Avios are likely the easiest frequent flyer miles to earn for free via credit cards, but BA doesn’t make it easy to understand their program.
They have 3 award charts, inconsistent pricing on fuel surcharges, and distance based pricing. In other words, you can pay wildly different prices for the same route.
I show how you can pay $128 for an AA flight from Dallas to Rome… or you can pay $320 for an AA flight from Dallas to Rome. I show you the tools and resources to get lower prices, and to hopefully make sense of it all.
1) There are 3 Award Charts
With British Airways and Iberia there are off-peak and peak prices too. To see the off-peak calendar click here and go down to partners.
Notice a few things:
- British Airways economy is the cheapest in Avios
- But British Airways has huge fuel surcharges
- Iberia business class is the cheapest business in Avios
The better prices on Iberia are because British Airways and Iberia are both owned by the same parent group (IAG).
Found on this FT thread.
Note the following about partner flights:
Redemption rates for travel on American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and TAM will start at 7,500 Avios rather than 4,500 Avios, effectively pricing Distance Band 1 flights as Band 2.
Redemption rates for travel on American Airlines within the United States in First Class are calculated at Business Class providing the flight operates as a two class service.
Consider that NYC to Madrid is 17k/34k Avios in off-peak, and a flight on AA is 20k/60k. Business class is nearly double!
Then consider a trip from NYC to Israel. On Iberia the entire trip would be 55,250 Avios. But with a partner like Air Berlin would be 80,000 Avios.
The problem is the fuel surcharges on Iberia… that can be solved with the next tip.
2) Transfer from BA Avios to Iberia Avios
Since BA and Iberia are part of the same group, you can transfer between the two programs. And the two programs are nearly identical. Prices will be mostly the same (except on partners), and both miles are branded as “Avios”.
Thus, you can transfer from BA Avios, to Iberia Avios and book the same JFK-MAD flight for 17,000 Avios, but without the fuel surcharges.
JFK – MAD in Economy:
- BA Avios = 17k + $128
- Iberia Avios = 17k + $70
JFK – MAD Business:
- BA Avios = 34k + $456
- Iberia Avios = 34k + $80
As you can see, it’s a huge savings for business class.
This savings is specific to flying on Iberia using Avios. It’s a great way to get to Europe or any Iberia destination.
It saves Avios to fly Iberia, and if so, it saves cash to transfer to Iberia Avios first.
(Also, here is the peak / off-peak chart for Iberia).
Iberia route map:
Details on transferring:
A bit old, but here is good post showing details: How To Transfer From BA Avios to Iberia Avios. The second half shows how to do the transfer, the first half talks about the rules.
You need two things before you can transfer:
- Your Iberia account needs to be open for 90 days – so create an account now.
- There needs to be activity in your Iberia account – the first half of the post talks about transferring from Amex MR.
3) These airlines have no fuel surcharges when using BA Avios!
First, I’ll give you this helpful chart for understanding which airlines you can use to avoid fuel surcharges, then I’ll give you a tip on flying to Europe for half the fuel surcharges on AA, BA, and IB.
You’ll quickly realize that flights to Europe (and therefore Africa) are the ones with large fuel surcharges. But Asian airlines have some fuel surcharges too.
This will help you find the loop holes… like flying Air Berlin to Europe avoids fuel surcharges, or flying AA to Asia avoids fuel surcharges.
(All prices shown are in economy):
|– AA/USA to Asia||0|
|– AA/USA to Europe||200 – 516|
|Iberia||200 – 496|
|Malaysia||194 (0 within Asia)|
|Sri Lankan||72 (CMB-HKG)|
Ranges to Europe.
Notice that BA, Iberia, and AA to Europe are ranges. That’s because flights from the east coast (from NYC, Boston, Chicago, Charlotte, etc… shorter flights to Europe) seem to have $80 – $100 of fuel surcharges (each way), while flights from the rest of the the country have to pay $256 each way in fuel surcharges.
A flight from Dallas (DFW) to Rome (FCO) on AA has $316 in fuel surcharges and fees. Yet, a flight from Chicago (ORD) has $128 in fuel surcharges and fees!
Thus, you could save $188 by booking via Chicago.
And the crazier thing is that sometimes you have to book the tickets separate to get the lower DFW-ORD-FCO.
In other words, booking DFW-ORD-FCO has two different tickets, you’d have fees totaling $5 (DFW-ORD) and $128 (ORD-FCO)… but when the search engine on BA spits out DFW-FCO via ORD, the fee comes out to $320.60.
It makes no sense! But, at least you know. You can check tickets not just on different airlines, but different routes.
4) Use the Avios Calculator (the one by Wandr.me, not BA!)
Bookmark this tool: Avios Calculator.
Avios calculates the price segment by segment, and sometimes direct routes are more expensive and sometimes they are cheaper… and some connections are more expensive than others.
The example I commonly use is LA to Sydney… here’s what the Avios Calculator shows:
The far right column is price, and the third column is connections…
Notice that a direct flight (in the second row) is 50,000 Avios, but a flight via HNL (Honolulu, Hawaii) is way cheaper! Only 37,500 Avios for a oneway.
But the cool thing about the tool is that you can see, that even if there wasn’t the cheaper HNL connection, you could go via Tokyo for the same price as a direct, and via Shanghai for only 5,000 more Avios.
5) Use The Avios Map to see your cheapest direct flights
Arguably the best use of BA Avios is for short direct flights (although there is no 4,500 Avios category anymore in the US).
