If you’re not familiar with Avios, you should be. Avios is a reward currency used by a number of airlines, principally British Airways and Iberia. This currency is highly prized in the points and loyalty world. So an ominous email that went out on April 29, 2019, about an upcoming Avios devaluation had us shaking in our boots.
However, we’ve now learned that the changes are not as bad or nearly as drastic as those recently taken by United Airlines, which completely decimated the value of its Mileage Plus points. Avios is not moving to a dynamic-pricing model (phew!!!) and is keeping its distance-based award chart. It’s just going to cost us a bit more for some routings.
Here’s all you need to know about what’s happening in the world of Avios today and how to fully maximize the arbitrage between the British Airways and Iberia programs (even with the devaluation).
What is so great about Avios, and why should I care about a frequent flyer program for an airline I never fly?
While Avios, the frequent flyer currency of British Airways and Iberia, can be used for free hotels and car rentals, it is mainly used for reward flights, but not exactly how you’d imagine.
Few of us in the points world use Avios for flights on British Airways or Iberia; we use the currency for flights on other Oneworld alliance partners like Air Italy, American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, LATAM, and Sri Lanka Airlines as well as other airline partners like Alaska Airlines. This is because Avios bases the price of reward tickets on a distance-based award chart rather than a geographic or regional-based award chart (e.g., North America to North America, North America to Europe).
This has presented hundreds of excellent opportunities over the years for reward tickets on airline partners with prices far cheaper than the actual partners. To clarify, it’s entirely possible to get a round-trip business-class ticket from Miami to Providenciales, Turks & Caicos, for 18,000 Avios on American Airlines while the same ticket using American’s own frequent flyer currency, Aadvantage miles, would cost 50,000 miles.
Besides presenting value among points programs, there are often cheap Avios award seats for several prohibitively expensive cash fares including many of American Airlines’ routes to the Caribbean, Japan Airlines’ domestic routes (in economy), and many of Cathay Pacific’s intra-Asia routes (in business). In addition, Avios can be used for upgrades and also to defray the cash price of an airline ticket.
How do I earn Avios?
Avios frequent flyer points can be accrued by flying British Airways, Iberia, Oneworld Airlines, and other airline partners. The points can also be obtained through sign-up bonuses and purchases with the British Airways Visa and the Iberia Plus Visa, both issued by Chase bank. And it’s possible to earn Avios through shopping and travel partners associated with British Airways and Iberia.
But the most common way to accrue Avios is through transfer partners American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. The usual transfer ratio is 1:1. American Express often runs promotions for transfers to Avios, but there’s none currently on the table. However, Chase is running its first-ever promotion for Avios transfers, giving customers a 30% bonus (1:1.3) when transferring Ultimate Rewards to Avios. Now until June 16, 2019, 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points will transfer to 13,000 Avios when redeemed through the Ultimate Rewards portal.
What are the details of the British Airways Avios devaluation?
While the Avios program extends to both British Airways and Iberia (and it is possible to transfer Avios between the British Airways Executive Club and Iberia Plus programs), the message about the devaluation has been received only by those in the British Airways Executive Club thus far. These two airlines may share the same program, but they divvy rewards separately (odd, we know). Meaning, the award ticket pricing is not always the same with British Airways versus Iberia (we digress, but more on that in the next section).
Come June 1, 2019, the current pricing of British Airways and Iberia flights will not change (hoorah!), but the pricing of all other airline partners will on British Airways’ Avios award chart. The new pricing equates to a 33% increase for flights less than 650 miles, a 20% increase for flights between 651 and 1,150 miles, a 10% increase for flights between 1,151 and 2,000 miles, and a 3 to 4% increase for flights over 2,000 miles.
