Free First Class 2014: British Airways Avios Basics


This is the seventeenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I’m giving the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. Today: the British Airways Avios program.

Why Collect British Airways Avios?

British Airways Avios are very often the best miles to book short, direct, economy flights.

I like international First Class as much as the next guy, but sometimes I just want to fly from Los Angeles to Hawaii or Hong Kong to Tokyo or Chicago to Dallas.

British Airways Avios are completely different than the other major types of miles like United and American miles.

While most major airline miles are region-based, Avios are distance-based.

Different equals more valuable when it comes to miles because it opens up different types of high value awards.

  • What airlines can you fly with British Airways miles?
  • What are the routing rules for British Airways awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special features of the Avios program?
  • How can you book a British Airways award?

Mileage Price

British Airways charges a price for each segment of your award. The miles price is determined by only two things: the distance of the segment and the cabin of the segment.

These are the one way prices in economy.

  • Up to 650 miles flown: 4,500 Avios
  • 651 to 1,151 miles flown: 7,500 Avios
  • 1,152 to 2,000 miles flown: 10,000 Avios
  • 2,001 to 3,000 miles flown: 12,500 Avios
  • 3,001 to 4,000 miles flown: 20,000 Avios
  • 4,001 to 5,500 miles flown: 25,000 Avios
  • 5,501 to 6,500 miles flown: 30,000 Avios
  • 6,501 to 7,000 miles flown: 35,000 Avios
  • 7,001+ miles flown: 50,000 Avios

Business class is double, and first class is triple the price.

The prices, especially for the shortest flights, are unbeatable.


British Airways is a member of oneworld. That means you can use Avios on all these airlines:

  • American Airlines
  • US Airways
  • airberlin
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong)
  • Finnair
  • Iberia (Spain)
  • Japan Airlines
  • LAN (Chile and Peru)
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas (Australia)
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines (Russia)
  • SriLankan Airlines
  • TAM Airlines (Brazil)

British Airways also has two partners that are not a part of oneworld. You can also redeem miles to fly these airlines:

  • Aer Lingus (Ireland)
  • Alaska Airlines (Western US, Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico)

Routing rules? What routing rules?

You pay a price for each flight depending on its cabin and distance.

Since you are paying for each flight, you can think of each flight as its own award. That means you can combine the individual flights however you want.

Stopovers & Open Jaws

You can stopover after every city on an Avios award if you’d like. You just pay for each segment based on distance and cabin regardless of the length of your stopover.

When each flight has its own price, you can have as many open jaws as you’d like.

Free One Ways

Free one ways are impossible on British Airways awards. There is no way to get a free segment. You pay for each segment based on distance and cabin.

Special Features

Cash & Avios awards allow you to use fewer Avios by paying more cash for your award. Different awards offer different Cash & Avios prices.

Check out my full Cash & Avios analysis here because sometimes these awards are a phenomenal value.

Taxes, Fees, and Fuel Surcharges


British Airways awards require you to pay the government taxes associated with the itinerary.

These start at $5.60 each direction for domestic awards and go up to $300 if you fly to a high tax country. Generally international awards have roundtrip taxes of $50 to $150.


Phone Fee: There is a fee of $25 per passenger to make a phone booking. Aer Lingus and Alaska Airlines flights have to be booked by phone, and I have had success getting phone agents to waive this fee when I have to book by phone.

Changes: There is a $55 date/time change fee per ticket.

Cancellation: There is a $55 cancellation fee per person to get your Avios redeposited. However, in my experience, if your award had taxes/fuel surcharges of less than $55, British Airways will just keep what you paid out of pocket and give you your miles back. That means that the cancellation fee is effective $5.60 for a domestic one way award since $5.60 is the total out of pocket on those awards.

Full details on British Airways’ award fees can be found here.

Fuel Surcharges

British Airways collects massive fuel surcharges on almost all partners. Notable exceptions include American Airlines flights within the Western Hemisphere, Alaska Airlines flights, Aer Lingus flights, and airberlin flights.

