With news that American Express points once again transfer at a 1:1 ratio to British Airways, I want to highlight my five favorite redemption options. Hint: It’s all about shorthaul.
For years, I talked up the amazing rate between Boston and Dublin on Aer Lingus using BA Avios. A one-way ticket was only 12,500 miles in economy class or 25,000 miles in business class. Even when business class rose to 37,500 miles a couple years ago, it still represented a great deal considering the quality of the Aer Lingus business class cabin and lack of fuel surcharges.
But that’s gone. British Airways decided to move Dublin by 14-miles into the next band, meaning a one-way in business now runs 50,000 in business during off-peak season and 60,000 during peak-season. That’s just not nearly as good as before.
In general, longhaul flights are horrendous value using Avios: the distance-based chart severely penalizes longhaul flights in premium cabins. For example, a one-way business class ticket from New York to Sydney on Qantas is 80K AA miles or 200K British Airways Avios. Want to add a connection to Perth? No additional AA miles but another 37,500 Avios.
So my most important rule in redeeming British Airways miles: stick to shorthaul flights. Since flight pricing is not correlated to distance, you can score some incredible deals, particularly on last-minute tickets (BA charges no close-in booking fee). Here are my five favorite BA redemptions:
1. Shorthaul Europe – flights 650 miles or under cost 4,500 Avios (double in business class)
With the proliferation of low-cost carriers, flying in Europe tends to be cheaper than it ever has been. Even so, some routes are still quite pricey, particularly if booking at the last minute. But last minute is when carriers tend to convert unsold seats into award space. Thus, you’ll often see same-day tickets running hundreds of dollars but cost only 4,500 Avios plus $28 in taxes/fees. Note: while BA taxes/fees are obscene on longhaul flights, they tend to be reasonable on shorthaul flights operated by British Airways, Iberia, and Air Berlin.
A bonus: if you travel on British Airways or Iberia metal during the off-peak season, you pay only 4,000 miles.
Is business worth-it on a short flight? Here’s an Iberia review from London to Madrid.
2. Shorthaul North America – flights 1,151 miles or under cost 7,500 Avios (double in business on American, quadruple in “first class” on Alaska)
Last minute tickets and even some purchased months in advance can be very expensive even if covering a short distance. Avios can help with perpetually pricey markets like Pittsburgh to Washington to several of the smaller cities served by American Eagle or Horizon.
3. Shorthaful Africa – flights 650 miles or under cost 4,500 Avios (double in business class)
Flying from Johannesburg to Victoria Falls or even CapeTown last-minute can be pricey: use 4,500 miles in economy or 9,000 in business to save money. Taxes/fees are also reduced on these Comair-operated British Airways flights. For 7,500 miles you can travel to Winhoek, a wonderful destination and starting point for a great trip in Namibia.
4. Qatar First Class (+lounge access) – flights under 650 miles cost 18,000 Avios in first class
The First Class Al-Safwa in Doha is one of my favorite lounges in the world and by far my favorite oneworld lounge. Travel to a neighbor in the region and you’ll pay 18,000 miles if your flight is under 650 miles. That not only gives you a great experience onboard, but access to the lounge prior to your flight. Arrive several hours early and enjoy!
5. West Coast to Hawaii non-stop for 12,500 Avios in economy class (one-way)
Hawaii tickets are obscenely high during the peak season. Not that you’ll have great success finding a lot of award space, but its out there, especially on Alaska Airlines from some secondary cities along the West Coast. Remember that Alaska Airlines space must be booked over the phone.
Avios are still valuable and become even more valuable now that AMEX to BA has returned to a 1:1 transfer ratio. You can see my bias for shorthaul redemptions: these routes continue to make the most sense to burn point on.