British Airways Guts Their Award Chart and Implements Changes Without Any Advance Notice

The new membership cards are pretty good looking.

They’ve increased elite status tier points earning on long haul flights, plus allowing Concord Room cardholders who earn 5000 tier points in a year to bring in a guest to the Concorde Room at JFK and Heathrow. “Rolleyes” – the Concorde room isn’t that special.

And the website is live.

Award pricing is now distance-based, and shorter awards are less expensive. We’ve known that. It’s why New York – London in business class goes down from 100,000 miles roundtrip to 80,000 miles (20% decrease).

Longer awards are more expensive. San Francisco – Hong Kong in first class is now 210,000 miles roundtrip, up from 150,000 (40% increase). New York – Bali in first class is now 260,000 miles, up from 150,000 (73% increase).

The famous North America to South America and Easter Island award – previously 80,000 miles roundtrip in business class – is now 150,000 miles (88% increase).

On the other hand, it’s worth noting that anyone who booked an Easter Island award already and is spending more time there than they’d like can now book a separate award ticket Easter Island – Papeete (Tahiti) for 25,000 miles roundtrip in coach.

Your miles may vary on pricing though, because my initial impression is that routing matters, each segment seems to price out separately on partners such that Los Angeles – Miami non-stop is 12,500 miles one-way in coach but Los Angeles – Chicago – Miami is 20,000 miles on-way in coach. The segments price additively.

Further, BA has never been especially good at publishing an actual award chart, they’ve had tools to look up award pricing route-by-route. I once constructed my own, and a reader sent me a similar one they had done which was quite useful as well. They now have a ‘zonal map’ which is currently bringing up errors for me.

But using the award calculator (“How Many Avios Do I Need?”), you can search for pricing and it forces you to check segment-by-segment for pricing and add up the cost of each segment. Which effectively suggests that connections are more expensive than non-stop flights, even for awards that used to be in the same ‘zone’. Los Angeles – London prices the same at 150,000 miles roundtrip in first class. But Los Angeles – London – Paris which used to be the same price is now 177,000 miles roundtrip.

It also means there’s not really such a thing as a free enroute stopover in the way it used to be thought of, that US – Bali was no more expensive than US – Hong Kong and you could add a stop in Hong Kong for free, now you pay US – Hong Kong plus Hong Kong – Bali whether or not you stop in Hong Kong. So in that sense I suppose the stop is free since it doesn’t cost you more Avios to make the stop than not to.

Fees have changed up a bit. The telephone award booking fee has gone from $20 to $25, date and time changes done online used to be free and are now $40 whereas if done on the phone used to be $70 and are now $65 (again, additive — $40 change fee plus $25 telephone fee).

Flying intra-Europe has reduced fuel surcharges (provided you’ve earned at least 1 mile in the program within the preceding 12 months), and short-haul is of course less costly, so using points that way is less expensive than before. Of course it was commonly the case in the past that it was more expensive in actual cash cost to use points for short-haul flights than to just pay for those flights — because the cheapest coach fares could have lower fuel surcharges than corresponding award tickets. That’s been fixed.

But long-haul flying and connections are pricier, in some cases much pricier, and the old one-partner award chart which had real values is now gone, the program is especially gutted for North Americans and for non-Europeans generally.

The roughest thing, to me, is that there was no advance notice to the new award chart. It just showed up today. We knew that a new program with corresponding award chart would be implemented on November 16th, they let us know that 2 1/2 months ago. They promised that “97% of our routes” would be staying the same or getting less expensive. And then they refused to release the new award chart until it was implemented.

  • If the ‘97%’ figure is true, and I haven’t run the numbers, it must be that case that ‘our routes’ was operative in the phrase — i.e. those routes served by British Airways directly or with a single stop, not ‘those routes on which you can redeem miles’.
  • Members save up miles, sometimes for years, with reward goals in mind. That’s why programs generally do – should, and must – give significant notice to members when making changes, rather than pulling out the rug from under them. Lucy, Charlie Brown, and yanking the football away from members just as they are about to redeem their points is simply unacceptable, notice gives members the warning they need to make redemptions and also time to accumulate more miles or even buy them if necessary to get the award they’ve been after, following the rules of and promises made by a program over time.

British Airways didn’t do that. And they should be roundly criticized for that.

Some details are yet to emerge, partly due to technical difficulties (it’s still 4am on the US East Coast and just now the start of the business day in London) and some because of the opaque way that details are shown on the British Airways website. There are potentially particulars I note above which could wind up slightly off. But the overall message is — longer awards are more expensive, shorter awards are cheaper, connecting flights are more expensive, and the best awards on partners from the U.S. have been obliterated.

