Tag Archives: Avios

The Times When BA.com Doesn’t Show Award Space You Found on AA.com

On Monday, I wrote about US Airways and TAM joining the oneworld alliance. That meant that US Airways and TAM flights were now bookable with British Airways Avios, a founding member of oneworld.

In the renewed interest in searching ba.com for award flights, there were some hiccups that people noted in the comments. Often the best way to plan an Avios award is to search aa.com, and then when you find the award space you want, go to ba.com to book it.

AA.com and ba.com didn’t seem to be matching up in the availability that you could book. See these two comments:

Scott, one example [where aa.com and ba.com don't match] is DFW-HNL, 12-7 to 12-12 (My hub is DFW). AA shows availability. I see availability on the outgoing but not the incoming on BA.

and

So, I tried AA.COM to find one ways from PHX – OGG. For example, PHX-OGG 9/9/14 (or any that week) show available Economy MileSAAver Off Peak. BA.COM shows no flights available.

Why doesn’t ba.com show the same availability as aa.com?

There are two times when ba.com won’t match aa.com on Saver availability. One of the times, you can call British Airways to book the missing award space, and the other time you are out of luck.

What are the two times that ba.com won’t show the same Saver award space as aa.com?

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British Airways (Yet Again) Tweaks Search Tool For the Better

While other airlines search engines regress in functionality (looking in your direction, Delta), British Airways’ award tool continues to improve. While researching for another article, I came across the slightly modified ba.com and noted a subtle consumer-friendly change.

Though the change is minor, British Airways has exhibited a recent history of positive improvements to their search tool. With these steps in the right direction, we can safely anoint BA.com as the go-to site for comprehensive oneworld partner availability.

Simple Tool

This simple search engine packs a punch relative to its peers.

Scott wrote up a detailed guide on how to use BA.com to search for oneworld partner award space. Make sure to check out his post, Free First Class Next Month: Searching BA.com to Find oneworld Award Availability. We’ve also detailed British Airways recent and noticeable improvements to their site here and here.

What’s the newest change to the BA.com engine? When should you search ba.com versus aa.com versus qantas.com? (Hint: it has nothing to do with what type of miles you want to book your award with.)

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Buy Avios for 1.37 Cents Each (and Why You’d Want to)!

You can currently buy Avios for 1.37 cents each through a miles-transfer promotion. At that price:

  • A roundtrip from the west coast to Hawaii is $347.
  • A roundtrip of less than 651 miles flown each way in the US is $128.
  • A roundtrip from Boston to Dublin is under $450.

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 2.04.02 AM

How can you buy Avios for 1.37 cents? Why would you want to?

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How to Get More Free Stopovers and Use Fewer Miles on Your Next Trip to South America

Did you miss 20k Miles (or Less) to All of South America All Year yesterday? That post is a competing trick with this one, and it might be an even better deal for you.

Chicago to Santiago “should” cost 30,000 American Airlines miles each way in economy. And you “shouldn’t” be able to stop in Peru on the way to Chile (or even layover there.)

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 12.23.22 AM

Do not pay 30,000 American Airlines miles for this award!

Instead of playing by American Airlines’ rules, though, we can combine our American Airlines miles and British Airways Avios to book dream trips to South America with more stops for fewer miles.

In the Chicago to Santiago example, we could pay only 15k American Airlines miles plus 10k Avios each way and stop in Peru either or both directions.

I’ve already explained how American Airlines has incredible off peak awards that allow you to travel for large swaths of the year at discounted rates. For Central America and Northern South America–Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, and Ecuador–you can fly one way from the US for only 15k miles for seven months out of every year.

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 11.02.00 PM An off peak award to Northern South America plus one or more Avios awards creates a dream vacation with more stops for fewer miles.

How do I put it all together?

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You Still Get Priority Security and Boarding on Avios Awards that Fly American Airlines

I noticed in August 2012 that on my Avios award flight from Honolulu to Los Angeles, my boarding pass printed with “Priority AAccess,” granting me priority security and priority boarding.

This (unintended?) benefit of British Airways Avios awards on American Airlines flights is still alive. I flew Los Angeles to Honolulu today for 12,500 Avios and $2.50, and I again had “Priority AAccess” printed on my boarding pass.

Today priority boarding was a lifesaver because I had two way overstuffed carry ons that weighed about 65 pounds total to put into overhead bins.

