Maximising the British Airways distance-based award chart

Feb 21, 2020

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Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published on 27 May 2018.

While there are are some things I don’t like about British Airways and its loyalty programme, I do like that it has a distance-based award chart that lets you fly for free in some of the world’s most expensive markets. Maximising value on a distance-based award chart requires a very different approach than the zone-based charts some other major airline loyalty programmes use. For instance, while American Airlines AAdvantage would charge you the same number of AAdvantage miles to fly between London and New York as it would to fly between London and Los Angeles, with British Airways, you want a short, direct and ideally nonstop routing whenever possible.

Another difference is where the sweet spots lie. Instead of finding countries or even entire continents that you can get to cheaply, distance-based sweet spots tend to be individual city pairs that are just close enough to avoid bumping into the next pricing tier. For these types of trips, the British Airways Executive Club programme can have a lot of value.

Related: The ultimate guide to British Airways Avios

How many Avios will I need?

As a reminder,  here’s the Avios award chart used for flights operated by British Airways:

Zone #

(distance in miles)

Economy Premium Economy Business First
Off Peak Peak Off Peak Peak Off Peak Peak Off Peak Peak
Zone 1

(1-650)

4,000 Avios 4,500 5,750 6,750 7,750 9,000 15,500 18,000
Zone 2

(651-1,151)

6,500 7,500 9,500 11,250 12,750 15,000 25,500 30,000
Zone 3

(1,152-2,000)

8,500 10,000 12,750 15,000 17,000 20,000 34,000 40,000
Zone 4

(2,001-3,000)

10,000 12,500 20,000 25,000 31,250 37,500 42,500 50,000
Zone 5

(3,001-4,000)

13,000 20,000 26,000 40,000 50,000 60,000 68,000 80,000
Zone 6

(4,001-5,500)

16,250 25,000 32,500 50,000 62,500 75,000 85,000 100,000
Zone 7

(5,501-6,500)

19,500 30,000 39,000 60,000 75,000 90,000 102,000 120,000
Zone 8

(6,501-7,000)

22,750 35,000 45,500 70,000 87,500 105,000 119,000 140,000
Zone 9

(7,001+)

32,500 50,000 65,000 100,000 125,000 150,000 170,000 200,000

And here is the cost for flight operated by partner airlines (all dates):

Zone #

(distance in miles)

Economy Premium Economy Business First
Zone 1*

(1-650)

6,000 Avios 9,000 12,500 24,000
Zone 2

(651-1,151)

9,000 12,500 16,500 33,000
Zone 3

(1,152-2,000)

11,000 16,500 22,000 44,000
Zone 4

(2,001-3,000)

13,000 25,750 38,750 51,500
Zone 5

(3,001-4,000)

20,750 41,250 62,000 82,500
Zone 6

(4,001-5,500)

25,750 51,500 77,250 103,000
Zone 7

(5,501-6,500)

31,000 62,000 92,750 123,750
Zone 8

(6,501-7,000)

36,250 72,250 108,250 144,250
Zone 9

(7,001+)

51,500 103,000 154,500 206,000

*Not available for flights entirely in North America

You will generally need fewer Avios for flights operated by British Airways (the first table) than for flights operated by its partner airlines (the second table).

How do I earn Avios?

Avios can be earned through flying any Oneworld alliance airline as well as other partner airlines (and non-airline partners) — in other words. not just by flying with the three airlines that use Avios as their points currency. There are different Avios earned for different fare classes, status levels and partner airlines. You can find more information about that here.

As a U.K. site, we will mostly focus on Avios credited to and redeemed with British Airways Executive Club, though here is how to move Avios between the different programmes that use Avios as their currency, and the best use of Avios within each programme.

You can also earn BA Avios through credit card spend, through either one of the following British Airways cobranded credit cards:

Or, if you are earning Membership Rewards points through an American Express U.K. card you can also transfer these points to Avios at a rate of 1:1.

You can also combine Avios in a Household Account. The Household Account with British Airways is the system for sharing your British Airways Avios as a family and booking tickets for one another. Plus, it’s the only way to accrue Avios for your children. Household Accounts have a few quirks, so be sure you know how to set one up correctly and start using your Avios as a family without jeopardising any Avios.

Related reading: The guide to British Airways Household Accounts

There are various other non-airline earning partners of Executive Club, including but not limited to:

You can also simply purchase Avios, which are often on sale.

Related: 8 ways to earn Avios you might not know about

[UNVERIFIED CONTENT] Aerial view of one of Terminal 5 buildings of London Heathrow Airport and Boeing 747 and 777 aircrafts operated by British Airways at the gates on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (Photo by Grzegorz Bajor/Getty Images)
(Photo by Grzegorz Bajor/Getty Images)

Maximising Reward Flight Savers

With the distance-based award chart and British Airways great-value Reward Flight Savers, you could pay as few as 4,000 Avios for flights of up to 600 miles in length. While this covers very short hops that are often affordable as cash fares anyway — such as London to Jersey (JER), Manchester (MAN) and Dublin (DUB) and vice versa, you can maximise your value by looking at destinations farther away geographically, that are still within the 600-mile range. Flyertalk has a handy map of Europe with the zones and destinations mapped out.