I’m off on a Cathay Pacific first class redemption this week, having cashed out the last of my BA miles. I’ll raise a glass to the memory of British Airways Executive Club. There’s a reason some members are referring to new ‘Avios’ points as Adios.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I have a redemption (ticketed) that went down significantly. I wonder if I will be able to rebook it. Can’t even try their booking engine right now, it’s either down or overwhelmed.


  2. Just one point, LHR-NYC (and the East Coast) is now 80,000 in business class and not 90,000.

    As it is now priced on segments Europe – North America is more expensive. Domestic connections are now included free (EDI, MAN, NCL, GLA, etc).

    As expected the NA-Asia/South America are ones that have been hit very hard by the distance based redemption chart.

  3. David, if there is availability then you can book and cancel your existing ticket. However, I recall BA saying that if you cancel an award ticket there is no guarantee of the seats becoming available again for award tickets.

    I suspect their booking engine is overwhelmed with people testing out potential bookings!

  4. For those with the BA Visa card who spend $30K in a year, I think that they will still earn a two-for-one award redemption certificate. With this in mind, is your assessment of the program value still the same?

  5. I think it’s a little much to say they “implement[ed] changes without advance notice” in the title of the post. Yes, they should have given us the details of the new award chart beforehand, but, really, we all knew what was going to happen. And on the good side, short-haul U.S. flights (DCA-ORD, for instance) are now only 9000 Avios roundtrip. That’s actually a pretty great value for a domestic coach ticket. And while the changes are generally negative for U.S.-based flyers–eliminating all of the incredible deals on aspirational trips–I don’t think what we’re left with is a complete disaster or even unfair.

    Having said that, super happy I cashed out on an Easter Island ticket yesterday :D. But there is still a case for collecting BA miles, even if different than what is was before.

  6. “now you pay US – Hong Kong plus US – Bali whether or not you stop in Hong Kong”
    Typo (plus HK – Bali).

  7. @David two-for-one certificate, fuel surcharges for each, flying to London and certain other destinations remains a pretty good value. Flying BA generally remains a better value than partners, and you’re restricted to that with the companion certificate.

    @barelyelite I don’t think it’s a particularly good trade to get good value DC-Chicago awards instead of good value Chicago-Bali awards, but that’s just me. 😉

    Thanks @Euan and @oleg for catching my early morning typos. Fixing those now!

  8. did it online, the cost of the cancelation was the taxes on the old ticket, apparently less than their cancel fee ($42.xx).


  9. In a nutshell – BA says f*** you to loyal members who have been earning points for aspirational redemptions, whilst countering the error of their ways with the vast signup bonuses that have been available in the US.

    BA couldn’t have their (selling bucket loads of miles to partners to literally give away) and eat it (everyone redeeming them for the best value redemption opportunities), therefore screwing over customers who *actually* earnt BA miles through loyalty. Nice moves.

  10. These changes just reconfirm my ditching of the pursuit of BA status and scrapping of the BA credit cards.

    Every redemption of mine from last year using BA miles now costs at least 25% more than before, and some of those same redemption routings have jumped up in price by what equates with a much bigger devaluation than even that.

  11. I’d appreciate if the blog author could help us all take the next step forward.
    Now that BA’s program has changed, for a North American who isn’t a major business traveler and doesn’t have interest/ability to achieve status with an airline, which mileage program in BA’s respective alliance is the best choice for us to funnel our miles to now? Could BA still be that option? Is AA far better now, and if so, why?

    For the casual flyer who can travel 1-2 times per year, BA still appears to have a very unique advantage: The ability to link family members accounts and pool those miles together for one person to use on a ticket (as long as they are at the same address). This is a significant feature of BA’s program I think many still overlook.

    Also, for those with an AmEx Membership Rewards CC, BA still appears to be one of the few, if only, transfer partners you can move your points to from that AmEx program, and NOT pay a transfer fee (because it’s a foreign company, I have read).

    So in the coming days, mr. blogger, please help us take this next step in deciding which Oneworld mileage program is best.

  12. @Seeking Bright Side — You don’t pay a transfer fee to move points from Amex to non-US airline programs. So that 100k Amex moved to BA won’t cost you a $90 fee. But of course you will pay fuel surcharges on BA awards. BA offers an attractive award chart (fuel surcharges and all) for New York – London and for short-haul non-stop coach flights so living in an American Airlines hub city and if you want to redeem for short domestic coach hops, it’s great. Otherwise I’d argue that American AAdvantage is a much better program, and certainly for aspirational awards, US to Bali in First Class via American AAdvantage is 135k miles verus 260k on BA. American’s award chart is looking REALLY REALLY good for folks who like premium cabin international travel from the US, and it makes me worry since it’s been awhile since AA devalued… compared to recent changes in other programs, their chart is almost too good in some cases.