I wouldn’t pay much extra for Priority AAccess, but it is a nice free throw in on what is already an incredible value award.

For other top values to get to Hawaii, see The Cheapest Ways to Get to Hawaii.

The only other thing of note on my trip was that I had two potential checked bags–one that weighed 53 pounds and another that was 65 linear inches.

In the past, I’ve gotten a little bit of a pass for bags slightly over 50 pounds, so I wasn’t worried about that one. Worst case scenario, I pull something out for a carry on.

The box that was 65 linear inches worried me though because American Airlines charges $200 extra for checked bags more than 62 linear inches.

FedEx quoted me $115 to ship the box, but if American enforced its baggage rules, I’d have to pay $235 ($35 for a second checked bag plus $200 for an oversized bag) for the box.

I tried to estimate the chances of the $200 fee being imposed. I wondered whether they would be lower if I tried to check it with a Sky Cap while I held a $20 bill in my hand.

In the end, I figured there was more than a 50% chance of being charged the fee, so my expected cost was cheaper by shipping the box.

But after checking the overweight bag with a SkyCap, I regretted my decision to ship the box. The SkyCap had no scale, presumably no tape measure, and walked away with my bag in such a way that it would have been very difficult to track me back down to collect $200.

What would you have done with my oversized box? (Note that I could not have used a smaller box.)

Membership Rewards 20% Transfer Bonus to Avios through December 31, 2013

American Express Membership Rewards transfers to British Airways will come with an automatic 20% transfer bonus from now through December 31, 2013.

It’s transfer bonus season with Membership Rewards. Yesterday I detailed how the 30% Transfer Bonus to Virgin Atlantic Means 14k Point Awards to Europe and 35k Roundtrips to Argentina.

Is this British Airways transfer bonus a good deal? Should you take advantage of the 20% transfer bonus?

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When Does British Airways Add Fuel Surcharges to Avios Awards?

British Airways collects fuel surcharges on almost all award redemptions. People constantly complain to me that their recent “free ticket” cost $650 or $1,000 or more in “taxes.”

In fact, taxes make up a small share of the cash component of most British Airways awards. Instead British Airways is collecting fuel surcharges on almost all awards, making those awards very poor values.

But there are exceptions where taxes can be as low as $2.50 on an award with no fuel surcharges. And we only want to use our Avios on these exceptions.

When exactly does British Airways collect fuel surcharges on Avios awards and when does it not?

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Should You Convert Starpoints to Avios with a 56% Bonus through October 15?

Until October 15, you can convert 20,000 Starpoints to 31,125 Avios, a 56% transfer bonus.

Ordinarily 20,000 Starpoints transfer to 25,000 Avios, the same 5,000 mile bonus you get on every 20,000 Starpoints transferred to all 1:1 airline partners. Until October 15, British Airways is giving a 25% bonus on all incoming transfers of hotel points to Avios. That means that the normal 25,000 Avios becomes 31,250 Avios.

The headline figure of a 56% bonus on transfers from Starpoints to Avios is eye catching, but is it a good deal? That depends on your valuation of Starpoints and Avios, which depends on how you use them.

For whom is transferring Starpoints to Avios a good deal? For whom is it a bad deal? How can you get Starpoints to transfer?

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Unlimited Free Stopovers on British Airways Awards, But No Free Oneways

You get unlimited stopovers on awards booked with British Airways Avios

But you can’t get any free oneways on awards booked with British Airways Avios.

Huh? How can that be?

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Cash & Avios Analysis

When you get to the payment page of booking an award with British Airways Avios, you’re offered a rare proposition in the world of frequent flyer miles:

  • pay the stated amount of Avios + taxes and fuel surcharges
  • pay 50-90% of the stated amount of Avios + taxes, fuel surcharges, and an extra cash co-pay.

This extra-cash-plus-Avios option is one to consider in advance, so I’ll do the work, so you can do the travel.

What’s your best play?

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Anatomy of an Award: intra-Argentina Flights with Avios and SkyMiles

I spent five hours booking a roundtrip from Buenos Aires to Bariloche this week. But at least I avoided an hour and a half in taxis to pick up paper tickets! HUH!?

Bariloche is 851 miles to the southwest of Buenos Aires as the plane flies.

