Last Updated: 5/5/2011
British Airways offers their Executive Club loyalty program, where frequent flyers earn BA miles which can be applied for free flights or upgrades. Analyzing the value of miles is always tricky business since assumptions like whether you fly first class or economy, domestic versus international, and so on, affect the value of miles. That said, GetDebit takes our best shot at it.
Furthermore, this is our first miles value post where we actually provide estimates for business class as well as upgrades (historically, we have only valued economy class). It will be up to you, our reader, to select the mileage value that most closely mirrors your real-world behavior.
A Quick Overview of GetDebit’s Approach to Estimating the Value of BA Miles
In order to keep our analysis focused, we restricted our analysis to flights from 5 major US cities (LAX, NYC, Chicago, ATL, Phoenix) to 4 major European destinations (London, Madrid, Frankfurt, Paris). We used Kayak.com to determine flights costs at several times throughout the year in an effort to capture and average seasonal variations.
Since British Airways also tacks on a rather large fuel surcharge, and since flyers still need to pay this charge even if they use their BA miles, we make sure to factor this (and taxes) to our calculations.
The Results of Our Analysis
The tables below contain estimates of the worth of BA miles under varying scenarios, including class and zone of travel (Zone 1 European markets require fewer miles to travel to than Zone 2 markets). We also provide estimates of the value of upgrading between classes.
|Class||Zone||Post Tax Ticket Price||Taxes + Fuel Surcharge||Pre Tax/Fuel Ticket Value||Roundtrip Miles Req’d||Value of BA Miles|
|Premium (World Traveler Plus)||1||$1,893||$667||$1,226||75,000||$0.0164|
|Premium (World Traveler Plus)||2||$1,821||$667||$1,154||90,000||$0.0128|
|Premium (World Traveler Plus)||Average||$0.0146|
As the table above illustrates, redeeming BA miles for Economy tickets is an economicaly poor decision-yielding an average value of around $0.0040 per mile. This extremely low value is due to the fact that after getting your “free ticket” you will still need to shell out roughly $600 in taxes and fuel surcharges. The best redemption value is for First Class tickets, yielding about $0.0237 per mile. The catch here: while you are indeed maximizing the value of your miles, you are also shelling out a lot more miles to travel the same distance.
The folks at GetDebit have also taken a look at redeeming your British Air miles for upgrades-a move that often yields the highest dollar value per mile of any airline redemption strategy.
|Base Class||Upgrade Class||Zone||Ticket Price Differential||Pts Req’d||Value of BA Miles|
|Premium (WT+)||Business (Club)||1||$1,071||37,500||$0.0286|
|Premium (WT+)||Business (Club)||2||$1,230||45,000||$0.0273|
|Premium (WT+)||Business (Club)||Average||$0.0279|
As the table above highlights, upgrading from Economy to World Traveler Plus (aka Premium Economy) yields a value per British Air mile of around $0.0400, by far the best redemption option if you are just trying to max out on value per mile.
Redeeming Your Miles Through British Air’s Partner Airlines
So if you were planning on using your BA miles to fly from the States to say London on economy, by now hopefully you realize that’s a losing proposition given the sky-high taxes which you still need to cover. However, all is not lost.
BA is part of the OneWorld Alliance, which means if there is award availability on one of these partners, you can use your BA points to fly on those airlines. It will only be possible to do this for routes that British Airways doesn’t fly (for example, most any flights within the US). OneWorld partners include American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Japan Air, LAN, Qantas, and several other less well-known carriers.
Naturally, the folks here at GetDebit were curious as to the value of redeeming through partner airlines. We chose to evaluate domestic (US) routes on American Airlines as the use case, and what we found was one major pro and one major con.
- The Pro: You’ll be able to obtain roundtrip domestic tickets for as low as 25,000 miles-the same number of miles it would cost you through AA (MileSaaver Fares). Since AA miles are valued at around $0.0136, that represents more than a 3x improvement over BA miles used for BA economy tickets.
- The Con: In a word, availability. In my test, I was trying to book a full 2 months out, and was unable to get my desired dates. I needed to settle for somewhat different dates. Note that my exact dates were available as reward flights through AA directly, just not through BA, which of course means BA is only getting a limited number of award seats.
Some Final Words on the Value of BA Miles
If you typically only fly Economy class, trying to earn miles on BA (via a British Airways credit card, for example) is not a recipe for inner peace-given the extremely painful fuel surcharges that reduce the value of the BA miles to a pittance. However, if you normally would fly First Class, or typically upgrade, then pursuing a BA miles accumulation strategy may make sense. In fact, at a value of $0.04 per mile for upgrades from Econonmy to Premium Economy, you are well ahead of the performance of any cashback card.
Also, while you do have the option of trying to book an award ticket through a British Air partner airline (at typically much better value per BA point), availability is a real issue (which technically should decrease the value of BA points by some factor when used in this fashion).