I’ve been using British Airways Avios in Canada for a long, long time, yet there’s a good reason why I’ve never written about it.
Simply put, it’s because Yore Oyster is about delivering concise, actionable material to Canadian travelers when they need it. Rather than trying to teach you everything, we’d rather just give you the tools to do the things that have a real, positive impact on your life starting today.
But there’s also a reason why I am choosing to write about the best way to use Avios as a Canadian now: it’s the perfect complement to Aeroplan. And as you’ve probably seen through our posts How to Fly from Asia to North America (and vice versa) for $75 and How to Fly from Canada to Europe (and vice versa) for $75, Aeroplan is extremely powerful when used correctly. So starting today, with the addition of Avios to your toolkit, you’ll be flying more smartly and more cheaply than 99% of the other people who step onto the same plane.
If you don’t want to spend hundreds of hours reading and learning every intricacy, but would rather have 95% of the information you need to get a cheap flight right now, this post is for you.
Table of Contents
Using British Airways Avios In Canada
What is Avios?
British Airways’ Avios is a points program that works just like Aeroplan: you gather points on your credit card or by flying, and then you redeem them for flights in the future. So from a very high level, the two programs are doing very similar things – helping you fly more cheaply – but when you get into the details, you start to notice their differences.
Avios has one of the widest-reaching airline partner networks out there, which is a fancy way of saying this: no matter where you are in the world, there’s a very good chance that you can buy a flight with Avios points instead of cash. I’ve personally used it for flights between Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay, within South Africa, between Thailand and Hong Kong, and a lot of other places. It just works.
And there’s another neat feature that Avios has that most other programs don’t: you can choose between different cash and points splits when you pay for your flight. For example, on this direct Toronto to London flight, you can choose any of the following payment options:
To choose which option you’d like to pay, it just comes down to how much you value your points. I generally opt for paying more cash so that I can keep my points for another flight in the future, but if you’d rather just pay the minimum amount of cash, that’s totally fine too.
In short, Avios gives you options. And when you’re traveling and don’t always have your next step planned to a tee, options are a very, very valuable thing.
Okay, so where is Avios most valuable?
That’s a tough question: if you’re only flying within North America, finding a great way to use Avios in Australia isn’t very useful to you. But if we do step back for a minute and look at things from a global level, three particular areas stand out.
Region 1: Within South America
I spent a few months in South America this year, and I noticed something very peculiar about the flights: while domestic flights in nearly every country were super cheap – $30 for the 650-km flight from Bogota to Cartagena in Colombia, or $90 for the monstrous 2,100-km trip from São Paulo to Recife in Brazil – international flights were extremely expensive.
For example, Quito, Ecuador is a similar distance from Bogota as Cartagena, but a flight to Quito regularly sits at 10x the price of one to Cartagena. And from São Paulo? Buenos Aires is 500 km closer than Recife, but you won’t find a flight for less than double the price. So trust me when I tell you: you need Avios in South America.
Lucky for you, Avios has two major partners in South America – LAN in Chile and TAM in Brazil – who dominate air traffic in South America. And this plays into a very straightforward strategy when in South America: buy domestic flights with cash, and buy international flights with Avios.
When I was there, I applied this strategy ruthlessly. Even when I needed to book a flight just a few days in advance, there was almost always a seat available for me, and I saved at least $200-300 on each flight that I otherwise would’ve had to shell out. In fact, I never booked a flight more than two weeks in advance, and I made it on all of the 10+ flights that I wanted, saving over $2,000 in the process. The Avios flights became so cheap that I stopped looking at ground transportation altogether; that’s the sign of a strong program.
Region 2: Intercontinental Flights to/from South America
This is a sweet spot in the Avios program that few very people know about, but using Avios to fly between South America and any of Australia, North America, or Europe is extremely cheap. Let’s look at a few examples.
First, an amazing direct flight from New York to Rio de Janeiro that costs you just $8. No, that is not a typo, $8! This flight runs daily so availability is extremely easy to get, and the same flight at the same prices works from other cities like Miami, too.
