Searching for business class sweet-spots in Iberia’s OneWorld award chart

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Yesterday Nick posted in detail about a sweet-spot on Iberia’s American Airlines award chart: From 11K RT on American: A sweet spot for North American flight redemptions. His post showed that Iberia Avios may be the best currency for flying American Airlines on short round-trip itineraries.  That got me thinking about flying domestic 1st class or international business class.  Does Iberia have similar sweet-spots for flying American Airlines up-front?

Here is Iberia’s American Airlines award chart (their OneWorld chart is very similar if not identical):

Hack-Free Sweet-spots

AA usually charges 50,000 miles for round-trip 2-cabin 1st class (this is considered business class when reading award charts like the one above).  As you can see in the Iberia AA chart, a round-trip flight with a combined distance of 4,000 miles or less will cost fewer Iberia Avios than AA miles.  Between 2,001 and 4,000 miles, though, the difference is very small: 46,000 Avios vs. 50,000 AA miles.  The real savings appear with flights 2,000 miles or less.

Round-Trip Award Prices When Redeeming Iberia Avios to fly AA business class (2-cabin 1st class):

  • 1 – 600 miles: 22,000 Avios
  • 601 – 1000 miles: 24,000 Avios
  • 1001 – 2000 miles: 34,000 Avios

I recommend using Great Circle Mapper to calculate specific route distances.  Another great option is to use GPS Visualizer to display a radius around an airport.  For example, to get an idea of which airports are within 2,000 miles round-trip of Detroit, I setup GPS Visualizer to show me a 1,000 mile radius around the DTW airport.  To the extent that AA flies non-stop, this means that it should be possible to fly round-trip business class for 34,000 Avios or less within this bounds:

For international flights, the sweet-spots extend further.  For example, AA charges 115,000 miles for round-trip business class flights from the US to Europe.  And it is sometimes possible to do better with Iberia Avios (note, though, that taxes & fees may be much higher when booking through Iberia).  Here’s the sweet-spot for longer range international flights:

  • 5,001 – 8,000 miles: 100,000 Avios

In the map below, generated by GPS Visualizer, you can see that parts of western Europe, northern South America, and North Asia are within the 5,001 – 8,000 mile sweet-spot from Detroit (100K Avios for round-trip business class).  In reality, though, there aren’t any non-stop AA (or other OneWorld carrier) flights from Detroit to those locations, so actual itineraries will include stops which will make the overall trip longer.  In other words, the real sweet-spot band around Detroit is smaller than shown (due to required connections), but at least this gives you a starting point to know what might be possible:

Mixed Cabin Sweet Spots

When you include multiple cabins in one award (e.g. economy in one segment, business in another), Iberia calculates the award cost as a weighted average based on the distance flown in each cabin.  As a result, it is sometimes possible to make a business class award cheaper by traveling farther, as long as the extra distance is in economy.

Here’s a real example.  I priced out an American Airlines business class award from Philadelphia to Dublin, round-trip, using Iberia Avios.  This came to 100,000 Avios plus $352 in fees:

Next, I made the trip longer by starting and ending in Detroit but connecting to the same round-trip flight from Philadelphia to Dublin.  The new route is:

  • Outbound: Detroit to Philadelphia (economy), Philadelphia to Dublin (business)
  • Return: Dublin to Philadelphia (business), Philadelphia to Detroit (economy)

By flying Detroit to Philadelphia in economy, we can make the Avios portion of the award cheaper.  The new route costs 93,000 Avios plus $367 in fees.  The fees went up a bit, but the award price went down by 7,000 Avios:

The reason this works is that the total distance of the flights is still within the same row on the award chart, but now a percentage of the award is economy rather than business, and so it brings down the weighted average.

The Math for the above Example

  • Flight Distance Philadelphia to Dublin Round-Trip: 6,545 miles
    • Flight band: 5,001 – 8,000 miles
    • Business Class price: 100,000 Avios
  • Flight Distance Including Detroit to Philadelphia to Dublin Round-Trip: 7,452 miles
    (Detroit to Philadelphia round-trip portion: 907 miles)
    • Flight band: 5,001 – 8,000 miles
    • Business Class price for transatlantic business class portion: 100,000 Avios
    • Economy price for domestic portion: 42,000
    • Weighted Average: (6,545 * 100,000 + 907 * 42,000) / 7,452 = 92,940 (round up to 93,000)

Can we hack it?

