The Ultimate Guide to British Airways Avios

May 22, 2019

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British Airways Avios are arguably the most popular airline points currency in the United Kingdom, so it’s only fair that TPG UK have an in-depth guide to this currency. We will be regularly covering all the different parts of the Avios programme, so this guide will continue to update as those additional resources are published.

In This Post

What Are Avios?

Avios are the points currency used by the following loyalty programmes:

Avios can be transferred between these programmes (with the exception of Air Italy) at a rate of 1:1, so each Avios are theoretically worth the same in each programme. Though there are different ways in which Avios can be redeemed in the three programmes meaning the savvy reader can achieve different value depending on which programme they are used in – and how.

British Airways A350 Club World Suites coming later in 2019.

Avios vs Tier Points

Many airline frequent flyer programmes distinguish between miles that count toward elite status and miles that essentially are a currency that can be used to redeem for flights. Part of the reason for doing so is that airlines award multiples of actual miles flown for passengers in premium cabins or those with elite status for ‘spending’, but only award progress toward status based on actual miles flown.

The British Airways Executive Club (BAEC) has a split. Rather than having elite qualifying miles, BA awards Tier Points, which count toward status. And, sometimes confusingly for those new to the world of air miles, BA calls its mileage currency — i.e. the miles that are earned and can be used for spending — Avios.

British Airways renamed ‘airmiles’ to ‘Avios’ in 2011. Confusingly, Avios also became the company that administers and runs the Avios scheme, though the Avios Travel Rewards Programme closed this year.

In short, Avios are the miles earned for flying, and thus the currency that customers can use for reward flights, upgrades or other things. They can be earned and redeemed on any Oneworld flights, and are based on the actual miles flown.

For heavily discounted economy-class tickets, passengers earn 25% of miles flown (always a minimum of 125), and in premium cabins, BA awards flyers a cabin bonus as well as a tier bonus (based on status in the Executive Club).

A flight from London to New York for a Blue Member earns 865 Avios in heavily discounted economy class, which is 25% of the miles flown. A Gold member would earn 4,325 Avios for the same one-way flight. At the other end of the spectrum, a Gold member flying on an expensive (and flexible) first-class ticket would earn 13,832 Avios for the flight from London to New York, which includes miles flown, a cabin bonus and a tier bonus.

British Airways awards Tier Points for all flights taken on British Airways or any of its Oneworld partners, and these count toward status in the Executive Club. The number of Tier Points awarded depends on the length of the flight and the class flown. For short flights of less than 2,000 miles, the minimum Tier Points earned is 5. At the other end of the spectrum, flying first class on flights of more than 6,000 miles earns 360 Tier Points per sector.

Short economy-class flights can earn, 5, 10, 15 or 20 Tier Points, and this depends on the fare class booked, and essentially the price — the more expensive the ticket, the more likely you are to earn more Tier Points.

Short-haul business-class flights of less than 2,000 miles typically earn 40 Tier Points for each sector, though there are some short-haul plus routes (such as Helsinki, Athens and Malta) that earn 80 Tier Points.

Long-haul economy-class fares earn between 20 and 120 Tier Points — again, depending on the fare class. Club World long-haul business-class flights earn between 140 and 160 Tier Points, while first class earns a minimum of 210 on long-haul flights, 240 on longer flights and as many as 360 Tier Points for a one-way flight to Sydney. (Keep in mind that the tactic for maximising Tier Points is to book that flight as London (LHR) to Singapore (SIN) and SIN to Sydney (SYD) on separate flight numbers, rather than the LHR-SYD flight. The separate flight numbers would boost Tier Points from 720 for the return flight to 900. Stay tuned for more information on how to maximise your earnings with Tier Point running.)

Once a year, Tier Points balances are reset to zero and earning for the next year starts from anew. BA does not use calendar years, but instead, each membership year is based on when someone joined the British Airways Executive Club (it always comes on the 8th of the month).

So, in short, Tier Points are awarded for Oneworld flights based on class and length of flight, and those Tier Points count toward status.

You can read more about different Executive Club status levels here.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 19: A British Airways plane lands at Heathrow Airport on March 19, 2010 in London, England. The planned three day strike by BA cabin crew this weekend will now go ahead as talks between the airline and the union Unite collapsed earlier today. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
London Heathrow Airport (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

How to Earn Avios

Avios can be earned through flying any OneWorld Alliance airline as well as other partner airlines (and non-airline partner), i.e. not just by flying with the 3 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 UK site, we will mostly focus on Avios credited to and redeemed with British Airways Executive Club (so this guide will mostly cover Executive Club), though here is how to move Avios between programmes, 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 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. You can read all about this here.

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.

Iberia business class. Photo by Benji Stawski / The Points Guy.

How Much Are Avios Worth?

