Monday, February 17, 2014

How to get select Canada to U.S. award flights faster by utilizing British Airways' Executive Club


In 2011 British Airways Executive Club went through some drastic changes that primarily revolved around moving to a distance based award flight structure versus a set reward chart. This proved to be both a good and a bad change. The good was that some redemptions became cheaper but others went up drastically. The bad changes were most evident as one of the program changes was that connections were priced separately at their distance based values. That means to make the most of the Executive Club program you'll typically want to redeem for direct non-stop flights where possible (this does not mean there aren't any good values in connecting flights on some long haul routes)

This post looks at one of the best things to come out of the Executive Club award changes and those are some of the amazing redemptions available on award flights out of Canada to the U.S. You've heard us tout the Toronto-New York award of only 9,000 Avios round trip many times but truth is there are a lot more of those 9,000 Avios redemptions available out of Canada and even some decent offers at the 15,000 and 20,000 level where competing programs require 25,000 miles. Unfortunately this changed in 2016 when, only in North America, the 9,000 Avios round trip option was increased to 15,000. Still a good redemption but not the star it used to be! Now the star is the second set of 15,000 mile options listed below!

First let's look at some of the best ways to earn Avios for Canadians. Of course travel is best, flights on British Airways, American Airlines and many other oneworld airlines, hotel stays, car rentals and more but for most Canadians however who aren't frequent travellers the best way is with credit card spend. There are a few cards in Canada that you can earn Avios with:
American Express Gold Rewards Card (C$1 = 1 - 2 Avios)
The Platinum Card from American Express (C$1 = 1.25 Avios)
Diners Club Club Rewards MasterCard (C$1 = 0.80 Avios)
Marriott Rewards Premier Visa (C$1 = 0.20 - 0.35 Avios)
Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express (C$1 = 1 Avios)
RBC British Airways Visa Infinite (C$1 = 1 Avios)
RBC Visa Platinum Avion/Business Avion/Infinite Avion (C$1 = 1 - 1.25 Avios)
Source: Airlines & Hotels that you can earn miles or points with Canadian Credit Cards
The best of the bunch being the American Express Gold Rewards Card which earns up to 2 Avios per dollar spent (2 points per dollar on Gas, Grocery, Drug Store and Travel purchases. 1 Point per dollar on all other eligible spend and all points convert 1:1 to Avios) and is closely followed by the RBC Visa Infinite Avion (best to convert RBC Rewards points during the twice a year 50% bonus offer) the RBC British Airways Visa Infinite Card and the Starwood Preferred Guest Card from American Express (which is best to convert at 20,000 Starpoints increments to take advantage of the 5,000 bonus Avios awarded at that level)

Finally you can also join Iberia's Plus program whose currency is also Avios. You can transfer Avios between British Airways Executive Club and Iberia Plus as long as you've had both accounts open for at least three months. There are also other Avios earning opportunities via Avios itself (This was Air Miles UK which was rebranded) as it is a coalition program like our own Air Miles but really it is only useful if you travel lots to the UK and can make use of U.K. retailers.

Now let's get on to those great good Avios economy class redemptions from Canada to the U.S. !

15,000 Avios Round Trip Award Flights (30,000 in Business Class) - These are the ones that used to be 9,000 Round Trip (18,000 in Biz Class)
Calgary - Seattle (on Alaska Airlines)
Edmonton - Seattle (on Alaska Airlines)
Kelowna - Seattle (on Alaska Airlines)
Montreal - New York (on American Airlines)
Montreal - Philadelphia (on US Airways)
Montreal - Washington D.C. (on US Airways)
Ottawa - Philadelphia (on US Airways)
Quebec City - Philadelphia (on US Airways)
Toronto - Charlotte (on US Airways)
Toronto - Chicago (on American Airlines)
Toronto - New York (on American Airlines or TAM)
Toronto - Philadelphia (on US Airways)
Toronto - Washington D.C. (on US Airways)
Vancouver - Seattle  (on Alaska Airlines)
Vancouver - Portland (on Alaska Airlines)
Victoria - Seattle (on Alaska Airlines)

Why are these 15,000 Avios Rewards so good? Well looking at it from  a credit card spend stand point you can get any of the above flights for as little as $7,500 in spend (all 2x spend on the Amex Gold) which is the same as Aeroplan which needs $7,500 in spend on the same card (or more on other Aeroplan cards: at least $10,000) and even more spend if you look at some of the US frequent flyer programs.  The same goes for business class on these routes: 30,000 Avios is the same as what Aeroplan offers. Where Aeroplan stands to be better is if you need to connect within a short haul region as Executive Club will price out each leg at 7,500 Avios. A good example is Edmonton to Portland, Aeroplan remains at 15,000 miles even with a connection in Vancouver while the Executive Club amount would be 30,000 Avios. Some things to note, if you want to redeem on Alaska Airlines you have to call Executive Club whereas the American Airlines flights can be booked online.

