A big part of mastering Miles & Points is understanding the nuances between all of the different points programs out there. That's why I've been writing some in-depth guides to each of the popular programs for Canadian travellers, such as Aeroplan, Alaska Mileage Plan, SPG, and Marriott Rewards.
There's a big one that I've glossed over so far, and that's British Airways Avios. Despite the name and the affiliation with the United Kingdom's national airline, it's very easy to earn points in the program here in Canada. The program is also well-known for being one of the few that offer redemptions based on distances, rather than regions.
Just so we're clear, British Airways Executive Club is the proper name of the frequent flyer program, while Avios is the name of the points currencies (so you'd redeem, say, 10,000 Avios for a reward).
To make matters more confusing, Avios is also the name of a shopping loyalty program over in the UK, similar to Aeroplan or Air Miles here in Canada. But in general, everyone will know what you're talking about if you call it British Airways Avios, so that's what we'll go with.
There are several great ways to earn Avios in Canada. The best and easiest way by far is to transfer American Express Membership Rewards points at a 1:1 ratio. As a reminder, the following Amex cards allow you to quickly rack up a ton of MR points:
- American Express Gold Rewards Card: up to 30,000 MR points after $1,500 spending in the first three months
- American Express Business Gold Card: 40,000 MR points after $5,000 spending in the first three months
- American Express Platinum Card: 60,000 MR points after $3,000 spending in the first three months
- American Express Business Platinum Card: 75,000 MR points after $5,000 spending in the first three months
Then if you need to top up your Avios balance, there's a few more credit cards to pick up:
The RBC Avion Visa Infinite is currently offering a highest-ever signup bonus of 25,000 Avion points (there's no telling when this promotion will end), which transfer 1:1 to Avios. What's more, there's often 30% or even 50% transfer bonuses from Avion to Avios (side note, they really need to get more creative with these aviation-inspired brand names).
The RBC British Airways Visa Infinite currently offers 15,000 Avios upon enrollment. However, RBC routinely bumps the offer up to 50,000 Avios (the extra 35,000 Avios being awarded after meeting a relatively hefty $9,000 spending requirement in the first three months), so I'd wait for that offer to come around if you can take advantage of it.
As you can see there's no shortage of ways to earn Avios here in Canada. If you still need more, Avios is a transfer partner of both Starwood Preferred Guest and Marriott Travel Packages – check out those articles for more in-depth discussions of the transfer process.
Let's get to the redemption side of things. Normally I'd present here an award chart with all the geographic regions, but that all goes out the window with Avios. Instead, the amount of Avios required for a particular redemption depends on the total mileage flown:
Off-peak pricing only applies to British Airways and Iberia flights, on certain periods of the year dictated by those airlines. You can find the latest off-peak pricing calendar here.
Keep in mind that British Airways is part of the Oneworld alliance, so you'll be able to redeem on BA flights or with their Oneworld partners. British Airways also has a few non-alliance partners with whom you can redeem flights, such as Aer Lingus and Alaska Airlines.
Because the Avios required for a redemption depends on the total mileage flown, connecting flights can often be a detriment! By adding a connection, you might have to pay more miles, since your total flying distance will be higher.
For example, say you wanted to fly from Vancouver to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific in economy class. That's a flight distance of 6,393 miles, which corresponds to 30,000 Avios in the redemption chart above (Zone 7).
But if you wanted to do Vancouver to Los Angeles to Hong Kong, with the first segment on American Airlines, that'd be 1,081 miles for YVR–LAX and 7,260 miles for LAX–HKG. You'd be charged 7,500 Avios for the first leg (Zone 2) and 50,000 Avios for the second (Zone 9), for a grand total of 57,500 Avios – a 27,500 Avios premium just for the luxury of stopping in Los Angeles!
As you can see, in general, it's best to look for direct flights rather than connections when it comes to Avios redemptions.
This is in contrast to a region-based award chart like Aeroplan's, in which connections are often irrelevant to the mileage cost. Do bear in mind that while it's generally the case that adding a connection will increase the Avios cost, there are still exceptions to this rule, which can make for some interesting sweet spots! I may well discuss this further in a future post.
For now, take note of one other great thing about Avios. Since flights are essentially priced out one-by-one according to the distance-based reward chart, you can effectively have as many stopovers and open-jaws as you'd like.
Think about it, all you're doing in an Avios award ticket is booking one or more one-way flights. The Avios required is then calculated based on the total distance of all flights.
That's true whether you're booking a short hop, a round-trip ticket, or a crazy round-the-world flying frenzy – it makes no difference how long you stop in a particular city, since the mileage cost is directly proportional to your distance flown.
Under the Threshold
Well, that's partially true. The mileage cost isn't entirely directly proportional to your distance flown.
After all, there wouldn't be any sweet spots if the program worked like this: if your journey covers X miles, you're charged you X times Y amount of Avios for economy, X times Z for business, etc.