Santiago-Sydney is the only direct flight between South America and Australia, but thanks to Avios’ wide reach, you can get on it. A cash ticket for this highly sought-after flight will run you about $2,000 one-way if you buy it within the recommended purchase window, which is about 2-3 months before you fly. But with Avios? It’s just $73 + 50,000 points.
Buenos Aires-London is another behemoth of a direct flight, and this one you’ll actually be flying with British Airways. Again, cash tickets normally go in the range of $1,000+ for a one-way ticket (and much more if you want to be on this direct British Airways flight instead of one through the US with 1-2 stops), but here you’re only paying $344 and 22,750 points.
Avios is starting to look pretty good, isn’t it?
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Region 3: North America to Asia
There are so many ways to use your Avios points here, but I’ll talk about just one: Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a sweet spot because it’s the home of Cathay Pacific, an Avios partner airline, and Cathay flies direct to several North American hubs like Vancouver, Toronto, and New York. So if you’re going to Hong Kong, or really anywhere in Asia, this is the way to do it. (If you want another surefire way of getting to/from Asia, see our post How to Fly from Asia to North America (and vice versa) for $75).
Those are just two really good ways of using your Avios points, but there are plenty of other ways that you can make them work for you. For example: need to buy a last-minute flight between Toronto and New York departing tomorrow? Cash ticket prices will be through the roof, so Avios is the perfect solution since last-minute tickets purchased with points are the exact same price as if you bought the ticket months in advance.
You might’ve noticed something else in our examples: flights with Avios are much, much more direct than Aeroplan flights. In fact, it’s tough to find any of those intercontinental flights (with the exception of Vancouver to Hong Kong) without at least one connection if you’re using Aeroplan. That’s another win for your new friend, Avios. Time is money, and Avios is saving you both.
Wait – if I’m not going to South America or Asia, is Avios a waste of time?
Good question, but definitely not. Avios is fantastic for flights within North America (you can use your Avios points on any American Airlines flight), Europe (British Airways and Iberia Airlines), and a lot of other regions as well. I could give a thousand more examples of how to use your Avios points effectively, but instead I’m going to let you discover them on your own.
Okay, what if I don’t travel as often, do Avios points expire?
This is something you definitely won’t have to worry about! Avios points will stay with you as long as you collect, spend, purchase or share at least one Avios every 36 months. That’s three whole years to spend them! And remember, you can collect Avios not only flights but also you can rent a car or stay in a hotel or book a holiday. So you have options to both collect and use your points.
This post is just an introduction to Avios, so I won’t go any deeper right now, but hopefully, you can see how valuable Avios is as a #2 program. By leveraging the strengths of Aeroplan and Avios together, all of a sudden you go from playing by the airlines’ rules (not fun) to making your own rules (very fun). This is how you become the passenger who paid the least amount for their ticket, every single time.
Here’s the quickest way to get two Toronto-London roundtrip flights by using your Avios strategically:
How To Get Started
STEP 1 OF 2: GET YOUR POINTS
Your ticket to 25,000 Avios points is in the American Express Gold Rewards Card, which gives you 25,000 American Express MR points.
Spend 3 minutes today and you’ll receive your card within a week.
STEP 2 OF 2: USE YOUR POINTS
As soon as you finish your application, join Avios. The application takes 2 minutes and everyone is approved, plus you’ll get access to their search tool, so you can start searching for your ideal flights while you wait to receive your card from Step 1.
Once you’ve spent 5 minutes on the two steps above, you’re set. Add 25,000 points of your own to the 25,000 points coming your way with the card and you’ll have enough for any of the following flights:
- Roundtrip New York to Brazil
- Roundtrip Toronto to London twice (technically this will cost you 52,000 points, but who’s counting)
- The South American Rally: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Montevideo, Uruguay, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile to Lima, Peru to Bogota, Colombia, to São Paulo, Brazil – yes you can do ALL of these flights and still have Avios left over!
- An absolutely crazy itinerary connecting eleven countries across Europe. This one deserves a blog post unto its own…coming soon!
I hope this marks the beginning of a prosperous new friendship: you and British Airways Avios!