Understanding British Airways miles (avios), tier points and the magic American Express voucher

If you read this blog often, or know me personally, there is no hiding that I am a huge fan of British Airways and its Executive Club programme. Before I moved to the UK, I used to be with Star Alliance, but even before I moved, I realised that the One World programme worked much better for me.

So over the past few years, I have ‘converted’ many friends. And more and more, I get questions from readers asking how it works. It is quite simple, to be honest, but you need to understand a few things. So I thought I would explain things (from my personal perspective).

The BA Club World seat before it turns into a flat bed

The BA Club World seat before it turns into a flat-bed

 

Executive Club – aka the frequent flyer programme

The first thing you need to do is get yourself a BA Executive Club (EC) card. You can get one on BA’s website and it is, of course, free. As you fly more, you start collecting two different things: Avios (aka air miles) and Tier Points (which lead to status on the programme).

 

What are Avios (miles)?

Avios (0r miles) will be your currency, so to speak, which you can subsequently use for get flights on any class, or upgrades. These are very valuable as you can imagine. Every time you fly, you get Avios based on your class of travel. If you have status (e.g. if you are a Bronze, Silver or Gold card holder), you get additional miles based on your status.

As an example, you need 15,000 avios (+tax) to book a return trip to Europe in economy (Euro Traveller) and 30,000 avios (+tax) to book a return trip in business class (Club Europe). You can also buy an economy ticket and upgrade to business class for 15,000 avios (but be warned as it depends on the fare you bought). I only use these when the fares are really high, because you can sometimes upgrade an economy ticket for £159 after you buy it on BA’s website, when flight loads are light.

On long haul, is where things start to get interesting. Despite which class you book, you are always allowed to upgrade one level up. So, if you buy can economy (world traveller) ticket, you can use your miles to upgrade to premium economy (world traveller plus). If you buy premium economy, you can upgrade to business class (club world) and if you buy business class, you can upgrade to first, aka heaven.

A return trip to the US costs 50,000 avios in economy, 75,000 in premium economy, 100,000 in business class and 150,000 in first plus tax. The upgrade cost is the difference is the fare, i.e. 25,000 to jump one class return (except from club to first, where the cost is 50,000). There are variations on other regions – e.g. to Asia it costs more, but you can check out all the details on the website.

A word on tax: for some reason, it is eye-watering expensive on long haul flights – not just the UK landing charges, but plenty of fuel and other extras. Be prepared to pay £500 in club/first. For that reason, I don’t find it very worthwhile redeeming miles on lower classes – making a lot more financial sense to use them in higher classes. I don’t like the tax, but there is nothing I can do about it – so in my mind, I am paying £500 for a club or first class trip to the US and it is not a bad deal (a real ticket would cost £2500-7500).

 

What are tier points?

The BA First Check-In area at LHR

The BA First Check-In area at London Heathrow T5

Many frequent flyer programmes are based on the miles you fly – and if you reach x or y, you will get status. Status means some recognition from the airline to passengers who frequently choose to fly with them. On the Executive Club programme, you have 4 tiers (to keep things simple, let’s not talk about the secret upper tiers):

– Blue (basic, no real benefits)

– Bronze – once you collect 300 tier points in your BA calendar year – you get to check-in in business class (despite the class you travel) and priority boarding.

– Silver – once you collect 600 tier points in your BA calendar year – check-in in business class, priority boarding, fast track, lounge access and an extra piece of luggage on any flight (for you and a guest, sweet). You also get pre-selection of seats, but not first rows, which is a Gold benefit.

– Gold – once you collect 1500 tier points in your BA calendar year – check-in in first class, priority boarding, fast track, First lounge access (different lounges from business class), extra luggage on any flight, more reward seats available when you use your miles (in economy only for some strange reason) and pre-selection of seats.

Differences between the tiers

Differences between the tiers

And how do you progress on those tiers? Well, it depends on the flights you take. Rule of thumb: a economy return flight within Europe will give you 20 tier points, where as a business class trip will give you 80 tier points. I recently discovered that destinations like Greece, Cyprus and Turkey give you double (e.g. 160 tier points on business class).