One of the questions we are asked most often here at TPG is “How much is a point or mile worth?” The answer varies from person to person, and depends on how well you can maximise a particular loyalty currency. Still, some rewards are clearly worth more than others — our goal is to give you a sense of how they stack up.

We publish a monthly valuation of Avios and other major points currencies here.

On Which Airlines Can I Use Avios?

British Airways is a founding member of Oneworld, which is a global alliance made up of 13 airlines.

Assuming there’s award availability, you can use your Avios from your British Airways or Iberia accounts for flights on any Oneworld airlines. They are:

  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific including Cathay Dragon
  • Finnair
  • Iberia including Iberia Express and Air Nostrum
  • Japan Airlines
  • LATAM
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas including QantasLink and Jetconnect
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

With the exception of S7 Airlines, all of these airlines fly to the UK, so you have plenty of choice. In addition to the Oneworld partners listed above, you can also use Avios from British Airways Executive Club to redeem for flights on:

  • Aer Lingus
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Comair, a BA franchise partner in South Africa
  • Flybe (until their Virgin Atlantic takeover is complete)
  • Sun-Air, a BA franchise partner in Scandinavia

Avios in Iberia Plus can be redeemed for Avianca, LEVEL, Royal Air Maroc and Vueling flights in addition to the Oneworld partners listed above. Royal Air Maroc will be joining the Oneworld alliance in 2020.

Avios in your Aer Lingus Aer Club can be redeemed for flights on British Airways, Iberia, Flybe and low-cost European airline Vueling.

You can read more about this here.

LATAM 767 Business Class. Photo by Brendan Dorsey/The Points Guy
LATAM 767 Business Class. Photo by Brendan Dorsey / The Points Guy.

How Many Avios Will I Need?

British Airways Executive Club uses the following award chart for redemptions:

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 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

** These Zone 1 Avios awards are not available for flights to, from or within the US.

Redemptions are charged one-way, on a per flight basis according to the distances above, so two short flights or 250 miles each would be charged as 2 x 4,000/4,500 Avios. Similarly, a return is charged at twice the cost of a one-way. You can use a resource like Great Circle Mapper to calculate the distance of each flight you wish to take, to determine the zone it would fall into.

Note that this award chart applies for both travel with British Airways and its partner airlines, though do note that partner awards are always charged at the peak price (i.e. there are no off peak dates). There is a separate award chart for redemptions on two more partner airlines.

The above chart shows all classes but generally speaking, for premium cabins you will need to multiply the amounts as follows:

  • Premium economy: 1.5x
  • Business class: 2.0x
  • First class: 3.0x

You can read a full review of each of British Airways four classes of service (on the same plane!) here,

Note that if you are doing a mixed-cabin redemption, the number of miles payable will also be the highest fare class amount.

Note that redemptions for long-haul economy flights will usually be poor value, as British Airways adds significant fees, taxes and fuel surcharges to its redemptions. Long-haul premium cabin redemptions (i.e. business and first class) are usually better value, although as you’ll see from the table above, require a huge number of Avios – a return Zone 8 First Class redemption would cost a massive 280,000 Avios.

Note that it doesn’t always make sense to redeem Avios when there is redemption available.

Note there can be substantial fees and taxes levied on redemptions, especially for those flights operated by British Airways. You can read about how to avoid these taxes here.

You can read more about Avios pricing here.

Cathay Pacific First Class. Photo by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy.

What Are Some of the Best Uses of Avios?

There is a complete guide to the best uses of Avios here. But to summarise:

1. Reward Flight Savers

Arguably the best use of Avios in your British Airways Executive Club are for Reward Flight Savers, especially if you don’t have a huge balance of Avios.

These are where you can redeem Avios for short-haul flights of less than 2,000 miles in distance operated by British Airways — for example, its substantial route network from the UK to Europe for few Avios and a fixed amount of fees and taxes.

Although premium economy and first class are technically available for Reward Flight Savers, most passengers will use these for European flights that only operate a Europe Traveller (economy) and Club Europe (business class) cabin.

Distance flown, per flight Off peak economy class Peak economy class Off peak business class Peak business class
0 – 650 miles 4,000 Avios 4,500 Avios 7,500 Avios 9,000 Avios
651 – 1,150 miles 6,500 Avios 7,500 Avios 12,750 Avios 15,000 Avios
1,151 – 2,000 miles 8,500 Avios 10,000 Avios 17,000 Avios 20,000 Avios

From London, flights of less than 650 miles include destinations like Glasgow, Aberdeen, Berlin, Copenhagen and Milan. Flights 651 to 1,150 miles include Lisbon, Alicante, Dubrovnik and Stockholm. Flights in the third band up to 2,000 miles are as far away as Marrakech, Athens, Moscow and Helsinki.

