The British Airways Avios Program 2016 Canadian Edition

Wednesday 20th, January 2016 / 05:00 Written by
The British Airways Avios Program 2016 Canadian Edition
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The Skinny

Avios is the frequent flyer program of British Airways

The best uses of Avios are for flights that are

  • Short flights (esp outside of North America)
  • Flights just below a distance band

Redeeming Avios

Avios is a distance based program

  • Flights priced (in Avios) by leg
  • Each leg price based on the distance flown
  • Stopovers / concept does not apply (you pay for each leg you fly)

Avios can be earned and redeemed for flights on British Airways partners including:

  • American Airlines
  • Alaska Airlines
  • British Airways (avoid redeeming here)
  • Other OneWorld Airlines

Earning Avios

Avios can be earned by:

  • Flying on British Airways partners
  • Credit cards in Canada (Amex Membership Rewards, RBC Avion, RBC British Airways Avios)

Transferring to Iberia Avios can save you miles for short, roundtrip flights

In 2016, my valuation of an Avios is ~1.25 cents (CDN)

 

Overview

Avios is the frequent flyer program of British Airways. While there are only a handful of flights that British Airways operates to / from Canada, there is still a lot of value to Canadian travelers.

Primarily, Avios are easily earned through a few credit card programs in Canada. Also British Airways partners with a few North American airlines such that earning and spending Avios is not unreasonable for many Canadians.

For the past several years, Avios has provided outsized value to people flying short flights (say Toronto to New York) on American Airlines. In 2016, the cost of short flights within North America is going up slightly, but there is still a lot of value to be had in this program.

 

My favorite uses of Avios

As mentioned above, the Avios program used to be almost too good for short flights within North America on American Airlines. The reason for this is because they were underpriced in Avios and there were no fuel surcharges on those flights. In 2016, the minimum price for flights in North America is going up from 4500 Avios / way to 7500 Avios.

Based on the 2016 chart, here are my favorite uses of Avios, geared towards Canadians looking to fly in economy.

  1. Short – Medium flights (<1150 miles) within North America

These flights might otherwise cost 12.5K or 15K AAdvantage miles each way, but are only 7500 Avios each way. Aeroplan might charge 7500 or 12.5K each way, but may come with hefty taxes.

  1. Short flights on LAN in South America

Flights intra South America can be expensive but you can offset the costs by using your Avios to bounce around on short flights that carry minimal taxes / fuel surcharges.

  1. Flights just below the a distance threshold (BOS-DUB)

The best thing to do is find flights whose distance is just below a distance tier. For example, flights 2000-3000 miles are 12.5K Avios each way, but flights 3000-4000 miles are 20K each way. If you can find a flight that is just below 3000 miles, such as BOS-DUB (2993 miles), you can save a lot of miles structuring your trip around that as your overseas flight.

  1. Positioning flights

Since Avios flights are distance based, you can use them for the short flights to get you to an airport that has a much lower price for a given flight. This was useful while flights from Toronto to New York were only 4500 Avios. I was able to buy a few very cheap overseas flights originating from New York (when the equivalent was very expensive from Toronto), and get myself to start in New York by taking an Avios flight from Toronto to New York. You can apply this when you are overseas now that short flights in North America have gone up.

  1. Last minute flights

Avios redemption flights come with no last minute booking fee, which means that those last minute flights can be great value using Avios. FOr some flihgts, this could save a lot of money.

 

Redeeming Avios

The Award Chart

The British Airways Avios award chart is as follows:

Zone Distance In Miles Economy Business
Excluding USA 1 – 650 4,500 9,000
Including USA 1 – 650 7,500 15,000
2 651 – 1151 7,500 15,000
3 1152 – 2000 10,000 20,000
4 2001 – 3000 12,500 25,000
5 3001 – 4000 20,000 40,000
6 4001 – 5500 25,000 50,000
7 5501 – 6500 30,000 60,000
8 6501 – 7000 35,000 70,000

 

Note there is a change occurring on Feb 2, 2016. This has been implemented in the chart above.

We’re going to be making a change to the Executive Club pricing structure for shorter reward flights originating or terminating within the United States of America. From 2 February 2016, reward flights will start from 7,500 Avios, instead of 4,500 Avios, plus taxes, fees and carrier charges (“TFCs”) from $5.60 USD.

Only those reward flights that currently cost 4,500 Avios for a one way flight in Economy, 9,000 Avios for Business Class and 18,000 Avios for First Class plus TFCs will increase; to 7,500 Avios, 15,000 Avios and 30,000 Avios plus TFCs respectively. All other Avios reward flight pricing will remain the same as it is today.