  13. I’d like to thank BA for forcing my hand in booking a ticket JFK/LIM/EZE/JFK. Heading to South America has always been on our bucket list. We would have eventually gone there, but since things have changed, we’re off in spring 2012. Wink.

    Not a bad deal considering the price I paid with the Chase BA card. We still have 50k leftover in our household account. Hmmm. Wonder where to go?!

  14. I think you mean and not

    I also agree with barelyelite in that changes were known for months, so this is no suprise. Obviously though the lack of transparency with no detail on the award charts prior to changeover date is the main negative. People have had time to book dream trips if they really wanted to secure things though.

    As for the 97% figure, I haven’t had time to check the detail on this to see if this is correct. When this figure was announced, you would have had to have been very naive to believe this would mean anything more than the BA route network, so again I’m struggling to see why there is a shock that this figure doesn’t include partner routes.

    All in all, there are winners and losers. Those who are losing will make a lot more noise than those who are winning, but I suspect the reality will be a lot better than what the protestations may suggest.

  15. Thanks for the response Gary. A followup:
    Once again for the North American casual traveler who can’t rack up a lot of miles via biz travel, maybe vacations 1-3 times per year, how would you rank focusing miles in Alaska Airlines’ program, as opposed to Delta and AA?
    Alaska is a unique option that partners with both Delta and AA, so those of us who may split our flying between those two legacy carriers based on ticket price could now pool all our Delta and AA flights into an Alaska account.
    With int’l long-haul flights usually being the most lucrative to redeem for, how is Alaska’s program for being able to redeem those miles on partner carriers (because Alaska likely doesn’t fly to the overseas points I’m interested in)?

  16. @Seeking Bright Side – Alaska has a great program. The big constraint is that you cannot mix and match partner airlines on a single award. That’s even more constraining than BA’s rule, which is that BA charges more miles if you mix/match partners on a single one-way. But otherwise Alaska is a great program for folks not loyal to a single airline because Delta AND American flights can go into an Alaska account.

  17. @Snoops – another typo! I’m often bad, but worse at 4am 🙂 Thanks!

    In fairness, I think we guessed from the disingenuousness of BA refusing to reveal the new award charts that those new charts would be really bad. We knew there were changes coming. At least those of us paying lots of attention did. But we did NOT know what those changes would be. BA chose to keep us in the dark on the particulars when they could have shared the details.

  18. Of course from BA’s perspective, who cares if their USA BAEC membership is unhappy. I’m guessing 98% of us rarely, if ever, actually fly BA — especially on paid tickets. We were exploiting a loophole. Now we can’t. So we’ll move on.

    In the meantime, has anyone looked at short haul USA-Canada redemptions under the new chart? Wondering if that might be a way to use up remaining BA miles. As many know, the taxes are pretty brutal on purchased tickets, but usually light on award travel. Wondering if that’s now among the better values for N. American travelers in Avios.

  19. Just saw this on the Avios website: Flights are available to book under Airmiles terms and conditions until 8pm on the 15 December 2011 – by calling us on 0844 49 333 99

    So, does that mean we can still book under the old award chart until Dec?

  20. Good follow-up points Gary. I do agree with you.

    As for typos, I’d be worse than you are, so I’m not coming from a position of strength here 🙂

  21. @Alyssa: The note you quote applies to members of the UK-based Airmiles programme, which is NOT the same as the BA Executive Club. If you’ve never had an Airmiles account (and filled it with “Airmiles” by e.g. using your NatWest MasterCard or shopping at then this doesn’t apply to you.

  22. @Lyssa; Sorry, the typo disease is catching and stretched your name in my asnwer at #22. Apologies.

  23. I’ve always used my BA miles for coach travel on AA metal from the US mainland to HI @ a flat 17.5K BA per 1-way. Maybe I’m missing something but I just priced some 1-ways to HI and this is what I got:

    LAX – HNL, 12.5K
    DFW – HNL, 20K
    ORD – HNL, 25K

  24. The silver lining to me is that I the domestic flights are much less expensive now. 15,000 r/t with $5 in fees DFW-LAS and 20,000 to NYC. I know that is not how must people use their miles but for last minute travel that can really be a good value. I had to book at $1,600 to DFW-DC yesterday (thankfully I didn’t have to pay for it!). Of course Hawaii is up a bit 42,500 miles instead of I think it used to be 35,000.

    Wish there were other silver linings to offset the increase in miles: a nice booking engine that didn’t require calling in would have been high on my list and not cost them much of anything! or better award availability, less fees, different fuel surcharges or something. But absent that I feel like I have a nice stash of points for when I need an expensive domestic ticket.

  25. Well, I think what this means for me at least is that BA is really only going to be my int’l airline for the cases where I travel to LHR or possible another direct BA destination FROM LHR AND I use a 2-4-1 AND I take advantage of some of the seemingly regular 30-50% BAEC from AMEX MR bonus opportunities. Fuel surcharges aside (since they are quickly becoming the norm), at that point there IS probably still some value for a business or even First class ticket.