A premium economy ticket to the US or the Middle East, for example, will give you 180 tier points, where as business class will give you 280 tier points. So you just need to do the math. With 2 premium economy tickets to the US and a couple European flights, you are silver.

Also worth noting that when you reach a tier, it is valid for the rest of your ‘calendar year’ if you are halfway through your year (now counted from your membership start date) and the following 12 months.  And then you are welcomed into a very special club that speaks in code: people start asking you questions like ‘when does your year end?’. You see people fretting about ‘how many tier points til gold and only two months left’. Why? Because you only keep your status for your calendar year – so once you start your year, you need to start working towards the next one. It is a fun game to play.

 

Household Accounts

You can also do something quite nice now, which is to combine your miles with your partner and family by setting up a household account. Your status and avios will always be yours (personally), but if both (or more people) give permission, you can pool your points together and spend them together. I have been known for nicking some points from Mr. O’s account, but he never notices. Because he does the same to me all the time.

 

Boosting your points with the BA American Express Card

Just for fun, you can get a lot of avios, by signing up to the BA American Express Card. Avios obviously get you opportunities to upgrade and that is why it is worth it. Nothing wrong with having your Avios account only on 6-figures. I do get nervous when ours are not.

A lovely big mamma!

A lovely big mamma!

You have 2 different cards – the normal one (BA Amex, which is blue and has no annual fee) and the platinum one (BA Amex Premium Plus Card, which is black and costs nothing on the first year but then costs £150 per year). The difference is the miles you get per £1 spent and also the amount you need to spend to get the magic Amex Companion Voucher.

Yes, the magic Voucher. When you spend £20,000 (on the blue card) or £10,000 (on the black card), you are given a free companion voucher per calendar year (a bummer, should be per x spent no matter what), which can bring lots of lovely trips your way. It means that 2 people can travel on any BA operated flight (return), on any class, anywhere (subject to availability, of course), for the cost of 1 (in terms of Avios).

Personally, I never use it on European trips, it is not really worth it. But for 150,000 avios, Mr. O and I can fly to Los Angeles (for example) in First, and pay the £500 tax each. The cost of those tickets would be over £10,000, so it is a real benefit, and worth it.

 

So here you go. I hope this helps clarifying some questions you may have about the programme, and the card(s). I am a proud BA Gold and Amex cardholder – life without those two, would never be the same.

Happy travels!

xo

Mrs. O

 

59 Comments

  1. Philip D /

    Hi Anna, excellent blog!

    I am currently silver with Delta but since their move from awarding actual miles to revenue based miles (miles are drastically cut!) I have been looking at moving over to BA Exec Club.

    I have a question and apologise if this is obvious, but when we accrue tier points and avios, say I reach bronze with 310 points, happy days…. BUT, then I upgrade on a flight using avios… Will spending avios pull me back down to Blue status? I guess my question is, once I have reached my Bronze or Silver tier, do I get to keep my status even if I spend my avios on upgrades…. Or do I need to make sure that I always maintain a certain number of avios to maintain my Bronze / Silver status?

    Many thanks for providing some clarity!

    Philip

    • Philip, hi! It’s the tier points that give you status, you can spend all the miles anytime! Tier points reset every BA year

      • Philip D /

        Great! Looks like moving to BA Exec Club is a good idea, I travel to the US west coast three times a year (and see some pretty good deals in WT+) and various trips within Europe so it’s looking like an attractive FF program!

        Many thanks,

        Philip

  2. Hi loved the post. Just one question I’m currently bronze member and have 400 tier points what happens if I cant get to 600 do i stay in bronze or do i go back to silver?

    xx Kassi

  3. Hi Anna,

    Thank you for this post. I have a quick question for you! My tier point collection year ends on the 8th of December. I am a few points away from reaching Silver. I am planning to go to India in the end of December, but hoping to buy my tickets in late November of this year.

