Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why Avios is my #1 miles currency

Less than a year ago, I had ZERO miles in my wife’s and my Avios account. Rather we did not have a British Airways Executive Club account. Infact I hadn't even stepped on a BA flight ever, which is surprising  because I lived in London for 2 years and was regularly travelling between London and India.

Fast forward to 11 months later, we have a combined total of 300,000 Avios and we have spent about 75,000 of it on holidays, already. Holiday’s we wouldn't have taken if we did not have the miles. 250,000 miles were simply earned through credit card sign up bonus and the balance through our flying as well as some through car rentals. And in this short span, Avios has become my favorite miles currency. And there are many reasons for this. When I started dabbling in miles currency last year, almost all the blogs I read were raving about United Mileage and some of them had some nasty things to say about the Avios Fuel Surcharge. Obviously, since I was a newbie at this, I followed the herd and started accumulating United miles like there’s no tomorrow. But once I had some balance in my Avios account and I used them, I realized the power they hold and more importantly, the huge difference between United Miles and Avios and which one worked best in what situation.

Here are three awesome reasons, why Avios is my new best buddy in this world:

1.       Easy to earn: Seriously – I don’t think there is another miles program that is as easy to accumulate as Avios. There are the 100,000 sign up bonuses that the banks throw our way. Then there is the Avios you earn through your regular spending – most banks you give 1 mile per dollar for the affiliate mileage card – but not Avios. You get 1.25 Avios per dollar and while it may seem very little, but at a 25% higher earning rate, they add up pretty fast. Some credit cards offer you annual spend bonus, but to earn them you need to hit a certain threshold of spends, say $25000 or $30000. With the Chase BA Card, you don't have to worry as you earn 1.25 Avios for all spends. Then you earn them through their partners – my favorite being the car rental, as I rent a car for every single day of the year. Then there are the hotels and other partners which can all add to your travel plans. And lastly- there is transfer programs. Every program transfer to BA, be it SPG points, be it Amex Membership Reward or be it Chase Ultimate Reward (not to mention, my point earning program on my Indian Citi and American express cards too…!!). So if you ever need to top off your account for a reward booking, you got plenty of options.

2.       Least amount of fee(s):  Unlike United or American or US Air, there is no last minute or close in booking fee. The tax, etc. on an award ticket is the same, irrespective of how far out or how close in you book your ticket. There is no award redemption fee (yes, I am looking at you US Airways). In case you can’t find your award online but are certain the award is available, you can always call in. They will even waive the $25 phone booking charge, if you explain the situation to the CSR. The best part – the LOW cancellation fee. The cancellation fee is $40 only. And in case you have booked a domestic US award, in which cases your taxes come out to only $2.5, then that is all you need to pay as cancellation. That’s it. $2.5..!! Compared to $150 at almost all other airlines to get your award miles back.

3.       Distance based award chart: The BA Avios award chart is quirky. It’s not region based like any of the US legacy carriers. It’s distance based. So every flight segment you are on is priced separately. So for e.g. you take an AUS-SFO flight via LAX- a US carrier would price it as one single flight within US, for a standard 12,500 miles. But BA would price it as one flight from AUS-LAX and a second flight from LAX-SFO. While this might sound like paying for 2 flights, most often than not, you would actually be saving miles. All short distance flights (less than 650 miles) are only 4500 Avios (yes that is not a typo). Infact you could fly upto 3,000 miles using 12,500 Avios (refer chart below). A NYC-SFO flight is just 2,574 miles. So it’s safe to say, as long as you have a direct flight on AA or US Air (One World Partners), you can simply use your Avios and give yourself the flexibility of less fee and anytime cancellation..!! I don’t see how that doesn’t trump United Mileage.
BA Mileage Redemption Chart - Refer BA website for updated information. Source Britishairways.com

Now, this is not to say the United Mileage is not a great FFP or that BA doesn’t have its drawbacks. United is still one of the best when it comes to redeeming for international travel. And BA does have one of the longest hold times on their phone lines, when calling in for any booking related issue, whether award or revenue. No program is perfect so depending on your need, you should choose your FFP. If you want to fly internationally for cheap, United is the way to go. But if you want to fly domestic US, then there is no better program than the British Airways Executive Club Avios.

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