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Today’s reader question comes in from reader Bryan, who asks:
Just finished reading your “Avios are Worthless” post and I have to say that I really appreciate your Web site!
Thanks for all the great info. I thought I would write quickly to see if you had any advice on how best to use my Avios to fly to Europe this summer from the Midwest.
From the BA site, it appears I have to use Avios AND a lot of money. Almost as much as the actual flight.
Following up with Bryan a little over email, he volunteered that he is based in Indianapolis (yay! another Midwesterner! and is looking to fly to use British Airways Avios to fly anywhere in Europe with his son during the first week of August
Bryan also wisely mentioned that although he is attempting to go to Zurich, Switzerland, he is not particular about where his Avios take him, correctly deducing that once he’s “across the pond”, he can make his way to Zurich by train, or on a European low-cost carrier. Being flexible with your dates and locations can really help you either use your miles or find a cheap cash fare!
Fuel surcharges trying to use Avios
What Bryan encountered wondering how to best use Avios is not uncommon and the reason for this is something that the airlines called “fuel surcharges”. Ostensibly introduced to combat rising fuel prices, fuel surcharges are no big deal on a cash ticket – they’re just included as part of the fare. But on award tickets, these so-called “fuel surcharges” are added to the number of miles you need to redeem an award ticket.
Here’s an example of a sample itinerary for Bryan trying to figure out how to use Avios – this is from Newark (EWR) to Paris (CDG)
In addition to paying almost 100,000 Avios for a roundtrip flight, he has to pay nearly $1500 for 2 people! No thank you! And that’s not even accounting for the UK Air Passenger Duty that he might have to pay if he departs from the UK back to the USA
(SEE ALSO: 4 ways to avoid paying UK Air Passenger Duty (APD) )
The 2 tricks to get the best use of Avios
There are 2 main tricks to get the best use of Avios. First, DON’T FLY BRITISH AIRWAYS! I know that seems counter-intuitive, but the best way to use British Airways Avios is not on British Airways. Instead use one of their partners or oneworld alliance members instead. Your best bets would be either American Airlines, FinnAir, Iberia or airberlin.
The second trick is that you should just focus on getting across the pond – so do searches for award availability from hub to hub. Things like New York – Berlin or Chicago to Madrid, etc. Avoid London as a European hub both due to UK Air Passenger Duty and the high fuel surcharges British Airways charges. Here’s an example of a flight from Miami to Berlin using British Airways Avios
The other thing to remember is that you don’t really get any advantage for booking a straight roundtrip with your British Airways Avios, so consider an open-jaw flight, depending on where you can find availability
(SEE ALSO: Stopover, Layover or Open-Jaw – what are they and what’s the difference?)
You might fly into Berlin and out of Madrid. Yes, you would have to make your own way between Berlin and Madrid, but that’s generally fairly cheap to do with low cost carriers in Europe. Or (ironically enough), using Avios for short haul flights in Europe can be cheap – only 4500 Avios one-way for most flights.
British Airways website is good for some searches, but I also find aa.com to be a good resource, especially for checking multiple dates at a time.
How to use Avios to fly Iberia
Iberia is a little different as it is owned by the same company as British Airways and also uses Avios. You can freely transfer your British Airways Avios to Iberia Avios, provided that you’ve had your Iberia account open for awhile and have had some activity (including transfers from American Express)
Travel is Free had a good article on how to use Avios to fly on Iberia
Remember with British Airways Avios, they price each and every segment by the flight distance. Most flights from the US to Europe are going to be in the 4000-5500 mile range, which means that they will cost 25,000 Avios one way. If Bryan flies from JFK, you may be able to find a flight that is less than 4000 flown miles, which would be only 20,000 Avios. If you are willing to fly during off-peak times you might be able to make it for fewer Avios, but basically all of July and August is peak times (meaning peak prices)
Other ways how to use British Airways Avios
British Airways Avios would not be my first choice for miles to use to fly to Europe, but if that’s all you have, then that’s all you have! The best use of Avios has traditionally has been short-haul flights on either American or Alaska within the US. It used to be that any flight fewer than 650 flown miles only cost 4500 Avios, which could provide exceptional value! As of last year, it now costs a minimum of 7500 Avios if you’re flying originating or departing from the US, though short-haul flights in South America or Europe (or elsewhere in the world) are still only 4500 Avios
Hopefully that helps Bryan as he wonders how to use Avios and what is the best use of Avios? Readers what are your suggestions for the best way how to use British Airways Avios? Leave your suggestions in the comments, and as always, if you have your own questions, feel free to email!