    Do you know if I will still receive the Tier points if I fly after the collection year ends?

    Thank you!

    • Hi! You will receive them after you fly, and on the new BA year which starts on 8th December. May be worth doing a quick short haul flight in club for 80 tier points?

  4. Hi, Do you know if you purchase a Club World ticket with abios you still get the allocated tier points?

    Thanks!

  5. alicia /

    I am a Blue member. My Lifetime Tier Points are 400. I understand that to become a Bronze member I need 300 tier points. (www.britishairways.com/en-gb/executive-club/tiers-and-benefits/about-tier-points) but I didn’t get my upgrade… Why it doesn’t show me the upgrade to Bronze? What do I need to do to get my Bronze membership? I find it very unclear and confusing. Please can you advise? Thanks

    • It is not lifetime tier points that give you status, it is the normal tier points, which are counted each year and reset each time your calendar year comes to an end. Lifetime tier points is just a sum of all your historic tier points which give an indication of customer value to BA. When does your year start? It says that clearly on your EC account.

  6. Hi, I have a BA Bronze account with a household amount of 2 million. I received the BA credit card recently and it seemed to go into the family pool instead of my personal avios, do you know why this is?

    • I think it goes into the main cardholder. Do you want to check your individual account? Can’t think of anything else, I am afraid. But obviously, you can access all points! 2 million? Uber jealous!!

  7. Thank you so much for this post! Question for you, I am flying to LHR from the US and although CW still has plenty of physical availability (checked both with BA on the phone and using the KVS tool and shows about 13 seats) there has been no upgrades available from WTP to CW!! I have been checking almost every day since I booked the tickets back in February (I know it sounds ridiculous but I want to treat my girlfriend to CW as she has never experienced it before)!! BA Exec keeps telling me that “seats usually open up close to the departure” which is now only 10 days away! What is your take on this is it true that seats only open up last minute for upgrades anything I can do?? I find it hard to believe that there are no “award seats” until next January!!

    • Niko, from my experience, the window is 48h-24h before the departure as it is the cutoff date for people who are holding those limited seats to cancel and be able to get a full refund. What I do, in those occasions is check day and night, call them 20 times a day and then sometimes magic happens. 2 days before is the one. NYC and Boston are good routes in my experience – West Coast is a pain, too much demand.

  8. Lyn Revell /

    Works well must of the time but when you book your outbound flight and are told to call back on a certain day as this is when they release upgradable seats to return home and 2 weeks later they still haven’t done it it’ gets beyond a joke . I’m panicking now

  9. Mmmm this post has got me thinking. I’ve always been a Virgin Atlantic gal as we love the US and Caribbean. BUT this has got me pondering. We have a Virgin Atlantic AMEX and VISA to maximise the miles but have never been able to use the companion tickets for one reason or another. Actually thought maybe they’re just a gimmick. Reading this post and the comments it looks like people are actually using the BA companion tickets. Going to think about a change. Thanks.

  10. Sarah /

    Hi Ana,
    Joined BA executive club last year and I love it. In St Lucia at present, flew first class here to get us to silver for when we are back. Your blog has explained so much to me… I am only 2k away from getting the amex companion voucher and we had thought about using it to go to Sydney in April (for a wedding) in first class….paying outright for one first class ticket… But it looks like you MUST use your avois for other ticket (can you confirm?)… Which means we probably won’t have enough (have 150,000). Can I also ask do you earn avois points on flights booked with companion vouchers or full avois points? And do you earn tier points on these too? Or am I just being greedy now…… I got my parents to join the executive club and they had no problems upgrading from WTP to CW to Bermuda using avois. They are thrilled and like me wonder why they never joined this years ago. Thanks….

