Today I will cover the strengths and weaknesses of using British Airways’ award program (Executive Club) to fly for free and how you can accumulate British Airways miles (called Avios) with credit card bonuses.
British Airways is part of the Oneworld alliance, the smallest of the airline alliances with 14 current members. You can redeem Avios on any of its Oneworld partners, as well as Alaska Airlines, Aer Lingus, and Air Italy.
Unfortunately, British Airways Executive Club levies high fuel surcharges when redeeming for flights on most airlines, including itself. So ironically, it is usually not a good idea to redeem Avios for British Airways flights. The following partners are generally best for redeeming Avios on, since they have no fuel surcharges or the charges are very small: Aer Lingus, Alaska, American (except transatlantic routes), Air Berlin, S7 Airlines, LATAM Airlines (formerly LAN and TAM), Japan Airlines (sometimes), Cathay Pacific (sometimes), and Qantas (within Australia and some other routes). Fuel surcharges on most airlines are not actually tied to the cost of fuel, and airline policies change frequently, so do not discount flights on other partners without actually searching first to see if they have fuel surcharges.
Alaska Airlines and Aer Lingus flights are only bookable by phone, but most if not all of the others can be booked here on the British Airways website. (Note: An Executive Club account is required to search and book flights on the British Airways website.)
Best Routes to Redeem
British Airways is somewhat unique because it does not have a region-based award chart, but instead has a distance-based chart. The amount of Avios required is based on the number of segments in the flight and the distance of each segment. Here are the Avios redemption categories, per segment in economy:
|Flight Distance In Miles (Kilometers)||Number of Avios Required (Partner Airlines)||Number of Avios Required (British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia Peak)||Number of Avios Required (British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia Off-Peak)|
**Aer Lingus flights from Boston to Dublin and Shannon in Ireland fall under the 3001-4000 mile category even though they are slightly under 3000 miles.
Since Avios are charged per segment, and based on distance, generally the best use of Avios is on shorter, nonstop awards. Taking a nonstop American Airlines flight from Miami or Charlotte to the Caribbean, Central America, or portions of northern South America will cost between 7500 and 11,000 Avios each way, which is a steal!
West coasters have plenty of good redemptions to choose from as well. A nonstop flight to Hawaii on Alaska or American from Seattle, Portland, Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, or Anchorage only costs 13,000 each way with Avios. Most airline programs would charge between 17,500 and 22,500 miles each way for the same award.
Other great uses of Avios close to home include flying nonstop to Mexico, taking short or medium haul nonstop flights within the US or to Canada, and flying to Bermuda nonstop from the East Coast.
Outside of the United States, even better Avios redemption opportunities exist since flights start as low as 4000-6000 Avios each way. Some of the best uses of Avios are for short, nonstop flights within or near Australia, Russia, northeast Asia, or South America since fuel surcharges are rare in these areas and flights can normally be rather pricey if you are not using miles. Other short flights (e.g. between Spain and Morocco or within the Middle East) may also be a good value if fuel surcharges are not too high.
I like to use Avios on short flights that would be considered “between regions” when using other airlines. A good example of this would be flying from Aruba to Bogota, Colombia on LATAM. When using American Airlines miles, this flight costs a whopping 22,500 miles each way, but by using Avios, you can whittle down the cost to only 6000, a fraction of that!
Fuel surcharges are the elephant in the room when it comes to British Airways Executive Club. They are a huge downside since these charges really limit the choices you have when redeeming Avios. Fuel surcharges in many cases are nearly as high as the flights themselves. For instance, flying roundtrip from Seattle to London on British Airways can cost as little as $600 when you find a good deal and pay for the flight. However, redeeming Avios on this same route will cost you 50,000 Avios roundtrip + $456 in surcharges! There is really no point to using 50,000 Avios to cut the cost of a flight by $150 or so when you can use those same 50,000 Avios to fly two people from Seattle to Hawaii round-trip for free!
Of course, fuel surcharges can be avoided by flying with partners that do not charge them, so they are not the end of the world. And in terms of other fees, British Airways is very reasonable! Here they are:
- Call center fee ($25): This fee is charged when phone agents book, change, or cancel an award for you. If booking, changing, or cancelling is not possible online (e.g. for Alaska or Aer Lingus flights), and you nicely ask for the fee to be waived, they should waive it.