But instead, there's a chart in which the mileage cost is partitioned into "zones" based on total distances. And that means that if your total distance flown is just under the threshold of its "zone", you might have a really good deal on your hands.
The "West Coast to Hawaii" sweet spot is one of the best examples. With most region-based programs, flights from Continental North America to Hawaii often cost 40,000 miles for a round-trip flight in economy (though there are a few exceptions).
With Avios, on the other hand, many West Coast destinations are connected to Hawaii by direct flights, and the distances are mostly a shade under 3,000 miles, the upper threshold for Zone 4 on the Avios reward chart.
So Vancouverites, if you can get yourself down to Bellingham or Seattle, you'll only be redeeming 12,500 Avios for a one-way ticket on Alaska Airlines to get you out to any of the Hawaiian islands.
Another sweet spot is short-hop flights: often times with region-based programs, these will be comparatively more expensive, since you're travelling a lot shorter of a distance for the same intra-region cost.
For example, using Aeroplan, a Tokyo–Sapporo hop on ANA (flight time of 1h35m) costs the same amount of miles as a Tokyo–Singapore long-haul (flight time of over 7 hours).
That isn't a problem with Avios: if all you need is a short segment, that's all you'll pay for. At 4,500 Avios in economy (only 4,000 for off-peak pricing) for a flight between 0–650 miles in distance, that's an incredible deal.
Some great applications of the short-haul sweet spot include:
- Hopping around Europe on British Airways, Iberia, and Finnair
- Flying Cathay Pacific and/or Cathay Dragon from Hong Kong to Taipei and Hanoi (Zone 1)
- Flying Cathay Pacific and/or Cathay Dragon from Hong Kong to Bangkok, Shanghai, and Manila (Zone 2)
- Hopping around Australia on Qantas
- Hopping around Japan on Japan Airlines
- Hopping around South American countries on LATAM's domestic subsidiaries (LATAM Colombia, LATAM Brasil, etc.)
- Hopping around Southern Africa on British Airways's subsidiary, Comair
- Flying Qatar Airways on their fifth-freedom flight between Buenos Aires and São Paulo (Zone 2)
- Flying LATAM on their fifth-freedom flight between Auckland and Sydney (Zone 3)
A Few Exceptions
It's important to note that there are a few key exceptions to the chart above. Apparently, some of these amazing-value redemptions became so much of a burden on British Airways that they unilaterally devalued the award chart a few times to "kill" some of the sweet spots.
For instance you'll see in the award chart that flights between 0-650 miles in distance cost 4,500 Avios in economy class and 9,000 Avios in business. However, within North America, that mileage cost doesn't apply, and instead it's 7,500 Avios and 15,000 Avios respectively.
That's because far too many people had been taking advantage of short hops on American Airlines at the lower mileage cost for it to be sustainable.
A similar thing happened with the Boston–Dublin and Boston–Shannon flights on Aer Lingus. These flights clock in at 2,993 and 2,895 miles in distance respectively, meaning that ordinarily they'd fall under Zone 3. Indeed, you used to be able to redeem just 25,000 Avios for a transatlantic round-trip on these flights, which was simply incredible value. (For comparison, Aeroplan charges 60,000 miles for North America to Europe.)
That all changed early this year when a footnote was applied to the reward chart that explicitly Boston–Dublin and Boston–Shannon in Zone 4. While I can understand why they did this, the fact that there's so many asterisks to the redemption chart does leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
Odds & Ends
- If you're booking with two or more Oneworld partner airlines on one itinerary, there's a separate multi-carrier award chart that applies. The chart below shows the Avios cost for economy class, while business class is double and first class is triple. Unlike the regular award chart, this one doesn't work segment-by-segment – you find out the total distance of all your segments combined, then look it up in the chart below. This gives you much more leeway to expand your routing, which can be advantageous especially in premium cabins.
- Avios is one of those excellent programs that let you pool miles across your household. You're able to set up a Household Account with any other Executive Club member with the same address on their account. That allows anyone in the Household Account to access the Avios that everyone else has earned when making bookings.
- You can redeem Avios for travel on British Airways or any of its partners (Oneworld or otherwise), but you should actively avoid redeeming for British Airways flights (short-haul flights are fair game) due to their insanely hefty fuel surcharges! This is similar to how Aeroplan miles are best spent on non-Air Canada flights.
British Airways Avios is a powerful program because it fulfills a need that few other programs serve. As frequent travellers, we often need to get between neighbouring cities quickly and efficiently, and often times buying a ticket with cash outright can be quite expensive for such a short flight. That's where Avios comes in, meeting this need perfectly with its distance-based award chart. The fact that there's some more sweet spots in the award chart, such as the West Coast to Hawaii trick, is just the icing on the cake.
There's a lot of information in this guide, and I'll probably be writing a separate post on some of the best redemptions with British Airways Avios that are available to Canadians.