Image from gcmap.com

I decided to book a last-second economy award for two because Bariloche is on the northern edge of Patagonia, and summer is over. I needed to get there quickly if I wanted to enjoy biking and hiking instead of skiing and snowboarding.

The route from Aeroparque–Buenos Aires’s domestic airport–to Bariloche is served by two carriers: LAN Argentina and Aerolineas Argentinas.

LAN with Avios

My first thought was to use Avios to book LAN flights. The number of Avios needed for an award depends on the distance, and this award would cost 15,000 Avios per person roundtrip.

I tried to search ba.com for space, but I ran into the same problem as I detailed for intra-Peru space. For whatever reason, ba.com doesn’t think it has any partners that fly to BRC, so I couldn’t input the airport code. That meant I couldn’t perform the search. (No, the solution I laid out for Peru didn’t work.)

I called British Airways at 800-AIRWAYS. I told the agent I wanted to fly LAN Argentina from AEP to BRC. She told me that British Airways had no partners that flew that route.

When I said LAN Argentina flew the route, she informed me that British Airways “partners with lan.com,” not LAN Argentina. A lot of phone agents for a lot of airlines are clueless, but saying your airline partners with a website not an airline is a new one from a phone agent. :)

I pointed out that British Airways lists LAN Argentina as a partner on its partner page, and LAN Argentina flies the route.

Eligible subsidiaries of LAN for BA redemptions include LAN Argentina

But I wasn’t sure how to talk her through booking LAN Argentina, so I hung up and called back. The second agent was competent, and found a few flights to choose from on my outbound and return dates.

She said the price was 15,000 Avios and $99 per person. I asked her to waive the $25 phone fee since the award wasn’t bookable online, and she said she had, and that it was still $99 per person. I asked for a breakdown, and she said it was $25 fuel surcharges and $74 in taxes.

I found that perplexing because the breakdown on the ITA Matrix was only about 300 pesos in taxes. I didn’t push the issue, though, because currency issues in Argentina are difficult. Maybe the 300 pesos was $60, and I was on the hook for 20% more because of a new tax on foreigners buying travel.

I thanked the agent and hung up. I wanted to check out my other option.

Aerolineas Argentinas with SkyMiles

I tried to search for Aerolineas space on airfrance.us. Here’s a post on how to use airfrance.us to look for SkyTeam space. I know airfrance.us shows Aerolineas award space on its one route to the USA.

Image from airfrance.us

But Air France’s site doesn’t display Bariloche as a city option, so I couldn’t search there. I headed to ExpertFlyer, which I explained how to use here.

Space was excellent, showing award space several flights a day. Note that Delta has access to T space, not X space.

Image from expertflyer.com

I called Delta at 800-323-2323 and told the agent my airports and dates and told her that I had my flights picked out. She quickly found the flights and informed me the cost would be 20,000 SkyMiles and $37.80 per person. I asked if that included a phone fee, which she said it did. I asked her to ask a supervisor to waive the fee, since the award cannot be ticketed on Delta.com. She came back a minute later and said the fee would be waived.

The new cost was 20,000 SkyMiles and $12.80 per person.

Which is better for intra-Argentina travel: Avios or SkyMiles?

That’s a poorly worded question. It depends on the route. SkyMiles will always charge 20,000 miles roundtrip plus minimal taxes. LAN flights with Avios will charge more cash and a miles price between 9,000 and 20,000 Avios roundtrip since the awards are based on the distance of the flights and Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world.

For each award where you have an option on Aerolineas Argentinas, LAN, and as a cash ticket, you should determine the cost of each, and which one you consider cheapest based on your mile values.

For me, the cheapest cash tickets would have been $600 per person. The Avios ticket was 15,000 Avios + $99. The SkyMiles ticket was 20,000 miles + $12.

I value Avios at 1.7 cents and SkyMiles at 1.22 cents. That makes the Avios redemption “cost” $354 (.017 * 15,000 + 99) and the SkyMiles redemption $256 (.0122 * 20,000 + 12).

From my valuations, I think only the shortest hops of under 650 miles would be a better deal with Avios intra-Argentina.

Ticketing the SkyMiles Award

I called Delta back and got the same award priced at 20,000 miles + $12 per person again. When it got time to give the credit card information, the agent panicked and put me on hold. She came back with some strange news: Aerolineas Argentinas wouldn’t let Delta issue an electronic ticket. I needed to go to an airport with Delta staff to have a paper ticket issued.

