Finding Award Availability with British Airways

British AirwaysFinding Award Availability can be a bit of a black art with most airlines, and British Airways is no different. BA provide a number of tools on their site, each of which have their good points, bad points and nuances.

The most basic approach, and probably the best if you know exactly what you are after, is to use the “Create a trip” tool on the BA Executive Club home page (you’ll need to login to access this). Put in your desired destination, dates, class of travel and choose either “Book with Avios” or “Book with cash, upgrade with Avios”, depending on your preference.

You can then follow the process and see whether there is availability.

If not, then you’ll have to be more flexible with your dates, or even your destination and see what flights are available.

For this, you can use the Reward Flight Availability Checker. Although quite a powerful tool, it can be quite cumbersome to use so you’ll have to stick with it for a while to understand how it works (and how it doesn’t work).

If neither of those work for you, there are also some 3rd party tools to search for availability. The two we’ve used are

  • Award Nexus – this is a web-based tool that works on a “points” system but is free to use
  • KVS Tool – this is a subscription-based piece of software – it is very powerful but is complicated to use for anything but the most simple of checks. It only runs on Windows so if you use a Mac, you’ll have to get run some Windows virtualisation software.

Note that there can be fairly significant fees, taxes and surcharges on BA flights, even if your using your Avios to book or upgrade your flights, so flying in Business and First typically provide the best value for your Avios, unless you’re using them for a short-haul Reward Flight Saver. See the About Reward Flights and Upgrades page on for more details on this.

10,000 Miles via the Amex Starwood Card (UK)

You will already know that there are many ways to earn Avios, directly with BA, Iberia and Avios (formely Airmiles) or with credit and charge cards such as The Platinum Card, The Gold Card or the BA Premium Plus Credit Card.

However, you can also earn points via other credit cards, and then convert those into Avios.

The Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Credit Card

The SPG Credit Card is one such mechanism to do this. If you apply and are accepted for this card, and spend £10,000 within the first 3 months, you are given 10,000 SPG bonus points, alongside the standard SPG points you get for spending on the card (£1 for every full £1 spent).

SPG points can then be converted online to Avios, on a 1:1 basis – so, you get 10,000 Avios.

Additionally, if you get your SPG points balance to 20,000 and transfer those to BA, you get 5,000 bonus Avios, making it 25,000 in total. A nice little earner.

You can also convert SPG points to many other airlines. The card comes with a £75 annual fee.

The card can be applied for here:

http://www.amex.co.uk/wow

Earning Avios with Tesco (UK)

A great way to earn additional Avios in the UK is via Tesco. Basically, you can convert your Tesco vouchers into Avios (either BA Avios or the scheme formerly known as Airmlies, now called Avios) at a rate of 600 Avios for every £2.50 worth of vouchers.

However, its not only shopping a Tesco that lets you do this. Another great way is via the Tesco Mastercard. We’d recommend putting all major spend onto your BA Amex card, but there are still a number of places that don’t accept Amex, so you should use the Tesco Mastercard as your backup. Tesco give you 1 Clubcard point for every £4 of spend, and this works out at roughly 0.6 Avios per £ spent after you convert. This is obviously not as good as 1.5 Avios per £ spend with the BA Premium Plus card (or the 1 Avios per £ spend with the standard BA Amex card) which is why we recommend it as a backup.

You can apply online for the card here:

http://www.tescobank.com/personal/finance/creditcards/

Up to 25 Avios per £ Spend with Lloyds TSB Premier Duo Credit Card (UK)

LloydsTSB

Update: This offer is now closed. The best current deal for increasing your Avios balance is with the Amex Platinum Charge Card.

Get in quick before this deal is over. If you apply and are accepted for the Lloyds TSB Premier Duo Avios Credit Card, you get 10 times the normal number of Avios for the first  3 months.

That’s a huge 12.5 Avios per £ of spend.

The offer is only open till April 11th, but has been extended twice already but there is no guarantee that it will be extended again.

In addition to this, foreign spend is double the normal rate, so for the first three months is a massive 25 Avios per equivalent £ spent!

The card has a £50 annual fee, so you have to take that into account, but this really is a no-brainer. You have to apply for the card via the Avios page here:

http://www.avios.com/collect/lloydstsb/lloydstsb-avios-premier-credit-card-account

If you don’t want to pay an annual fee, there is also the standard Lloyds TSB Duo Avios Credit Card, which gives 5 Avios per £ spent, or 10 Avios per £ for foreign spend.

http://www.avios.com/collect/lloydstsb/lloydstsb-avios-credit-card-account

(Almost) Free 42,000 Membership Reward Points (UK)

Amex Platinum Card

Update (August 2013): The bonus for the American Express Platinum card is now 35,000 points, still a great deal.

Update (February 2013): American Express have increased the bonus for taking out this card to a whopping 52,000 Membership Rewards points. 

Update (2012): American Express have now increase the annual fee on this card to an eye-watering £450 per year. They are also adding new benefits but it is still worth getting the card just for the 42,000 Membership Reward points sign-up bonus. More details here.

American Express have a fantastic offer of 42,000 bonus Membership Reward points for taking out their Platinum Charge Card, when you are referred by an existing cardholder.

I am a UK Platinum Cardholder and I would be very happy to refer anyone who  would like to take out the Platinum card. You don’t even have to provide any information to anyone else, but simply follow this link, where you can see the 42,000 offer:

https://www.americanexpress.com/uk/platinum

Once you have the 42,000 Membership reward points, its a simple online process to convert them, on a 1:1 basis, into Avios or BMI miles, or into one of the many other airline frequent flyer programs.

You can also cancel the card after you have received Membership Rewards points and have transferred them to your favourite airline scheme. You then get a pro-rata refund of the annual fee. eg, after 6 months, you’d get £150 back, based on the £300 fee.

The American Express Platinum Card

I have held the Platinum card for over two years now and travel several times a year and can honestly say it is a brilliant card to have and an absolute must if you travel regularly. It is not a credit card, but a charge card which gives you around 30 days interest-free. You simply have to pay off the balance each month and therefore incur no interest charges.

For the £300 annual fee you also get a free Priority Pass card, which gives you free access to hundreds of airport lounges around the world. This alone is worth nearly £260.

Another great benefit is the top level travel insurance which removes the need for any other annual policy and also covers anyone travelling with  with you. This policy also covers anywho who has a supplementary cardholder on your account, so you can, for example, give a supplementary card to your parents and they are covered under the same policy!

You can also get Hilton Gold Status, the equivalent with Raddison, Starwood, Hertz and others and a 24-7 concierge free of charge. I have used this to arrange gifts for  business clients, booking tickets to sold our concerts and to get tables at restaurants with several month waiting lists.

You also have access to the Amex Fine Hotels of the World Programme,  benefits such as complimentary room upgrades and guaranteed early check in and 4pm checkout, as well as perks like fast track airport security at some airport just for showing your Platinum card.

Finally, for those without Elite status with a OneWorld airline, the card allows you to get free Cathay Pacific Gold status, which is equivalent to BA Silver or OneWorld Sapphire. This status tier brings all sorts of benefits such as free lounge access to OneWorld lounges and the ability to select seats for free on certain airlines in advance of those without status.

Amex  also regularly run offers  where you can exchange your Membership Rewards points for airline frequent flyer points, such as BA’s Avios, with 30%, 40%, 50% or even 100% bonuses!

I honestly could not recommend this card highly enough.

If you’d like the bonus 42,000 miles and are UK based, please follow this link:

https://www.americanexpress.com/uk/platinum

More information about the card can be found here.