Ireland Anyone?

So the big news of the day is that the 50,000 Avios sign up bonus is back on the British Airways Visa Signature credit card. And the spending requirement is only $2,000 within the first 3 months of card membership. There is an annual fee of $95 that is NOT waived for the first year but this is still a pretty sweet deal. And one that we’ve taken advantage of twice!

As a bit of a background, British Airways calls the miles in their program “Avios.” Don’t be confused by the lingo. They’re just miles. Also, the British Airways frequent flyer program is distanced based. Most award programs are region based which means that flying from one region to another requires a set number of miles. In contrast, the British Airways program is distanced based so the number of miles (Avios) that you pay is based upon how far you go.

There are 9 different distance zones so in order to figure out how many Avios your award will require, you need to go to Great Circle Mapper and type in your itinerary to compute the distance. Make sure you account for all segments. So, if you’re going from New York to Los Angeles via Chicago, you’d need to add the distance of New York to Chicago to Chicago to LA (not New York to LA) in order to get the correct number of miles required. You then find your distance in the below table to determine what “zone” your award falls in.

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Once you’ve identified your “zone,” you then can ascertain how many Avios will be required via the below table. I won’t further complicate things with a discussion around what British Airways classifies as peak or off-peak, so for sake of ease, I’m assuming peak travel throughout the rest of this post.

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So what can you do with 50,000 British Airways Avios? Well, my favorite use is 25,000 Avios roundtrip per passenger from Boston to Dublin on Aer Lingus. This route falls just under 3,000 miles (2,993 to be exact) which makes it a perfect candidate for Avios. We’ve flown this route countless time using our Avios and we LOVE that flight. In a blink of an eye, you’re in Europe. It takes less time to get to Dublin from Boston than it does to get to LA. So, with one credit card sign up, you can get two roundtrips to Dublin. And if you’re a family of four, husband and wife both sign up and you now have 4 roundtrips from Boston to Dublin (or Shannon if you so desire). The taxes on this award are about $150 per passenger for the roundtrip.

“But I have already visited Ireland. Can I go somewhere else in Europe.” Why yes, yes you can! However, it will cost you. You’d have two options. One is to use more Avios (remember, you need to add each segment together and the flight from Boston to Dublin maxes out the 12,500 Avios zone). The other is to pay for a connecting flight. Aer Lingus serves Europe fairly extensively and the paid options are pretty reasonable. We did that last summer to Munich and it worked out great. We even were able to check our bags all the way through even though the Munich leg was a separate ticket altogether.

Other great Avios options include any short domestic flights on American Airlines (a OneWorld member with British Airways). With family in Buffalo, we’ve used 4,500 Avios each way from Boston to Buffalo on the nonstop on American Airlines. Pretty. Sweet. I mean, the cheapest one way option with the region based frequent flyer programs (United, AA, Delta, etc) is 10,000 miles. Seriously, a roundtrip for flights under 650 miles in each direction is fewer Avios than the cheapest one way with other programs. But even a connecting flight from Boston (via Charlotte) to Orlando is only 10,000 each way. Almost all the other programs want a minimum of 12,500 miles. Opportunities abound!

“Ok, great, what’s the catch?” Well, there are a couple. One is that British Airways imposes fuel surcharges on their flights. Depending on class of service, those can be substantial. So, you want to use your Avios on airlines that don’t have fuel surcharges like Aer Lingus and American Airlines. And ironically, the biggest offender is British Airways. Generally speaking, it’s NOT a good idea to use your Avios on British Airways flights.

The other downside is that Avios are a terrible value for any cabin of service other than coach. So those of you who appreciate the finer aspects of the travel experience (like us!) won’t be able to use these Avios efficiently toward premium cabin travel. But everyone travels in coach at some point, right?

Bottom line is that this is a great offer. There are enough uses for Avios (especially for those who use Boston as their international gateway) that almost anyone can get a ton of value out this sign up bonus. And while flying on Aer Lingus requires a call to British Airways to ascertain availability and to book (or you can use our award booking service and have us do it for you), American Airlines flights can be booked right online. Despite the somewhat complicated nature of their program, once you get that down, it doesn’t get much easier to use those hard(ly) earned Avios!


** Credit for the charts used in this post goes to One Mile at a Time.

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