Hacking Avios

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Earlier this week I posted “Searching for business class sweet-spots in Iberia’s OneWorld award chart.”  In that post I showed that it was possible to make Iberia OneWorld business class awards cheaper by tacking on economy segments.  Iberia OneWorld awards are awards using Iberia Avios where at least one segment includes an Iberia OneWorld partner that is not part of the Avios loyalty ecosystem (e.g. it applies when flying American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, etc., but not Iberia or British Airways).  I noted that this would be much more hackable if Iberia allowed one-way awards (because you could then tack-on throw-away economy segments to the end).  When I wrote that, I knew that Iberia allowed one-way awards for flights flown entirely by Iberia and/or British Airways.  And so I hoped that those awards would be super-hackable.  They’re not.

Avios Award Redemption Basics

Iberia has different award charts depending upon which carrier you fly.  Their Iberia (IB) and British Airways (BA) charts are very similar, but not identical.  Each has Peak and Off-Peak pricing.  And each prices awards by segment.  That means that you can’t reduce a business class award price by adding on an economy segment since the additional segment price would be additive.

I found a few more interesting things when poking around:

  • The award price, in Avios, for IB and BA awards is exactly the same regardless of whether you book with Iberia or BA Avios.
  • Even though the price in Avios is always the same, Iberia usually charges a bit less in fees.  For example, a one-way economy flight from Madrid to Johannesburg  priced at 21,250 Avios off-peak or 25,000 Avios peak in both systems.  But, BA would charge 161.78 in fees whereas Iberia would charge $92.90.
  • If you mix carriers in one trip (e.g. fly IB one segment, and BA the other segment), each segment prices according to its own award chart.  In other words, the BA segment price comes from the BA award chart and the IB segment price comes from the IB award chart.

Comparing BA vs. IB Award Charts

The BA and IB award charts are similar but not identical.  What follows is a condensed version of the Off-Peak charts. Note that BA and IB have a few exceptions in their charts that are not indicated here.

Each segment flown is priced separately according to miles flown. For example, a 1,000 mile segment would be in the 651-1151 range and would cost 6.5K Avios to fly BA or 7.5K Avios to fly Iberia. Cells colored green indicate where that carrier’s award pricing is cheaper than the other carrier’s.

As you can see above, it is always a bit cheaper to fly BA economy vs. Iberia economy.  However, to fly business class, BA is only cheaper for short flights whereas Iberia is much cheaper for long flights (32% cheaper where highlighted in green, above).

Peak dates follow a similar pattern, but the award price differences are more modest:

Cells colored green indicate where that carrier’s award pricing is cheaper than the other carrier’s. Cell’s colored yellow indicate where the pricing is identical.

Can we hack it?

Given the nature of the per-segment pricing, there’s not a lot of hacking to be done. There is one thing, though.  Long ago, Travel is Free documented in-depth ways to reduce BA award prices by adding stop-overs.  The idea is that sometimes a non-stop flight costs more than the sum of two segments.  It is sometimes possible to add extra stops to your trip in order to visit more locations while also saving Avios.

Image courtesy of gcmap.com

One example Travel is Free documented was where a non-stop economy flight from Los Angeles to Sydney Australia (~7500 miles) would cost 50,000 Avios during peak dates, whereas you could fly Los Angeles to Honolulu (2,556 miles), and then Honolulu to Sydney (5,067 miles) for a combined cost of 37,500 Avios.  In other words, you can stop-over in Hawaii and save 12,500 Avios!

Of course, this is dependent upon finding award availability with British Airways partners.  And, it certainly won’t always be cheaper to break up a trip in this way.  Plus, note that this has very limited use when booking with Iberia Avios since Iberia would flip to a different award chart (the OneWorld chart I wrote about previously) when you include partner airlines like American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, etc.

Still, I was curious how often it would be cheaper to fly two segments rather than one.  So, I created a spreadsheet to help.

Click here to view Frequent Miler’s Avios Hacking Award Chart (click the tab titled “Avios When 2 Segments Are Better than One”)

The basic gist of the spreadsheet is that it shows all 2 segment combinations of the Avios award charts.  Here’s a piece of it:

 

This table requires some explanation.  The grey rows are the one-segment prices from the original award chart.  I gave each segment a letter name: A through I.  Then, each combination of two segments is represented as the two letters: AA is made up of two segments, each of which fall within the distance range determined by segment A (1 to 650 miles each).  And AB is made up of segments sized A plus B.  And so on.

The rows of the table are sorted ascending by maximum distance (with the exception of segment, I, which is actually unbounded).  Each two-segment row overlaps in distance range with the one-segment row (in grey) above and below it.  Cells colored green represent the biggest hack: with these, the max distance of the range would let you fly farther for fewer Avios with these two segments rather than one.  Cells colored yellow are where the award price for 2 segments is the same as the award price for one segment.  And cells colored blue are compared to the one-segment row below (rather than above) and are shaded blue when the price is less or the same.

This chart shows that there are many possible situations where two-segment awards would be cheaper than one-segment awards to travel a similar distance.  That said, I think it would be a lot of work to try to find real-world examples that fit within these ranges.  In other words, it’s cool (in a geeky way), but maybe not super helpful.  If you’re interested in pursuing this further, it’s probably best to start with Travel is Free’s series of old posts. Some of the details have probably changed but the gist is still intact:

Summary

The Iberia Avios award charts for flying Iberia or British Airways are not nearly as hackable as I’d hoped.  That said, a look at the award charts made it clear when you’d be better off flying BA vs. Iberia (BA for economy, IB for long distance business class).  And the exercise reminded me of a long known hack of sorts that primarily applies to BA Avios: You can often add a stop-over for no extra cost, or even to reduce the cost of an award.

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