It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the changes made to the British Airways frequent flyer program back in November. I think the best way to explain it is that they’ve absolutely gutted the award chart, at least for anyone living outside of a oneworld hub city. And they’ve increased the prices of many, many of the best awards.
What they’ve done is (1) priced each flight segment separately as its own award, you don’t get any connecting flights included in an award, and (2) priced longer travel more expensively than shorter travel. So flying Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, which used to be a value or at least competitively priced under the British Airways program, is now super expensive. And flying beyond Hong Kong will make you choke.
And of course British Airways adds fuel surcharges to award tickets as well, something most non-US frequent flyer programs do, which makes the cost of an award ticket meaningfully more than just the miles. I explain what’s going on with fuel surcharges in this post.
Still, there’s limited value in the British Airways program and you can take advantage of those opportunities.
First, British Airways only adds fuel surcharges to award tickets when a paid ticket would incur a fuel surcharge. So flying American Airlines domestic doesn’t include a fuel surcharge. Flying American or LAN from the US to South America doesn’t include a fuel surcharge. Flying Qantas domestic inside Australia doesn’t either. (And some routes, like London – Hong Kong, have rather modest fuel surcharges.)
Second, British Airways short-haul awards can be downright cheap. Flying between DC and Chicago is 4500 miles each way in coach. I’m not a huge fan of saving up miles for short-haul domestic coach, but there’s the occasional strategic use here.
But it’s also just 25,000 miles roundtrip in coach from the West Coast of the US to Hawaii. And just 25,000 miles roundtrip in coach — or 50,000 miles roundtrip in business class — between Miami and Lima, Peru.
Take these value awards that still remain in the program, you can really leverage those with a deal that all the cool kids are talking about: 50% bonus on transfers from American Express Membership Rewards to British Airways, through May 31.
As it happens I was planning to help two colleagues with a trip to South America using British Airways miles, those needed to be supplemented with some Amex points, and I’ve been holding off pushing them to top off the account hoping for the return of a transfer bonus. There have been ubiquitous bonuses to British Airways since it became an American Express Membership Rewards partner, sometimes 40% and sometimes 50%. Now it’s back.
Those 9000 mile roundtrip award tickets become only 6000 miles. Cheap.
And transfers to British Airways happen instantly, they can be done into anyone’s account if you link that account from your Membership Rewards account online (not over the phone…), and they don’t even incur the transfer charge that Amex imposes for moving points into US frequent flyer programs ostensibly to recoup tax expenses.
Not something I’m getting hugely excited over. But it’s something to be aware of if you have American Express points and have a strategic use for BA miles. In my view, don’t transfer pre-emptively on the thought that it’s a great bonus and you should jump. Bonuses have been offered before, they probably will be offered again…