Redeeming British Airways Avios can be summed up with one word: complicated. Certainly, redeeming Avios is far more complicated than redeeming Chase Ultimate Rewards or Starpoints. But once you’ve learned to navigate the Avios reward scheme, you can find incredible value on a wide variety of airlines with short haul flights. This is why the British Airways Visa was my first travel rewards credit card since redeeming Avios worked well for two of my travel goals: London and Hawaii.
British Airways Redemption Options
The British Airways Executive Club offers three main ways to redeem Avios: book airfare with British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, oneworld partners, or other partner airlines, upgrade airfare, or book hotels, car rentals, and experiences.
Avios do not have a fixed value so make sure you are getting the most value for your points before you redeem. For any particular trip, compare the value of Avios when redeemed for airfare, upgrades, and hotels, car rentals, or experiences. Simply divide the cost by the number of Avios needed for the redemption and go with whichever value is higher. You will almost always find a higher redemption value with airfare. This is particularly true with short haul flights on oneworld partners and other partner airlines.
Oneworld partners include American Airlines, Finnair, LATAM, Qatar Airways, SriLankan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Royal Jordanian. Additional oneworld airline affiliates include Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Qantas, and S7 Airlines.
Other British Airways partner airlines include Alaska Airlines.
Redeeming Avios for Airfare with British Airways, Aer Lingus & Iberia
The British Airways Executive Club uses three distance based awards chart for redeeming Avios. Of course, they don’t publish these charts anymore. You can find user generated award charts on this Flyer Talk thread, but they haven’t been updated with the change to partner redemptions described below.
Distance based awards means the Avios cost is based on flight miles not flight costs. If your journey has a stopover, you are charged Avios from where you originate to your stopover. Then you pay Avios again from your stopover to your final destination. A direct flight is almost always a better way to redeem Avios.
British Airways further divides their awards chart by peak and off-peak seasons. Economy off peak flights on British Airways and Aer Lingus range from 4,000 Avios to 32,500 Avios. Economy peak flights on British Airways and Aer Lingus range from 4,500 to 50,000 Avios. On Iberia, economy off peak flights range from 4,500 Avios to 25,000 Avios. On Iberia, economy peak flights range from 5,000 to 30,000 Avios. When you book a flight on British Airways metal, you pay outrageous fees and fuel surcharges.
Redeeming Avios for Airfare with Partner Airlines
When the British Airways Executive Club initially debuted this peak/off peak system, they included flights on oneworld partners and other partner airlines at British Airways peak rates. This meant that short haul flights (less than 650 miles) on airlines like American cost only 4,500 Avios. Apparently, too many people took advantage of this sweet spot so British Airways increased the minimum to 7,500 Avios on partner airlines. Now, economy flights on partner airlines range from 7,500 to 50,000 Avios. My favorite redemption is for flights from the West Coast to Hawaii on oneworld and other partner airlines. These flights come in at 12,500 Avios. You don’t have to pay high fees and fuel surcharges when booking with partner airlines.
British Airways does have an Avios calculator, but it doesn’t work if you set your regional settings to the US. Instead, set your location to the UK. You can find the Avios calculator here. I also find it difficult to get a response when I set the currency to US dollars so just leave it as GB pounds. My https://www.britishairways.com/travel/avios-calculator/public/en_gb?eId=199006
To be honest, I find all of these changes to be aggressively anti-customer. If I hadn’t personally used this program to my benefit so many times, I would ditch British Airways altogether. As you’ll see in Evaluating Value: British Airways Visa, I finally ditched the British Airways Visa although I still do Avios redemptions. For this reason, I now recommend the British Airways Visa as a last resort if you’re over Chase’s 5/24 rule.
Finding Award Availability for Redeeming Avios
British Airways displays availability for oneworld partner flights on its website, but you can only search for award flights after you log in. Click here, login, and you’ll be taken directly to the screen to search for award flights. Otherwise, log in, select Executive Club from the menu at the top of your screen, then click on “My Executive Club” under Members’ area. You’ll see your name and member number in the middle of the screen. Below that, click on “Book with Avios”.
British Airways does not display availability for other partner airlines like Alaska Airlines, but you can search for Alaska award flights by looking for MileSAAver awards on the American Airlines website. Remember when I said it was complicated? Once you find availability on Alaska Airlines, you must call the British Airways Executive Club at (800) 452-1201 to book your flight. I’ve had pretty good luck getting through quickly if I call on a Saturday. There is a $25 booking fee for calling the Executive Club. However, they are supposed to waive the fee if you’re booking something that can’t be booked online like flights with Alaska Airlines.
I also love Expert Flyer for finding availability. There is a stiff fee ($9.99/month or $99.99/year), but it’s absolutely worth it if you fly frequently and you want to maximize your points & miles. I used it to find availability for 6 people from the San Francisco Bay area to Oahu, Hawaii. I had to break us up between two airports, but I managed to find all of the award seats I needed on Alaska Airlines using Avios.
Redeeming Avios for Upgrades
British Airways allows you to use Avios to upgrade flights at the time of booking or later on (but not at the airport). However, you cannot upgrade the lowest economy fares including those classified as Q, O, and G. You can only upgrade to the next cabin and there must be award flights available in that cabin. British Airways uses the following formula to calculate the cost of upgrades: Avios for the cabin you wish to upgrade to – Avios for the cabin you make your booking in = Avios required to upgrade one way. If you don’t have enough Avios for the upgrade, you can pay with a combination of Avios and cash. This is probably not the best way to redeem Avios. You’ll like spend less Avios if you just book the cabin you want to begin with.
Redeeming Avios for Hotels, Car Rentals, or Experiences.
British Airways gives you the option to redeem Avios for hotels, car rentals, or experiences. You can book these through the “Spending Avios” section of the Executive Club area. You can pay for these items in part or whole with Avios. I do not recommend using your Avios in this manner. The redemption value will almost certainly be extremely low. You are much better off redeeming Avios for airfare.
Final Thoughts on Redeeming Avios
As complicated as it is to redeem Avios with the British Airways Executive Club, they can play an important role in your points & miles strategy. In addition to earning Avios with the British Airways Visa, you can also transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points and American Express Membership rewards to British Airways. It’s very common to find over 2 cents in value when redeeming Avios for short haul flights on partner airlines. While it’s a headache to figure it out, it might be worth it depending on your travel goals.