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Award Sweet Spot: The West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii, using Avios




One thing I noticed during our trip to Alaska is the Alaskans’ pride in calling themselves the 49th state. So this sweet spot, one of the most-blogged-about, is for them and 50, Hawaii. And 31, 33, 42 and 48. Which, in case you’ve forgotten, are California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona in that order. You can see the rest of the sweet spots we’ve already looked at in Award Sweet Spots By Origin page under the Resources tab at the top of the page.

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Some of the sweetest spots and combinations using British Airways Avios. Maps are all to scale. Just not the same scale. Sorry, Alaska. Map courtesy of Free Map Tools

Like a number of other foreign award programs, British Airways Avios is a distance-based program. Since each segment is priced separately, it favors nonstop flights or combinations of flights that make the most of the Avios distance bands:

Since BA counts two-class first class as First, Economy makes the most sense for most cases in these examples as there are no premium economy or business class seats offered according to BA’s program. Unfortunately, zones 1 and 2 are now the same zone 2 price for travel within North America.

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Sweet: 7500 Avios rather than 12,500 AA or Alaska miles.

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Two connections make this not sweet at all – 19,000 Avois rather than 12,500 AA or Alaska miles from Portland to King Salmon.


You can find great resources on booking flights with Avios in this post and this complete guide, both by Travel is Free. Rather than focusing on the program, let’s look at the possibilities on a series of maps, and some ways to make them work even if you don’t live in one of the hub cities that make the most obvious sweet spots:


Distance band 4: 12,500 Avios each way

This band, 2000 to 2999 miles, includes flights from all 5 of the older states mentioned to the newest one, Hawaii.

Nonstop routes served by American, US Airways and Alaska Airlines in Distance band 4.

Nonstop routes served by American, US Airways and Alaska Airlines in Distance band 4. Alaska and Hawaii in one trip? No problem.

Routes in red are served by Alaska Airlines, Green are both American and Alaska and Black are US Airways. All of these can be searched on American’s website, and AA and US flights can be also be searched and booked online at britishairways.com. Just don’t let Hawaiian Airlines (HA) flights that show up on aa.com fool you – those can not be booked with Avios as Hawaiian is not a partner of BA.

Alaska flights can only be booked by calling BA’s service center. Allow lots of time, and ask them to waive the phone booking fee. In our experience they generally will waive the booking fee, although you may have to point out that you (obviously) would have booked them online if possible.

Most of these routes, even on the same flights, would require 17,500-22,500 points booked with any other program.


Distance band 3: 10,000 Avios each way

This band, 1150 to 1999 miles, includes a bunch of great deals to Mexico as well as some points-saving ways to get to Alaska. Not shown: lots of routes from Portland and Seattle as far East as Detroit and Houston.

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Nonstop routes served by US Airways and Alaska Airlines in Distance band 3. Alaska Airlines routes are red and US Airways black.


Distance band 2: 7,500 Avios each way

This band covers segments from 650 to 1149 miles, and includes more Alaska and Mexico deals.

7.5K

Nonstop routes served by US Airways and Alaska Airlines in Distance band 2. Alaska Airlines routes are red and US Airways black.


Distance band 1: Also 7,500 Avios each way

This band, up to 649 miles, includes flights up and down the West coast. Unfortunately these are no longer 4,500 Avios, and AA or Alaska miles may be be better. Still, these could be decent deals for West Coast folks as well as ways to stretch trips and add ‘stopovers’ to trips to the West coast at minimal cost.

West Coast and Alaska routes up to 650 miles nonstop. Great Circle Mapper is tired.

West Coast and Alaska routes up to 650 miles nonstop. Great Circle Mapper is tired.

If you live in any of the cities on this map, you probably know you can get to the corresponding hubs. From Southern California, the SF Bay area, Portland, Seattle, Anchorage and Phoenix you have a huge variety of destinations. But those of us East of these areas are certainly not left out.


