Reader Kevin wants to travel from Washington, DC to Toronto sometime this Summer. He’s new to the miles and points game, but his trip provides us with a great opportunity to dive into the great new award flights available using British Airways Avios thanks to US Air’s entry into the Oneworld alliance.
A Quick Review Of Avios
Avios are a tremendous tool for certain flights. While most programs base award flight costs on your origin and destination regions or on the cash cost of a ticket, Avios redemption costs are based on distance. That means short flights – or flights that are just under one of the program’s higher distance thresholds – can often be a very good value using Avios.
Here’s a look at the Avios award chart:
As you can see, flights under 650 miles are a particularly outstanding value using Avios, at just 4,500 Avios each way in Economy.
Avios redemptions are calculated on a per segment basis, which means that flights with connections cost double or more versus non-stop routes on these short trips.
For example, a direct flight from Washington, DC to Toronto is 359 miles, or well within the distance limits for a 4,500 Avios redemption. However, if this flight had to connect in New York, we’d be looking at a total of 9,000 Avios each way: 4,500 from Washington to New York and 4,500 from New York to Toronto.
Avios Possibilities On US Air
Thankfully, Kevin’s airport of choice, Washington-Reagan, happens to be a US Air hub. A few weeks ago, as part of the airline’s ongoing merger with American, US Air switched from Star Alliance to the Oneworld alliance. That made it possible not only for flights on US Air to be booked with American miles, but also with the frequent flyer programs of other Oneworld airlines, including British Airways.
US Air offers direct flights to Toronto from their hub in Washington, so this is a great opportunity for a redemption at 4,500 Avios each way.
Sure enough, if we check on the British Airways Avios Calculator, it confirms the rate for this trip:
Where else might we be able to go using Avios on US Air? It’s best to focus on the airline’s hubs, since other routes are liable to require a connection.
Washington – Reagan
This map draws a circle with a 650 mile radius around US Air’s hub in Washington:
If US Air offers direct service from Washington to anywhere inside that circle, the Avios rate for that award flight should come in at just 4,500. Compare that to US Air’s own rate of 12,500 miles for the same flight! Even worse, US Air redemptions must be booked as roundtrips. Oftentimes, using US Air miles on such a small trip makes no sense, as the cash price of a ticket isn’t high enough to justify using the miles as a smart redemption. That’s not so of Avios.
It’s important to not look only at where you could go from Washington, but from where you could head to the nation’s capital at this lowest rate. See how the circle just barely touches Jacksonville, down in northern Florida? That’s great news for me! Because my home airport happens to be on the north side of the city, the distance from JAX to DCA comes in at about 634 miles, or just under that 650 miles threshold. US Air is far from my favorite airline, but this is now one of my favorite new award possibilities.
Getting back to Kevin’s trip, you can see that Toronto falls well within this distance range. Importantly, so do Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City. Let’s say you’d like to go visit Quebec in the early Fall, when it’s particularly nice out. Perhaps you can find a cheap cash flight to Washington-Reagan and then use Avios to cover the hop from Reagan to Quebec City? Or, you could use Avios to Washington and then use them to continue on to Quebec. The savings in either case could be substantial.
Let’s take a look at the possibilities from US Air’s hub in Charlotte:
Out to the west, St. Louis is brought into range. However, perhaps most enticing are the expanded award possibilities down into Florida. Charlotte to Orlando is a 4,500 Avios flight, making a trip to Disney World or Universal an easy possibility. Notice how Miami appears to be just straddling the distance threshold? Most distance trackers show MIA as being precisely 650 miles from CLT, but BA’s word is what counts, here: it takes 7,500 Avios for that flight. However, it’s possible to fly into Fort Lauderdale for only 4,500 Avios! As FLL is roughly 25 miles closer to Charlotte than MIA, it falls within our target distance threshold.
Here’s a look at what’s within 650 miles of US Air’s hub in Philadelphia:
As you can see, there’s not much good news in regards to the Philadelphia hub when compared with Washington-Reagan or Charlotte. Florida’s totally out of range for the cheapest Avios awards and major midwestern cities like Chicago slip away from our grasp, as well. Of course, a wide variety of additional destinations are possible at the 7,500 Avios tier, and for those residing all the way up the Eastern seaboard, flights to and through PHL can still be a valuable option.
Finally, US Air’s hub in the Southwestern US, Phoenix, provides access to a wide variety of totally different destinations at the lowest Avios level:
Unfortunately, San Francisco is just out of our reach from Phoenix at the 4,500 level, though airports not too far south, such as San Jose, can be had at the cheapest Avios redemption level. To the northeast of Phoenix, Denver is the most obvious destination near the 650 mile perimeter. Of course, all of Southern California, Las Vegas, Albuquerque and a few destinations south of the border are within range, as well.
Finding The Avios
Of course, these rates are only relevant if you can find the Avios to book them with, and if flights are available. Addressing availability first, I prefer to actually search for award flights on AA.com, as I find their award availability calendar to be the easiest to read of American, US Air and British Airways. If a nonstop flight is available at the Saver Economy level, either on US Air or American, it’ll be bookable using Avios, too.
Both Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards points can be converted into Avios with British Airways at a 1:1 rate. From time to time, Membership Rewards transfer bonuses of up to 40% are offered for a limited time, sweetening the deal even further.
You can also earn BA Avios when paying for flights on American Airlines, US Airways or other Oneworld carriers. Simply provide a British Airways Executive Club number instead of your AAdvantage or DividendMiles number, and you can earn Avios while flying.
However, it’s also possible to simply purchase Avios. It’s not something I’d recommend doing, necessarily, since they’re so easy to earn through everyday spending, but it’s worth looking at when this might make sense.
For example, consider Kevin’s trip to Toronto. Let’s say he traveled from June 13th to June 19th. The cheapest this could be booked through US Air directly was $321. Alternately, this flight could be booked for 9,000 Avios + $5. It’s possible to buy 9,000 Avios for $273, so in this case, buying the Avios from scratch and paying the nominal security fee would be a better deal than paying the cash rate on the flight! It’s rare to see this occur on domestic itineraries in any program, but this kind of value is seen more often when flying on Avios.
While we only looked at using Avios on US Air today, it’s worth repeating that Avios can be used on American Airlines flights, as well. That opens up a raft of additional possibilities from the airline’s hubs in New York, Miami, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. We’ll look at those another day!