Redeeming 'impossible to use' British Airways miles
The editorial content below is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners. Learn more about our advertising policy. The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Please see the bank's website for the most current version of card offers; and please review our list of best credit cards to find our current offers, or use our CardMatchTM tool to find cards matched to your needs.
Ask a question.
Dear Cashing In,
I have more than 55,000 Avios miles with British Airways. I find it almost impossible to use them. Do you know if I can transfer them to a different airline or reward program? -- Reginald
It sounds as though you are in a frustrating spot -- that you accumulated these miles with grand visions on how to spend them, but now you find yourself unable to use them. And if you have no account activity in three years, they will expire.
I'm not sure how you accumulated these, but I'm guessing it's through a credit-card offer, as the current offer on the British Airways Visa Signature Card (annual fee: $95) is 50,000 Avios miles after spending $2,000 in three months.
Generally, you cannot transfer miles from one airline into the frequent flier program of another airline. So you are stuck with those miles in the Avios program.
However, within Avios, there are options for redeeming those miles on other airlines. You're not transferring them. Rather, you're using Avios miles to book flights with other carriers.
When I first heard about the Chase British Airways card a few years ago, it didn't appeal to me. I figured it was mostly for people living in the United Kingdom. British Airways doesn't fly anywhere near where I live.
But as I researched it more, I came to understand that it can be a worthwhile card because Avios miles can be used to book flights on British Airways' Oneworld alliance partners such as American Airlines, Iberia and Cathay Pacific, as well as non-allied partners such as Alaska Airlines.
Now, the Avios program is a little different from most airlines' frequent flier programs in that the number of miles required for a free trip depends on the distance you fly. Most programs charge, say, 25,000 miles for a round-trip coach ticket anywhere within the Lower 48, or 60,000 round-trip for a coach ticket between the U.S. and Europe. Not so with British Airways.
It has an online award calculator that shows you how many Avios points you need to get where you want to go. Note that Avios prices each flight segment separately, so if you're flying from Phoenix to Dallas to Atlanta, you have to calculate the number of miles from Phoenix to Dallas (7,500 miles), then add the miles from Dallas to Atlanta (7,500 miles). So that's 15,000 one-way, and 30,000 round-trip.
In the U.S., the easiest way to redeem Avios miles is on American Airlines. Because of the per-segment award pricing, the best redemption deals come from direct flights to American's hub airports (Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, New York's JFK and Miami). Short flights, such as San Francisco to Los Angeles, can be had for as little as 9,000 miles round-trip. I had lunch with a friend last week who plans to use his 50,000 Avios to take five round-trips between Charlotte, N.C., and Chicago on American, and he said he has had no problems finding available flights.
Flights on American using British Airways Avios miles can be booked on the British Airways site, or you can look at American's website to more easily check availability -- especially because British Airways' site doesn't do well with itineraries with multiple stops. Generally, anything available at the lowest award level on American's site should be bookable using Avios on British Airways' site.
Flights on Alaska Airlines do not show up on the British Airways site. You have to call British Airways to book those.
From the West Coast, flights to Hawaii can be a good value (25,000 Avios round-trip to Honolulu from Seattle, San Jose or Los Angeles). Flights to Europe from the East Coast can also be cheap in terms of Avios, but British Airways tacks huge fuel surcharges on its flights.
Boston to London, for instance, is 40,000 Avios round-trip, plus $692 in fees - but you won't get the fee information from the calculator. You have to look up the flight in the award booking part of the website to get it.
One workaround is to consider Boston to Dublin on partner Aer Lingus, whose fuel surcharges are minimal.
If you don't want flights, Avios can also be redeemed for a pretty wide selection of hotel rooms and Avis car rentals.
Ideally, you should have an idea of how you can use miles before you sign up for a particular credit card. But even if you don't, you will still usually have a number of ways to redeem miles or points for awards that are valuable to you. Good luck, Reginald!
Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A experts
Does a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday, CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.
- Marriott Bonvoy cards are offering 100,000-point bonuses; are they worth it? – Three different Marriott Bonvoy credit cards are currently offering 100,000-point sign-up bonuses. Are they worth it? It all depends on your travel and spending habits ...
- Does it make sense to transfer rewards points twice? – Transferring rewards points twice ? from one loyalty program to another one, then to another one ? seldom makes sense because your points will lose value. Here's why ...
- Are in-flight airline credit card sign-up offers worth it? – Some airlines promote special sign-up credit card offers on their flights. Are they worth it? Here's everything you need about these offers before applying ...