Avios, Amigos: The Art Of The Steal

By Kendra Collins

It was time for a vacation.

After a brief discussion with my family (we all quickly agreed on “someplace warm”), I hit the nets and started searching. Luck was with me when I found an amazing deal on a resort stay in Puerto Vallarta. I was just about to book it, then send a triumphant look-at-how-much-money-I-just-saved email to my husband when I realized that I had overlooked a very expensive detail … flights. A quick search confirmed my suspicion: I couldn’t find a flight to Puerto Vallarta from our home airport of San Francisco for less than $450 roundtrip. All of a sudden the amazing resort deal wasn’t so hot anymore.

But I wasn’t about to let it slip through my fingers. I pulled up my Award Wallet account to check my airline-miles balances. (If you don’t know about Award Wallet, it’s a simple, efficient way to track and manage all of your loyalty program accounts in one place. I highly recommend it.) For the dates we were traveling, the only options for direct flights were on United and Alaska, and the cost in miles was stratospheric. We would need a total of 170,000 miles for the Alaska flights, or a whopping 220,000 miles for flights on United. No, thank you! I stared at my award balances for a while until a lightbulb went on … British Airways Avios!!

Since Avios are a distance-based award, I knew that the amount of Avios we would need per flight would be fairly reasonable.  Sure enough, I entered our departure airport (SFO) and our arrival airport (PVR) into the Avios calculator, and here is what came back:

avios rule!Bingo!  Our four roundtrip flights would cost 80,000 Avios.  A steal!  (Note that the chart above displays $0 in taxes and fees, which is because only British Airways partners fly to Mexico. The actual taxes on this redemption are approximately $200).

Avios are perfect for short-haul trips such as this one because the cost is based on how far you’re going. Since Puerto Vallarta is 1,554 miles from San Francisco (check it out on the Great Circle Mapper), the flight only costs 10,000 points each way. The flight would be on British Airways partner Alaska Airlines, which is ironic given that it would cost 90,000 additional miles to fly on Alaska Airlines using its own miles currency.  

You can do it, too! Here are my tips and tricks for success:

  • The British Airways site does not have the capability to handle this transaction (booking an Avios award on a partner flight), so you need to call in.
  • Since it’s impossible to do this online, you can usually get the $25 phone-booking fee waived, but your mileage may vary.
  • It’s always a good idea to arm yourself with exact dates, plus possible alternates (if you have the flexibility), in addition to all the flight numbers. Don’t rely on the booking agent to do this for you; they’ve been known to provide inaccurate information.

If you need more Avios (who doesn’t?):

  • I had 100,000 British Airways Avios in my account from a lucrative credit-card-signup bonus offer on the British Airways Visa card last year.  The bonus on that card has since changed, but it does increase from time to time, so keep an eye out if you’re interested.
  • If you are a little short on Avios but would like to make a redemption, note that there are also other ways to bulk up your Avios balance, including transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards points or American Express Membership Rewards points into your British Airways account.

In the end, I was able to book the Puerto Vallarta resort steal and send my triumphant email … and the vacation was one of the best we’ve ever had. Avios to the rescue, indeed.

Have you ever used Avios to book an “award steal”? Where did you go? If you haven’t used Avios before, are you planning on putting them in your points-and-miles toolkit? Share your Avios experiences by commenting, or tweet the blog @BHTP. In the meantime, happy travels.

Kendra Collins writes the blog Points and Pixie Dust. What’s it about? Stylish travel, chic finds, crazy adventures and amazing deals … daily. Enthusiastic. Entertaining. Never a dull moment. Always a fun read.