While it can be easy to stick to the familiarity of American Airlines AAdvantage, United MileagePlus or Delta SkyMiles, diversifying into international frequent flyer programs can help you unlock an even better value for your travel rewards. And if you pick one new mileage currency as a starting point, British Airways Avios make a compelling choice, for a number of reasons.
- Avios are among the easiest miles to earn. You can top up your balance by transferring points from Chase, Amex or Marriott, and we frequently see transfer bonuses to British Airways. While these offers have historically been Amex’s domain, Chase is currently running its first ever bonus, offering 30% more Avios when transferring to British Airways.
- The carrier offers value in its distance-based award chart — a departure from the traditional zone- or region-based chart. Learning how to use a different type of system will make you a stronger award traveler.
- British Airways has some incredible partners — between its membership in the Oneworld alliance and individual partnerships with other carriers like Alaska Airlines.
While the website isn’t always the easiest to navigate, it is a popular way to search for Oneworld award space. Unfortunately, not every partner is available there, so today, we’ll go step-by-step through everything you need to know to book partner awards using British Airways Avios.
Booking Partner Awards With British Airways Avios
The first step you’ll need to complete is simple: Register for an Executive Club account. From British Airways’ homepage, click Register now at the top right (or click this link), enter your information then click Join now at the bottom.
Once you’re registered, you can start the search process. Let’s use a simple example to illustrate this process: a one-way flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Hong Kong (HKG). After logging in, you’ll want to mouse over the Book option in the menu on the homepage and then click “Book a flight with Avios.”
This will take you to the main search page for award flights, where you can start inputting your search criteria.
As you’re doing so, you might be tempted to click on the “Check reward flight availability” link — after all, that is what you’re trying to do. Don’t fall for the trap! That link will redirect you away to another page when in reality you’re already in the right spot to be searching for award space.
In addition, if you’re only interested in booking premium cabins, go ahead and select Business/Club or First from the class drop-down menu. As you’ll see shortly, the search results only display three classes at a time, and this is a way to ensure that you see premium cabins.
After completing all of the search fields, click Get flights at the bottom.
Now, depending on your search criteria, you may encounter a screen like this:
Generally speaking, you’ll want to select “No, I want to continue without stopovers” when booking an award flight. While there are programs that allow for free stopovers and open jaws on award tickets, British Airways will charge you separately for each segment. In addition, the website will default to a stop in London rather than other Oneworld hubs.
After clicking Continue, you’ll be taken to the main screen showing a calendar of results. Since we’re searching for partner awards, ignore the “off-peak” designation at the top. Peak and off-peak pricing only apply to British Airways- and Iberia-operated flights, and all partner awards follow peak pricing — no matter what the calendar says.
The good news is that there’s award space in every premium cabin for the flight we’re looking for, giving you plenty of choices from which to pick.
From here, click on the class of service you want and you’ll get a pop-up box from the bottom of the page with what it’ll cost you to book. Follow the on-screen prompts to finalize the award.
As noted above, most British Airways partner award tickets are bookable online. This includes all of the carrier’s fellow Oneworld members:
- American Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
- Malaysia Airlines
- Royal Jordanian
- SriLankan Airlines
However, award inventory on the program’s two non-alliance partners — Aer Lingus and Alaska Airlines — is not displayed online. To book awards with either of these carriers, you’d need to call customer service, though you should try to find specific flights with award space beforehand. ExpertFlyer could be a great option here, or you could use Alaska’s website for Alaska award space or United.com for Aer Lingus award space.
Once you have your flights, call the US-based call center at 1-800-452-1201. It’s is open daily from 7:30am to 8:00pm Eastern Time.
Advanced Quirks to Know
The above suggestions will help you redeem your Avios at least 95% of the time. However, the British Airways award booking tool isn’t completely accurate, so if you’re running into difficulties, there are some advanced quirks you should know. The following tips will help you overcome these possible roadblocks to getting the award itinerary you want.