    I had hoped to use the LAN options next year for a trip back to Patagonia/Santiago but we couldn’t get our dates straight fast enough to book tickets at all. Ah well, there is always UA/CO to South America and I have loads of miles there.

    I think one of the things this shows is that BA pays a LOT of money to partners to be able to book award tickets, so they are making it very painful (read stupid) to do in the future for BAEC members.

  26. Gary,
    I got the same observation as you need – pricing by segment. I tried several combo from the JFK/EWR/PHL to FCO, etc, and I am getting different miles to use just by switching from say JFK to EWR.

    On one of your post, you mentioned using Alaska Airline points. How easy is it to use Alaska or Hawaiian Airline on Delta?

  27. @Dave Op stay away from Hawaiian, Alaska miles are great but you cannot combine more than one partner on a roundtrip award.

  28. Gary,
    I’m sure you’ve got post topics lined up for weeks, but consider this one for a rainy day:
    Many of us may like to learn more about the ins and outs of using Alaska Airline’s mileage program. We can figure easily enough how to sign up, get the credit card and post our Delta/AA flights there.
    But once we have a mountain of miles to use, how can we book and burn through Alaska’s program? Is Alaska’s search engine real friendly with showing partner availability? Do I have to search on Delta or AA’s to see what is there, then go and put in some tough specifics on Alaska’s web site to make it appear? Or can I only search on a partner’s site, then need to call Alaska?

    I follow all the major blogs for this hobby, and have yet to come across a good, detailed “Alaska Airlines Mileage” 101 teaching post.

    If you do this when Alaska has a lucrative CC sign up bonus, I’ll click through your link!

  29. Yes, the new program is worse on average for North Americans than the old program. But the important fact is that its high-value redemptions are DIFFERENT than for other programs:

    1. For short, expensive trips, we can now use Avios. (Canada to US short-haul, Caribbean to FL, small cities in Europe)
    2. For long trips we can use other airlines’ traditional programs. We have many to choose from.
    3. For low-fare trips we can use Capital One points or one of the fare-based programs offered by Southwest, JetBlue, and Virgin America.

    Avios is an important new tool in our redemption toolbox, reducing the cost of trips we used to pay cash for. It provides value in a way that complements, rather than replicates, other FF programs. Don’t be so fast to say Adios to Avios.

  30. @nsx at Flyertalk – you have to choose where to invest program-wise. You have to chosoe whom to earn with. And low fare trips I would much prefer to pay cash for than invest in earning low value miles (instead of higher-value miles!) to have to redeem. That’s why I don’t focus on the JetBlue, Vrgin America, or Southwest programs. There are times you can’t help but earn there, and that’s fine, but when you have a choice — whom to credit a flight to, what credit card to get/use/transfer from, I wouldn’t go there.

    I’m not saying there aren’t any useful awards from Avis. East Coast – Canada non-stop is one. Not huge value, but non-zero. The great value proposition in the program is no more, it’s a HUGE shift, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.

  31. This is a pretty massive devaluation and I’d be shocked if they didn’t have it in plans well before offering the 50% MR transfer bonuses, 100K chase credit card signups, etc. which might expose them to liability. I’m not a big fan of class action lawsuits but I really hope they get sued to limit the incentive for other airlines to follow in their steps.

  32. Wow… glad I booked a trip to TPE on CX for me and my wife last week! Just checked… yesterday 100k in biz… today 158k!!!

  33. This may not be completely disaterous for folks with meaningful balances in multiple programs. Rather, it permits such people to target their miles more effectively. Not that I would have ever squandered 25000 AA miles for a DCA-ORD, but at 4500 Avios, 9000 r/t, it may be tempting (of course the same can be done using LAN kilometers if on a r/t). At a minimum, such redemptions, while not “aspirational” provide an outlet for folks to redeem existing miles balances.

    Avios may also be helpful for what have previously been terribly expensive, short haul, flights which cross regions. Think MIA-GCM, AMM-CAI, LAX-HNL, But all of these presume that an account holder actually wants those routings. I live near DCA, and cannot particularly capitalize on such routings.

    Nevertheless, I agree with some that the silver lining is that certain options have broadened, and as long as we can use other programs for aspirational routings, Avios have some utility.

  34. This is all fine, except I’ve spent an hour on their website and can’t even figure out how to find legs that will get me from where I am to where I want to go. I want to go from Hawaii to Bali (although I’ve even tried from Reno, SFO and LAX) and everything I enter it says it can’t find anything. You try to get a route map and it asks where you want to go, but then only shows routes from London. It’s insane. How do people do this?

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