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It may seem a bit counterintuitive to transfer awards points to a British program in order to purchase a flight within the United States, but it’s actually one of my favorite point-saving tricks. And now that American and US Airways have merged there are more ways to save than ever before.
The recent addition of US Airways brought more flight routes to the OneWorld Alliance family, which also includes British Airways. For Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card cardholders, this means that by simply transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards® points into British Airways Avios, you’ll be able to snag short flights for as little as 9,000 points roundtrip to many destinations, and round trips to Hawaii for a mere 25,000 points from some cities.
Let’s break it down:
Why You Should Use Avios to Buy Short, Non-Stop Flights
First of all, there’s a reason why I suggest booking both short, and direct flights. British Airways charges its points per ticket based on the total number of miles traveled on each leg of a flight:
Tiers 1 & 2: 15,000 points roundtrip (7,500 one way) – flights of 0-1,150 miles each way
Tier 3: 20,000 points roundtrip (10,000 one way) – flights of 1151-2000 miles each way
Tier 4: 25,000 points roundtrip (12,500 one way) – flights of 2001-3000 miles each way
To put that into perspective, a ticket purchased through US Airways/American Airlines on their separate point system will cost a minimum of 25,000 points. But by converting your points to Avios, you’ll save between 5,000-10,000 points on non-stop trips of less than 2,000 miles.
Here’s an Avios award chart with the price in Avios points for the total distance flown on a trip for flights within North America (effective February 2016):
So why non-stop flights only?
To put it simply, you are charged for each leg of the trip, meaning the more flights you take to get to a destination, the more points you are spending. For example: If you book a trip that has a connection, say Phoenix to Boston stopping in Charlotte, you will be charged points separately for Phoenix to Charlotte (1,773 mile distance = 10,000 points) and Charlotte to Boston (728 mile distance = 7,500 points) for a total of 17,500 points each way. But if you book a nonstop flight, the distance flown is just 2,300 miles so it’s 12,500 points each way.
Folks living in U.S. Airways hubs such as Charlotte, Philadelphia, and Phoenix are now in convenient position to take advantage of nonstop US Airways flights with a simple conversion to Avios. That’s on top of the American and Alaska hubs that also enjoy many flights that can be booked nonstop with Avios such as Chicago, Dallas, New York, Miami, and Seattle.
Here are the non-stop flights from American’s Chicago hub.
How to Use Avios to get to Hawaii
You may be surprised to learn that flights from the West Coast to Hawaii are only about 2,500 miles in distance, landing you square in the middle of that Tier Four points range. By transferring points to Avios, you can fly on Alaska Airlines round trip to Hawaii for 25,000 points, and can depart from Sacramento, San Jose, Oakland, Bellingham, Los Angeles, Portland, San Diego, or Seattle.
My parents live just outside of Bellingham, Washington and frequently fly to Hawaii on Alaska Airlines. If they book their tickets using American Airlines miles, they will pay 10,000 – 20,000 more miles per round trip ticket. But since BA is partnered with Alaska, they are able to use Avios to save big time their annual winter getaway.
How to Find and Book American / US Airways / Alaska Award Flights with Avios
So we know that converting Chase points to Avios helps you to save overall, but which site should you use to check availability, and what the best way to book the ticket?
There are two ways to go about it:
1. Your first option is to head to the American Airlines website, type in your desired flight and check the results (be sure to tick the “redeem miles” box). If an American, US Airways, or Alaska Airlines flight is available at the MileSAAver level (shown in a light green box), then you can book that flight with BA Avios.
2. Or, you can set up a free British Airways account and search for desired flights through their system. You’re going to need to set up an account anyway if you end up transferring your points to Avios. Note that Alaska Airlines flights do not show up on the British Airways searches, but you can book them through BA directly by calling 1 800 452 1201. You can also check for Alaska Airlines flights on the American Airlines site.
Once you’ve found a desired flight, log into your Chase account and transfer your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to Avios (see how here). You can then redeem those points and book your ticket on the British Airways site.
What’s the Catch?
You need to find seats at the lowest “MileSAAver” level. It can be tricky as the airlines can be stingy with frequent flier seats at this level, but it’s worth the search for rewards like these.
Booking flights for Alaska through BA over the phone will cost $25 per ticket. There are tales of intrepid negotiators getting the fee waived by mentioning that booking Alaska flights through the BA site simply isn’t an option, but it all depends on the generosity of the booking agent. Worth a shot though!
Taxes and fees still apply on tickets purchased with points, but usually less than $50 roundtrip in most cases. And if you decide to change plans you can cancel your ticket get your points re-deposited into your Avios account with no cancellation fee. They’ll just keep the small taxes you paid.