, Antigua, DR, etc. Availability was much better 2-3 years ago. Now, not so much.

    I also find that redeeming Avios for AA metal to deep south america (MVD, GIG, EZE) is cheaper than redeeming AAdvantage mile.

  14. @Lucky Maybe the best post I have seen using Avios, although anything today does not top my two trips on Concorde using Avios.

  15. Hey jon, about two months ago, I booked MIA-SCL roundtrip in LATAM biz for two with miles for February, which is peak season. While I’m down there, I’m looking at side trips, and, right now, I see award availability to PMC, CJC, and PUQ. Back in June, I flew all over Peru using miles: TRU-LIM-CUZ, then CUZ-JUL, then JUL-LIM-IQT, then TPP-LIM (I did the connecting flights with AA miles, since AA only charges 5000 miles for any award fully inside Peru).

    So, I would say that LATAM releases a lot of award availability.

  16. Iberia business class redemptions are even better value when it’s their off peak dates. 34000 avios each way to BOS/JFK/ORD if I remember correctly and 42000 to elsewhere in north or central America

  17. I can vouch for the use of avios for domestic flights within Australia on Qantas. An A330 Vantage XL business seat for the 5hr30m flight from Brisbane to Perth for 37,500 avios and ~USD$19 in taxes? Yes please! The cash price would be around USD$1,100.

  18. Transfer Avios to IB to book short haul trips on AA, especially if you have to connect. For example FLO-CLT-BWI return would cost 30K using BA avios however on IB it would be 12K

  19. “While you’re best off taking the train for most transport within Japan…”

    Hmmm, no. Flying in Japan is consistently cheaper. In areas other than Kanto and Kansai it’s almost as convenient (e.g. Fukuoka airport, fourth busiest in Japan, is two metro stops from the train station or a 15 min drive, security/checkin at most Japanese airports is overstaffed and a breeze). The last time I flew from Tokyo to Sapporo for skiing I paid $52 so I’m not sure that’s a good market example of Avios value. Furthermore tourists can take advantage of the cheap point to point flat rate foreigner-only pricing on JAL and ANA. The train is often 2-3x the price.

  20. Would 22.5k one way make sense for AUS-HNL? I think AUS-SAN would be 10k on Alaska plus the 12.5k you mention in the post. Seems like an ok value.

    I’m definitely going to register for Iberia in case that’s useful.

  21. I’ve redeemed Avios for JNB to MRU (4 hour flight) with very modest taxes – within Southern Africa BA imposes RFS Reward Flight Saver taxes which are capped (same as short haul taxes from the U.K.). I’ve also recently redeemed them from LHR to DME in Russia. Also with minimal taxes.

  22. At the moment, SPG would be the winner as the single currency to collect. But obviously with Marriott in the picture and potential changes in 2018/2019, would need to rethink that. Although Marriott’s 7 night + flight package isn’t too bad either.

  23. It appears to me that “airline miles”, regardless of Avios or US Big 3 Pesos, have little extra value over $$$ when making advanced purchase Round Trip tickets . . . and that is generously valuing a “mile” at 2 cents each. There is considerable value when purchasing a One Way long haul ticket with miles as these tickets usually price out to be two to three times the price of a One Way advance purchase J class fare when using dollars. ( I know, one could buy the RT ticket and throw away the return portion but I’ve heard that the airline will, not may, charge your credit card for the difference. Guessing one could pay cash but too many negatives IMHO to mess with them.) Since one apparently now needs to plan J or F trips around 330 days in advance the best use of miles/points appear to be hotel credit cards. No need to plan 330 days out for a hotel and there is usually a selection of several hotels to choose from. Again, even valuing a point at .02, there are some great values to be scored during peak seasons or events.
    I am curious though, has anyone had success with purchasing for $$$, either cash or CC, a RT J or F Class and using it one way and discarding the return leg?
    Thanks . . . rambling on and paying too much from ATX

  24. AAAARGH!!!!!!!

    @Simon – THANK YOU for the QANTAS suggestion!

    I just redeemed 25,000 American points x 2 for partner and I to fly MEL-SYD on an upcoming trip, and I have a TON of otherwise useless Avios I’ve been looking to burn.

    That said, assuming no drastic changes are made, this it great to know for our next trip to Oz.

  25. I’m flying from Denver, so if I want, for example, to fly that ORD>DUB route, it would just price the DEN>ORD flight separately, right? Does that mean I could mix classes, just fly economy for the domestic leg at 7.5k each way, then business for the overseas flight? Or is that only if I book them separately?

  26. I can’t manage to find any Alaska flights when searching for award flights on the BA website. Looking for SFO to HNL or KOA in early March, but all I get is an American flight with a stop in PHX. When searching for flights elsewhere, I find Alaska flights e.g. on March 5. Any ideas?

  27. @ Fabian — To redeem Avios on Alaska you have to book by phone. Look up the saver space on Alaska’s website, and then call BA to book.

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