You’ve probably heard by now that through July 5th, you’ll get a 35% bonus on transfers to Avios from certain hotel programs. You can see more details here The most lucrative option by far is transfer from SPG. That’s because for every 20,000 points you will get 33,750 Avios. Not too shabby, but should you bite? It really depends.
I speculatively value SPG point between 1.5 and 1.75 cents, probably closer to the second number due to recent addition of Virgin America partnership. I also value Avios at about 1 cent each. So, by that logic, I would be getting 1.69 cents in value out of each SPG point (33,750 divided by 20,000). That’s not a bad return, all things considered.
Too risky for my taste
However, I won’t be taking advantage of this promotion. The main reason: terrible sAAver award availability on AAdvantage. What does American Airlines frequent flyer program have to do with Avios? Well, if you are a regular American family, that’s probably why you collect Avios in the first place. I’ve written a post on some of the quirks of the program (good and bad) as well as best uses.
Once upon a time, Avios was the best thing since sliced bread. Award availability on its partner, American Airlines was fairly good, and some made out like bandits by redeeming only 4,500 Avios on certain routes. But things have changed, and not for the better. First negative development is elimination of 4,500 Avios route as long as your flight departs or ends in America.
But it wouldn’t be so bad if there was decent award availability in AAdvantage program itself. After all, paying 7,500 Avios on many non-stop routes is still preferable to 12,500 AA miles. There is no close-in booking fee and you can cancel and redeposit miles while losing only what you paid in taxes (usually $5 on domestic routes).
However, availability is horrendous on many routes. I was recently trying to find four sAAver award tickets from Orlando to New York next May, and there was barely anything there. Sure, there were few dates that had connecting flights, but those would run at 15,000 Avios since the program charges per segment.
This isn’t even an expensive route because there is a ton of competition and you can regularly find one-way tickets for $100 or less. Yet, AAdvantage is so stingy, they won’t release sAAver award seats. Instead, they want me to pay 20,000 AAdvantage miles (huh?) one-way. Since it’s standard level, those seats are not available via Avios program, its partner. I’ve heard people say the same thing about Toronto-New York rote and many others.
My husband has 500 Avios, and I thought about transferring a little over 5,000 SPG points due to this promo. It would give me 7,500 Avios for one-way redemption from Orlando to New York. The date isn’t yet loaded in the system, so it would be a speculative move. But after seeing how terrible AA award availability is in the month of May, I’m not gonna bother. I have a feeling I’ll be stuck with that 7,500 Avios if I do.
It is almost impossible to find four sAAver tickets to/from Europe during summer months. There are few decent options, but I’ve noticed that saver availability (30,000 miles one-way in economy) has really dried up on American as well as most partners. Well, unless you don’t mind paying $500 surcharge on British Airways. An insult, since we regularly see roundtrip revenue fares for less than $500, no miles required.
US Airways frequent flyer program is gone, or is it?
Dan at Dansdeals did an experiment trying to see how award availability via AAdvantage compares to other programs. The results were eye-opening. On many routes, American is dead last and has very few sAAver award seats available. Basically, the merger with US Airways has repackaged Dividend Miles program (with all its stinginess) and called it AAdvantage.
There is nothing AAdvantageous about it, I can tell you that. If you are a family looking to fly in high season and need four or more award seats on the same flight, good luck! And of course, by extension, it applies to Avios program as well. That’s because unless there is sAAver award bookable through AAdvantage, you won’t be able to utilize British Airways program for your family vacation.
Can you still get to Hawaii via Avios program?
Of course, it does depend on where you want to go. Some flights will have more award availability, some less, so always do your own research. I decided to check LAX-Maui route because it costs 12,500 Avios one-way. Here is what I found on American during March of 2017, assuming you need four economy seats:
Not great, but not horrible, considering it’s Spring Break season. Of course, coming back from Maui to LAX was another story. I only found four sAAver seats on March 22nd, and that’s it. There was no availability in April when I checked.
The sAAver price you see on AAdvantage is 22,500, but it costs 12,500 Avios for the same exact route as long as it’s a non-stop flight from LAX to Maui. Avios are also redeemable on Alaska Air, which has a decent coverage to Hawaii from West coast, though availability is problematic on some routes (read this post to see various award options to Hawaii). If you have three in the family, you only need to transfer 23,500 SPG points in order to get three one-way tickets to Hawaii.
Of course, the biggest issue here is that transfers are not instant. It can take a week or more to get your Avios miles. Will the award seats still be there? That’s a million dollar question. Even though there is currently no special promotion on transfers to Virgin America, it could be a “bird in a hand” when it comes to Hawaii flights.
Transfers take less than a day to go through, and program is revenue-based, plus, you have an option to redeem miles on Hawaiian Airlines.
Who should consider SPG/Avios transfer
As it goes with most things in this hobby, the value of this promo is highly circumstantial. It may be a good speculative move for your family if:
1) You plan to redeem Avios outside of North America. If you can take advantage of 4,500 Avios or even 7,500 Avios route, those can certainly make for a great deal. I wrote about flying from Munich to Naples for 4,500 Avios plus modest tax during our last trip to Europe. That redemption is still available.
I found that it’s fairly easy to find four award seats on routes within Europe on Air Berlin, Iberia, Birtish Airways etc, and fuel surcharges are minimal or non-existent. You can take advantage of this “sweet spot” redemptions within South America. If you are going to Australia, you also have many options on Qantas, Avios One World partner.
2) You plan to transfer Avios to Iberia program on 1:1 basis. You do have to get Iberia membership three months prior, and there has to be some activity in account in order to perform the transfer. Usually, transferring 1,000 Membership Rewards or SPG points will do the trick.
It can be a good way to squeeze decent value out of British Airways Avios, while avoiding huge surcharges. Many routes from US to Madrid will cost you extra $80 one-way in economy and $90 in business class, peanuts compared to British Airways ridiculous surcharge. Be aware, Iberia has various pricing on routes according to season, it’s NOT the same as traditional Avios program via British Airways. That said, availability is fairly decent which is a big deal for family of four or more.
Also, note that the tax amount for Iberia award flights shown on ba.com does not match what Iberia charges via its own website. Confused? Here is a guide on how to transfer Avios from BA program to Iberia. There is also a post on some strategic uses of Iberia program when it comes to itineraries within USA. Be aware, you’ll still have to find sAAver availability via AAdvantage in order to take advantage of its partnership with American. I don’t want to make your head spin, but it is an option worth investigating for some.
Short version: For most families it’s a good option if you are looking to fly to Madrid in the spring or fall and want to splurge on business class when it comes to one or two seats.
3) You have a lot of flexibility on dates and only need one or two tickets majority of the time. If you have in-laws or parents who are retired, you will usually find availability as long as you are not too picky. Recently I was able to find one sAAver ticket from Tampa to Portland, Oregon for my sister-in-law at a cost of 25,000 AAdvantage miles roundtrip. There was decent availability, but the flight is in October, which is off-season. If I chose to use BA program, it would have cost me 30,000 Avios, not a terrible premium, especially if you take advantage of this bonus on transfers.
Only you can decide if this bonus is exciting enough to pull the trigger and part with your SPG stash. It can certainly make sense for some families. Alternatively, you can consider applying for Chase British Airways Visa Signature card and saving your SPG points for something else. The card pays me commission and you can read about it here As of now, it’s not subject to 5/24 Chase rule, but that can change in a near future.
There is no question that Avios program still offers value to many regular American families, but you will have to work harder in order to make it work for you. You can thank AAdvantage and Doug Parker for that.
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Leana is the owner and founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.