I hung up and called back several times getting the same information.

I want to spread this information because with some forewarning, this could be converted into only a minor inconvenience. If you can call Delta and put your Aerolineas Argentinas award on hold a few days before your trip to Argentina, you can then ticket it at an airport that Delta serves, which will probably include every airport you fly through on the way to Argentina.

But since I was already in Buenos Aires, it would have been very inconvenient and around $40 for a roundtrip taxi to the international airport (EZE). That combined with the fact that I wasn’t sure ticketing would go smoothly made me bite the bullet and purchase the more expensive Avios ticket.

Note that last week The Points Guy’s managing editor published a very different account of ticketing an Aerolineas Argentinas award intra-Argentina with SkyMiles. I can only attribute the differences to him booking the award a few weeks before me, and Aerolineas Argentinas having changed its policy in the meantime.

Ticketing the Avios Award

I called British Airways and had the Avios award ticketed in ten minutes. The British Airways confirmation number was recognizable by LAN, so online check in at LAN.com was easy the day of our flight.

LAN has a great baggage policy of 50 lbs of free checked bag per person on these flights, which we didn’t need. LAN also had a pleasant flying experience with free Havanna-branded–a recognizable snack brand here–snack boxes on the two hour flight.

Recap

I looked at all my options to get down to Bariloche in a hurry before it got too cold. Cash tickets at $600 per person were out. Luckily Delta and British Airways both have award partners that fly the route with plenty of award space. Plus neither program charges fees for ticketing awards at the last minute.

The Delta award on Aerolineas Argentinas was a better deal, but would have required an expensive and time consuming trip to the nearest Delta agents at Ministro Pistarini airport to get a paper ticket!

For that reason, I went with the Avios award and flew LAN to Bariloche. Based on my time in Bariloche so far, this award has definitely been worth it!

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Anatomy of an Award: Membership Rewards to Argentina

I recently booked a family of four an economy award from Miami to Buenos Aires with their Membership Rewards. It was an interesting award that I think demonstrates the complexities and fun of booking with American Express points.

I won’t talk about that award specifically, but I’ll use it as a jumping off point for discussion since it illustrates a typical Memberhip Rewards situation. Imagine you have a family of four trying for an economy roundtrip from Miami to Buenos Aires for two weeks in October with 300k Membership Rewards.

Membership Rewards are awesome because they can be transferred to any of the three airline alliances, so you can use them to book on almost any airline in the world.

But Membership Rewards are frustrating because they transfer to programs with which you may be unfamiliar like ANA or programs with major drawbacks like British Airways’ fuel surcharges.

I would approach an award like this looking first at the flying options, then at the transfer options. I know if I could find award space, I can probably find a transfer partner with access to that space. And if I find several ways to get to Buenos Aires, I cancompare the transfer options to see which is the best deal with Membership Rewards.

From checking the Buenos Aires international airport’s (EZE) wikipedia page, I know there are direct flights to/from Miami on American, LAN, and Aerolineas Argentinas. Of course, United and Delta also fly to Buenos Aires from their hubs.

Aerolineas Argentinas

Aerolineas Argentinas is the state-owned flag carrier of Argentina. I haven’t heard too many kind words about it, but it does have a direct flight from Miami to Buenos Aires. The best way to search for the space is on ExpertFlyer.

ExpertFlyer only displays economy award space on the airline. The space that Aerolineas’ SkyTeam partners like Delta have access to is T class space.

Aerolineas Argentinas flies twice daily between Miami and Buenos Aires–its only US route–once in the morning and one redeye. Up to seven seats are widely available on each!

The return is also wide open.

This was a promising start!

American

American has direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires also. The best place to check for space on those flights is aa.com.

I can look at the whole month of October in just a few seconds with AA’s awesome calendar view. Unfortunately there is no MileSAAver outbound space–the low-miles-price space open to partners– in October, though there is some space on return flights.

Outbound: No Saver Space

Return: Some Saver Space

LAN

LAN is another oneworld airline with direct flights from Miami to Buenos Aires. I go to ba.com to check for LAN space to Buenos Aires, since aa.com doesn’t display LAN space.

