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Collecting travel rewards for free flights comes in all types. There are first-class flights to Asia, premium economy seats to Europe and even quick jaunts to your neighboring state. But, some of the best value you can get using your miles can be found from short-haul flights.
Saving on short-haul flights using travel rewards is especially true if you’re traveling at the last minute. With American Airlines, in particular, that’s possible by using British Airways miles, which are called Avios. Because British Airways and American Airlines are partners, you can use your Avios for nearly free American flights. Better yet, it’s incredibly easy to earn Avios, so even if you’ve never flown with British Airways before, you could still be in luck.
Let’s dive into everything you need to know about booking short-haul American Airlines flights through British Airways’ Executive Club loyalty program.
While it may not seem logical — especially if you never plan to travel to the UK — US travelers should care about the British Airways Executive Club.
British Airways and American Airlines are both part of the Oneworld alliance, a global network of airlines, which also includes airlines such as Australia’s Qantas, Japan Airlines and Spain’s Iberia. An airline alliance frequently offers travelers the ability to search and book flights through each other’s frequent flyer programs, and travelers with elite status get additional benefits such as complimentary lounge access and priority check-in even when traveling with a partner airline.
So, with that in mind, in the Oneworld alliance, travelers can search for American Airlines flights directly through British Airways’ website. And yes, you can use British Airways Avios even if you aren’t flying to or from the United Kingdom. In fact, some of the best ways to use Avios are right here in the United States on American Airlines flights.
Knowing you can use British Airways Avios for free American Airlines flights is the first step. Next comes learning how many Avios you’ll need in order to take you where you need to go. In other words, it’s time to get to know British Airways’ award chart, which prices out exactly how many Avios you’ll need to spend.
British Airways uses what’s known as a distance-based award chart. That means you’ll use more Avios the farther you fly, but it also means the inverse — you’ll need fewer points for short distances. British Airways has a separate award chart for flights on partners like American Airlines, which is what we’ll focus on. Line two is particularly of note for domestic flights between one and 650 miles.
Zone 1 (1-650 miles)
Zone 1 within North America (1-650 miles)
Zone 2 (651-1,150 miles)
Zone 3 (1,151-2,000 miles)
Zone 4 (2,001-3,000 miles)
Zone 5 (3,001-4,000 miles)
Zone 6 (4,001-5,500 miles)
Zone 7 (5,501-6,500 miles)
Zone 8 (6,501-7,000 miles)
Zone 9 (7,001+ miles)
Figuring out how many miles are between airports may sound difficult, but it couldn’t be easier. You can use websites like Great Circle Map to plug in your departure and arrival airport and find out how many miles your flight will be.
With that in mind, let’s break down how many Avios you would need for short-haul flights to a few destinations around the US.
If you wanted to fly from New York’s JFK Airport to Baltimore (BWI), for example, you’d only need 7,500 Avios and $5.60 in taxes and fees for an economy flight, provided there’s award availability on your travel dates. That’s because the flight is just 155 miles in distance, far fewer than the 650-mile cap under the Zone 1 North America line of BA’s partner award chart.
A flight between Charlotte and Miami is just over 650 miles in distance, which puts it in the Zone 2 band on BA’s partner award chart. That means you’d need 9,000 Avios plus $5.60 in taxes to book the flight in economy — provided there’s award availability. This, as opposed to paying cash for the flights that can often cost hundreds of dollars.
As you can see, you can save plenty of money by using your points instead of cash for short-haul domestic flights on American Airlines. In fact, using British Airways Avios is even cheaper than using American AAdvantage miles in many circumstances because one-way short-haul flights greater than 500 miles start at 12,500 miles in economy if booking directly with AA.
Once you’re ready to see how you can use Avios for American flights, you can search for award availability via British Airways’ website. You’ll need to create a free Executive Club account in order to search and find if there are any award seats available on your dates of travel.
Even if you’ve never flown with British Airways before, earning Avios is easy to do. In fact, British Airways Avios are some of the easiest points to earn. You can earn Avios by opening a British Airways-branded credit card, by transferring points from other credit cards or by flying with a partner airline and crediting your flight to BA. Let’s take a look at the two easiest ways to earn Avios quickly.
Getting the British Airways Visa Signature® Card is arguably the easiest way to earn a massive haul of Avios for short-haul flights. The card has an impressive sign-up bonus wherein you can earn up to 100,000 Avios. You’ll get 75,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening and an additional 25,000 Avios after you spend $20,000 in the first 12 months of account opening. You’ll also earn 3 Avios per $1 spent on purchases with British Airways, along with its partners Aer Lingus, Iberia, and Level.
You’ll also earn 2 Avios per dollar spent on hotel accommodations when purchased directly with the hotel. Finally, you’ll earn 1 Avios per dollar spent on all other purchases. What’s unique about this card is while it does have a sizable sign-up bonus, the card has a modest $95 annual fee, which is perfect for travelers who don’t want to pay hundreds of dollars per year to keep a travel rewards credit card open.
If you’ve got a travel rewards credit card that earns points in a transferable currency, you could also be in good shape. That’s because British Airways is a transfer partner of several of the programs. For example, you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points earned from cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to British Aiways at a one-to-one ratio, which means you’ll get 1 Avios for every Chase point you transfer.
It’s the same for American Express Membership Rewards and Capital One Miles, where 1 Membership Rewards point and one Capital One mile equals 1 Avios. Finally, if you’ve got a load of Marriott Bonvoy points in your account, they can also transfer to British Airways — though at a less-than-favorable three-to-one ratio.
Most of these partners transfer to British Airways instantly, so you should see your miles in your Avios account shortly after initiating the transfer.
Ultimately, having the option to save money on flights is a terrific thing to have. Better yet, you can save on flights within the US using a mileage currency that’s often overlooked by the way of British Airways’ Avios. Next time you see exorbitant airfare, consider putting your travel rewards to use.
Looking for a travel credit card? Find out which cards CNN Underscored chose as our best travel credit cards of 2022.
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