If you would like to learn more about this change, simply click on the link below.

 

In the section below, I comment on how to save Avios for short flights within North America by transferring your Avios to Iberia Avios.

 

How Flights are Priced (in Avios)

Avios prices flights for redemption based completely on a leg by leg basis. Each leg that is flown is priced independently and has a price based on the distance of that flight.

In this case, taking an extra leg in a journey can prove costly (although there are situations where it can actually be advantageous).

To price your journey, look at each leg individually. Find the distance of each leg, based on the Great Circle Mapper. Then look at the price for each leg against the award chart.

For example, lets say you wanted to go from Toronto to Houston. Here are 2 options:

Flight Airports Flight Distance Avios
Toronto – Dallas YYZ-DFW 1199 mi 12500
Dallas – Houston DFW-IAH 224 mi 4500
Total 17000
Toronto – Chicago YYZ-ORD 436 mi 4500
Chicago – Houston ORD-IAH 925 mi 7500
Total 12000

 

In this case, we see that choosing to connect in Chicago costs only 12000 Avios, while connecting in Dallas would cost 17000 Avios. That is a savings of 5000 Avios for connecting in one city vs another.

 

Airlines to redeem with

British Airways is a OneWorld Alliance member. In North America, they also partner with Alaska Airlines. The most useful partners (for Canadians) that Avios are valuable for are flights on:

  • American Airlines
  • Alaska Airlines
  • British Airways (avoid due to fuel surcharges)
  • Finnair
  • JAL
  • Cathay Pacific
  • LAN

While you can redeem your Avios anywhere in the world, here is a list of flights you can redeem for that touch Canada

 

Origin City Destination City Airline Distance Avios Required for one-way (2016 chart) Count of Flights
Toronto Charlotte American 588 mi 7,500 11
Toronto Chicago American 436 mi 7,500 11
Toronto New York (JFK or LGA) American 366 mi 7,500 11
Toronto Philadelphia American 347 mi 7,500 11
Toronto Washington (DCA) American 359 mi 7,500 11
Toronto Dallas American 1199 mi 10,000 11
Toronto Miami American 1233 mi 10,000 11
Toronto Los Angeles American 2175 mi 12,500 11
Toronto London British Airways 3556 mi 20,000 11
Toronto Helsinki Finnair 4113 mi 25,000 11
Toronto Hong Kong Cathay Pacific 7810 mi 50,000 11
Montreal New York (JFK or LGA) American 333 mi 7,500 10
Montreal Philadelphia American 394 mi 10,000 10
Montreal Washington (DCA) American 487 mi 7,500 10
Montreal Chicago American 748 mi 7,500 10
Montreal Charlotte American 803 mi 7,500 10
Montreal Dallas American 1513 mi 10,000 10
Montreal Miami American 1404 mi 10,000 10
Montreal London British Airways 3249 mi 20,000 10
Montreal Amman Royal Jordanian 5541 mi 30,000 10
Montreal Doha Qatar 6478 mi 30,000 10
Vancouver Los Angeles American or Alaska 1081 mi 7,500 10
Vancouver Seattle Alaska 127 mi 7,500 10
Vancouver Portland Alaska 251 mi 7,500 10
Vancouver Dallas American 1754 mi 10,000 10
Vancouver Phoenix American 1230 mi 10,000 10
Vancouver New York (JFK) Cathay Pacific 2449 mi 12,500 10
Vancouver London British Airways 4723 mi 25,000 10
Vancouver Tokyo JAL 4674 mi 25,000 10
Vancouver Hong Kong Cathay Pacific 6392 mi 30,000 10
Vancouver Sydney Qantas 7757 mi 50,000 10
Calgary Seattle Alaska 452 mi 7,500 4
Calgary Dallas American 1523 mi 10,000 4
Calgary Phoenix American 1224 mi 10,000 4
Calgary London British Airways 4372 mi 25,000 4
Edmonton Seattle Alaska 559 mi 7,500 3
Edmonton Dallas American 1630 mi 10,000 3
Edmonton Phoenix American 1374 mi 10,000 3
Halifax Philadelphia American 692 mi 7,500 1
Kelowna Seattle Alaska 219 mi 7,500 1
Ottawa Philadelphia American 377 mi 7,500 1
Quebec City Philadelphia American 515 mi 7,500 1
Victoria Seattle Alaska 97 mi 7,500 1

Fuel Surcharges

Something to be aware of with Avios is that fuel surcharges are charged on flights operated by some airlines. In many cases, these surcharges are exorbitant and in some cases account for more than a comparable economy ticket purchases would cost.