15,000 Avios Round Trip Award Flights (30,000 in Business Class)
Halifax - Philadelphia (on US Airways)
Halifax - Washington D.C. (on US Airways)
Montreal - Charlotte (on US Airways)
Montreal - Chicago (on American Airlines)
Ottawa - Charlotte (on US Airways)
Vancouver - Los Angeles (on Alaska Airlines)

Why are these 15,000 Avios Rewards so good? Well looking at it once again from a credit card spend stand point you can get any of the above flights for as little as $7,500 in spend (all 2x spend on the Amex Gold) compare this to Aeroplan which needs $12,500 in spend on the same card for the YVR-LAX route and even more spend on other Aeroplan credit cards or when using miles from a U.S. frequent flyer program. For business class on the YVR-LAX route you are looking at 30,000 Avios versus 50,000 Aeroplan Miles. You can even come out ahead on some connections on these routes that are priced at the 9,000 Avios level (ie YVR-LAX-SAN) as that will come in at 24,000 Avios versus 25,000 miles in most other programs.

20,000 Avios Round Trip Award Flights (40,000 in Business Class)
Calgary - Dallas (on American Airlines)
Calgary - Phoenix (on US Airways)
Edmonton - Dallas (on American Airlines)
Edmonton - Phoenix (on US Airways)
Montreal - Dallas (on American Airlines)
Montreal - Miami (on American Airlines)
Toronto - Dallas (on American Airlines)
Toronto - Miami (on American Airlines)
Vancouver - Dallas (on American Airlines)
Vancouver - Phoenix (on US Airways)

Just like the above example these 20,000 Avios Rewards are still a good deal when you look at it from a credit card spend stand point. You can get any of the above flights for as little as $10,000 in spend (all 2x spend on the Amex Gold) Compare this to Aeroplan which needs $12,500 in spend on the same card and even more spend on other Aeroplan credit cards (at least $16,667)  Likewise you are looking at using more miles when redeeming from other US frequent flyer programs. The same goes for business class on these two routes: 40,000 Avios versus 50,000 Aeroplan Miles or other frequent flyer program miles.

In conclusion you can see that for select routes out of Canada to the U.S. your best and fastest way to free* travel is via the British Airways Executive Club program. If using a credit card is your primary way to earn miles and these redemptions appeal to you we recommend jumping on the American Express Gold Rewards Card and the RBC Visa Infinite Avion to get you on these flights as soon as possible. By combining spend via these two cards you are sure to get to an award flight in no time! In fact if you have neither card you'll get 25,000 Welcome Points with the Amex Gold Rewards Card and 15,000 RBC Rewards Points with the RBC Visa Infinite Avion card which means you'll already have enough points to get 2 flights to either Dallas or Miami!

* of course taxes and fees are not included but you could always utilize the TripFlex feature on the American Express Gold Rewards Card to pay for those!


  1. With US Airways joining oneworld at the end March, there's gonna be even more opportunities to redeem avios in North America!

    For 9,000 avios roundtrip, here's what you will be able to fly: YYZ-CLT/DCA/PHL, YUL-DCA/PHL, YOW-PHL and YQB-PHL. For 15,000 avios: YHZ-DCA/PHL, YUL-CLT and YOW-CLT. And for 20,000 avios: YVR-PHX.

  2. Borderfreetravel.comFebruary 12, 2014 at 5:32 PM

    Great article as usual!
    We have found the taxes to be significantly less if you are close to a US city to fly out of it.
    Detroit and Buffalo are cheaper options than Toronto for instance.

