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This post is part of a four-part series. In Part 1, we will look at the mechanics of the Avios program and how it compares to the AAdvantage program (another oneworld program.) In Part 2, we’ll build on the rules of the Avios program to discover what awards they imply are the best values. In Part 3, we’ll value specific Avios awards. In Part 4, I’ll put a number on an Avios. And later this week, I’ll list every possible redemption from NYC and LA with Avios.

After 2011’s change in the Avios redemption chart, British Airways’ currency is the most controversial and loathed among mileage collectors who saw the change as a devaluation. The new Avios award chart is not region based (North America to Europe is one price, for instance), but rather distance based (flights of 2001-3000 miles are one price.) I think of it less as a devaluation and more as a change in opportunities. Certain redemptions that used to be great values are now bad values on the Avios chart, but new opportunities have arisen. In this post, we’ll look at some of the features of the Avios program, in the next post, we’ll discover some of the principles we’ll use to find good redemptions, and finally, in the last post, we’ll put a value on Avios. Most of the comparisons in this post will be to the American Airlines (AA) AAdvantage program. The reason is that they are both oneworld airlines, so their miles can almost always be used for the same redemptions.

1)  Every flight on an Avios award costs a certain amount of miles based on its distance. (See the chart on this post.) Add up the miles cost of every segment to get the total cost of the award. This means that LAX-DFW-JFK costs 20,000 Avios. LAX-DFW is 10,000, and DFW-JFK is 10,000, so LAX-DFW-JFK is the sum: 20,000. LAX-JFK direct is only 12,500 Avios. The obvious takeaways are that direct flights are best and that stopovers are free. That is LAX-DFW-JFK costs the same with a two hour layover in Dallas or a two week layover. This pricing method also means that one way awards are possible for half the price of roundtrip. Finally, and most importantly, this means that some flights on Avios cost significantly fewer miles than with any other program. Whereas the cheapest flights on most programs cost 10,000 or 12,500 miles, Avios has a 4,500 mile category (fewer than 650 mile flight) and a 7,500 mile category (651-1151 mile flight). Since no other airline has such cheap awards, Avios is usually the best choice for short-haul awards.

2) For Avios awards, business class costs double coach, and first class costs three times coach. These multiples are higher than for most programs. For instance, on American domestic flights, business class (on three-class planes) and first class (on two-class planes) are double coach, but first class (on three-class planes) is only 2.6x coach. And on international flights, the multiplier is even less on American. For instance from LAX-HKG on Avios would be 35/70/105 thousand miles in coach/business/first. But with AA miles it would be 35/55/67.5– multiples of 1.6 and 1.9. Other routes have similarly worse multipliers for Avios compared to other programs. Since the multiples for business and first are so much higher on Avios, premium redemptions in Avios are usually a bad idea except on domestic awards, where the multiples are about the same.

Annoyingly Avios decides whether a class is business or first based on what the airline calls it! So LAX-HNL on American Airlines in first class on a two-cabin plane that has “first class” seats with 38″ of pitch costs three times the coach price. For this reason Avios in domestic first on AA is a bad idea.

3) Award booking fees are zero except for Alaska Airlines (and maybe airberlin and Aer Lingus) awards. BA has an incredible award search engine. (In fact I recommend using BA’s search even if you want to use AA miles.) Booking through the search engine incurs zero award booking fees. Unfortunately the engine won’t display Alaska Airlines space. To book that, you have to call 800-AIRWAYS and pay a $25 phone booking fee. Aer Lingus and airberlin aren’t currently displayed either, but the agent with whom I spoke implied that the fee would be waived if booking those over the phone if you explained that they are not displayed online. This search engine rivals United for the best search engine and blows AA out of the water. AA only displays AA and Alaska availability, for any other redemption, one has to call up and pay a $25 per person phone booking fee.

4) There are no close-in ticketing fees when using Avios. AA does charge $75 if the award is less than 21 days out, so this is an advantage of Avios.

5) Fuel surcharges are the main issue with the Avios program. Here is a great post with screenshots of the fuel surcharges on actual Avios awards. The takeaway is that US-Europe can be $600-$1000– less on partner airlines. US-Asia on is about $300. US-Australia is $500. US-Africa can be over $1000. The bright spots are within the US, $0, and US-South America, less than $100. Because of this crippling fuel charges, the only good value Avios flights will be within the US, US-South America, and various other expensive, short-haul flights like intra-Australia on Qantas. In comparison, AA doesn’t charge fuel surcharges except on BA operated flights.

6) The other Avios fees are reasonable and can be seen here. While AA charges nothing to change the date and time of an award flight, BA charges $40 for the service. On the other hand, AA charges $150 to redeposit miles if you cancel your award; BA charges only $40. And the other day I redeposited an LGA-ATL roundtrip award that had cost me 15,000 Avios plus $5. The redeposit fee was just the $5 not being refunded. So I think BA actually charges the lesser of what they charged you to book the award and $40. Avios is cheaper for cancellations, but more expensive for changes.

7) The last feature of Avios to consider is its availability. British Airways has very good availability, especially in coach and first class, but since we’ve seen that awards on BA horrible values because of fuel surcharges, we have to consider other BA partners. AA has incredible domestic availability in all classes. Qantas has so-so to bad availability internationally, but oneworld still has the best availability to Australia. And Qantas has great domestic availability. There are 9 seats on each SYD-CNS and CNS-MEL flight next January, and that’s an expensive route with cash but a great route with Avios. Overall I’d say availability is a big plus of Avios.

Continue to Part 2.

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