It is best to avoid airlines that charge fuel surcharges when redeeming Avios as you will certainly get very poor value for your Avios this way.

 

List of Airlines That Charge Fuel Surcharges

According to the Dan’s Deals forums,

British Airways:Charges a fuel surcharge for their own and for partner flights except for when flying on select partners.
Note: BA charges a surcharge for travel on most partners, with the exceptions being Air Berlin, Aer Lingus, Alaska, and LAN.  BA does not collect a fuel surcharge on AA flights that are wholly within the Western Hemisphere.
BA also does not collect fuel surcharges for flights within Europe.
You can transfer BA Avios to Iberia to save on fuel surcharges collected on Iberia flights.

Buying Up Avios when you are short

Finally, when redeeming Avios, I have found that it is often offered to redeem fewer Avios than required and pay a cash portion to offset the rest. In many cases, the offer tends to come in around 1.3 cents (USD) for each Avios you need to buy up. This is not an unreasonable price for Avios so you may actually be able to leverage few Avios into a good redemption if you keep this in mind.

 

Example of Buying Up Avios

 

Buy Up Avios

 

 

Earning Avios

Earning by Flying

The most tradtional way that Avios are earned is through flying on British Airways and their partners. With American Airlines devaluing their AAdvantage miles for Canadians, many Canadians may opt to earn Avios instead of AAdvantage for upcoming travel.

Avios are generally earned on the distance flown, and usually at a rate of 1 Avios / $ spent in economy.

To find out how many Avios you would earn for a given flight, look here.

 

Earning by Credit Cards in Canada

For a Canadian looking to get Avios through credit card spend, the best card to get would be the American Express Gold card, that collect Membership Rewards.

Card Points Earned / Dollar Transfer Bonuses Net Avios / Dollar Earned
American Express Gold Card 2 MR / $ – Travel Up to 25% 1.25 – 2.5 Avios / $
2 MR / $ – Gas / Groc / Drug
1 MR / $ – Everything else
RBC Avion Card 2 RBC / $ – Travel Up to 25% 1.25 – 1.56 Avios / $
1 RBC / $ – Everything else
RBC British Airways Avios Card 1 Avios / $ N/A 1 Avios / $

See the American Express Gold Card Review

 

In Canada, British Airways Avios can also be earned through credit card partners. There is a dedicated Royal Bank British Airways Avios card that earns Avios directly through purchases, however, this is not a very good card.

The other option for earning Avios through credit card spend is through either the American Express Membership Rewards Program or the RBC Avion programs.

The American Express Membership Rewards program allows transfers to Avios at a rate of 1000 Membership Rewards = 1000 Avios (or 1:1). There are often bonuses for transferring Avios. In 2015, I was able to transfer 40000 Membership Rewards for 50000 Avios (1:1.25 ratio), so there are transfer bonuses with this program. With most of the Membership Rewards earning cards, it is also possible to earn 2 Membership Rewards / Dollar spent in many categories, including travel. This means that if you are looking to earn the most Avios, and you transfer your Membership Rewards to Avios during a 25% transfer bonus, you can average between 1.25 and 2.5 Avios per dollar spent.

RBC Rewards also transfer to Avios at a rate of 1:1 for people who carry the RBC Avion card.  Most of the year transfers at 1:1 but there are transfer bonuses for some segments of the year. I believe the last one was a 25% bonus. The RBC Avion card earns 1 RBC point / Dollar spent on most categories. Travel purchases earn 1.25 RBC Rewards / Dollar spent. This means that if you are looking to earn the most Avios, you can potentially earn between 1.25 and 1.56 Avios with your Avion card.

 

Transferring to Iberia Avios

Since the change in 2016 to the award chart, many people have written about how to maintain great value from the British Airways Avios.

One way to do this is to transfer your British Airways Avios to Iberia Avios so you can access their award chart .Using the Iberia Avios award chart, the short flights within North America are still pricing at the lower level, with some restrictions.

If you can do the following, you should look to redeem under the Iberia Avios program instead of British Airways Avios:

  • Can set up an Iberia Avios account
  • Short flights in North America are roundtrip

Free-quent Flyer has a good discussion of this here.

 

Summary

Avios is the frequent flyer program of British Airways. There is some great value for Canadians, given that you can earn them by credit cards, such as American Express and RBC Avion.

They have a good network of partners, on which they can be redeemed and are priced based on distance.

In 2016, I value them around 1.25 cents (Canadian)

 

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