Updated January 29, 2015: This particular award will no longer be available once the new British Airways award chart goes into effect for bookings made after April 28, 2015. This award in business class will increase to 37,500 Avios, each way.
I recently reported on my experience flying Aer Lingus business class from Shannon to Boston last month to conclude my European vacation. I did so with the use of one of the best valued awards that currently exist to get across the Atlantic — British Airways Avios for travel on Aer Lingus. In the rest of this post, I will detail how one can easily fly from Boston to Ireland in business class for fewer miles than most airlines charge for a one-way in economy. I’ll hit the following points in this post:
- The Sweet Spot on British Airways’ Award Chart
- Checking Award Availability
- Calling British Airways to Book
- Fly in Style for Cheap
- How to get British Airways Avios…. if you don’t fly British Airways
The Sweet Spot on British Airways’ Award Chart
British Airways uses a distance-based chart for their award redemptions. As such, one can really take advantage of certain tiers on the chart to redeem Avios for travel on routes that would normally be much more costly.
For this particular award, we are exploiting the level 4 awards with distances up to 3,000 miles. Most Transatlantic routes are well over 3,000 miles. However, there are two routes from the USA to Europe that do fall just under that threshold: Boston to Shannon, and Boston to Dublin.
Each of these flights fall just under 3,000 miles, so one could fly either of these routes for either 12,500 Avios in economy, or 25,000 Avios in business class! To put that in perspective, 25,000 miles is the same amount that most US carriers charge for a domestic flight redemption! If you’re short on miles, the 12,500 Avios option for a one-way in economy class is also just an incredible deal!
Checking Award Availability
Aer Lingus is not a member of British Airways’ OneWorld Alliance, but it IS a codeshare partner with British Airways, and as such, British Airways Avios can be used for these flights. Though redeeming Avios for Aer Lingus flights is possible, you cannot use the online award search tool on British Airways’ website to find availability. Luckily, there is a way to view award availability. The easiest and most accurate way I’ve seen to assess award availability is through the award search on the United Airlines’ website. United is also a partner of Aer Lingus, so they can by-and-large see the same award space as British Airways. It’s at least good to use as a guide for availability. However, I have noticed that British Airways seems to have a bit better availability than even the United site indicates. Here’s how one can check for availability on the United site:
As we can see, there is pretty good availability for this award. Blue means business class only is available. Green means both business and economy are available, and yellow means only economy is available at the saver level. Again, we are focusing on awards at the saver level.
In the example above, there is saver availability in both economy and business class. Do not pay attention to the mileage cost, as this is what it costs to fly these flights with United miles.
(Go ahead and notice the mileage different — 12,500 Avios vs 30,000 UA miles for economy, and 25,000 Avios vs 70,000 UA miles for business!)
Note these flight numbers, dates, and times for the next step.
Calling British Airways to Book
Now that you’ve located the award availability, it’s time to book the award. The only way to do this is by calling British Airways at 1 (800) 452-1201. Unfortunately, this process can be frustrating, as the normal British Airways reservation line frequently suffers from hold times of over an hour. One thing I’ve done to combat this is by using Skype to call the British Airways offices in either Hong Kong (+852 3002 1208) or Singapore (+65 6823 2095). These agents speak fantastic English, and there generally isn’t nearly as long of a hold time as the US number.
When you speak to the agent, inform him or her that you wish to book a partner award on Aer Lingus. Then read the flight information to the agent like so fr the example above, “On October 6th, Aer Lingus flight EI 136 from Boston to Dublin. One business class seat.”
The agent should quote the aforementioned rate of 25,000 Avios each way. Taxes run about USD $90. Should the agent try to charge you the $25 phone booking fee, argue the point that this award was not bookable online — I was able to successfully avoid the fee by doing this.
Once you’re booked, ask the agent for your Aer Lingus record locater (PNR), as you need this to select seats. Once you have this, you can log on to Aer Lingus’ website and select your seat. If this doesn’t work, you can simply call Aer Lingus with your PNR and select your seats over the phone.
Fly In Style for Cheap!
And that’s it! You’ve booked a flight to Ireland on the cheap with miles!
How to get British Airways Avios…. if you don’t fly British Airways
Even if you don’t fly British Airways, BA Avios are still one of the easier miles and points currencies to collect. Below are a few different ways one can accrue British Airways Avios without flying British Airways:
By flying British Airways’ partners, such as American Airlines and US Airways
The occasional flyer may consider banking their flights on American and US Airways to British Airways. This is a good idea not only for the award we’ve gone through above, but also for another sweet spot on the BA chart — short distance travel (under 600 miles) on American or US Airways for only 4,500 Avios each way! Short-haul travel is probably the best “sweet spot” in the whole British Airways Award Chart.
British Airways Visa Card
British Airways issues their own co-branded credit card through Chase. It runs periodic sign-up bonuses between 50,000 and 100,000 Avios, so this can be a very lucrative card to obtain — especially when it features a 100,000 bonus.
Transfer from Chase Ultimate Rewards
British Airways is a transfer partner with Chase Ultimate Rewards. Ultimate Rewards is the points currency for several popular Chase cards today, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink Bold, Chase Ink Plus, and Chase Freedom cards. One can transfer Ultimate Rewards points instantaneously to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio. The ability to do this makes Ultimate Rewards an extremely valuable points currency.
Transfer from AMEX Membership Rewards
Much like Chase Ultimate Rewards, one can transfer their AMEX Membership Rewards points directly to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio. The transfer process with AMEX is not always instantaneous like it is with Chase Ultimate Rewards, though.
Transfer from Starwood Points
A third points transfer option can is to transfer from one’s Starwood (SPG) account to British Airways at a 1:1 basis. Similar to the AMEX Membership Rewards, this is not always an instantaneous process. Starpoints can be accrued by staying at SPG branded hotels, and by opening their own co-branded credit card, the SPG AMEX.
Combine British Airways Accounts using Family Accounts
British Airways is one of the only programs out there that allow family members to combine their miles (Avios) into a family account. You’re allowed up to five family members on the account, and all family members can redeem and collect these miles. The one caveat to remember is that once a family account is established, tickets may only be redeemed for a family member unless a traveler outside your family is added to your account as a companion. This is what I had to do in order to book myself and my girlfriend using my family accounts’ miles.
So there you have it! This is how I booked a couple seats on Aer Linugs business class. It’s the cheapest way across the Atlantic with miles, and a very affordable way to take a Transatlantic flight in international business class.