I ca’t find any LAN space on ba.com, though it did pick up the same American Airlines space I’d seen on aa.com.

ba.com not finding any LAN space

…but it did find the same space on American Airlines

Delta

Yes, it seemed like a complete longshot that Delta would have space for four from Miami to Atlanta to Buenos Aires at the low-miles-price because Delta has putrid availability to South America, but I checked anyway.

Green shows low-miles-price itineraries. There actually are some returns possible.

While oneway tickets with Delta miles are a huge mistake since Delta charges the roundtrip price for all awards even oneways, I kept the returns in mind because AMEX has some transfer partners like Flying Blue that can be used to book oneway Delta awards reasonably.

United, TACA, Copa

The final place I checked was united.com to see what United, Copa, or TACA award space there was that I could snag with a transfer to a Star Alliance partner.

Green and yellow days have an award with four economy seats.

I found a few more possible awards to add to the bounty.

Search Results

I found space in both direction on Aerolineas Argentinas’ two daily flights. I found space in both directions on connecting United and Copa (via Panama) flights. I found return space on American Airlines and Delta, but no outbound space. I found no space on LAN.

Transfer Options

Delta

We can transfer Membership Rewards to Delta to book the Aerolineas Argentinas space and/or the Delta space. Delta charges 60,000 miles roundtrip to Argentina in economy class whether you fly it or one of its SkyTeam partners like Aerolineas Argentinas.

Although Delta does charge fuel surcharges for awards on a lot of its partners, it does not collect fuel surcharges on Aerolineas redemptions.

That means a transfer to Delta would mean the transfer of 240,000 Membership Rewards to 240,000 Delta miles. American Express charges $7 per 10,000 miles transferred to US-based airlines, with a maximum charge of $99, This transfer would incur that $99 charge. The award itself would have government taxes of around $75 per person, meaning a total cost of 240,000 Membership Rewards and approximately $400 for four people.

In return for that outlay, the family could get direct flights in each direction or could sub a one-stop itinerary on Delta on the return if they really didn’t want to fly Aerolineas Argentinas.

Flying Blue

Air France’s frequent flyer program, Flying Blue, is not always the best option because it levies heavy surcharges on several partners. But it doesn’t levy surcharges on Delta or Aerolineas Argentinas. And it’s price from the US to Argentina is 25,000 miles each way.

I’m not sure why the taxes collected exceed those collected by Delta by $15 per person, but that’s a minor concern. Flying Blue costs 25,000 miles each way, and it can be used to book oneways, which is a far better deal than Delta’s 60k miles roundtrip, which is the price whether you book oneways or roundtrips.

That means for 200k Membership Rewards and $360, a family of four could get on the same flights as with Delta miles: Delta and Aerolineas Argentinas flights.

British Airways

We can transfer Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios, but that would only enable booking the return leg in this case. Avios can be used to book American or LAN flights. We found only space on American, and only on the return.

The good news is that it’s only 25,000 Avios from Buenos Aires to Miami.

That means the return would be 100k Membership Rewards and $300.

ANA

I recently sang the praises of All Nippon Airways as a Membership Rewards transfer partner. ANA has a distance based award chart. You add up the distance of all the segments and see how many miles that trip will cost. Here is the economy chart.

Miami to Houston to Buenos Aires roundtrip is just over 12,000 miles. That works out 60,000 ANA miles (60,000 Membership Rewards) roundtrip. That’s not fantastic or awful.

But Miami to Panama to Buenos Aires is under 9,000 miles, meaning it is only 43,000 ANA miles roundtrip. That’s the lowest miles total we’ve seen.

image from gcmap.com

In neither case would there be fuel surcharges. ANA never charges fuel surcharges on United or US Airways flights, and Copa doesn’t collect fuel surcharges on this routing.

No fuel surcharges on Copa from Miami to Buenos Aires, so ANA won’t collect any.

That means ANA miles used to fly Copa would be 172k Membership Rewards and about $480 in taxes.

Transfer Options Summary

To summarize:

  • All the options here receive 1:1 transfers from Membership Rewards and incur only government taxes–no fuel surcharges.
  • Transferring to Delta is a bad idea. Why pay 60k Membership Rewards for a roundtrip when the same flights are 25k each way via Flying Blue? Total: 240k + $400
  • ANA is the cheapest option overall at 43k roundtrip if we route through Panama on Copa. Total: 172k + $480
  • British Airways and Flying Blue are the cheapest direct options at 25k each way. Total: 200k + $300

If you really value direct flights, take the Aerolineas Argentinas flight one direction for 25k Flying Blue miles and return on the American Airlines flight for 25k Avios.