For full details, check out When Does British Airways Add Fuel Surcharges to Avios Awards?

How to Book British Airways Awards

All partners except Aer Lingus and Alaska Airlines are bookable on Here’s how to search

Aer Lingus and Alaska Airlines can be booked by calling British Airways at 800-AIRWAYS. Alaska Airlines space can be searched on before calling. Aer Lingus space can be searched on Expert Flyer before calling.

If you can’t seem to find the award you want for your dream trip, you can hire my Award Booking Service to search and book your British Airways awards, probably as part of a larger trip with other awards using other miles. We have the expertise to search every British Airways partner to maximize convenience and luxury while minimizing out-of-pocket cost.

Bottom Line

British Airways are unbeatable for:

  • short
  • direct
  • economy flights
  • on partners with no fuel surcharges

British Airways Avios complement the other big types of miles, which tend to be better for international premium cabins.

Any questions? What did I leave out?

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.

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  1. Id mention that youre best off booking everything as separate one ways instead of round trips or multi segment trips because you are often better off (a) cancelling the award and rebooking than (b) changing a segment.

    • No, you can’t using my definition of free one way: a flight that adds zero miles to the cost of your award. Every Avios flight adds to the cost of your award. If you know a way around this, please share.

      • Hi Scott, there actually is a way to get a free one way with BA avios. It is, however, limited to domestic UK flights. This stems from the days when BA pulled out of flights from Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow to anywhere outside of the UK and became more “London Airways” rather than truly “British Airways”. To allow folk from the UK regions to travel on BA and use their avios, BA do allow free add-ons from (and to) MAN, GLA or EDI via LHR. I guess it is possible for you to travel to Manchester and Scotland via LHR from the US but you’d be crazy to do so with the range of possibilities you have direct to these places and without having to put extra cash into fuel surcharges as well. It may have some utility on an intra-EU flight where the fuel surcharges are off-set by the cheaper Reward Saver fee. But, as you have noted previously, in these circumstances, the low cost airlines such as easyJet come into their own in terms of cheap flights, saving miles and (in my opinion) the nightmare that is a transfer at LHR! Hope this clarifies this point for you!
        P.S Great site BTW, plenty of advice and guidance for us this side of the Atlantic; just wish we had your range of credit card options!

        • Great point. Thanks for the reminder that BA charges zero Avios for intra-UK flights attached to international flights.

  2. It’s worth noting that domestic First on AA and AS price at the 3x multiplier, as opposed to conventional wisdom. So those short hops are best in Economy…

  3. Hi Scott: I think of Avios as the international counterpart of Southwest miles in the US-a critical part of my frequent flier strategy and perfect for filling in gaps for long-haul flights.

  4. […] LCC nonstop options in SE Asia are very available for where you want to go. All the places you mention have an LCC doing a nonstop, the problem being that AirAsia and Bangkok Airways don't really have great redemption options, though there is a way to transfer SPG to JAL for your CNX-USM-HKG flights. If you have Avios or Chase UR/AMEX to transfer to BA, KA flies HKG-CNX with reasonable award availability, at 7500 Avios for Y, 15K for C. […]

  5. Scott–since you frequently book flights to/from Hawaii, I just booked 7 one-ways on AS by phone with 7 record locator numbers. If I need to change, I will just cancel. I booked by phone.
    CAN YOU CONFIRM FOR ME that as long as I cancel online (something I assume I can do),
    I will just be charged the taxes to cancel and get all my avios back as long as I cancel more than 24 hrs before flight departure.

    Please confirm this soon as otherwise I need to cancel <24 hrs after booking to avoid fees!


    • I can’t confirm. I don’t know. I’ve only ever cancelled flights on AA. Log in and see if there looks to be a way to cancel online.

  6. Hi Scott,

    I have used Avios several times to book expensive East Coast awards but lately cannot book due to problems with the British Airways website. This is the third time recently it’s happened. Have you encountered this and do you have any suggestions? Very frustrating!


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