British Airways has jumped in to the US credit card market with its partner Chase bank and it is making quite a splash on this side of the pond. Their co-branded Visa airline credit card offers have been introduced with generous sign up bonuses that have left many cardholders awash in Avios points (the term they use for their frequent flier miles). Yet hard core travel gurus will tell you that earning points and miles is only half of the challenge; equally important is spending them in the most efficient way. Doing so is extremely important with the Avios system, one of the more complicated airline programs in the world.
The best uses for Avios
The first thing to realize about British Airways is that they are one of the worst abusers of the award flight “fuel surcharge”. They impose such large fuel surcharges on Avios awards that it is even possible to find short haul economy flights selling for less than the surcharges on an award. Fortunately, these surcharges apply only on flights operated by British Airways and a few of their partners. For example, award travel bookings on American Airlines, and LAN do not incur a these charges.
Secondly, it is important to note that unlike other frequent flier programs, Avios charges by distance flown and by the number of flights in an itinerary. Therefore, non-stop, short haul flights on American Airlines can be an extremely good value. For instance, coach award flights less than 650 miles cost only 4,500 Avios in each direction, far less than the 12,500 American Airlines miles that are typically charged for the same flight. Unfortunately, changing planes will cause British Airways to charge as much as each flight is individually.
Thankfully, there are two exceptions to this policy. With flights on American, direct flights operated under the same flight number with no change of plane count essentially as one flight. Furthermore, connecting flights on British Airways through London to other points in the United Kingdom do not require additional points. In fact, British Airways allows for a free stopover in London, making it possible to visit several points in the UK on a single itinerary for the same price as connecting to other non-UK destinations.
Finally, both British Airways and the Spanish carrier Iberia use the Avios program. While Avios awards on Iberia are also subject to fuel surcharges, there is an interesting loophole. Holders of an Iberia Avios account (that has been open for at least 90 days) can move their British Airways Avios miles to it. And when Iberia Avios miles are used for awards on Iberia, there are no fuel surcharges.
By understanding how the Avios program works, British Airways credit card holders can maximize the use of their Avios points for the most award travel.