With yesterday’s announcement that British Airways is slashing the 4,500 Avios booking for North America, many people were very upset. To many, that is the single best use of Avios (which it is one of, if not the, top use) and to lose that in just a few months is a big blow.
Before, if your flight was under 650 miles and was non-stop (what was required to book with only 4,500 Avios), it was a no-brainer to redeem your British Airways Avios for those American Airlines flights instead of American Airlines. American Airlines, like other legacy US airlines, charges a standard price of 12,500 miles one way within the US. So, that was an obvious savings.
But, with the increase to 7,500 Avios, I thought it would be a good idea to look at the math going forward.
AA vs BA For US Awards – Running the Numbers
The Numbers For Connections
First of all, British Airways has basically done away with Zone 1 for North America. That means all non-stop flights between 1 – 1,151 miles will now cost 7,500 miles. If you have a short flight to a hub (like a 400 mile flight to Chicago) and then a flight that is 600 miles (or even 1,000 miles) from there to your final destination, that will now cost 15,000 Avios one way. That is 2,500 Avios more than AA requires for one way travel anywhere in the continental US.
Under the current structure, two short-haul flights will cost a total of 9,000 Avios. That is still 3,500 Avios cheaper than AA’s one way so the new program is definitely going to be worse than AA’s own award chart.
Off-Peak (Promotional) Pricing
BA instituted an off-peak calendar earlier this year but that does not apply to the flights in North America. So, it will be a consistent 7,500 Avios minimum for any short haul flights in North America.
On the other hand, American Airlines has a rotating chart for promotional cities within North America for holders of the Citi AA cards. These are called Reduced Mileage Awards. The great thing about them is that the cities on the list will deliver the promotional pricing whether you are flying into them or out of them. That gives a wide-range of cities for your award flights.
The only downside is that you must book these awards over the phone (800-882-8880). To book these flights, you must have one AA/Citi credit card. Most of the cards will give you access to the 7,500 mile discount on the roundtrip awards while a small few of the lesser AA cards will give you a 5,000 mile discount.
These awards are only for roundtrips but if you trip is a roundtrip, these awards are better than Avios with the new program offering. A roundtrip to the applicable cities on AA is only 17,500 miles – and that is to any flight in North America to/from one of the cities on the list.
One of the great things about booking with Avios (and it will remain unchanged) is the fact that there are no close-in booking fees. American Airlines charges $75 for award flights made/changed within 21 days of departure. If you like last-minute award bookings, then Avios are still the way to go.
While the cost of the trips will go up for short-haul tickets, the fee of $75 is a worthwhile reason to book with Avios.
If you need to cancel an award reservation on an American Airlines reservation, it will cost your $150 for the first person on the reservation and $25 for other people on the same reservation if they are cancelled at the same time. While the additional people’s fees are lower than other US airlines, that first $150 is still a lot.
British Airways only charges a fee if you want to get all of your taxes/fees back. Since those fees are only $5.60 per segment for US travel, the most you would lose for a US roundtrip ticket is $22.40. In fact, on recent reservations, I not only got the Avios back, but I also got the taxes/fees back so you may not pay anything on those reservations.
Ease In Accruing Miles
The only cards that let you earn AA miles are AA’s own credit cards or by transfer from SPG cards. That makes AA miles valuable by reason of the difficulty in earning them.
On the other hand, British Airways Avios are very easy to accrue. Not only do they have their own credit card, but points can be transferred from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and SPG’s Starpoints. That means more than 15 credit cards that can earn points to be transferred into British Airways Avios. That makes it incredibly easy to get those points.
Total Miles For Long Haul
The math has not changed for any flights over 650 miles in North America – the original chart stays the same. The only way it makes a difference on longer trips is if you need to travel first to a AA hub from your home airport or to the destination airport.
For example, if I wanted to fly from my hometown of Rochester to LA, I would need a segment from Rochester to Chicago (528 miles) and then Chicago to Los Angeles (1,744 miles). That means, under the new award chart, I will need 17,500 Avios for this cross-country flight on AA. That is 5,000 more Avios than American Airlines would charge in their own miles for the same flight.
In such situations, it would likely make more sense to use AA miles but it will all depend on which program you have more miles/Avios in. For most people, Avios will still be the way to go. Yes, it will cost more, but you still have the cheaper options for close-in bookings without the fees and the cheaper fees/cost for award redeposits. That may make the 5,000 extra Avios for a one way trip like that worth it.
Winner: AA For The Actual Numbers
For sure, yesterday’s announcement was bad news. But, hopefully this post gives you enough information going forward to see whether it will still make sense for you to continue with British Airways Avios. There will still be a lot of people that will end up using their Avios for such flights, even though none of us like having to spend more.