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A good article. I recently used Avios to fly on Malaysian airlines from Malaysia to Singapore. Because its a distance based chart – you end up spending only 7500 miles with almost negligible fuel surcharge
Last time I checked it was a much better deal on Iberia but they also charge some fuel surcharges. Much less than BA if I remember correctly.
I also thought is was funny to use AA.com to search for a BA award since that’s all AA.com seems to show is flights on BA 🙂 Actually it is good for Finnair but as you mentions you have to pick the right hubs to search.
I’ve had good luck using BA Avios for flights to Mexico City and then from there.
It is worth mentioning that you can use the Brazil or Philippines routes for BA Avios long haul since those countries don’t allow the high YQ charges (unless that’s changed recently). I also heard a rumor that Japan was like that as well?
What I was doing was doing JFK-TXL or ORD-TXL but then you’re right that it defaults to showing a ton of BA awards so you have to choose “nonstop only”
Avios are utterly useless. I have had 270,000 in my account after a divorce, and have tried to use them multiple times. Never any availability. Since they we’re going to expire in May, I finally just bit the bullet and used 240,000 for two business-class tickets, Philadelphia to Edinburgh, then London back to Philadelphia, this summer. It STILL cost $2300 on top of the miles. Glad I got rid of them. And that MUSIC while you’re on hold (forever)–they haven’t changed it for 20 years. It’s a duet from the opera Lakhme, just in case you were wondering.
Cynthia that stinks. I believe British Airways has a cancellation policy where you can get your money back – I think this might be a time where it would be worth paying an award booking service. I bet they can find a MUCH cheaper route for you
Hi Dan–I didn’t even know such a service existed. How do I find a reputable one?
Cynthia – you can check out a list of them at http://frequentmiler.boardingarea.com/award-booking-services/
this d. oesn’t take into account tier points. I want to maintain silver status so I need tier points and cant use partner airlines. Stuck with BA that is screwing their loyal customers more and more. How does one book in Premium Economy and upgrade to business without having to go online 365 days in advance??? Going any later I find its all non available Even being flexible is not enough????
Harold–EXACTLY. Worst customer loyalty program ever. Although when you call them, they are very polite.
Cynthia, I’m headed from PHL to EDI in May/June, so I was in the same bind 🙁 I’ve been going crazy trying to find something that will work for this trip without taking out a second mortgage … grrrr!!
Did you think about a nonstop flight into Dublin instead, to avoid the dreaded London fuel surcharges? We’re taking AA #722 from PHL-DUB ($5.60 per award ticket 🙂 , then Ryanair to EDI ($24 for each ticket!). (Isn’t there a way to book AA flights with Avios, since they’re partners?) I haven’t found any Business class award seats yet, but I’m still looking … and meanwhile I booked Main Cabin Extra (bulkhead seats) as my Plan B, in case no Business seats open up.
Coming home, we’re flying back to Dublin on Ryanair ($22/ticket this time!) and then using Avios on Aer LIngus to fly back to Newark — that’ll cost 13,000 Avios (in economy) plus $120/ticket, which still isn’t TOO awful. And the Amtrak train gets you back to Philly in about an hour for around $25-$50, depending on time of day.
A couple of quick comments to help:
1- rent a car to make sure your miles do not expire
2-consider a cheap flight to UK, and using BA points from London to a European destination. eg: 13,000 miles & $55 to Stockholm