    • Hi Sarah, basically with the companion ticket, you will be able to buy two tickets for the price of one, in terms of Avios. So if is costs 150,000 Avios for a ticket to Oz (I think it is more like 200k or even more), you just need the equivalent of 1 person’s worth and you will be able to book two. When you have received your voucher (which is electronic), your EC tab looks different and basically there is a place you click to redeem it – may sound complicated but it is actually very straightforward – then the system calculates the number of Avios for 1 and charges you the tax for 2. BUT you may need to be aware of availability and I believe Sydney is a pain. Note that the voucher is only valid on BA operated flights. No avios or tier points on redemptions, which is fair as obviously you are not paying for the ticket. You can all pool your miles via a household account (with your parents) in case you are short. You take this time, they take next time. Hope this is helpful and many trips are on the horizon!

  11. Silly question Anna but do you earn tier points when using the 241 companion tickets? x
    Kelly recently posted..Krakow, PolandMy Profile

    • You don’t earn tier points – any redemptions are miles and tier points free. Only when you pay for a ticket you get the benefits.

  12. Rachel /

    Great post. I love BA.
    A couple of corrections on the Amex Card: The black Amex-BA card has an annual fee of £150, not £125 and is called the American Express British Airways Premium Plus Card (not platinum plus – a small detail but avoids confusion with the American Express Platinum Card which is something completely different).

  13. Thank you so, so much for simplifying the whole Avios points thing. I’ve been trying to get my head around this for so long. I’ve bookmarked this to come back to and research more as soon as I’m home!
    Monica recently posted..First impressions from DominicaMy Profile

  14. Philip T /

    Hi. Thank you for the blog. I agree it’s an awesome program. However, as a silver member and fast approaching gold, I contest the ease of upgrade.
    I have flown 6 long haul flights in 2 weeks, over 40,000 real miles, and I have not been able to upgrade from premium economy on a single leg.
    I watch the empty first and business seats take off, wondering why I have several hundred thousand avoid miles. I called BA between 5 and 10 times to try and upgrade.
    Perhaps someone could clarify what I am doing wrong.
    Thanks

    • I understand what you mean, Philip – and how frustrating that is. And how different it seems to be from say US based airlines – and their last minute upgrade requests (have you noticed? Upgrade on stand-by depending on status and availability). It has happened to me countless times. I have noticed there seems to be a window 48-24h before departure which is the cutoff time for ppl to cancel their seats and get their Avios back and I have been lucky on quite a few occasions. And yes, it takes calling 20 times. On some occasions I know they release some extra avios seats prior to departure – but I have no idea when or why. Obviously trying to sell seats which is BA or any airline’s business – no doubt about that and totally understandable. But sometimes they do go empty and surely there would be a lot of loyal passengers wanting to use their miles. A tough one.

      I wonder which routes you fly? Some are notoriously worse than others. I used to be able to do LA without a problem – I have been looking now for 12 months ahead and see nothing..

  15. Jenny Reeves /

    What a useful, comprehensive post. Even as an employee, I don’t really understand the first thing about our complex loyalty schemes, except what I have learned from you! (I should caveat that with “I don’t work in the Commercial area” even though that’s not much of an excuse!) That’s because we have a superb standby arrangement (as staff) but does not allow the collection of any miles or tier points whatsoever, (obvs!)
    Anyway, what your post has done, is to make me look at how much standby travel I use versus the benefits accrued on commercial tickets- and I’ve already booked commercial to go to Finca Cortesin in June! (Can’t afford to be offloaded on that -right?!)
    So thank you for bringing a new dimension to my knowledge from the Customer Experience of purchasing; and I’ll let you know when I get to “Bronze”!!!

    • I am very very pleased this was useful for you, Jenny! And no, cannot risk stand by when you go to Finca Cortesin. You will absolutely love it!!

  16. Alison /

    Hi Mrs O, fab post as always! Husband and I are using our companion tkt next week to go to hkg in first on the 380!!! We can’t wait

  17. Love the free companion seat – we qualify every year!
    Didn’t know about the Amex Black card though so thanks for the tip…
    Suzanne (Travelbunny) recently posted..Food from the Tuscan TableMy Profile

    • My pleasure! The black card is worth it as you earn more avios per £ spent (especially on ba.com purchases) and well, xmas comes earlier!

