It has long been touted that the British Airways Avios Program has best value when flying within North America on its Partner Airline American, or flying to certain locations in South America using LAN. This post will explore some of the value sweet spots, and see if we can drill down on where the best value is, as unsurprisingly it is often never as simple as we first thought.
Airline Alliances allow Partner Awards
There are three major Airline Alliances: OneWorld, Star Alliance and Skyteam. For the member airlines and my preferred Partners please see this introductory post: Travel Hacking – An introduction to Airline Alliances If you have Frequent Flyer Miles in one currency, such as AAdvantage you can use them to book travel on a partner airline within the group such as Iberia or Cathay Pacific. Selecting the best partner to redeem on is a combination of routing opportunities, EG using Iberia to get to Spain is a much more effective route; or it is an onboard experience opportunity, as flying Cathay Pacific First Class is (apparently) that much better than American Airlines First Class.
British Airways is unique within OneWorld
The Avios Currency from British Airways is the only one that puts a firm price based upon a distance from Origin to Destination, they have a reward chart that starts at only 4500 Avios and increases by tiers of distance as per below.
This differs from the more widely accepted approach of Region based awards, which would classify all of North America as one region, with a fixed price regardless of if you are flying from NYC – Boston or NYC- San Francisco.
A note on Shared Inventory
Whilst the Partner Airlines within an Alliance allow seat allocations to their network, they do restrict it. You will find that Airline A will have 10 seats, of which they will allow say, 4 to be booked by Airline B. In the case of using Avios with American Airlines ‘metal’ you will know when there is Avios Inventory available when the American Airlines website offers you the lowest cost seat (in Economy, Business or First) called the MilesAAver Ticket.
Basic Theory Concluded
The ability to redeem Avios from British Airways on American Airline flights opens up a great set of options, especially for those tickets that fall just below each tier level on the distance based Chart. Short hops are great value, and we have used Avios in the past to fly from NYC-Toronto for 4500 Avios per person each way, total of 18,000 Avios for exactly the same seat on a flight that would cost 12.5K AAdvantage miles each way, for a total of 50K AAdvantage.
Since 50K AAdvantage could also be used for one roundtrip economy fare between New York and Tokyo I would much rather save them for that!
Advanced Theory – Comparing Value between Avios and AAdvantage
As you can see from the above basic theory, there is a great value opportunity to be found within the Avios program. However this post was motivated as I felt that people were comparing apples and oranges when highlighting the benefits of Avios over AAdvantage miles for the same trip. The reason for this is that people aren’t factoring in the Free One Way option that AAdvantage offers, in other words they are maximizing the Avios award and downplaying the value within the AAdvantage award to prove a point.
For more information on finding free one way tickets on AAdvantage awards see this post: Getting the Magic Dashes on AAdvantage Reservations
With the knowledge of how to book using the “Magic Dashes” the parameters of value shift considerably, lets look at flying from somewhere central in the the United States, and then adding on a free trip to Paris:
With American Airlines you can price out this entire trip for just 32.5K AAdvantage Miles. Lets see what it would cost with Avios:
Fair Test Rule when comparing Avios
I would NEVER use Avios to fly into London and onto Paris, the Route that is suggested here, if we did decide to do this just for academic sense the Avios miles required to fly DFW-JFK-DFW-CDG is over 7000 Miles and would put us into Zone 9 and cost 50,000 Avios for the entire trip. But I think a flat comparison of Avios to AAdvantage for the entire journey is disingenuous since flying Transatlantic using miles would be crippling due to the excessive YQ Fee that is tagged onto the Avios Award when flying on that route.
With that in mind my comparison instead will attempt to compare only the North American aspects of the Avios and AAdvantage Awards.
- We know that any International Trip should be booked with AAdvantage not Avios, and also that any international award booked with AAdvantage should come with ‘the Magic Dashes’ of a free one way.
- We know that Avios is only bookable when AAdvantage is offered at 12.5K each way in North America.
In order to find the equitable fare pricing I had to add on a trip back to JFK in order to show the value from the final CDG-DFW free one way, when we do this it is clear that despite the initial reaction that Avios is only asking 10K miles from DFW-JFK rather than 12.5K AAdvantage, the free one ways that are provided by AAdvantage wipe out that saving.
A note on comparing the value of Miles
Each mileage currency is valued diffrently, by different people, though most would say that Avios and AAdvantage are not of equal value and as such saying that all AAdvantage for 52,500 cannot be compared with the mixed award price of 60,000 (20K/40K) and 80,000 Avios. For one reason spend on the BA Chase card is rewarded at 1.25 Avios per dollar, and spend on the AA Citi Card is rewarded at 1 AAdvantage per dollar. However, I would argue that anyone who is actually putting their everyday spend on either card is leaving something on the table, so it would come down to sign up bonuses and transfer ratios. Both BA and AA offer sign up bonuses of 50K right now, making them equal, and both transfer from Starwood American Express SPG Points at 1:1.25.
As such, I claim them equal, at least in this example…
I still believe that there is value with Avios for two types of trip:
- The very shortest 4500 Avios redemption only (even at 7500 I think AAdvantage when leveraging the free one way wins out)
- Pure one way trips – not a frequent occurrence, but sometimes useful if people are seeking a positioning flight. Sometimes when I vacation I will max out the Open Jaws and Stopovers on an AAdvantage Ticket or a United Mileage Plus ticket and being able to pop between cities on a one way can be very handy.
- When you never fly Internationally, you can only leverage the ‘Magic Dashes’ on AAdvantage tickets when you include a zone outside of North America, such as Europe or Asia.
- When your own mileage balances dictate the need. This is often the largest driver. If you have a dearth of AAdvantage Miles and an excess of British Airways Avios you might want to use them on moderate distance one-way journeys even though that loses the free future one way. It certainly isn’t good strategy if you have a decent amount of both though.
What do you think, are Avios better than AAdvantage for Domestic USA Trips, or if you are willing to plan further ahead and link your AAdvantage Award Travel to 3 leg trip including an international destination are you better off with AA?
Pro Tip – You can price out your route using the Great Circle Mapper tool that I used in this post for free here, it is handy if you are looking at short hops: http://www.gcmap.com/