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So recently when we were talking about Chase Ultimate Rewards, I mentioned that one of their transfer partners was British Airways and their Avios rewards.
It might seem weird to be using a British airline’s reward program when traveling domestically inside the United States, but hopefully after reading this article, you’ll see why it’s actually one of the best deals out there.
The reason is that unlike most US-based carriers, who charge a set amount for tickets within a given geographical region, British Airways has a distance-based award chart. So for shorter flights, you can end up using a lot fewer miles.
For some reason, as far as I know, British Airways does not actually publish their chart on their website, but from awardGuru, here’s the chart
“Well that’s fine and good, Dan”, you might say, “and if I’m ever in Europe I’ll be sure to check them out, but what good does that do me here in the good ol’ US of A?”
But wait! There’s more! British Airways (like most major airlines) is a part of what’s called an allliance. In this case it’s the oneWorld alliance, which also includes American Airlines (and starting March 31st US Airways). So you can use British Airways Avios rewards for a flight on American.
So let’s talk about a quick trip from Cincinnati (CVG) to New York (JFK).
First, let’s try to book this trip with American Airlines. Booking is pretty simple – just go to www.aa.com, and choose reward travel. My first dates I picked did not have availability for the direct CVG-JFK flight, so I picked a different set of dates, picked my flights, and here we go
As we expected, the round-trip ticket between Cincinnati and New York costs us 25,000 miles.
But now let’s try this over at britishairways.com. One thing to note is that even to look up flights, you have to have a British Airways Avios account (it’s free), though thankfully you don’t have to have enough miles to actually book the ticket (or any Avios at all – I currently have 0).
So I plug in my cities, and the exact same dates as above (Mar 19 – Mar 26), and am greeted by this screen
OH NO! AN ERROR MESSAGE! It looks like there are no British Airways available between CVG-JFK 😀 . Of course, we already knew that, and it finds the partner flight on American (the same flight we found earlier on aa.com). Additionally, it even tells you how many award seats are left on this particular flight, which can definitely be useful information.
I select the flights I want, and here’s how it prices out.
Because, as we showed above, Cincinnati and New York are only 589 miles apart, it fits in the first category of the BA award chart (< 650 miles), and one-way it only costs 4500 Avios. Instead of 25,000 AAdvantage miles, it only costs us 9,000 Avios (plus the same $5). If you’re following along at home, THAT IS A 64% SAVINGS!! For as many miles as it would cost on American, you can make the same roundtrip ALMOST 3 TIMES.
An important note is that when calculating mileage, you need to calcluate the total mileage flown, not just the distance between your origin and destination. One of the flights that came back on American had a connection through ORD.
That’s 984 miles, which would cost us 7500 miles one way (instead of 4500). So of course we wouldn’t want to do that, not to mention that unless you have a reason to go to Chicago, the direct flight would generally be preferable.
So what are some possible uses for this Avios using strategy?
- Short trips. Since it’s a distance-based award chart, you want to keep the flights short. They can be used in North America as well as places like Europe where cities are closer together.
- Positioning flights. Remember when we talked about United, we talked about how you can often-times get a “free one-way”. Well that’s good, but most of the time you do need to actually get HOME from your free one-way. Avios can be a good way to get back. Same goes if you’re using an open jaw on your award ticket – Avios can get you to that 2nd city
- There are a couple of better-known trips that are useful for Avios travel. First is Boston to Dublin on partner airline Aer Lingus, which clocks in at a cool 2993 miles
So it fits just under the threshold (<3000 miles) and thus only costs 12,500 Avios one-way versus 30,000 on most airlines for a one-way ticket between North America and Europe. The other one is from the west coast to Hawaii, which also comes in at just under 3000 miles and costs 12,500 Avios one-way.
When not to use Avios
- Ironically, the most common time not to use Avios is when you’re actually flying on British Airways!! The reason is that they impose fuel surcharges on award tickets on their own metal. So an award ticket from say New York to London on British Airways might cost $300-400 in addition to the miles you have to spend. Who wants to spend that much for a “FREE” ticket?!? They do not charge fuel surcharges on partner awards in North America (which is why it only cost $5 in our example above)
- Long distances – again because it’s a distance award chart, if you’re flying transcontinental, you’ll often get better value by using other mileage programs. Even if the miles are equal, you typically want to save your Avios for when you get the most usage for them.
So hopefully this has been a good post about why it can be a good idea to collect British Airways Avios, even if you have no plans of EVER visiting England. You can transfer them from Chase Ultimate Rewards and there is also a British Airways Visa card from Chase, which typically has a signup bonus ranging from 25,000 up to 100,000 Avios.