British Airways Avios is the primary gateway into the Oneworld alliance for Canadians.
Members of the UK’s largest frequent flyer program have access to business class and First Class redemptions on award-winning airlines, such as Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Qatar Airways.
On the earning side, British Airways is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and RBC Avion. Both issuers have been offering all-time-high sign-up bonuses in the summer of 2021, paving the way to six-figure Avios balances.
The missing piece? A mediocre search engine on the British Airways website. It prioritizes British Airways flights with ludicrous fuel surcharges, does not support multi-city trips, and lacks a calendar search feature.
Alternative websites can provide a better award search experience, including the Qantas website and ExpertFlyer. The best one to use depends on the trip’s complexity and the airlines that operate the itinerary.
Searching on the British Airways Website
When redeeming Avios, British Airways’s own website may be a natural starting point.
The website does offer a Reward Flight Finder that shows availability with a calendar view – but only for flights operated by British Airways. Redeeming Avios on British Airways flights comes with hefty fuel surcharges, although they tend to have consistent availability on long-haul flights.
Next, even though there’s no calendar, the Avios website can locate award space for all of its Oneworld partner airlines via the “Search and book” page.
However, partner airlines that aren’t full Oneworld members, such as Aer Lingus, Fiji Airways, and Vueling, must be booked via the call centre.
The search engine has a calendar view with tabs and a list of results for the selected date. Clicking through dates one-by-one triggers a page reload. Do it more than a few times, and a captcha will appear.
It’s a suboptimal user experience when it comes to finding sporadically available seats in First Class and business class.
The Avios search engine usually prioritizes flights operated by British airways in the search results. With that said, the list shows enough connections to minimize the need to look segment-by-segment.
When looking for First Class flights on routes that operate four-cabin aircraft, the website may not show economy options altogether.
If there are seven or fewer seats in any given class of service, the search engine shows how many are left.
When clicking on a seat to bring up the price, the system blocks the award space. That’s one of the reasons call centre agents may not see availability, despite it being visible on the website. Provided no traveler makes a booking, the seat is released when the browser session expires.
Travellers cannot book mixed-cabin itineraries and custom connections online. Journeys containing two or more airlines may error out when selected, as the automated system cannot compute the taxes and fees. Upon request, call centre agents should be able to waive the phone booking fee for such connections.
There is a stopover feature that offers to break the trip in London, and very rarely other cities. However, it’s prohibitively expensive to use it because Avios prices awards segment-by-segment. Furthermore, a stopover would reintroduce hundreds of dollars worth of UK Air Passenger Duty (APD) on premium cabin flights.
Searching on the Qantas Website
Qantas is the flag carrier of Australia. Like British Airways, it’s part of Oneworld, meaning that it has access to award space across the entire alliance.
Unlike British Airways, however, its website has a more responsive interface, making it a useful alternative search tool for booking with Avios.
There are two editions of the Qantas website, with the newer one having rolled out fairly recently. Qantas will direct the user to different editions of the website depending on the departure airport of the first flight on the itinerary.
The “new” Qantas site is used for flights departing from anywhere outside the United States. The site does not require registration before displaying award flight availability; the user only needs to fill in the form on the main page and enable the “Use points” toggle.
The calendar feature on the search results page works for Qantas and all its partners. However, note that the pricing is for booking using Qantas points; therefore, this calendar has no use for travellers booking with Avios besides displaying dates without any award availability.
Compared to the British Airways website, the Qantas website offers much more information about each flight.
Each row in the list of flights displays the aircraft type, seat pitch, and details about the onboard experience. The latter includes a Wi-Fi rating (basic browsing, fast browsing, or Netflix streaming), on-demand and live TV availability, as well as the presence of power outlets.
Meanwhile, searching for awards departing from the US will redirect the user to the “old” Qantas website, upon logging into their account.
It’s not as sleek as the new one, but it has a more convenient 30-day calendar feature that shows availability by date and class of service.
The same older system also shows up on multi-city searches from any region. It lets users look for award space on up to twelve segments at once, so this can be a convenient way to batch-search for Oneworld itineraries.
Compared to the British Airways search engine, Qantas does have the added benefit of showing Fiji Airways award space, but it still doesn’t show Aer Lingus or Vueling award space.
Apart from that, note that the Australian carrier also partners with Emirates, WestJet, Air France, KLM, and a handful of other airlines which don’t have partnerships with British Airways.
Hence, the availability calendar may sometimes display flights that aren’t bookable using Avios, and this should be accounted for when using the Qantas website to search for awards that one intends to book with Avios.
Searching for Aer Lingus Awards
One of the best Avios sweet spots for transatlantic flights is to book Aer Lingus from Toronto to Dublin for 13,000 Avios in economy class or 50,000 Avios in business class.
As noted above, Aer Lingus availability is not supported by either the British Airways or Qantas websites. We’ll therefore have to look elsewhere to track down Aer Lingus availability before calling British Airways to book.
One option is to use Avios.com, which is (rather confusingly) a separate website from British Airways. Users will need a separate login for Avios.com in order to access its search engine.
The Avios price points and surcharges that are quoted here can be ignored, since they’ll be lower when you book through British Airways Avios. The sole purpose here is to locate the Aer Lingus availability.
ExpertFlyer can also be used to search for Aer Lingus awards directly, showing the exact number of economy or business award seats available on a given route and date.
However, note that ExpertFlyer is not very useful for Oneworld searches in general. It isn’t capable of searching for award seats on Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines; neither does it show the exact number of award seats left on British Airways and Iberia.
For travellers who primarily fly with Oneworld, it may not be worth paying US$99 a year for such a limited set of features.
The Alaska Mileage Plan and United MileagePlus websites can also be used as a proxy for searching for Aer Lingus awards, since both Alaska and United have independent partnerships with the Irish flag carrier.
However, the search results on these websites don’t always line up with the “true” availability as shown on Avios.com or ExpertFlyer, as Aer Lingus sometimes makes different amounts of award space available to their partners. Therefore, the former two search engines should be used for best results.
British Airways Avios is the easiest way for Canadians to get access to OneWorld award flights. Unfortunately, their search engine becomes inefficient when itineraries get complex.
Qantas, the Australian flag carrier, provides a better experience when looking for availability and stitching together multi-carrier trips. To look up award seats on Aer Lingus – an airline that flies a sweet-spot route between the East Coast and Dublin – the Avios.com or ExpertFlyer search engines are your best bet.
As usual, since airlines may release a different number of seats to each partner, always confirm that the award space is visible on the British Airways website before calling in to book.