  18. Destinations like Greece give you 160 tier points on business class?

    Cr*p! Should have joined the Executive Club programme before I bought those BA biz class flights to Athens for TBEX!

  19. Eek! Am driving all the way to Belgium from Scotland soon. But I will recommend this to my Mum as she is a frequent BA flyer. :)
    WhatKateMadeNext recently posted..The best chip shop in ScotlandMy Profile

  20. I’m a huge fan of BA for long haul and Avios program. There is great value to be had in the plan with an easy to use online booking and upgrade portal.

    For your US readers, the BA branded credit card is the Chase BA Visa. It provides similar benefits to the UK Amex with Avios per $ spent and the Travel Together (Magic Voucher) ticket (2 for 1) after $30k in annual spend. I am using this voucher for a long haul trip US to Paris – the coach tickets were $5,200 cash – I saved $3k using the voucher, points, pay the high taxes we are flying business class instead of coach!

    An added bonus is the distance based award chart in the US on partner USAirways/American if your readers are looking to use Avios for those flights. Whereas, US/AA may charge 25k for a domestic US flight, Avios charges vary 9k, 15k and 25k for US domestic.
    Suzanne recently posted..FriFotos – Landscapes of the South Island New ZealandMy Profile

    • That is really interesting Suzanne! I did redeem some avios for the first time the other day on AA and thought it was quite expensive. We paid 75k avios for 2 one-way seats from JFK-SFO in business with AA. A return would be 75k per person, mad! But this is very useful information, thank you!

  21. the hubs and i have never been good at maintaining airline status, so this is our #1 priority once we relocate to london. sending this to him right now so he can study up! xo
    the lazy travelers recently posted..city dwellers: new york’s midtownMy Profile

  22. Anthony /

    It may also be worth noting that to use miles to upgrade out of economy you do need to be in a certain type of fare specifically Y,B,H selling classes. And those avios seats have to be available too which can be tricky. Failing that you can always redeem them in hotels or car hire!

    • Persistance and planning! I only realised the economy restriction the other day on an European flight (and was very surprised, but it was actually cheaper just to pay for the upgrade, get the tier points and use no avios). I wasn’t aware of that restriction on long haul, but then again, I never buy economy tickets – I prefer to buy WTP and upgrade to Club.

  23. Fab post!!! I wish I was in that “club” and not the Star Alliance….but for me residing in Germany I am unable profit from the BA sweetness!
    Malin recently posted..Comment on Decoration de Waroux by Net CurtainsMy Profile

    • Longhaul you can – there is no reason why not. I have friends living in Germany and in Switzerland and they just connect in London when they go abroad (obviously not to France or anywhere in Europe).

  24. Alexis /

    You mentioned that “when you reach a tier, your year resets”. I think that used to be the case years ago but isn’t now. Your membership/colleciton year is always the same from when you join. Your tier points also only reset to zero at the end of a membership year and do not reset at any time during the year even if you hit one or more new tiers. If you get say 600 tier points half way through your membership year you become a silver card holder for the rest of that year, and also the next full membership year.

    • I know I know. Having re-read what I wrote you are absolutely right. I am going to make a slight edit and do let me know what you think. My year is now always 8th November. I know the date and everything.

  25. Thanks so much Anna for spelling it out so clearly for me here. We already have the Avios Household account but only a basic BA Amex so will look to upgrade to the Premium one.

    If I understand correctly, the 2 for 1 voucher works only if you buy the first ticket using your Avios, right ? If you don’t have enough Avios for your chosen journey, can you then do Avios + money and still get the 241?
    Stephanie recently posted..Spotted- Anemi hotel in Folegandros, GreeceMy Profile

    • No, you need to buy the 2 tickets at once. When you have a voucher to use, it is clearly displayed in your Executive Club profile, so you choose 2 passengers, the destination and then you pay the equivalent of 1 passenger (but taxes for both). So if you want to go to the US in club, you need to have 100,000 avios in our account (household), instead of 200,000.

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