If you really value the cheapest flights or want a free stopover in Panama, look for Copa flights for 43k ANA miles.

Recap

Membership Rewards have awesome versatility, which also means it’s more work to figure out the best deal. For a simple Miami to Buenos Aires roundtrip, all three alliances are possibilities.

Because some transfer partners have region-based charts, some have distance-based charts, some charge fuel surcharges sometimes, and some never do, you have to investigate every option for the best deal.

For Buenos Aires to Miami roundtrip, the best deals are with ANA miles on Copa to take advantage of the distance-based chart of a combination of Flying Blue miles and Avios to take advantage of their partners’ direct flights.

The Big Trick for Searching BA.com

Yesterday I said you can’t search Lima to Cuzco on ba.com. It turns out I was wrong! To search Lima to Cuzco, though, you do need to use a trick.

Reader Coleman emailed me to say:

Just wanted to let you know that although you cannot search LIM-CUZ, you are able to search CUZ-LIM. Obviously this will still need to be called in since nobody originates in CUZ, but at least you can view availability ahead of time by playing with the dates.

Coleman is right that you can search Cuzco to Lima on ba.com and be shown results. With just this ability, it actually is possible to find your LAN award space online before calling 800-AIRWAYS to book with Avios.

The trick we need is the exact same one that we occasionally have to use on qantas.com. If you want to go Lima to Cuzco rountdtrip:

  1. Search Cuzco to Lima oneway to find the return.
  2. Search for Cuzco to Lima roundtrip. Make the Cuzco to Lima flight any dummy date. Make Lima to Cuzco (the “return”) your preferred Lima to Cuzco date.

I’ll walk you through it with screen shots. Imagine you want a roundtrip from Lima to Cuzco May 1 to 8.

First search for the return as a oneway.

 

Now that the return is picked out, we move back to the outbound. Of course Lima to Cuzco can’t be searched, but Lima to Cuzco is the return of Cuzco to Lima roundtrip, which can be searched. So we search Cuzco to Lima roundtrip with a dummy date for the outbound and May 1 for the Lima to Cuzco return.

We’ll ignore the half of the search results about the March 28 leg from Cuzco to Lime we don’t want. We’ll pay attention to the second half: May 1 from Lima to Cuzco.

Those are the two searches necessary to find space online for a May 1 to May 8 Lima to Cuzco roundtrip. Now you have to book it by phone. Note the date and flight number, then call the airlines whose miles you are using to book.

Booking

If you’re using Avios to pay 9,000 only Avios roundtrip for what can be an expensive cash ticket, call 800-AIRWAYS. They may not mention a phone fee, but they are going to charge you one unless you speak up and ask to have it waived because the ticket cannot be booked online. See my conversation with a rep here for an example.

If you’re using American Airlines miles because these are just legs on an award from the US, book it as part of your main award by calling 800-882-8880. There will be a $25 phone fee, but American Airlines won’t waive it.

50k Avios

It’s redemptions like this–short, direct, no-fuel-surcharge itineraries–that make Avios so valuable. Avios are horrible for transpacific flights, and they aren’t good for transatlantic.

But there are some places they shine, and are by far the most valuable currency. Avios are incredible:

  • Within the US (flying American)
  • to the Caribbean (flying American)
  • within South America (flying LAN)
  • to Central America (flying American)
  • within Australia (flying Qantas)
  • within South Africa (flying Comair)

The cheapest flights from Lima to Cuzco May 1 to May 8 are $359.

Spending 9k Avios and $18 is almost 4 cents in value per Avios.

Avios’s distance-based chart makes them a great complement to earning other types of region-to-region miles. See the Five Types of Frequent Flyer Miles.

I like to say that the more American Airlines miles you have, the more your Avios are worth. What I mean is if you have to have one type of miles, you don’t want it to be Avios. But if you have several types, you want a healthy Avios balance as a complement.

 

Anatomy of an Award: Sidetrip to Hong Kong from Tokyo

Part I: The Main Award & Finding a Free Oneway

Part II: US to Asia via Europe for 90k Miles in Business

Part III: Adding a Great Sidetrip

This is the third and final installment breaking down my trip to Asia using US Airways miles. The main award is posted below:

  • Washington-Dulles -> Istanbul (23 hour layover) [Turkish]
  • Istanbul -> Seoul-Incheon -> Tokyo-Narita [Asiana]
  • Tokyo-Narita -> Washington-Dulles [All Nippon Airlines]

US Airways is extremely relaxed with their routing rules as you can see above. I am transiting Europe to get to Asia from North America.

