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Avios Redemption University – Lesson 12 – Redeeming Avios for low tax US domestic flights

The “Avios Redemption University” series is a good starting point for beginners, although I hope everyone will learn something from them. Click here to see the other articles.

This article explains how to redeem Avios for domestic flights in the United States.

With the US being a top tourist destination for Brits, it is worth remembering that Avios can have substantial value when you redeem them for American Airlines or Alaska Airlines domestic flights.  The recent acquisition of Virgin America by Alaska Airlines has added a lot of new route options.

The fantastic news is that there is minimal tax to pay when redeeming for internal US flights. Neither AA or Alaska impose fuel surcharges and there is no US equivalent to the UK’s Air Passenger Duty.

For example, a return flight from New York to Boston on American Airlines has just £8 of taxes in Economy.

American Airlines

To make your life complicated, however, there are special rules for the pricing of short domestic redemptions in the United States.

Here is the standard Avios pricing chart.  Note that flights on partner airlines such as American Airlines and Alaska Airlines are ALWAYS priced at peak day rates, whatever day you fly.

Redemption chart 2

The zones relate to the distance flown:

  • Zone 1:  1 – 650 miles
  • Zone 2:  651 – 1,150 miles
  • Zone 3:  1,151 – 2,000 miles
  • Zone 4:  2,001 – 3,000 miles
  • Zone 5:  3,001 – 4,000 miles
  • Zone 6:  4,001 – 5,500 miles
  • Zone 7:  5,501 – 6,500 miles
  • Zone 8:  6,501 – 7,000 miles
  • Zone 9:  7,000+ miles

In 2016, however, Avios introduced a new rules specifically for short domestic US redemptions.

For flights under 650 miles:

Economy class redemptions are now 7,500 Avios one-way instead of 4,500

Business class redemptions are now 15,000 Avios one-way  instead of 9,000

First Class redemptions (on three class aircraft) are now 30,000 Avios one-way instead of 18,000

Pricing on routes over 650 miles remains the same.

One other issue which often crops up when pricing US domestic redemptions is that to get the pricing in the chart above, you must travel non-stop, without a change of plane.  If you change planes, you will be charged each flight separately.  This can make redemptions very expensive if there is no direct American or Alaska flight to where you want to go, which is often the case.

You can also see how many Avios are required for a flight by using the Avios Calculator on ba.com. Remember to look up each flight separately when a connection is required.

The following routes are generally regarded as examples of flights inside North America which offer great value, either because they just scrape into the top end of their Avios pricing band or because lack of competition leads to high pricing:

  • New York to Montreal (7,500 Avios each-way, American)
  • San Francisco to Honolulu (12,500 Avios each-way, Alaska)
  • Los Angeles to Honolulu (12,500 Avios each-way, American)
  • San Francisco to Los Angeles (7,500 Avios each-way, American)
  • Detroit to New York LaGuardia (7,500 Avios each-way, American)
  • Atlanta to New York LaGuardia (7,500 Avios each-way, American)
  • Atlanta to Chicago (7,500 Avios each-way, American)
  • Miami to New York LaGuardia (7,500 Avios each-way, American)
  • Miami to Key West (7,500 Avios each-way, American)
  • St Louis to New Orleans (7,500 Avios each-way, American)
  • Toronto to Chicago (7,500 Avios each-way, American)

Long – and expensive – flights which still drop under 3,000 miles and thus cost just 25,000 Avios return in economy include:

  • Miami to Lima
  • US West Coast to US East Coast
  • Easter Island to Tahiti, Santiago or Lima
  • Hawaii to West Coast USA and Alaska

If you are struggling to find flights from the UK to the Caribbean, you can also take advantage of American Airlines connections to transfer cheaply from the US mainland. Perhaps you could have a ‘city and beach’ holiday instead?

New York to Bermuda is only 7,500 Avios one way

Miami to Cancun, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay or Turks & Caicos is only 7,500 Avios one-way (Barbados etc is further, so 10,000 Avios each way)

When thinking about using your Avios for US flights, you will find the highest number of routes out of the main hub airports.

For Alaska Airlines, that means Seattle, although it has smaller hubs in Anchorage, San Francisco, Portland and Los Angeles.

For American Airlines, the main hubs are Dallas, Chicago, New York JFK, Los Angeles and Miami. It also has the ex-US Airways hubs in Philadelphia, Charlotte, Phoenix and Washington National.

Baggage allowance

Domestic flights in the US booked with Avios usually come with no baggage allowance if booked in Economy. I wrote more about this here.

Annoyingly, you won’t even realise this unless you click the ‘Your Baggage Allowance’ dropdown box during the booking process.  It may make more sense to use extra Avios to book Business than pay for a bag in Economy.

How to book

If your Avios sit in avios.com, you will need to use ‘Combine My Avios‘ to move them to British Airways Executive Club before you can book.

American Airlines flights can be booked on ba.com without difficulty. If you need to connect, ba.com may struggle to put together a routing so you may find it easier to look up individual flights and then ring BA to book the whole itinerary.

