British Airways Obliterates the 4500 Mile Award

British Airways upended their program in the fall of 2011. They started charging separately for each award flight segment, and charged based on distance. Short flights became a good value, and longer flights got expensive.

They did that without any advance notice. For me it meant the end of using British Airways points for premium cabin long haul awards.

Then in April of this year they made more changes increasing the cost of premium cabin awards further. They also changed earning as well.

British Airways became the perfect program for those who fly regularly in full fare business and first class, and want to redeem for economy (and don’t mind paying fuel surcharges in most markets to do it). In other words, the program is awful. It’s why I’ve argued that earning British Airways Gold status or below makes no sense (that even London-based flyers are better off crediting British Airways flights to American AAdvantage if they can fly a minimum of 4 American segments a year, at least unless American guts earning on British Airways flights or changes the whole program).

British Airways Short Haul Awards Offered Superior Value

The only saving grace to the 2011 British Airways program, which was preserved in April’s changes was the short haul awards, especially domestic economy awards on American Airlines (and Alaska).

Flights of 650 miles or less have cost just 4500 British Airways points each way in economy. Flights up to 1150 miles are just 7500 points each way in economy.

For instance:

    DC-Chicago on American and DC-New York LaGuardia on the US Airways Shuttle represent great deals at 9000 miles roundtrip. New York – Toronto at 9000 points each way for business class (free checked bags) is a great deal, too.

The 4500 Avios Award is Ending for U.S. Flights

I’ve always said that the best values, that are orders of magnitude better than what’s offered by the competition, will eventually be taken away. However I thought that when British Airways made its April 28 devaluation and spared the 4500 point short haul award that we were spared for awhile, and that perhaps they saw the need to offer something of value.

Unfortunately the 4500 point award is ending for flights originating in terminating in the U.S. effective February 2.

On 2 February 2016, we’ll be making some changes to the Executive Club pricing structure for reward flights originating or terminating in the United States of America.

The change will only affect shorter routes on American Airlines and Alaska Airlines, with reward flights now starting from 7,500 Avios, rather than 4,500 Avios, plus taxes, fees and carrier charges from $5.60 USD. The majority of North American reward flight prices will remain unchanged.

There is no change to the rest of the chart, in other words longer awards do not become correspondingly more expensive.

What this means is simply that flights from 1 to 1150 miles cost 7500 points each way if they start or end in the U.S. And as usual business class is double that (for such a short flight) and first class quadruple (instead of triple, since April 28).

These awards are still a ‘good deal’ compared to other programs at 15,000 miles roundtrip, no last minute booking fees, and the ability to cancel and refund points simply forfeiting taxes rather than paying a redeposit fee. But the only thing that was ‘great’ about the program is ending.

4500 point awards remain for all other regions. So super short flights in Asia, Australia, and Europe for instance remain possible. While I’ve been flying economy more and more and loving it I’m not sure that’s going to remain true going forward.

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. Combined with the upcoming loss of UR point transfers to Amtrak*, this development takes still a little more of the shine away from the UR program for me. It’s too bad–my reasons for collecting UR points have been Hyatt transfers, Amtrak transfers, and using this particular BA award. I will probably have to rethink my overall point earning strategy and Chase’s place within it. Bleh.

    *Effective date 7 December 2015, according to an email I received from Amtrak Guest Rewards on 13 October 2015.

  2. Well this certainly sucks. But does it not confirm one of your rules – you know, sweet opportunities eventually get closed?

    I just wish that BA would recognize, as JAL does for the purpose of award bookings, that “First Class” domestically on AA is not nearly what they call “First Class”. Rather, it would seems more sensible to consider domestic first business class for redemption purposes – who is going to spend 60,000 avios for a DCA-MIA r/t? or 100,000 for a DCA-LAX r/t?

    For those with *wood points, transfers to LAN remain available for some sweet spots on the distance based award chart. But oh, my, is booking award seats a challenge. I simply do not know why their booking agent cannot be provided the information I have on my account – instead, they have to get every detail, name, DOB, address, etc., every time I make a booking. And as good as their agents’ English might be, the connection to their booking center is not great, and the result is agony for them as well as me.

  3. There must have been a disproportionately large amount of redemptions, probably most very last minute, on AA. Note that this only applies to the US. I bet they got some pressure from AA to change this as some of those redemptions probably had to fly and would have paid AA lots of money.

  4. That’s the sound of the value of my Chase UR points nosediving off a cliff. So sad…I woke up to this email from BA and came on here in a panic to confirm. Ugh.

  5. Rookie question. Does this mean any flight booked after Feb 2nd? or any flight flying after Feb 2nd that is not already booked? Can I book a lot of flights for next year at the current rate in the next 2 months is basically what I’m asking.

  6. I would chalk this up to over saturation of information about the good value + very high utilization of the award + gobs of CC miles that can be transferred to Avios = High cost for BA. They had to do something about us Americans getting one 50,000 point CC and redeeming the miles for 11 one way trips.