Flight Distance New Price Old Price (until May 30, 2019)
0–650 miles 6,000 Avios 4,500 Avios
651–1,150 miles 9,000 Avios 7,500 Avios
1,151–2,000 miles 11,000 Avios 10,000 Avios
2,001–3,000 miles 13,000 Avios 12,500 Avios
3,001-4,000 miles 20,750 Avios 20,000 Avios
4,001-5,500 miles 25,750 Avios 25,000 Avios
5,501-6,500 miles 31,000 Avios 30,000 Avios
6,501-7,000 miles 36,250 Avios 35,000 Avios
7,001 miles+ 51,500 Avios 50,000 Avios
In line with the current structure between flight classes, business-class and first-class awards will cost approximately 2x and 4x that of economy awards (and increase in price by roughly the same percentage).
While this devaluation is by no means good news, it’s not nearly as devastating as the former devaluation news from airlines like Delta, United, and Hawaiian Air.
What is the deal with transferring Avios between the programs of British Airways and Iberia?
British Airways and Iberia might have the same parent company and frequent flyer reward currency, but they pull from different search engines when looking for award flights.
Both show availability for the following airlines: Cathay Pacific (within Asia), Sri Lankan, Finnair, Iberia, LATAM, Qatar, Royal Jordanian, American Airlines, and Qantas.
However, Iberia Plus’ booking engine also shows flight availability for the following airlines (where British Airways does not): Air Nostrum, Iberia Express Level, S7, and Vueling. British Airways shows flight availability for the following airlines (where Iberia does not): Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, and Cathay Pacific (beyond intra-Asia flights).
This is important because the search engines automatically create possible flight awards by stringing together partner flights. For example, if we search for a flight from Boston to Milan on Iberia Plus, we get four possible award itineraries with Iberia and its partners. The same search on British Airways yields “No availability.”
To make things more complicated, British Airways and Iberia already follow different award charts (and at press time, this difference will continue with the new British Airways chart).
Both use a distance-based award chart, where a fixed amount of Avios currency is charged for traveling distance bands (e.g., Band 2 is 651–1150 miles, Band 3 is 1,151–2,000 miles, and Band 4 is 2,001–3,000 miles). However, British Airways charges by distance-per-segment while Iberia charges based on total itinerary distance.
So, say you are flying from Chicago to Barcelona via New York City, British Airways will charge Avios for the Chicago–New York segment under one band and the New York–Barcelona segment under another. The sum of these two segments is almost always larger than the single band Iberia will charge.
In addition, Iberia has several non–Oneworld alliance partners that allow for flight redemptions: Binter Canarias, Royal Air Maroc, and Avianca. You can simply transfer your British Airways Avios over to Iberia Plus and, for 46,000 Avios, be on your way from New York’s JFK to Casablanca (CMN) on Royal Air Maroc’s new Dreamliner in business-class! British Airways also has some non–Oneworld alliance partners thatallow for flight redemptions: Aer Lingus and Alaska Airlines.
Finally, sometimes the taxes and fees vary when pricing out award tickets on British Airways’ search engine versus Iberia’s, leading to dramatically different out-of-pocket award costs. British Airways is notorious for charging super high taxes and fees especially on flights to and from Europe.
How do I link my British Airways Executive Club and Iberia Plus Avios accounts?
The process is simple.
You need to set up Avios accounts with each airline directly. Be sure that your name, address, and emails match exactly in the personal profile of each account.
Once you have greater than a zero balance in each account, you can link them and initiate immediate transfers between the two. Log in to your British Airways Executive Club account and click “Manage My Account” on the left-hand side.
Select “Combine my Avios” from the dropdown menu. Click “Combine,” enter the account number of your Iberia Plus account, enter the number of Avios you’d like to transfer, and voila!
Help! This is so much information, what are my takeaways?
First, don’t feel bad if you need to read this post several times to absorb all the information. It’s a lot.
Don’t panic about the upcoming devaluation with British Airways Avios—it’s not that bad! But if you want to lock in the British Airways’ old pricing, be sure to book by May 30, 2019. Double-down on the savings by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points at the current 30% bonus and booking before June.
During and after the devaluation, always go back and forth between British Airways’ website and Iberia’s to price out your desired routing. See who has the best routing, who is charging fewer Avios, and who is charging less taxes and fees. Then transfer the points and book!