Using these sweet spots from the rest of the country

Especially with 4 or more passengers, if you’ve been shopping for domestic award travel you’ve probably seen the number of available award seats dwindling over the past year or two. I find that we can often find seats for one direction but not the other. Or maybe you want to put together an itinerary that results in a West Coast ‘road trip’ with most of the distance covered in the air. With Southwest points, especially with companion pass(es), you can put just about anything together. At that point, we’re getting into Git-R-Done award booking territory, which is still a lot more fun than staying home! In case you’re not familiar with the term, this flight to get your family ‘in position’ for the flight you want is referred to as a positioning flight.

Routes served nonstop by Southwest which can be combined with Avios sweet spots.

Routes served nonstop by Southwest which can be combined with Avios sweet spots. If necessary, an extra stop brings every airport served by Southwest into play. All route maps are courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

What you should know about positioning:

  • You are not protected against delays as you are with a single ticket. If your first flight is delayed and causes you to miss your second flight, you will be at the mercy of the airline operating the second flight to get a new ticket or, if you’re fortunate, an agent could allow you to travel on a later flight. Especially on the outbound leg of a long-planned trip your family is looking forward to, I think it’s worth planning an overnight layover at your positioning destination. This actually works very well with most of these westbound trips as you can leave in the afternoon (after school or work) and get to the west coast in the evening, and then continue on to Hawaii or wherever in the morning.
  • Southwest Airlines flights booked with points are very positioning-friendly. If you miss your flight, you get your points back! So you can book two flights from your positioning point to home: one with a ‘normal’ layover of 2 hours or so, and a later one just in case. If all goes well and you are on time for the first flight, you can go ahead and cancel the later one while waiting at the gate. If you don’t cancel the flight, the taxes you paid will be available for use on a later flight. If you do cancel, they can be refunded. Note that this cancellation only applies to refundable tickets and award Wanna Get Away tickets, NOT paid Wanna Get Away tickets.
  • Book one-way tickets for all travel that involves positioning if possible. The worst case scenario is the cancellation of your first positioning flight due to weather. When you miss that next flight, your entire ticket may be cancelled. If you book only one-way tickets and this happens, at least your return trip is intact if you can find an alternate route or program for your outbound trip.

This is such a big subject with so many possibilities that it’s difficult to cover every angle – are there some Western U.S. Avios sweet spots I’ve missed that you have used or plan to use? Let me know in the comments, so I can make this resource as complete as possible!

-Kenny

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • Elaine July 25, 2014, 12:33 am

    This post made this Portlander most pleased!

  • Brian July 25, 2014, 11:43 am

    Great post. Any way we could get the actual links to gcmap or a list of the pairs in each distance band? Some of the pics are bit hard to make out.

    • Kenny July 26, 2014, 10:10 am

      Here’s the gcmap page which also gives all the city pairs and distances for the West coast routes up to 649 miles.

  • Steve July 26, 2014, 8:37 am

    While agree that hedging on your separate flight with SWA, would they not recognize you made two flights on the same day and reject the duplicate?

    • Kenny July 26, 2014, 10:09 am

      I haven’t done this myself but know of others doing it with no problem. I’m not sure what they would do if the flights were very close together, but a few hours apart (so both flights would not be in the air at the same time) seems to work just fine.

  • Mark July 26, 2014, 5:44 pm

    OneWorld has an explicit policy to treat disjointed OneWorld itineraries as though they were on a single ticket. You would still have to deal with BA to rebook.

    • Kenny July 28, 2014, 3:00 pm

      Good point, although I understand it is an AA policy regarding Oneworld travel and AA misconnects and none of the examples that fit this sweet spot would likely be all-Oneworld. Alaska Airlines doesn’t count. There would be a few all-AA/US itineraries that could be pieced together with Avios at a lower cost that AA’s 22.5K, and then this policy could come into play.

  • Ozaer N. August 24, 2014, 9:43 pm

    Fwiw…I’ve never had luck in them waiving the phone fee….even if I told them can’t book Alaska flts online.

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