The way to get the most business class for the cheapest price with Iberia’s AA (or OneWorld) award chart is to add on maximum distance economy segments while staying within the same cost band (in a few cases, though, it actually pays to go over to the next band or two).

The ideal approach for doing this would be to add throw-away segments, but that’s tough to do in this case since Iberia requires round-trip awards when flying AA.  And you can’t abandon a flight in the middle of your itinerary without risking having the rest of your itinerary cancelled.  So, unless you are OK with ending your trip on the return mid-way between your origin and your destination, a throw-away segment isn’t practical.

Instead, the key is to book business class for the segments that are most meaningful to you and then to lower the overall cost by booking the other segments in economy.  The Detroit to Dublin example, above, is a good one.  The flight from Detroit to Philadelphia is short and you wouldn’t benefit much from being in domestic first class on that flight.  The flight from Philadelphia to Dublin, though, is much longer and you would certainly benefit from better seats and service in business class, especially on the outbound overnight flight.

Another similar example is this one: Fly round-trip New York to Zurich via London with the transatlantic portion in business class and the flights between London and Zurich in economy.  Again, the total Avios cost is less than 100K: 92.9K.  It makes especial sense for the European portion to be in economy since most European flights use the same seats in economy and business class (with the main distinction of having the middle seats blocked off in business class).

One-way awards via a throw-away return

What if we just want to book one-way business class awards?  We could book the outbound in business class and the return in economy.  This chart shows the expected price for that approach via the “Half & Half” column:

Round-Trip Distance Economy Award Price
(in thousands)
Business Award Price
(in thousands)
Half & Half
(in thousands)
1 – 600 11 22 16.5
601 – 1,000 12 24 18
1.001 – 2,000 17 34 25.5
2,001 – 4,000 23 46 34.5
4,001 – 5,000 28 64 46
5,001 – 8,000 42 100 71
8,001 – 12,400 65 150 107.5
12,401 – 14,000 75 175 125
14,001 – 18,000 100 250 175
18,001 – 25,000 120 270 195
25,001 – 30,000 132 290 211
30,001 – 35,000 143 315 229
35,001 – 40,000 166 350 258
40,001 – 50,000 190 380 285

At the upper end of award prices, I’d say that 71,000 Avios can be a reasonable price to pay for a long distance business class flight.  So, let’s take a look at that price band: 5,001 – 8,000 miles (round-trip).  Since we’ll be throwing away the return, we’re really looking at a one-way range of 2500 to 4,000 miles.

As we showed before, this range can get us from Detroit to parts of western Europe, northern South America, and North Asia:

Given that the round-trip award price for the same range would cost 100K Avios or less, I don’t see any good reason to go with the throw-away return option unless award availability simply doesn’t exist for when you need it (in which case you can book the throw-away return for anytime that you can find the economy award space).

Summary

It is possible to get good value using Iberia Avios to fly AA (and other OneWorld airlines) in business class, especially for a round-trip flight with a total distance of less than 2,000 miles.  It’s also possible to get good value by mixing and matching business and economy segments.  The truth is, though, that I’m unlikely to ever book such an award.

In Nick’s post he mentioned that these awards are nonrefundable and nonchangeable.  Unless I’m booking something last-minute, I’d hate to be locked in that much for what amounts to modest savings over other award booking options.

Also, Iberia’s website is buggy and limited.  It doesn’t have a multi-city search, so there’s no way to specify exactly the route you want if it involves layovers.  You just have to hope that the layover city you want comes up in the search results.

Overall, I see it as a fun challenge to try to find sweet-spots and hacks in weird programs like this one.  And there’s more to-do.  For one, I haven’t yet compared Iberia Avios awards to those available from other OneWorld airlines such as Cathay Pacific.  Even if Iberia has some good prices, it’s likely that others have better prices (hint: they do).  Another to-do is to investigate some of Iberia’s other award charts.  Iberia has different award charts and allows one-way awards for flights on Iberia and BA, for example.  In those cases, I think there is much more opportunity for hacks such as adding throw-away segments to reduce the award cost.  Stay tuned.

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