This is a good opportunity to top up your British Airways Executive Club balance with Avios to use for cheap last-minute Business and Economy Class flights on Qantas in Australia, American Airlines in the US, and Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific in Asia.
Note that this offer is only for current Executive Club members, so do sign up for an account now if you don’t already have one to take advantage of the next offer. Details are below.
Why this guide is useful
Avios are great for redeeming short-to-medium flights on oneworld partner airlines. For example, you’ll only need 9,000 Avios for a one-way Business Class hop between Sydney and Brisbane (versus 16,000 Qantas points).
You will need an active British Airways Executive Club account to take advantage of this offer. If you haven’t already done so, you can sign up for a British Airways Executive Club account here.
Now, you’re not allowed to have an Australian or New Zealand address on the account (very strange), but they’ll only be sending you a membership card to the address (which you don’t really need anyway), so consider borrowing an address from a friend or family member overseas, or just making a realistic one up.
Thanks to TK from the Point Hacks Community for writing up this guide to buying Avios!
Current offer details
- Current offer: 50% bonus (non-tiered)
- Ends: 20 December 2016 at 11:59pm GMT
- Best value redemptions: short-to-medium non-stop domestic Business Class flights in Australia, the US and Japan
- Book awards online or phone: most awards can be searched for and booked on the British Airways Executive Club website. If not, expect long wait times, which are reduced if you call their number in Singapore (provided later in the guide)
You can purchase between 1,000 and 100,000 Avios, which is the maximum points you can buy in one year.
At the top end, this would have you buying 150,000 Avios for a total of $2,775 USD, at a cost of 1.85 USD cents per mile.
You have three purchase links to choose from (which we explain below), with British Airways Executive Club being the most useful for travellers in Australia and New Zealand:
- December 2016 (current offer): 1.85 US cents
- September 2016: 2.05 US cents
Why Avios redemptions break a cardinal rule
Whilst generally the frequent flyer community will tell you not to purchase points without a specific redemption in mind, British Airways Avios could be the exception to the rule.
This is due to a unique utility – whilst the greatest value in purchasing points is normally for a long-haul redemption in a premium cabin, Avios are great for a short-notice domestic trips when prices are often sky high.
For this reason, many advanced points collectors like to make sure they always keep a supply on hand.
The basics: BA, Iberia and Avios.com
Avios are the frequent flyer loyalty currency of IAG (International Consolidated Airlines Group), the parent company of Qantas’ oneworld partner airlines British Airways and Spanish flag carrier Iberia. Points can be transferred between the three programs (BA Executive Club, Avios.com and Iberia Plus) with ease.
There are three separate (yet intertwined) Avios programs:
The price for BA and Avios.com Avios are the same, unless one or the other is running a specific promotion. The price for Iberia Plus Avios differs based on the Euro exchange rate.
British Airways Executive Club will be of the most use to Australian travellers. This is the main focus of this article, and later on we’ll cover how each can be leveraged for their own benefits.
As a result, it pays to join each of these programs to get the most out of the Avios currency and associated loyalty programs.
It’s also worth noting that British Airways devalued their program in April 2016, so another devaluation would be unlikely in the immediate future.
Avios sweet spots
Whilst British Airways has devalued their award chart in recent years, they remain excellent value for short-haul awards on oneworld partner airlines.
Here are three examples in Australia:
- A one-way ticket from either Brisbane to Sydney or Sydney to Melbourne both fall into their lowest bracket at under 600 miles. At this level, a one-way ticket will set you back 4,500 Avios in Economy or 9,000 in Business. Compare this to 8,000 and 16,000 Qantas points respectively.
- Brisbane to Melbourne is over the 600-mile mark so will fall into the next bracket: 7,500 in Economy or 15,000 in Business. Once again this is considerably less than Qantas’ 12,000 and 24,000.
- Melbourne to Perth is 10,000 Avios in Economy, 20,000 in Business and Sydney/Brisbane to Perth 12,500 Avios in Economy, 37,500 in Business. This is about the maximum distance where purchasing points outright can represent any value.
Unlike most other purchased miles, Avios can provide good value for Economy flights, especially when redeeming last-minute. And unlike on their international routes, last-minute Qantas domestic awards are easy to come by.