(One tip is to do a dummy redemption booking on aa.com – you don’t need to log in or even have an AA account. This will often show you potential redemption routes with connections which ba.com was not clever enough to find. You can then ring the BA call centre and ask it to book the flights that were shown as available on aa.com.)

Alaska Airlines flights can only be booked by telephone with British Airways Executive Club.  A later article in this series will look specifically at Alaska and its routes to Hawaii.

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

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Comments

  1. JFK-CUN in business at 20000 Avios and a few dollars is one I’ve used a few times. It’s not a flat bed but the seats are very comfy for a 4 hour flight. Great for a 2 centre holiday and s massive saving on the cash price.

  2. Obviously you can’t rely on it, but I’ve randomly been given free baggage allowance on 2 of my 6 separate Alaskan flights.

    And is it possible to redeem to Easter Island now? I’ve been looking for years and never found anything!

    • You apparently can book it for a while now but availability is pretty much zero for redemption tickets since I have also been looking for a while. Apparently LATAM are very stingy with releasing redemption tickets on this route.
      If you want to book revenue tickets, it is recommended you book on the Chilean website of LATAM since it is a lot cheaper than booking with European sites.

      • Andrew M says:

        Business Class from Santiago to Easter Island booked on the Chilean LATAM website is a steal.

      • Thanks, I’ll go back to looking then! I stopped when I read before that LATAM never release seats at the lowest level (i.e. the one’s BA can book).

  3. The_real_a says:

    Also worth comparing costs with delta using virgin miles. Anywhere within the US is 15,000 miles (direct flight) one way. Bookable online at virgin for most cases.

    • JoeyJoJo says:

      Most US airports don’t even appear in the drop down box on virgin site. Curious to book online..
      Can you give an example of routes, just so I know I’m not mad?

    • I think you need to book a return using Virgin miles? I used Delta but it was transferring points from my Amex gold.

      • I’m not familiar with Virgin, but if you go on Delta’s site, do a dummy booking, ( or signup maybe) you can see their destinations. I guess you could then call Virgin to try and book what you are looking for. If you post , I could take a look at availability.

  4. I’ve found it very hit and miss trying to find AA availability for flights within the US and to the Caribbean. Often there seems to be only one seat available, and by the time they release them cash prices have gone up so you end up paying more if you need multiple seats.

    • It’s the usual thing of having to be patient and book as far out as possible…..even the Americans are complaining about award availability. At least there are numerous options to get around by choosing alternative airports.

  5. It’s also worth noting re baggage – that BA is the ONLY One World airline that doesn’t provide a free bag to status members travelling on a hand baggage only fare. All others, including fellow IAG airline Iberia, and in this case AA will give a checked bag for a silver/gold/Premier member, as per the One World baggage rules of getting an additional checked bag.

    • Yep, even Iberia Express on a €26 ticket will give a free bag to One World Sapphires. Shame they don’t give you any legroom but that’s another story.

  6. For the Caribbean via MIami appears to be loads of availability. Best searching AA.com

  7. $45000 and approx £100, MIA-CUN. Out in business (with full AA baggage allowance), return in economy (zero baggage allowance). Lots of redemption availability not just 2 seats per section

  8. Is there any logic on how flights get loaded? I.e like BA a certain number of days in advance?

    • AA do it something like T-320 but by then their cash prices have gone up so it’s a gamble.

  9. Has any one booked internal flights with LATAM. I am trying to get to the Galapagos. Madrid to Quito on Iberia looks to be the sweet spot 85,000 and £177 for a business return. I know LATAM then fly to Baltra I am just struggling to find anything on the BA site.

  10. What are the T&C’s/fees when cancelling or changing an Avios flight booked with Alaska airlines?

    • Same as usual. Avios back, taxes forfeited (or £35 per person forfeited if the taxes are more than £35).

    • Lady London says:

      Basically as the ‘taxes’ are so much lower on internal domestic flights in the USA, if you cancel the required amount of time ahead you will get your Avios back and you will lose only very small amounts of dollars that you paid in tax. If you had paid anything up to £35 in tax then you would lose it. But BA doesn’t collect the rest if you paid less than that in ‘tax’ – they just give you your Avios back and keep the tax.

  11. This article is timely for me as I was trying to make sense of the AA economy baggage rules!

    Will have dropped to silver my the time I make my LA – SFO trip in the summer.
    So .. to be clear, as BA silver, I will get 2 free bags, is there any size/weight restriction?
    Ta
    J

  12. It may have been peculiar to that route, but when I tried to book Seattle to Vancouver on Alaskan BAEC could only offer seats on Alaskan’s own metal which were very early or late. The convenient times were flown by a smaller airline painted in Alaskan livery. I booked using SPGFlights, but the flight was cancelled, then the replacement cancelled so they put us onto Air Canada Express.

  13. FWIW, if redeeming for an award on Delta,( which for most would be via Virgin, but in my case KL/AF,) there is no charge for bags…whether that is because of my status, I’m not sure as I’ve never looked. But used in conjunction with AA/Avios makes N America touring a no brainer…..and we use small, very small airports to really get off the beaten track.

  14. MIA-NAS was a bargain when it was 4500 avios and $2 taxes….still not bad now theres a 7500 avios minimum

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