But one rule that really must be followed concerns stopovers and open jaws. US Airways only allows one stopover OR open jaw, not both. For further explanations of open jaws, check out Scott’s post, What is an Open Jaw? How Can an Itinerary Have Two Open Jaws?

I am traveling from Washington-Dulles to Tokyo-Narita and returning from Tokyo-Narita to Washington-Dulles. My award doesn’t have an open jaw. It’s a simple roundtrip.

I am also spending 23 hours in Istanbul. That is considered a layover. Anything over 24 hours is considered a stopover. My time in Istanbul will be brief, but I will do my best to have as much fun as Tahsir did when he went.

Having only 23 hours in Istanbul is actually great news! If I wanted to, I could still change my ticket to include either a stopover OR an open jaw.

(Thanks to reader Lisa for pointing me to http://www.istanbulinhours.com/. Turkish Airlines offers free city tours and free meals to anyone with a layover of up to 24 hours in Istanbul according the site.)

After sharing the details of my vacation, a few friends pushed me to tack on a side trip to Hong Kong. Who was I to turn down their free advice? I began to plot all of my options.

Option #1: Give the award an open jaw.

I would travel from Washington-Dulles to Tokyo-Narita. However, I would return to Washington-Dulles from Hong Kong. The destination of my outbound trip (Tokyo) doesn’t match the origin of my inbound trip to D.C. (Hong Kong). That’s considered an open jaw.

Leg #1 IAD-IST-ICN-NRT
Leg #2 HKG-NRT-IAD

To see if giving this trip an open jaw is possible, I logged on to United.com and searched for flights from HKG-IAD in business class. Unfortunately, business space (dates marked in green or blue) was extremely scarce. An open jaw wouldn’t be feasible with this award.

Option #2: Give the award a stopover. I could travel from Washington-Dulles to Tokyo and stop there for four days. This would allow me to enjoy the sites and culture of Japan before heading to Hong Kong. After spending several days in Hong Kong, I would hope on a flight for my journey back to the US. The trip would look something like this:

Leg #1 IAD-IST-ICN-NRT (stopover)-HKG
Leg #2 HKG-NRT-IAD

The award above is legal because it only has one stopover in Tokyo. It doesn’t have an open jaw. My arrival point and departure point are both Hong Kong. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a single day with business award space from NRT-HKG, and I’d already decided returning HKG to Dulles wasn’t feasible.

Narita isn’t Tokyo’s only airport, though. The Haneda airport is much closer to the city and my hotel. I could fly into Narita and out of Haneda. This is allowed on awards because airlines consider the two airports co-terminals. It wouldn’t count against me as an open jaw. My trip would look like the following:

Leg #1 IAD-IST-ICN-NRT (stopover)-HND-HKG
Leg #2 HKG-NRT-IAD

Award space was great on the single daily nonstop operated by ANA.

Sadly, the time of ANA’s single flight just didn’t meet my schedule. I would need to explore booking a second roundtrip award ticket between Tokyo and Hong Kong. It was time to turn to other avenues.

Option #3: Book a separate roundtrip ticket between Tokyo and Hong Kong using cash or miles. This turned out to be the far better option for me. I left my original award intact and didn’t have to pay the $150 per ticket change fee. I have wiggled out of those before, though!

The decision to book with cash or miles was ultimately an easy one. Roundtrip fares between Tokyo and Hong Kong were too high for my tastes, going for over $600 in economy. I turned to miles.

US Airways charges 25k/30k roundtrip for economy/business awards in North Asia. Both American Airlines and British Airways charge the same 20k/40k roundtrip for spending their miles to travel on Cathay Pacific. I used British Airways Avios to book the award.

Why did you choose Avios?

The Mile Value Leaderboard prices the two types of miles very closely. The slight edge in value goes to American Airlines, though. I can effectively use AAdvantage miles for premium longhaul trips on Qantas, Cathay Pacific, or JAL. The same can’t be said for Avios. Their award chart is too expensive for those types of trips.

