Using British Airways Avios Without Fees from Miami

Jan 28, 2015

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Anyone who lives in an American Airlines hub with a lot of non-stop flights (NYC, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Charlotte, LA) should be best friends with British Airways Avios. Even if you never fly on a British Airways plane, knowing how to leverage the Executive Club program can easily save you thousands of dollars annually on airfare—even in economy.

In fact, you save more on short trips, since the Avios program is based on the distance you fly and the number of legs of your journey. The shorter the distance and the fewer legs you fly (like non-stop flights) the fewer miles you need. So when you live in a hub with tons of non-stop options, the program becomes so lucrative, it would be silly not to learn all the ins and outs. For that, you’ve got me!

I was really hoping to upgrade to British Airways first class.
British Airways has a nice first class product, but the best use of Avios is for short-haul flights.

I thought now would be a particularly good time to remind readers how much value the Avios program offers, given the current offer for the British Airways Visa from Chase, and the 40% transfer bonus from Amex Membership Rewards, which is set to expire this Saturday.

Key things to understand from this post:

  1. How Avios awards are calculated on distance
  2. How to build up your Avios account
  3. Double leveraging through Avios + Cash awards

Using Avios Distance-Based Awards

I live in Miami, which many call the capital of Latin America. American Airlines flies to tons of US cities, but for this post, I’ll focus on leveraging Avios for flights within Central America, the Caribbean and South America.

While none of these rules or concepts are new, I recently became reacquainted with the awesome value of Avios when I helped a friend book a flight to Guatemala for a service project. Coach flights for the 2.5-hour flight were $587 round-trip.

Miami to Guatemala in coach was $587 in cash.

Using AAdvantage miles would cost 30,00 miles in economy and 60,000 in business. However, using Avios cost just 15,000 miles round-trip or 30,000 in business class—half the price of AAdvantage awards—and while there were added fees totaling $56, overall 15,000 Avios saved my friend $531, which is a redemption value of over 3.5 cents per point.

Leveraging The Avios and Cash Option
But the savings didn’t stop there. On many awards, British Airways will let you redeem fewer Avios in exchange for using more cash. In this instance, you could go as low as 5,000 Avios and $185.73 for the round-trip flight, which would bring your redemption value up over 8 cents per point!

The Avios + Cash option offered over 8 cents per point in value for a Miami-Guatemala award.

For those with American Express Membership Rewards points, the deal gets even better. As I mentioned above, there is currently a 40% bonus on transfers to British Airways, so to get this round-trip you’d only need 10,715 Membership Rewards points and the $56 in fees. That’s an amazing deal no matter how you slice it.

This same concept works for many routes within the Caribbean and Latin America that are relatively short in distance, but are very expensive to purchase. Keep in mind that British Airways doesn’t charge last minute ticketing fees like American Airlines, so a last-minute Miami-Caracas round-trip would cost 30,000 AAdvantage miles plus a $75 late ticketing fee (waived for elite members) versus 20,000 Avios and no fees.

I priced flights between Miami and Caracas for January 28 to February 9 (where there’s currently award availability), and the paid flights in economy were a whopping $1,246 round-trip. That means Avios would be worth nearly 6 cents a piece if you redeemed them for this flight, or even more if you leveraged the Avios + Cash option.

This award between Miami and Caracas saves you over $1,100 for 20,000 Avios

Understanding and Calculating Distances

The British Airways award chart has nine levels based on the mileage flown. The chart below offers an overview of those levels, including the cost in Avios for both economy and business class awards.

British Airways Award Chart
British Airways Award Chart

As I mentioned above, mileage is calculated per segment, so if your flight totals 2,500 miles (which would normally cost 12,500 Avios as a zone 4 award in economy), but it’s divided into two segments of 1,250 miles each, then you’ll actually have to pay 20,000 Avios for two zone 3 awards. That makes direct flights critical to getting the most out of your redemptions.

I use the Great Circle Mapper to determine distances between airports. In the control path box, enter the airports in question (like MIA-AUA) and then click calculate to find the mileage between them. I find that the amounts match up almost identically to how Avios prices awards. You can also use the Avios calculator to determine the number of Avios needed by segment. For reference, I made  a handy map of AA’s destinations in the Caribbean/Latin America, and included some key distances from Miami so you can understand which airports fit within the bands of the Avios chart.

You can reach these destinations from Miami at the lower end of the Avios award chart.

How to Boost Your Avios Account

The easiest way to boost your Avios balance right now is with the British Airways Visa Signature Card, which offers up to 100,000 bonus Avios after meeting tiered minimum spend requirement. In my latest monthly valuations, I list Avios at 1.7 cents apiece, so I value the sign-up bonus at $2,040 (though as you can see from above, you can actually get much higher value from these points when you use them strategically).

Aside from the sign-up bonus, you’ll earn 3 Avios per dollar spent on British Airways purchases, and 1 Avios per dollar spent elsewhere. The card has no foreign transaction fees, and you get Chip and Signature technology, both of which make it more useful for international travel. Finally, you can earn a Travel Together ticket (a companion pass of sorts) when you spend $30,000 in a calendar year. That benefit has its limitations, but can be very lucrative for business and first class award redemptions.

British Airways is also a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest, so you can effectively earn Avios with The Platinum Card from American Express, the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, and the Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express, among others.  All three programs generally transfer to British Airways at 1:1, though there are the occasional transfer bonuses (like the one from Amex discussed above), and SPG offers a 5,000 point bonus when you transfer 20,000 Starpoints.

You can also bank your miles to British Airways when you fly on American Airlines (or other Oneworld carriers) if you decide the Avios program is more lucrative for you. Simply enter your Executive Club number when flying on any partner airlines. See this page for more info about earning Avios in various fare classes.

Bottom Line

I’ll be doing these analyses for other Oneworld hub cities, but the point is that if you live in Miami or travel to the Caribbean and South America, you should not ignore the power of Avios!

For more info about how to maximize British Airways Avios, check out these posts:

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