Similar short hops can be useful around Asia on other oneworld partners such as Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific, or in the US on American Airlines. Like many points redemptions, maximum value is obtained when redeeming for shorter flights with a high cash price.
Avios award pricing
British Airways Executive Club has a distance-based award chart (similar to Qantas), with each segment pricing separately.
British Airways-operated flights offer peak and off-peak award pricing, meaning that the amount of points you will pay will depend on the date you wish to travel.
Partner awards all price at the peak rate. You can check whether the date you want to travel on falls under the peak or off-peak award chart by checking the calendar linked from this page.
British Airways have a well-earned reputation for their high fuel surcharges. To be fair, though, they aren’t really any worse than those levied by Qantas. They also don’t pass on any additional surcharges on domestic Qantas flights.
For a short hop such as Brisbane to Sydney, the additional taxes are a measly £8 (around $15), both in business and economy.
On longer flights such as Sydney to Singapore in Business on their own metal this goes up to £116, and if you’re heading all the way to London you’ll be looking at a £227 co-pay. This needs to be factored into your equations when deciding if buying points will offer value for you.
An official award chart isn’t posted online anymore. Instead, British Airways offers an online award calculator where you can enter your origin, destination and class of travel to find out the cost of an award.
I’d also recommend using Wandering Aramean’s Avios redemption calculator which also shows you multi-flight routes which may be cheaper to redeem for than a direct flight.
When to transfer Avios over to Iberia Plus
One feature of the various Avios programs that differs to most others is the ability to transfer points between each other at a 1:1 ratio.
The main advantage here is being able to access Iberia Plus’s redemption rules with your purchased British Airways Executive Club Avios, or to purchase Iberia Plus Avios and move them over to British Airways if there is a different deal running between the two programs.
Whilst generally almost identical to the British Airways program, Iberia plus publishes a slightly different award chart for flights they operate, and a different on-peak/off-peak calendar.
Iberia does not fly to Australia so this may be of no use for domestic travel, but for some very specific redemptions, it pays to have a look at both charts and see if it may have some value.
One particular sweet spot is Band 4 and 5 Business Class redemptions. This allows one-way bookings in Business Class from New York/Boston to Madrid for 34,000 Avios and Chicago/Los Angeles/Miami to Madrid for 42,500 Avios.
By comparison, these are 50,000 and 62,500 Avios on British Airways. Also, Iberia Plus does not levy fuel surcharges when flying on Iberia-operated flights, increasing the savings.
Head For Points has a complete guide on how to transfer points between the two programs.
One key point to note is that your Iberia Plus account must be 90 days old and must have earned at least 1 Avios point to be able to purchase and transfer miles.
The easiest way to fulfil this requirement is to simply credit your next Qantas or oneworld flight, car hire or hotel stay to Iberia Plus.
Making bookings using Avios
The British Airways website is one of the most complete search engines around when it comes to displaying partner award availability. It includes Qantas and the other oneworld airlines that service Australia.
The tool won’t allow you book a mixed cabin ticket, connections greater than four hours or stopovers (except in London). If you require any of these in your award, you’ll need to call them.
Anecdotally, expect a long hold time, though I have yet to make a booking that I have been unable to make online, so can’t verify this myself. One piece of advice mentioned on FlyerTalk is that the shortest hold times can be had by contacting their Singapore office on +65 6622 1747.
An alternative way to get Avios: transfer from Starwood Preferred Guest and/or Amex Membership Rewards
The other easy way for Australians to acquire Avios is by transferring through Starwood Preferred Guest, which are a points partner of American Express Membership Rewards.
Starwood allows points purchases of up to 20,000 per year, which can be converted into 25,000 Avios. If you are looking for a booking that exceeds your annual limit, this can be a useful way to get around the limitations.
Summing up: why are Avios important to an Australian traveller?
Avios, when earned or purchased at a reasonable cost, are perfect for more expensive short-haul domestic redemptions, whether in Economy or Business Class, in Australia, Asia and the US.
Keep an eye out for a future Avios sales and you may be able to purchase to immediately redeem a Business Class flight at reasonable prices.