  7. As bad as us travelers feel, Amex MR is the biggest loser. Between this devaluation and the recent transfer ratio decrease, British Air is becoming worthless as a transfer partner. At least Chase UR still has United (an unlikely hero).

  8. Well, if you live in an AA hub, this is terrible news. Personally, I fly on one of these 4500 mile tickets every month or two, mostly for leisure travel. I’ve been visiting the destinations that I consider too far to drive, but too expensive to fly. Avios has offered a unique opportunity in this regard.

    Now, “the sweet spot” in the Avios program shifts to medium haul routes. I’m sure that’s where many US-based flyers will shift their attention. Also, if you travel outside the USA, you’ll be looking to burn your miles on things like short haul intra-Europe flights, where the pricing isn’t going up.

    But if you don’t live in an AA hub, Avios has become significantly less attractive. Before, you probably just had to pay 4500 to get to the closest hub, and perhaps another 4500 for the connecting flight. Now all USA-domestic connections start at 15000 miles instead of 9000. That’s pretty useless because the domestic airlines price these flights at 12500 miles or less.

    I can understand why they changed this because it truly was “too good a deal.” I’m a bit surprised they didn’t throw a bone at USA customers by lowering the USA domestic first class redemption levels. Those are a joke now, starting at 4x coach for the crummy USA domestic product. They should be 2x, just like they used to be and what the domestic airlines charge. It’s probably not even worth 2x, but it would help when there are only FC seats available for award redemption.

  9. Based on the wording of the email, this devaluation appears to include flights from MIA to CUN for example??

  10. This is a bummer. I took full advantage of this many times on a Toronto-NYC flight. Such a great, great sweet spot. Might not alter behavior all that much, but it’ll suck to have to pay more. Not that I’m surprised. When you know you’re getting a good deal, you’re going to lose it soon enough.

  11. Well, I’m certain that this was really unprofitable for BA so of course they had to end it! I’m surprised it took so long.

    What follows is a personal anecdote. Earlier this year, a family member traveled from Eastern Europe to US with BA. Economy class. Also, a bargain priced ticket: $650 (round trip) vs about $1000 or more for this route. Knowing about the 4500 Avios deal, I opened a frequent flyer account for that family member and accumulated a little over 9000 Avios points from that flight. A couple of months later, I had to travel from Boston to New York City so I used those Avios points to book an American Airlines flight which would have cost about $250. So let’s see: BA sold me a $650 transatlantic ticket and then also paid some amount of money to American to compensate them for a $250 ticket. Sustainable practice? No way. I’m glad I was able to profit at least once from this opportunity …

  12. While this certainly is disappointing, the reality is that getting AA flights for 9k RT that AA would charge 25k RT for was unlikely to last. Personally I use the mid-range awards more often (I live in Tampa and have family in Chicago) so I’m grateful that I can still get those for 15k RT.

  13. This sucks as I do dca/cho to Ord all the time but Avios are so easy to get esp if you churn the cobrand and the flexibility of the awards (cancel anytime only losing the $5 taxes) combined with the fact that no one here is saving up Avios for a transatlantic first class (I hope), that I will still be using Avios on these short hauls as they are still better than anything else. It’s not like I would transfer my MR to Avios anyways as they are much more valuable in aero plan and I do no spending on the ba card except to earn the bonus. For the standard 50k sign up bonus that’s still 7 one ways which for my cho to Ord at 150-200$ each way is still more than $900 in value.

  14. I’m so happy that I didn’t apply for the BA credit card during their recent 50/75/100k promotion. I decided that my current relatively meager points balance would last me until the program became worthless to me. Now that’s even more likely to be the case.

    The sweet spot is now expensive short flights outside the US, such as in Africa. If you need those, BAEC is the greatest.

    I often wondered whether AA or BA was losing out on the 4500 point redemptions. My guess now is AA. Otherwise the change would have applied worldwide.

  15. It was too good to last.
    Phoenix to Monterey was a sweet spot for us. I guess it still is, just not a screaming deal.

  16. Somebody in the know can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe AA pressured BA for this change. To the contrary, I think it was costing BA too much for all of these redemptions. Doesn’t BA compensate AA for award travel on AA metal? As such, AA would probably open up more availability if it meant redemption with Avios instead of AA miles. At the end of the day AA would get paid by BA.

  17. @Andy, it certainly appears you can book flights right up to the deadline, and fly anytime within the then -open booking window. My email said too that changes will be permitted without additional mileage charged, just the change fee. So you can book all the seats you can up to Feb. 2 for travel basically the rest of 2016 at the 4,500 rate.

  18. They need to fix the 2-class F being charged as 3-class F policy – it’s ludicrous that a flight like DFW-LGA on a 737 in F costs more than a flat-bed in J on LAX-JFK.

  19. Great shame, this was the one excellent spot in the Avios program. Following on the abandoning of free connecting flights in the UK on intra European flights, BA are sending a very clear message that they are only interested in eating up your miles.

  20. Very interesting that this change comes just after they’ve upped the signup bonus for the cobrand CC.

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