  3. Yes indeed more options coming soon! I was planning on updating the post when the US Airways partnership goes live! Thanks for posting all the routes, it will make the update easier. In addition to those you list YYC-PHX and YEG-PHX will also be included

  4. Definitely for those who live close to the border but the taxes aren't even that bad out of YYZ. For example the YYZ-JFK award is around $60. Best to weigh out the costs and time involved to see what works better for each individual

  5. I made the jump from Aeroplan to Avios. Now the fun part is waiting to transfer the points.

    I had a little fun a while back:

    You will see the savings in taxes.

    It isn't as accurate as my newer version that I posted on RFD.

  6. 9000 Avios also include YYZ-LGA, and weird one I've used YKF-ORD (Kitchener-Chicago)

    Can't wait for US Airways to join to fly YYZ-DCA/CLT/PHL

    Other Tips
    - book a RT as TWO one-ways instead, easier to change
    - I believe you can cancel up to 24 hours before flight, for full refund of Avios and you only lose out tax. One should cancel and re-book instead of paying $40 change fee
    - taxes/fees are usually more for ex-Canada e.g. 4500 Avios + $60 for YYZ-LGA, while LGA-YYZ is only 4500 Avios + $5?
    - Infant is 10% of miles

  7. British Airways is now partnering with e-rewards, which actually makes it is worthwhile again to do the surveys. For whatever reason, the Avios rewards are much cheaper than the other airlines ($12 = 250 avios; $20 = 500; $25 = 750; $50 = 1500; $100 = 3000 compared to $25 = 500 miles; $50 = 1000 miles; $100 = 2000 miles). So when you couple that with the short haul cheap awards of 4500 each way, you can really score with the surveys right now. It's also easy to top up accounts because you can redeem for as little as $12 in e-rewards points.

  8. Oh, another note: the YEG --> SEA and some of the other Horizon Air routes don't have business class.

  9. RBC British Airways Visa gives you a two-for-one flight voucher good for two years after reaching $30,000 in spending in a calendar year. I confirmed the voucher can be used for a flight that includes a multi-day stop over. The example I gave to British Airways Executive Club was a flight Toronto to Amsterdam return with a 5 day stop-over in London on the outbound leg. While a single Toronto-London return would have been 40,000 Avios, the continuation to Amsterdam only required another 9,000 Avios. So after spending $30,000, you can get two tickets for 49,000 Avios. Yes the taxes/fees are steep--around $650 per ticket, but still a pretty good deal.

  10. Definitely a good deal! This is one of those examples where I mentioned " (this does not mean there aren't any good values in connecting flights on some long haul routes)"

  11. Yes this also good to note, especially for those of us out West flying on the old Horizon routes. Not as much of a worry down east.

  12. Thanks Deb for passing this along, just double checked this and sure enough the option is there for me as well. Might have to switch from depositing to Hilton over to Avios!

  13. No problem. It doesn't show up on everyone's e-rewards account, but for those that can get Avios transfers, it can be quite lucrative.

  14. Just provide a comparison between Aeroplan and Avios I recently made a booking to LHR out of JFK with 45000 aeroplan miles in business class. The charges were $55 and zero to preselect seats. This was with Brussels Airlines via BRU. My return portion from DUB cost 44000 Avios plus $364 for business class and would require $220 to preselect seats. Makes you wonder

  15. Can you explain how to book the Alaska Airlines routes? Do I need to join their FF program? These routes do not show up via the BA booking system... Thanks

  16. HI Perry

    You don't have to join Alaska's program. To get the Alaska flights via BA you have to call into Executive Club (BA's online system doesn't offer Alaska flights)

  17. Interesting there's no 25K Avios RT options? e.g. YYZ-LAX on AA is a good one I use
    YVR-JFK on CX is a hidden gem at 25K RT or 50K in Business (Reverse herringbone!!)

  18. The reason for no 25K is that they don't fit under the title of 'getting flights faster using BA' since 25K is the norm for North America awards with most other programs like Aeroplan, Mileage Plus etc. That being said the CX redemption is definitely worth a mention since you get a much better in-flight product!

  19. The ~$60 taxes on a 1-way Canada-to-USA include AIF + GST/HST, Cdn. Security, and US$17.50 total US Customs + Imm. + Agricultural Quarantine taxes.

    USA to Canada or domestic US pays only US$2.50 TSA tax on each plane from USA!

  20. How do I transfer Aeroplan rewards to BA Avios?

  21. There isn't any way to transfer Aeroplan Miles to BA Avios (at least without losing tons of value)