- Change/cancellation fee (up to $55): If you cancel your flight, you’ll be charged $55 or the taxes and fees, whichever is lower. Currently, taxes and fees for domestic flights in the US are only $5.60 each way, so that is all you will forfeit when you cancel. The change fee is $55 so it usually makes sense just to cancel and re-book rather than change if your taxes and fees are lower than $55. Cancellations and changes must be made at least 24 hours in advance of departure.
Note that there is no close-in booking fee! No close-in booking fee, in combination with a tiny cancellation fee of $11 on US domestic flights and good redemption values on short flights, means that British Airways Executive Club is a great choice for booking flexible last minute weekend getaways if you live near a hub city for American Airlines or Alaska Airlines (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Miami, Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, or Anchorage). Of course, it would be prohibitively expensive to book last minute if you were paying for flights instead of using Avios, so take advantage of the additional flexibility Avios provide!
British Airways Executive Club routing rules are astonishingly simple. Unlimited stopovers are allowed, but this really doesn’t mean much when the price of an award is based on how many segments it has. For instance, here are a few ways you could fly from Seattle to Austin, Texas:
- Nonstop on Alaska Airlines (11,000 Avios each way)
- American Airlines with a layover in Phoenix (first segment of 9000 Avios + second segment of 9000 Avios = 18,000 Avios each way)
- American Airlines with a “free stopover” in Phoenix where you spend a few days there (first segment of 9000 Avios + second segment of 9000 Avios = 18,000 Avios)
- Booking two awards: American Airlines from Seattle to Phoenix (9000 Avios) and then American Airlines from Phoenix to Austin (another 9000 Avios, total 18,000 Avios)
As you can see, even if British Airways did not allow unlimited stopovers you could just book the segments in two separate awards and create a stopover for yourself.
In addition, British Airways allows any routing, but the longer the routing is, the more Avios it will take. As an example, you could also fly from Seattle to Austin with a layover in New York, but this would require 24,000 Avios each way, since the segment from Seattle to New York is 13,000 Avios and the segment from New York to Austin is 11,000 Avios.
As a little-known rule, British Airways offers a free connecting segment within the UK when you are booking a flight that departs from or arrives into the UK from outside of Europe. However, with the exception of the LATAM flight from Sao Paulo and sometimes the Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific flights from Tokyo and Hong Kong, every other long haul route into London currently has high fuel surcharges so this rule is of limited use.
Earning British Airways Avios
As with all mileage programs, the best way to quickly accumulate British Airways Avios is by getting credit card sign up bonuses. You can read how to do this responsibly on my credit cards page. The following credit cards will give you Avios, there are quite a few:
British Airways Visa Signature
The British Airways Visa Signature card from Chase gives you 53,000 Avios after spending $3000 in 3 months and paying a first year annual fee of $95. I would recommend applying for this card now, since I have not seen a much better offer for it (there have been higher offers in the past, but with unreasonably high spending requirements).
Chase Sapphire Preferred
The Chase Sapphire Preferred will currently net you 59,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4000 in 3 months and adding an authorized user, with the annual fee waived the first year. This is the highest bonus I have seen on this card. Chase Ultimate Rewards points can be transferred 1:1 to British Airways or several other airline and hotel partners, so you can get 59,000 Avios from this bonus.
Chase Freedom Unlimited
The Chase Freedom Unlimited will currently net you 18,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $500 in 3 months and adding an authorized user. This card has no annual fee! This is the highest public offer I have seen on this card, but it is a relatively new card so could be increased in the future. Important: These points cannot be transferred to British Airways (or any other airline or hotel program) unless you also have a Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Chase Ink Business Preferred card. You will first have to transfer the Ultimate Rewards from this card to one of the other cards and then transfer them to British Airways. It is all easy to do online if you have one of the three cards mentioned.
I recommend permanently keeping this card or the Chase Freedom below to reallocate available credit to when you cancel your other Chase cards with annual fees.
The Chase Freedom will currently net you 18,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $500 in 3 months and adding an authorized user, and is very similar to the Chase Freedom Unlimited above. I have seen bonuses for this card slightly higher (by 5,000 Ultimate Rewards points) than the current offer, and sometimes I can send you a referral email which contains a better offer. Please leave me a comment below if you’d like a referral email.
