Beginner users of the British Airways Avios award program might be earning Avios with the intention of redeeming them on British Airways flights to London… but they’ll eventually discover that they must pay nasty surcharges of $500+ per direction upon doing so.
More advanced Avios users know that the best-value redemptions often lie in short-haul flights on Oneworld airlines, thanks to the program’s unique distance-based award chart. There are also pockets of value in certain long-haul economy class flights, and even a handful of compelling redemptions for long-haul business class flights.
But the truly savvy Avios collectors will know that there’s actually an entirely separate award chart within the program, which is used specifically when multiple Oneworld partner airlines are combined on the same itinerary. The chart is titled “Avios costs for multi-carrier Reward Flights”, and you can find it here.
While I haven’t personally used this chart to redeem my Avios (yet!), I do think it makes for a very interesting sweet spot to examine in an academic setting, as the possibilities for extensive round-the-world travel can be quite exciting indeed.
Moreover, with the future of the beloved Aeroplan Mini-RTW still uncertain, now’s a great time to learn about the other potential ways to book spectacular trips around the world using a relatively low number of miles, in case the dark timeline in which the Mini-RTW goes belly-up does in fact materialize.
The Multi-Carrier Award Chart
To begin, here’s the chart itself as displayed on the British Airways website:
These prices reflect a booking that’s done in economy class, and you multiply the Avios prices by 1.5x for premium economy, 2x for business, and 3x for First Class.
Taking this into account, a more complete chart is presented as below:
|Miles in your journey||Avios required for...|
To begin, let’s go over the ground rules of using the British Airways Avios multi-carrier award chart:
You must include at least two Oneworld airlines besides British Airways on your ticket
Travel can only take place on Oneworld airlines, so British Airways’s non-Oneworld partners, like Alaska Airlines and Aer Lingus, are not eligible
You can have at most eight flight segments, and travel must take place within a 12-month window; this means that you’re effectively allowed seven stopovers on the ticket
In addition, you can also have one open-jaw
The total distance of your trip, which is used to determine the Avios cost according to the above multi-carrier chart, is based on the cumulative distance of your flown segments
This is contrast to regular British Airways Avios awards, which are based on adding up the individual award costs of each segment
The last rule is very nuanced but a very important one to understand. When booking “normal” Avios awards with more than one segment, you look up each segment’s award cost first, then add them up to arrive at a total. In contrast, when using the multi-carrier award chart, you add up each segment’s distance first, then look up the total distance in the chart.
This means that if you’re booking multiple long-haul segments in a single itinerary, you’d achieve substantial savings by using the multi-carrier chart instead of the regular award chart, as you’ll see in the examples below.
Beyond that, there aren’t many other rules. There’s no restriction on flying in and out of the same city twice – you can feel free to do so, as long as you only have up to eight segments on the itinerary. There’s no maximum permitted mileage (MPM) restriction or anything like that, because after all, the more you fly, the more Avios you’ll pay.
A Few Examples
Let’s run through a couple of quick hypothetical examples of potential trips you could book using the Avios multi-carrier chart, before diving into the nitty-gritty side of stretching this redemption sweet spot to its most extreme limits.
1. Oneworld, Around the World
Beginning in JFK, this routing brings us on Iberia to Madrid, followed by a flight to Frankfurt with either Iberia or LATAM (a fifth freedom flight). Then it’s Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, a side-trip to Taipei and back, and then Cathay Pacific all the way back to JFK. The total distance is just under 20,000 miles, so this would be 100,000 Avios at the economy class level or 200,000 Avios at the business class level.
2. Qsuites + Sky Suites
Starting in Montreal, take the Qatar Airways flight to Doha, before continuing on the same airline to Tokyo. From Tokyo, fly Japan Airlines to Chicago, and then back to Montreal on American Airlines. Distance clocks in under 20,000 flown miles, so this would be the same pricing as above, and would be a great way to try out Qatar Airways’s Qsuites and Japan Airlines’s Sky Suites product on one epic trip.
A Vancouver-based traveller could hit up Los Angeles and Chicago on American Airlines before taking Finnair to Helsinki and then beyond to Singapore. From there, Malaysian Airlines brings us down to Perth by way of Kuala Lumpur. After an intra-Australia open-jaw, we’d depart Brisbane on Qantas to Tokyo, followed by a Japan Airlines flight back to Vancouver.
This routing maximizes our allowance of eight flown segments and one open-jaw, and since the flown distance is just under 25,000 miles, you’d pay 120,000 Avios at the economy class level or 240,000 Avios at the business class level.
To illustrate where the power of the multi-carrier award chart lies, take a moment to imagine if we were to book these eight flights the “normal” way using Avios instead. Helsinki to Singapore alone in business class would cost 92,750 Avios, and that’s just one flight out of eight.
Indeed, if we were to tally it up, we’d find that it would cost a whopping 399,000 Avios to book all eight segments separately! This means that we’re incurring a pretty hefty savings of 159,000 Avios by choosing to use the multi-carrier chart instead.
Of course, the problem is that 240,000 Avios is still a huge amount of points to redeem all at once, so let’s start looking at how we can optimize further…
Optimizing the Avios Multi-Carrier Chart
I can think of several angles you could take to optimize this opportunity, so let’s talk about them one by one.
Under the Threshold
Similar in principle to the “normal” Avios chart, the multi-carrier chart is composed of several different award pricing levels based on the total distance flown. You therefore maximize your value at a certain redemption level by getting as close to the threshold of flown miles as possible, without going over it.
Play around with the Great Circle Mapper as you plan out your routes. You’ll be shooting for the mileage thresholds of 14,000 miles, 20,000 miles, 25,000 miles, etc. for the total distance.
