Sunday Reader Question: How to best use British Airways Avios in Canada/USA?

There are dozens of frequent flyer programs available, but few provide as much value on a points-to-dollar basis than British Airways Avios points. Today’s Sunday Reader Question is: How do you best use British Airways Avios in Canada and the United States? Are they good?


The answer to this question really depends on your travel goals. Unlike Aeroplan, where the reward chart is based on geographical zones, Avios points are redeemed on distance based zones.  That means the further your flight, the more points you’ll pay. With Avios, most long distance flights are redeemed at a stupidly high rate, and that rate is doubled for a business class reward, and tripled for a first class reward.

You can redeem Avios points on all OneWorld Airlines, plus some partners like Alaska Airlines and Aer Lingus.

BA Avios Reward Chart

Round-Trip BA Avios Reward Chart (Economy)

Avios is one of the few programs that charges full YQ (fuel charges) on most airlines. For example, a one-way flight between Toronto YYZ to London LHR in Economy (!) on British Airways will cost you 20,000 Avios points and $266 in YQ – that’s extremely expensive for a “free flight.”

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However, Avios does not charge YQ on flights within the United States (including Hawaii), between the United States and Canada, between the United States/Canada and Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. They also do not charge any YQ on LAN Airlines, with the exception of LAN affiliates (like LAN Argentina). Further, there is no YQ on Australian domestic flights with Qantas;  any flights on Russian carrier S7; BA flights within Southern Africa (like Johannesburg to Cape Town); Alaska Airlines flights, and all Aer Lingus and Air Berlin flights. There is a flat-rate YQ charge on BA flights within Europe ($27.50).

If you look at the reward chart posted above, you’ll note that Zone 1 flights are extremely cheap – only 9000 Avios points round-trip, or 4500 one-way! This is where Avios points become extremely valuable. Here’s an example: to travel between Toronto YYZ and Chicago ORD in economy would cost you $296. If you used BA Avios, that would only cost you 9000 Avios points and $63! If you’re travelling just within the USA, then it will be even cheaper, as unlike Canada, USA airports don’t have hefty fees.

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Unfortunately, there are no OneWorld carriers that operate within Canada, and you can’t technically go Canada-United States-Canada to get to your destination on one ticket (this is called cabotage). However, Avios points are extremely valuable for those short but otherwise expensive flights and provide excellent value for USA trips, or for getting around in other parts of the world.


There are a number of “sweet spots” with Avios.

Because of the distance between Boston and Dublin, you can fly round-trip on Aer Lingus for only 25,000 Avios points and no YQ – an incredible value.

You can fly on Cathay Pacific (in premium cabins) between New York City JFK and Vancouver YVR with no fuel surcharges, and be able to taste Cathay’s premium offerings for low mileage.

You can fly between Santiago SCL and Easter Island IPC/Papeete (Tahiti) PPT on LAN with no fuel charges.

My all-time favourite? Between Johannesburg JNB and Mauritius MRU on BA with no fuel surcharges and only 10,000 Avios points – this flight typically costs $1600!


You can redeem Avios points for 4500 one-way, or 9000 round-trip on…

Toronto YYZ – Chicago ORD/New York City JFK/New York City LGA/Washington DC DCA/Philadelphia PHL/Charlotte CLT

Montreal YUL – New York City JFK/New York City LGA/Philadelphia PHL

Vancouver YVR – Portland PDX/Seattle SEA

Ottawa YOW – Philadelphia PHL

Waterloo YKF – Chicago ORD

And of course, longer flights that go into Zone 2 and 3, 15,000 and 20,000 Avios Points, still present tremendous value! Using Aeroplan, those same flights would cost you 25,000 points or more. Typically, Avios is going to be your best option for most flights between Canada and USA/Caribbean/Mexico.


How do I search for reward availability on BA Avios?

The BA Avios flight search engine is pretty accurate and I trust it for finding reward availability. However, for some partners like Alaska Airlines and Aer Lingus, the availability does not show online. To find Alaska Airlines availability, use the Alaska search engine. To search for Aer Lingus availability, use the Qantas search engine. To book these carriers, you have to call BA Avios.


What are the cancellation/change fees?

BA Avios is very generous with changes. To make a change, it will cost you $58CAD. However, I would usually recommend just cancelling your ticket. The fee to cancel is also $58CAD, however, if the fees you paid are under $58CAD (like the $2.50 you’ll typically be charged for a USA domestic flight), you just forfeit those fees instead of paying $58CAD to cancel and refund your points. You will get your points back within 24 hours (usually immediately).


How do I get BA Avios Points in Canada?

Fortunately, it’s quite easy to get BA Avios points in Canada. The American Express Gold Card (this is a referral) gives you 25,000 MR Points after $500 of spending in the first three months. The fee for the card is waived for the first year. You can convert MR points 1:1, so with this card, you’ll get 25,000 BA Avios points for free, enough for 2 round-trip tickets between the United States and Canada, AND an additional one-way (with some points still remaining)!

You can also convert RBC Avion points to BA Avios (confusing, eh!), typically at a 1:1 ratio. However, every-so-often, RBC gives you a 50% conversion bonus. You can get the BA Avion Visa (this is not a referral) for a $120 fee and 15,000 Avion points at sign-up.

RBC also issues the BA Avios Visa (this is not a referral). I would only recommend this card for heavy spenders. This card has a $165 annual fee, and comes with 15,000 Avios points – note that these are directly deposited into your BA Avios account, and are not converted, and therefore you will not benefit from the occasional 50% conversion bonus. This is a pretty expensive deal. However, if you spend $30,000 in a calendar year you’ll get a complimentary companion award certificate. With this, a companion can travel with you on a redeemed Avios itinerary without paying any of the points cost, but the companion will still have to pay any fees and fuel surcharges. You can only use this certificate redeeming on BA.


Conclusion

If your travel goals are for long haul, premium cabins, and only that, BA Avios will not present good value to you, as their premium redemptions costs are very high and they carry significant YQ. However, if you’re (a) interested in Canada-USA trips, or (b) short flights in other parts of the world (like Australia), then BA Avios presents tremendous value, and are one of the best points out there.

Comments

  1. I just got the Avion card about a week ago. I think I’ll be converting them to Avios since the conversion bonus is still going on. I thought from my limited research that yow-clt was an option? Do you know if it still exists?

    My only other use might be Cathay to Asia (one-way) but if YQ is really high then it’s not worth it. I have some amex points I thought I could transfer if that looked like decent value. I also have 50k Alaskan points that I would use for the other one way!

    • It’s a great time to convert your points – the 50% bonus really is a great promotion.

      YOW-CLT on US Airways certainly is an option. It will be 7,500 points each way, or 15,000 round-trip (Zone 2).

      If you can use your Alaska points, I’d highly recommend it! You’re really close to a one-way Cathay business class award, which you can do directly from YYZ, or for only 70,000 Alaska points, you can travel in First Class (from US destinations like NYC/ORD).

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