As well as the huge European route map, Reward Flight Savers are also available on fifth freedom routes operated by British Airways in the Caribbean and Comair flights in Southern Africa, though Comair flights are subject to higher fees and taxes.

Even better, the fees and taxes payable are fixed — £17.50 or €21 for economy class (peak or off peak) and £25 or €30. The £ prices are for those departing the UK, while the € prices are for those departing Europe. You may be able to save money on taxes by booking a UK to Europe return as two separate one way fares.

British Airways Embraer. Photo by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy

Reward Flight Savers are priced per flight, not per journey. So if you are flying from Edinburgh to Geneva via London on British Airways, you will have to pay 2 x 4,000 or 4,500 Avios (depending on the peak or off peak date) and 2 x the £17.50 fees and taxes. In this case, it may be better value and more convenient to consider a paid ticket on another airline where it operates a direct flight for a decent price.

As well as having the Avios available in your Executive Club account, you must have also earned at least one Avios in the past 12 months prior to making your Reward Flight Saver booking in order to take advantage of the low Avios pricing and fixed fees and taxes.

For last-minute flights especially, Reward Flight Savers can be enormously valuable as their fixed price keeps the flight cost low, assuming there is availability. I have regularly used Reward Flight Savers for less than 650-mile flights booked a few days in advance where paid/revenue fares were £150+, which based on TPG’s valuations of Avios is a fantastic use of Avios.

British Airways Concorde Room Lounge / Image by Christian Kramer / The Points Guy
British Airways Concorde Room Lounge. Photo by Christian Kramer / The Points Guy.

2. Upgrades

Another great use of Avios is to upgrade your next flight operated by British Airways, Iberia or American Airlines, subject to availability. These flights need to have the flight number of the operating carrier, so it can’t be a codeshare.

You can only upgrade one class, so economy to premium economy, business/Club World to first class, etc. If the carrier does not offer premium economy on your flight, it is possible to upgrade from economy to business class. Currently, upgrades from economy to premium economy on American Airlines-operated flights are not possible.

The cheapest economy fares cannot be upgraded — these are the G, O and Q fare classes. To understand what fare code your ticket is, read TPG’s guide here.

The ticket must be issued by British Airways, or a British Airways-registered travel agent, regardless of the operating carrier. There is the ability to upgrade British Airways flights booked through third party travel agents, but there are many more terms and conditions applicable.

You will still earn Avios and tier points for the cash fare you originally purchased (that you are then upgrading). You can choose to upgrade just one, or multiple flights within the one itinerary (subject to availability, of course).

Working out the cost of your upgrade is where it gets a bit tricky. There’s unfortunately no simple upgrade pricing chart published by British Airways. Instead, looking at the chart for a straight redemption, the cost to upgrade is the full redemption cost (of the upgraded class), less the Avios for the lower class you have already paid for.

So as an example, if you have an off peak World Traveller Plus ticket from London to Toronto that you wish to upgrade to Club World, the distance is 3,556 flown miles one way. That falls into Zone 5, so a Club World would be 50,000 Avios as a straight redemption. Deducting the 26,000 Avios required for a World Traveller Plus redemption (that you have already paid as your cash fare), you will need 24,000 Avios to upgrade this flight to Club World. It is usually cheaper to upgrade during peak calendar days than off-peak calendar days.

As with redemptions, upgrades are charged on a per flight basis, so it you chose to upgrade both legs of a return ticket you would be charged two separate Avios amounts to upgrade.

Now, where your upgraded class has higher fees and taxes, you will have to pay this at the time of upgrading, as well as the Avios. This is important to note because for flights in premium classes, the luxury Air Passenger Duty is payable, and this can significantly increase the cost of the redemption.

Image by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy
Photo by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy.

There are also several unusual destinations you may not have heard of which you can use your Avios on.

How Do I Book Reward Flights?

The first thing you need to know about booking a reward flight is that you’ll have to log in to your British Airways Executive Club account. Once you’re in, hover over the ‘Book’ tab and select the option ‘Book a flight with Avios’.

That was the easy bit. The next few steps will require a bit of patience and probably a calculator.

Finding availability can be notoriously difficult, especially on routes where British Airways only operates one or two flights per day. However, the beauty is that you can also redeem your Avios on Oneworld partner airlines such as American Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways, plus several more.

So, for example, if you can’t find availability on a direct flight from London (LHR) to Hong Kong (HKG) as there are only two BA-operated flights per day, you might find availability direct with Cathay Pacific or going via Doha (DOH) with Qatar Airways.

Also, if you’re still not sure where you want to go, then the Reward Flight Finder tool is useful, as you can compare availability between up to three different destinations.

Hong Kong is a great example, as it highlights a few important things about redeeming Avios:

  • Difficulty in finding availability
  • Other carrier options
  • Value of redeeming in economy vs. first class.