Keep in mind that the open-jaw distance does not contribute to this number – in Example #3 above, we would’ve overshot the 25,000-mile threshold if we had resumed our journey from Sydney or Melbourne, but by choosing Brisbane, we remained under.
Amex / RBC 30% Conversion Bonus
For Canadian travellers, the fact that Amex and RBC both routinely put on 30% conversion bonuses to British Airways Avios can be a real difference maker. (Indeed, sometimes we’re even lucky enough to see 50% bonuses!)
Since these bonuses come around pretty reliably a few times a year, you can even think of the prices on the multi-carrier award chart in terms of a reduced number of Amex MR points and RBC Avion points (or both!), as follows:
|Miles in your journey||With 30% bonus, Amex MR points or RBC Avion points required for...|
At those price points, you suddenly see how the British Airways Oneworld round-the-world trip might potentially be viewed as a worthy competitor to the ever-popular Aeroplan Mini-RTW!
Indeed, most Mini-RTWs require 150,000–160,000 miles in business class, so if we look in the same ballpark, we see that 153,846 Amex MR points would get you 200,000 Avios during a 30% bonus.
That would allow you to take a very swanky round-the-world trip on Oneworld instead of Star Alliance (which is limited to 20,000 flown miles), and you’d get the luxury of seven stopovers over a 12-month period instead of only three!
Taxes & Fees
Because this chart is relatively underused, it’s hard to get an understanding of the taxes and fees that you pay on these Avios multi-carrier award tickets.
As a rough estimate, you can always use ITA Matrix to look up a fare breakdown for every flight you plan on taking, and then add up the amounts of the airport taxes and fuel surcharges. However, this method doesn’t always correspond to what gets calculated for the overall journey.
If I had to guess, I’d estimate that you should plan on paying $400–500 per ticket for an extensive round-the-world trip departing from North America – an amount that probably pales in comparison to how awesome of a trip you’ll be taking (especially if you booked in a premium cabin).
However, if you were to originate your trip in a country that has regulated fuel surcharges (like Australia, New Zealand, Japan, or Brazil), you’d end up paying minimal fuel surcharges. One idea could be to “nest” an Avios multi-carrier award departing from Oceania into the middle of a bigger trip, to give you two trips down under and allow you to avoid the bulk of fuel surcharges on all the flights.
And as always, keep in mind the usual money-saving tips on government-imposed taxes, such as avoiding the UK’s punitive Air Passenger Duty (APD) by flying into a nearby city and taking the train or a budget airline instead.
How Is the Class of Service Determined?
Now here’s something very interesting about the Avios multi-carrier award.
With most loyalty programs (Aeroplan is one example), you get charged based on the highest class of service among all the flights in your itinerary. So if you had seven segments in economy class and one in First Class, you’d get charged the First Class pricing for the whole thing.
Some other programs might treat mixed-cabin itineraries a little differently: they’ll pro-rate the mileage cost based on the specific cabins you’re flying. So if you had a mix of business and economy, your mileage price would fall somewhere in the middle.
With the Avios multi-carrier award chart, though, there’s at least one data point that the class of service is assessed based on your longest segment only. Nicky Kelvin from The Points Guy wrote about his experience booking an Avios multi-carrier award, which involved three flights on Cathay Pacific First Class, followed by a series of flights in business and economy. But since the longest segment on his itinerary was Singapore–London in British Airways business class, he only had to pay the business class cost of 200,000 Avios for the whole thing.
WOW! Could you imagine if we took this to its most extreme logical conclusion? After all, the chart goes up to 50,000 flown miles for 160,000 Avios at the economy class level, and if our theory holds true, then that’s what we’d pay as long as we ensured our longest segment happened to be in economy class.
So how about a series of seven First Class flights back-and-forth across the Pacific with Japan Airlines and Qantas, before a final long segment in economy class (which, dare I say, you could simply throw away)?
Would this work? I don’t know, I’m just putting the idea out there. I suspect it’s highly dependent on which agent you get over the phone. Looks like I’m gonna have some experimentation to do…
How to Search and Book
You’d go about booking one of these British Airways Avios multi-carrier awards in the exact same way as any other complex award.
First, you’d plan a route that follows all the rules – having a working knowledge of which Oneworld airlines fly which routes will be immensely helpful, just as knowing the Star Alliance route network is helpful when planning an Aeroplan Mini-RTW.
Then, you’ll have to search for availability on all these flights. I’d normally recommend ExpertFlyer for this purpose, but ExpertFlyer actually lacks the ability to look up award space on several Oneworld member airlines, like Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, or Qatar Airways.
I’d therefore encourage you to use the Avios website itself, or alternatively the Qantas website, to track down award space. The strength of the Qantas website is its calendar view feature, which the Avios website sorely lacks.
After you’ve planned your desired routing and found award space on all the flights, you’ll have to call British Airways Executive Club to book, since there’s no way to book these awards online. Since this is a rather obscure award chart, some agents might be unfamiliar with it, so there may be a fair bit of hanging up and calling again (or “HUCA-ing”, as we say) before you find an agent who can book it for you.
The multi-carrier award chart is a relatively “hidden” redemption opportunity that only a fraction of British Airways Avios collectors will ever find out about. It can be an excellent sweet spot if used in the right circumstances to build an exciting round-the-world trip, and it stands to rival the Aeroplan Mini-RTW if you can take advantage of Amex or RBC’s frequent 30% transfer bonuses to Avios. And if the class of service is indeed determined by the longest segment flown, then we might have a real winner on our hands here.
Not many people have booked Avios multi-carrier awards before, and the only way to tease out the juiciest parts of this sweet spot is by trying out a few bookings for ourselves. If you do choose to redeem your Avios this way, let me know about your experience in the comments!