British Airways award chart is distance based and has some incredible sweet spot deals and strategic uses including HawaiiSouth America, and South Africa. I prefer to use Avios to supplement my longer trips. This ticket is a perfect example.

Finding award space between Tokyo and Hong Kong was surprisingly easy. I used the British Airways improved award search tool and plugged in the dates I needed. Cathay Pacific and JAL offered several good options.

British Airways does impose fuel surcharges on Cathay Pacific on top of the taxes and fees of the award ticket. I paid about $98 + 40,000 Avios for each business class ticket. The complete breakdown for a single seat is below, showing a $59 surcharge.

I found the redemption to be well worth it: I preserved my original award ticket, I get to try out four international carriers on the trip, and I save my AAdvantage miles for when I plan another big vacation. My final award is below:

  • Washington-Dulles -> Istanbul (23 hour layover) [Turkish]
  • Istanbul -> Seoul-Incheon -> Tokyo-Narita [Asiana]
  • Tokyo-Haneda -> Hong Kong [Cathay Pacific]
  • Hong Kong -> Tokyo-Narita [Cathay Pacific]
  • Tokyo-Narita -> Washington-Dulles [All Nippon Airlines]

Recap

I was initially reluctant to explain this award over three parts, but I wanted to share my methodology and invite feedback. The goal of my trip was to see Tokyo, but I also wanted to test the business class experience on as many international carriers as I could. This trip includes four which more than satisfies me.

US Airways allows an open jaw or stopover on their award tickets. I wasn’t able to use either, but I did want to show that it’s possible to construct an award several different ways. After all, we want to squeeze the maximum value out of our miles!

British Airways Avios are known for their incredible value on expensive short haul awards. Clocking in at over 5 hours, Tokyo to Hong Kong is hardly a quick trip. It was still a solid use of Avios, in my opinion. I preserved my AAdvantage miles for another dream trip and still got to test out Cathay Pacific’s business class product.

Can it be November yet? I really want to fly this award now!

Avios intra-Europe Redemptions are a Joke

I was looking at some intra-Europe flights for my seven-week loop next summer. I had the brilliant idea that maybe I should oneworld-hub hop.

Munich to Berlin (airberlin)

Berlin to Oslo (airberlin)

Oslo to Helsinki (Finnair)

That would be all new cities for me and all direct flights. I priced out the Avios awards. Berlin to Oslo was 4,500 Avios and $45. That’s a bad deal, since the same revenue flights are only $63. Booking the award would value the Avios at about 1/3 of a cent each.

Berlin to Oslo–$3 base fare

Oslo to Helsinki is even worse. Avios awards are 4,500 Avios and $77.50.

$57 of that is a fuel surcharge. (Click the little i.)

Paid flights on the same route can be had for $62.

That means the cash component of the Avios award is more than a normal cash ticket.

Avios are not completely useless within Europe. Perhaps surprisingly to people used to transatlantic surcharges, the value play inside of Europe is to fly on British Airways metal or Iberia metal.

British Airways collects a low flat fee of $22.50 on its “Reward Flight Saver” intra-Europe awards on BA and IB metal.

BA.com explains Reward Flight Saver flights like this:

They don’t usually work out to a great value–domestic US flights are better–but they are certainly better than airberlin and Finnair awards within Europe. For instance, London to Athens goes for 10k Avios and $22.50.

The cash flight goes for $158.

That means this redemption gets 1.18 cents per Avios according to the MileValue Calculator. This is not a redemption I would personally make unless I were really looking to conserve cash since I value Avios at 1.7 cents.

Here’s a similar example on Iberia metal from Madrid to Paris. The Avios award costs 7,500 Avios and $22.50.

A cash flight on easyJet is only $85. (I prefer easyJet to Ryan Air by quite a margin.)

That means the award gets 0.83 cents of value per Avios–again pretty bad but about average for an intra-Europe Avios redemption.

Recap

Intra-Europe Avios redemptions on Finnair and airberlin get close to zero value from your Avios and sometimes negative value because of the dastardly surcharges. Surcharges are capped on Iberia and BA flights, so those awards can get 1 cent per Avios in value–maybe a bit more.

If you’re cash strapped, look for awards on BA and IB metal, but your best bet is to hold onto your Avios for more lucrative redemptions like domestic US, intra-Australia, or intra-South Africa among many options.

Just book with cash.