I personally like this card more than the Freedom Unlimited because it has rotating 5 points per dollar bonus categories. However, it only earns 1 point per dollar spent on non-bonus categories, as opposed to the Freedom Unlimited which earns 1.5 points per dollar. Even so, it is one of my favorite cards out there and overall I end up earning more than I would with the Freedom Unlimited without even trying to spend more in the bonus categories. This card also has the same restrictions as the Chase Freedom Unlimited when it comes to transferring to British Airways- you will need to have one of the other three Ultimate Rewards cards at the time of transfer.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Reserve has been quite popular recently in the national news- and rightly so, because its sign up bonus is a whopping 104,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points (which can be transferred to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio) after spending $4000 in 3 months when you apply in branch through mid-March. The downside is that there is a $450 annual fee that is not waived the first year.
The $450 fee might be worth it for some folks though, since the card reimburses up to $300 in travel per calendar year. This means that you can have $600 reimbursed if you sign up for the card sometime in the middle of the year and get the travel credit for two years before cancelling. The card also reimburses the $100 fee for signing up for Global Entry if you want to do that.
Another benefit to this card is that it includes the Priority Pass Select Membership, giving you unlimited access to many airport lounges worldwide. These lounges are a great place to relax between flights, since they have free food, free drinks, and sometimes even free showers!
Chase Ink Business Preferred
The Chase Ink Business Preferred currently has a sign up bonus of 85,000 Ultimate Rewards points when you spend $5000 in 3 months, with the annual fee waived the first year. This is a very good bonus, but has a high spending requirement, so make sure you can meet it if you sign up. These points can be transferred 1:1 to British Airways Executive Club.
For the purposes of applying for credit cards, any side hobby which generates extra income for you can be considered a business. Just enter your full name as the legal business name on the application, the type of business as “sole proprietor,” the business tax identification number as your Social Security Number, and fill everything else out honestly and completely. Do not worry if your business income is very low, because your personal income (as the owner) will also be factored into your approval for the credit card. One great thing about most business credit cards is that they do not appear on your personal credit report, assuming you make your payments on time! So that means that you do not have to worry about reallocating credit when you cancel since it will not affect your score.
Chase Ink Business Cash
Contrary to what the name would imply, this card actually accumulates Chase Ultimate Rewards points as well, however (like the Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited), you will have to have another Ultimate Rewards card to transfer them to British Airways. The current sign up bonus for this card is 33,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $3000 in 3 months, which is the highest I have seen it. And this card has no annual fee!
American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card
The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card gains you 28,000 Starpoints after spending $3000 in three months, with no annual fee the first year. 28,000 Starpoints can be converted to 33,000 Avios. I have seen the bonus on this card as high as 38,000 Starpoints before so it could jump up even higher at a later time.
As this spending requirement is decently high and the card is an American Express, which is less widely accepted, make sure you can meet the spending before you apply for the card!
American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card
Confusingly enough, this card has two different sign up bonus offers. One is here and the other is here. The first offer only gives you 21,500 Starpoints (26,500 Avios) after spending $1500 and has an annual fee of $150. The second offer gives you 30,000 Starpoints (35,000 Avios) after spending a shockingly high $5000 in 3 months, with the annual fee waived the first year. In my opinion, both of these options are not very good, the first one has too high of an annual fee to justify the bonus, and the second one has too high of a spend requirement for an American Express. But if they suit your fancy, feel free to apply.
American Express Membership Rewards Cards
American Express Membership Rewards Points can also be transferred to British Airways at a 5:4 ratio. Since they can be transferred to many other airline reward programs at better ratios, it usually makes sense to transfer them elsewhere and not to British Airways. For reference, the following cards accumulate American Express Membership Rewards Points:
- The American Express Everyday and Everyday Preferred Cards
- All variations of the Gold Card from American Express
- All variations of the Platinum Card from American Express
- A couple business cards from American Express OPEN- the Business Gold Rewards and Enhanced Business Platinum cards
I will cover these cards in a later post.
British Airways Executive Club is a great award program for redeeming short and medium haul nonstop flights. The program is very flexible, with no close-in booking fees and extremely low cancellation fees, which makes it ideal for last minute excursions, weekend getaways, or booking flights when you might need to cancel. Avios are easy to accumulate with a wide variety of credit card offers.
Unreasonably high fuel surcharges on many airlines, including British Airways itself, make it important to do some research before redeeming Avios, as some flight options can be much better than others. Fortunately, many great options exist, and I’ve highlighted many of them in this post.
If you have any more questions on British Airways Executive Club that are not addressed here, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll try my best to answer it!