If you’re having trouble finding availability on your preferred dates and you hadn’t already checked with the Reward Flight Finder tool, you can select ‘Find availability with British Airways on other dates’. This is a great tool, as it opens up a calendar with a month-by-month view. The downside is that it doesn’t show availability with any other Oneworld airlines. If you want to search partner awards, you have to search day-by-day on the main results page.

Cathay Pacific is a great alternative to British Airways when redeeming Avios, so I’ll use it in the examples going forward. But this big question remains: Is redeeming long-haul flights in economy worth it? In this case, definitely not.

The cost for an return economy ticket with Cathay Pacific is 60,000 Avios (£720 per TPG UK’s current valuations) + £271 in taxes — which comes to a total of £991.

The cost of the very same cash ticket comes to £466 — less than half of the cost of the ticket when redeeming using Avios. This means that the Avios have a negative value and should not used in this case if you want to maximise your hard-earned points the most.

Planning ahead with redemptions can be crucial to bagging yourself that first class ticket. Fast-forward to January 2020, and there are plenty of return first class seats with reward availability on Cathay Pacific.

This option really shows the amazing value that Avios can have. The cost of a return reward flight to Hong Kong in first class with Cathay Pacific is 240,000 Avios (or £2,880 as per TPGUK’s current valuations) + £366.92 — which comes to a total of £3,247.

This is less than half of the cost of the same ticket if paid with cash — £6,867.

Booking the Flights

Once you know where you’d like to go and when you want to travel, the first step is to fill in the information required in the ‘Book flights with Avios’ section.

Can I Use a Combination of Avios and Cash?

There are two different ways of doing this:

  • Part paying with Avios where you use Avios to reduce the cost of a cash ticket. This is not dependent on award availability and you will earn Avios and Tier Points as normal; or
  • Reducing the number of Avios needed for a redemption by paying additional cash (beyond just the fees and taxes).

Regarding this second option, you will often get great value by doing a straight redemption, where you pay for the ticket using Avios and just pay for the fees and taxes and any surcharges in cash.

However, you may not have sufficient Avios in your account to cover the cost of the entire flight, or you may not wish to use so many Avios for one redemption. So, British Airways gives you the option to pay with a combination of Avios and money for redemption on British Airways or its partners, with the exception of Oneworld members Japan Airlines and S7 Airlines.

Note this is not also classed as a redemption, so is dependent on the limited award availability, even though you may still be paying a large amount of the fare in cash.

As an example, here is a redemption search for a World Traveller Plus (premium economy) flight from London to Boston. The search shows a flight available for the redemption cost of 26,000 Avios plus £345.35.

Image by British Airways
Image by British Airways

By clicking the ‘more pricing options’ button you will be given the option of reducing the Avios cost by increasing the cash component of your fare.

Image by British Airways
Image by British Airways

Note this is not also classed as a redemption, so is dependent on the limited award availability, even though you may still be paying a large amount of the fare in cash.

This is different to ‘part pay with Avios’, where you reduce the cost of a standard cash fare by receiving a small discount in exchange for using some Avios.

Image by Christian Kramer / The Points Guy
British Airways A318 All Business Class flight. Photo by Christian Kramer / The Points Guy.

So is this a good deal, and how much cash should you pay?

Perhaps the best way to think about this is not that you are saving Avios, but instead you are buying more, as you are handing over slightly more money in order not to use as many Avios. You would have used the full 26,000 Avios for a standard redemption, but you are buying some of them back by paying more money.

So, if you think of it as buying Avios, what is a good price to buy them for?

Looking at the two ends of the scale of the pricing options, the smallest amount of additional cash you can pay is £45 in order to save 5,200 Avios. This would mean the cost to buy these Avios is 0.86p each.

The other end of the scale is to pay an additional £120 in order to save the largest 15,600 Avios. This would mean the cost to buy these Avios is 0.76p each.

So, is this a good deal? In short, yes, it’s a great deal. You can regularly buy Avios through various sale offers via places like Groupon for around 1.1 – 1.3p each, so this is a much cheaper price. TPG UK values Avios at around 1.2p each in our monthly valuations, so being able to pick them up for as little as 0.76p each is an excellent value, assuming you can obtain (at least) 1.1p in value from each.

Note that as this is a redemption, you are unable to change the route or airline after making an Avios and Money booking, although you can cancel the booking up to 24 hours in advance to receive a refund of both the Avios and cash that you have paid, which is a great flexibility option.

Also note you do not earn full Avios and tier points for the booking, as per a standard redemption.

Other Ways to Use Your Avios

You can also redeem Avios for hotel stays, car hire, wine and other experiences, though we do not think these provide as much value as redeeming for flights.

Featured photo by Nicolas Economou / NurPhoto via Getty Images.

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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