Therefore, check out the Avios Map. It’s a great way to get ideas for where to go for super cheap.
It’s obivously a great tool to see the direct/cheap flights from your home town, but you can use it anywhere, to possibly fill an open-jaw.
For example, let’s consider Lima, Peru (LIM):
You can see cheap 4,500 flights to places in Peru to places like Arequipa and the very popular Cusco (launching point for Machu Picchu).
But you could use 12,500 Avios to get all the way to Cancun, Havana, Mexico City, Punta Cana, Orlando, or Miami… All of which are Southwest destinations, so you could use Southwest points to get back from there (Miami isn’t really a southwest destination but FLL is).
BA Avios is an overly complicated program… 3 award charts not including the different award charts with Iberia, the off-peak and peak prices, the inconsistent fuel surcharges, and the distance based pricing which also ends up being inconsistent.
But hopefully book-marking this will give quick access to tools, award charges, and the chart for fuel surcharges.
Great content as always, been following your blog for a while now! BA has such great value on many direct routes! On a side note I noticed your instagram isn’t as popular as it could be and you have the perfect lifestyle for it to be huge. The analytical way you approach traveling for free and what is needed for photography aren’t so different. The amount you travel you could post the most amazing photos (and drive more traffic to instagram and facebook) and I wondered if we could perhaps trade services (either meet somewhere or skype) and I could teach you about photography (2 hours I’m guessing) and you could give me a bit more insight into this (mostly best use of united miles is what I’m trying to get my head around)? Just a crazy idea I had, apologies for the forwardness and I didn’t know another way to contact you other than here. Thanks again for all the fantastic advise you give on here and on facebook!
Excellent information. Now could someone write an article detailing which websites to use to book Avios trips other than ba.com which does not let you book partner flights for how to actually transfer the points to the partner. Thank you.
Good post Drew, as I recently transferred some MR to IB during +50% promo. I’ve researched the IB program before doing that and for most part it feels reasonable. The thing I don’t fully understand is that when searching online at IB is has different (more limited) results compare to BA website. And both are pretty lackluster for flights from/within USA.
Do you know if it possible to book awards with IB Avios that you find at BA or partners which not showing on IB over the phone?
Also not clear if mixing IB and partner on award – what chart to use?
By the way, BA Customer Service can transfer IB Avios to BA Avios over the phone if you supply them your information over the phone.
Here’s the award chart for using IB avios on AA.
Note Iberia only allows round-trip itineraries on AA.
Iberia frequently blocks award availability on domestic AA flights.
Nice post Drew, thanks!
Thank you for the useful post! A solid understanding of Avios has always eluded me. I was wondering whether you believe the quality of Iberia economy/business is decent enough to warrant the savings. I know BA is not the queen of the skies, and I haven’t flown Iberia for several years now, but I used to fly to/from Spain a few times per year in coach, and Iberia was pretty bad, compared to BA (for example, no individual entertainment monitors). But perhaps that has changed. 🙂 Thank you!
I would also add that you can transfer from e-Rewards to Iberia Avios instead of spending Amex MR points.
Can you pool Iberia Avios like British? Are you able to use Iberia Avios to book tickets for anybody?
You can’t pool Iberia Avios, like BA Avios.
Yes, you can book an Iberia flight with your Avios for another person.
Lost Avios Miles
I lost over 140,000 Avios miles after inaction for a few years. I had earned them through a Barclays credit card. I contacted them about my account, but they claimed no information was present and that no one with my last name ever had an Avios account! Left with no options, I gave up. Any help out there?
Living in an AA hub city, my #1 use for BA Avios had been non-stop sAAVer rewards on AA metal, but I feel like the amount of seats made available to book via BA has been drastically diminished over the past year or so. Is that just me, or do you know if it seems to be the case across the board?
Great info, Drew. Is it true that i need to have have actual flight activity on my 90 day+ account to do a transfer from my BA avios to the Iberia avios? Over the phone still have to wait the 90 days? What kind of availablity do you predict there will be if I want to book in April for a late April/early May business class award MAD to MIA?
“Activity” can be transferring a minimal number of points (like 1000 Amex MRs) to activate your Iberia acct.
The IB route map left out MAD-MEX.
Hubby and I flew Iberia business class ORD to MAD this past fall. It was great.
We used BA Avios to get to ORD from PIT.
I transfered enough Amex MRs when they had the 50% bonus to do it again next Spring when we plan to go to Rome.
Iberia Avios are great for short flights on the low cost carrier Vueling, too. We flew Granada to Barcelona for (I think) 4000 Avios, no fees and that gave us the highest level of service – priority boarding and free baggage check.
We flew home Barcelona to JFK AA business class. I remember the taxes and fees being less expensive with AA than flying back Iberia.
Don’t know How I missed this. George at Travelbloggerbuzz.com linked your article today.
You’re incorrect about NYC to Israel being 80K on Air Berlin. It’s 30K each way, 60K RT. Taxes come to about $85 RT.
Thanks for this post. I’m trying to figure out how to get to Morocco from Manila and thought of using BA. I’ve hesitated getting their card because of the huge fuel surcharges that you mention and that I always hear about. Bookmarking this while I do more researching and seeing if I can combine points from AA and other airlines/cards. Thanks for this awesome article.
Is Wandr.me upto date ? There certainly was a period where it wasn’t after a BA devaluation a couple of years ago and I stopped relying on it, which was a shame as it was a great tool.. If its fully upto date again that’s awesome news.