|by Jason Steele|
As I have been writing, the British Airways Visa Signature® Card -Limited Time Offer is now offering 100,000 miles as a sign up bonus. While this is an incredible number, it begs the question; What can you do with these miles?
Using Miles On British Airways
This is the most obvious use of the mile, but it comes with several potential drawbacks. Nearly all British Airways flights go through London, with a few through Birmingham or Manchester. Their award chart is not bad, and their award seat availability is said to be decent. The big problems here is BA’s outrageous fuel surcharges. These are so out of line with even the most onerous “taxes and fees” that BA awards are really just discounts. The surcharges are per flight, so continuing to destinations past London can double the surcharge. Furthermore, the charges increase with the class of service. It is not hard to put together an award itinerary in Business or First where the fuel surcharges add up to over $1,000. They even apply to infants carried on your lap!
It is hard to say what is more egregious, the obscene surcharges or the fact that British Airways doesn’t even publicize them. Sure there are tons of references to the existence of taxes fees and surcharges, but there is currently no chart on their web site that displays exactly what their surcharges are for any particular flight. You can even search for award availability, but without having enough mileage in your account, you can’t even price out the cost of your award ticket. This obfuscation is tantamount to fraud. Chase itself is complicit as they continue to advertise the mileage bonus for their card as being enough for a “reward flight” that is merely just a discount.
That said, the real value here is where Chase cardholders spend $30,000 in a calendar year, earning a companion award certificate. Now, you are really able to stretch your miles for some great reward options. For example, you could take your 100,000 miles, spend another $30,000 to earn your companion certificate and you would have 137,500 miles. That would be enough for a business class ticket from North America to anywhere in Europe, North Africa, and several destinations in the middle east.
British Airways is a member of the OneWorld Alliance, which includes American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, Lan Airlines, Malev, Mexicana, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, and S7 Airlines of Russia. Furthermore, BA has separate partnerships with Alaska Airlines, Aer Lingus, and Kingfisher Airlines of India.
Unfortunately, you cannot use the companion award certificate when redeeming on a partner.
The way BA’s partner award redemption works, there are three different types of awards that can include a partner.
- BA plus one partner. These awards have a similar award chart to BA only awards.
- Single Partner Awards If you confine yourself to a single BA partner, there is an entirely separate award chart, as flights may or may not be connecting through Europe. There are some real award opportunities here. For example, an award on Cathay Pacific from New York to Singapore, Via Hong Kong would only be 50,000 miles round trip in coach, or 100,000 miles in Business class. Similarly, a flight to South America on American or LAN would be a mere 40,000 miles round trip in coach or 80,000 in business.
- Multiple Partner Awards Again, there is a separate chart, but this time it is mileage based. In general, these offer very poor value compared to the BA, BA plus partner, and single partner charts. For example, in the case of New York to Singapore, the fantastic 100,000 mil business class award on Cathay becomes 240,000 miles when you throw in a single leg on American or another partner. Clearly, one would be much better off purchasing their own ticket to their partner’s gateway rather than combining multiple partners.
British Airways does have some interesting upgrade with miles options. Essentially, you can upgrade from their economy, called World Traveler, to their premium economy service, called World Traveler Plus, for half the the amount of miles a reward ticket would have cost. Upgrading to to Business class from Economy can be done for the same price as an economy award, and from Economy plus to business is half an award. From Business to first is the price of an economy award, and from economy to first is double the price of an economy award.
These awards are also available for flights on American Airlines and Iberia. They are only valid for certain booking classes, but the upgrade can be purchased at the same time you are ing your ticket.
Reduced Mileage Awards
To make matters even more confusing, you can also use your miles for rewards at reduced mileage rates, but with a cash co-pay. This is similar to Delta’s pay with miles, but it is not nearly as flexible. When you book a BA flight, you will see an offer for a reduced mileage plus a cash co-pay.
What You Can’t Do With Your British Airways Miles
Unlike so many domestic airline frequent flier programs, there aren’t any non-airline partner redemption options. That means there is now way to redeem the miles for hotels, rental cars, or gift cards. Compared to the US based legacy carriers, this is downright primitive.
BA miles are very valuable, but their worth is degraded by the fact that they will charge a hefty cash co-pay in order to use them. For people who are planning to get the Chase card and earn the 100,000 mile bonus, you should plan on shooting for the companion award certificate by spending $30,000 in a calendar year. Unless you are traveling alone, this will double the value of your miles. Otherwise, you Americans probably receiving the most value for their miles by redeeming them on single partner awards to places like South America, Asia, and Australia. 100,000 miles is nothing to sneeze at, just make sure you research your options carefully in order to redeem them for the most value.