Here are some further-flung destinations from London still within the 600 mile limit from London:

  • Barcelona (BCN);
  • Copenhagen (CPH);
  • Munich (MUC);
  • Nice (NCE); and
  • Stavanger (SVG).

Looking further afield into Zone 2, for flights up to 1,151 miles in length, at the upper end of this distance includes:

  • Budapest (BUD);
  • Dubrovnik (DBV);
  • Lisbon (LIS);
  • Stockholm (ARN);  and
  • Warsaw (WAW).

Always compare against cash prices but this distance-based award chart means you can physically fly further for the same low Avios amount required by focusing on the furthest destinations within the same zone.

Flying long-haul planes on short-haul routes

British Airways charges as few as 7,750 Avios for a one-way Club Europe (business class) flight. While Club Europe isn’t usually much to get excited about, where you can maximise your travel is by choosing a long-haul product on a short-haul route to take advantage of the low Avios needed. Here are some flights to look for from London:

  • BA operates one of its daily flights between London Heathrow and Madrid (MAD) using a long-haul-configured Boeing 777 aircraft. At the moment, you should look for flight numbers BA460 and BA461. You will need 12,75 Avios off-peak or 15,000 Avios peak for this route in business class.
  • Iberia also operates one daily return service between London Heathrow and Madrid using a long-haul-configured, wide-body aircraft — either Airbus A330 or A340. Look for the IB3166/IB3167 flight numbers. These aircraft have a 2-4-2 seating configuration in economy, which is great for couples and families. In business class, there are flat beds, all with direct aisle access. You will need 16,500 Avios (all dates) in business class.
  • Finnair has plenty of daily flights from the U.K. to its hub in Helsinki (HEL). But look for flights to and from Heathrow Airport operated by its Airbus A330 (currently AY1337/AY1338 daily rotations), or even better, its new Airbus A350s (currently AY1331/AY1332 daily rotations) for its long-haul product including reverse herringbone flat-bed seating in business class. You will need 16,500 Avios (all dates) in business class.
  • Don’t forget about British Airways Fifth Freedom Routes, especially around the Carribean which provide you with an inexpensive way to island-hop.

Related: What it’s like flying British Airways for a 20-minute flight between Caribbean islands

(Photo by Christian Kramer/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Christian Kramer/The Points Guy)

Just over, or just under

If you are looking at a long-haul destination to redeem Avios on, check the distance in miles your flight will take, using a tool like gcmap.com. If the flight will be at the very lower end of a certain zone — for example, a flight of 4,005 miles in length will just push the Avios cost into Zone 6 — remember that you could choose a different destination instead that is farther away (and you may have thought would cost more Avios) for the same price where it falls in the same zone. You could fly up to 4,999 miles for the same Avios it would require you to fly 4,005 as both flights would be considered Zone 6.

By the same token, if your initial destination falls within the lower end of a zone, if you choose a destination that is slightly less distance flown, it may fall down to the next zone, meaning you need fewer Avios. For example, if you were flying with British Airways from London to Singapore (SIN) or Kuala Lumpur (KUL), this would be a Zone 8 flight. But British Airways also flies to Bangkok (BKK) from London, which is slightly closer so falls into Zone 7 — fewer Avios needed. If you were planning to continue on to a destination that BA or its partners don’t fly to, you may wish to consider flying to Bangkok as it will require fewer Avios to get there.

Ideally, choose a destination (and redemption) that is towards the higher end of a zone to get the most value from your Avios redemption.

The British Airways Multi-Carrier award chart

British Airways has a completely different redemption chart for redeeming flights on one ticket including two or more BA Oneworld partner airlines. These “Multi-Carrier Awards” are hidden in the depths of the points enthusiast’s arsenal, but their rarity is astounding when looking at some of the potential value that can be had by booking one of these tickets.

The rules of using this award chart are:

  • You must include two or more BA Oneworld partner airlines on the ticket.
  • Multiply the Avios cost x1.5 for premium economy, x2 for business, and x3 for first.
  • You must still pay taxes in cash.
  • Tickets can only be booked via the BA call centre.

Here is the multi-carrier award chart:

British Airways usually charges journeys per sector when using Avios, but it prices these awards based on total mileage per the above chart. This allows multiple flights to be built into the ticket and is likely to produce a very beneficial cost, especially if a number of shorter flights are included on the ticket.

Use Great Circle Mapper to input your routing, work out the total mileage and apply that to the chart.

A great advantage can be gained on premium cabin travel. BA usually charges x3 Avios for business class and x4 for first class, but this chart maintains the old BA multiples, charging x2 and x3 for first and business, respectively, so there are huge savings to be found on these premium tickets.

You can find out more information about this secret award chart, including how to book and some real life examples of just how much you can save in our guide here.

(Photo by Christian Kramer/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

When people think of British Airways’ frequent flyer programme, many of them assume you’d want to use Avios for transatlantic trips in and out of the United Kingdom, but that’s one of the least valuable ways to use your Avios. Not only do long-haul flights cost increasingly more under the distance-based Avios chart, but British Airways also tacks on very high carrier surcharges to those transatlantic flights, in some cases making redemptions cost nearly as much as just buying the ticket.

But by employing the above tips, you can truly maximise your Avios and the British Airways chart and won’t have to part with a lot of your hard-earned cash along the way.

Additional reporting by Ben Smithson.

Featured image by Nick Morrish/British Airways.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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