Search segment by segment
The first suggestion is to search for your award flight one segment at a time. There are a couple of reasons for this. For starters, the search results with connecting flights sometimes show what’s called “phantom” award space — seats that appear to be available using Avios but really aren’t.
For example, let’s take the same search above but assume that you want to connect through Hong Kong (HKG) to Bangkok (BKK) instead of simply ending in Hong Kong. Remember how that 11:05am flight from Los Angeles had just a single award in first class? Here’s what happens when you search from LAX to BKK:
British Airways is trying to tell us that there are now as many as five first-class awards seats on that same 11:05am departure out of LAX.
The first time I saw this happen, I thought I’d stumbled upon the deal of the century, with Cathay Pacific releasing 5/6 of the seats in its first-class cabin as awards. Turns out this is all phantom space, and if you tried to book this award, you’d find that only one seat was available. So searching segment by segment keeps us from getting our hopes up when the system displays buggy results.
It also has the added benefit of letting us get creative. The only two awards British Airways shows with first class availability involve the 11:05am flight out of LAX, but there was also a first class award seat on the 10:20 pm flight. Cathay Pacific flies 6x daily between Hong Kong and Bangkok, and if you wanted to call British Airways you could piece together your own itinerary with the evening flight out of LAX and an eligible connection on from Hong Kong. British Airways might try and charge you a phone booking fee, but I’ve always managed to get this waived by explaining that the ticket I want was not bookable online.
Watch out for issues with dates
Another issue pops up once you’ve started a search, as I’ve had problems changing dates. If I click the change button and try and click on the calendar to select a new date, the calendar opens and closes instantly before I can make a selection. There’s no way to type a date in either, so when this happens I (annoyingly) have to exit out of my search and start entirely from the beginning. If you’re searching multiple dates that are close to each other you can just use the weekly calendar at the top of the screen to scroll and select new dates, but if you’re changing your search dates by several weeks or months, prepare to start again each time.
Double-check fare classes
As mentioned above, the search results online only show three classes at a time, and if you select economy or premium economy as your desired class of travel, you won’t see first class. And if you select business or first class, economy won’t show. Be sure to toggle between these classes to get a full picture of what’s available on your given dates of travel.
In addition, when you’re trying to change your search from the results page (as opposed to starting over entirely), pay close attention to the class of travel drop-down box. Adjusting your origin or departure may switch that back to economy — even if you selected a premium cabin initially.
Earning British Airways Avios
As mentioned in the intro, British Airways Avios are quite easy to earn, thanks in large page to transfers from Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards. If you’re looking for new cards that would enable these transfers, here are a few of our favorites:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve: 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
- American Express® Gold Card: 35,000 bonus points after you spend $2,000 on purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership (though you could be targeted for a higher welcome offer through the CardMatch Tool)
- The Platinum Card® from American Express: 60,000 bonus points after you use your new card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first three months (though you could be targeted for a higher welcome offer through the CardMatch Tool)
And if you don’t want to go through the transfer process and would prefer to earn Avios directly, consider adding the British Airways Visa Signature Card to your wallet, as it’s currently offering a sign-up bonus of up to 120,000 Avios. You’ll earn 4 Avios per $1 spent on all purchases within your first year up to $30,000.
It’s worth your time to learn the ins and outs of searching for award space on British Airways, whether you plan to actually book your award with Avios or if you’re just scouting Oneworld award availability to book with another program. The website certainly has some quirks to get used to, but it closes an especially important gap. ExpertFlyer is a great tool for searching award availability across a number of airlines, but its coverage of Oneworld members is especially weak. It doesn’t support searches for Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific or Qatar, making British Airways’ website a great replacement option.
For more on British Airways, please see the following:
- Here Is the Official New British Airways Avios Partner Award Chart
- Maximizing the British Airways Distance-Based Award Chart
- Here’s Why You Should Care About British Airways Avios
- Using Avios for Short-Haul Flights From Oneworld Hubs
Featured image by Ryan Patterson / The Points Guy