Wednesday, November 16, 2011

British Airways Executive Club - The Aftermath

The smoke has finally cleared, and we now have a complete picture of what the new British Airways Executive Club looks like... and it's certainly not very pretty. For the most part, long-haul award flights departing from North America saw a massive increase in Avios points needed, and if you don't live in a gateway city for BA or one of it's partner airlines, you're in even worse shape. This is because BA now determines the points needed for an award flight based on each segment of your itinerary, not the entire route. So if you live in Tulsa, Oklahoma, you will have to pay extra points just to get to LAX, JFK, or any other large gateway city.

And even if you already live in a gateway city like I do (SFO), chances are any long-haul award flight you book will have an increased points requirement. Take, for example, the extremely popular route SFO-HKG-DPS on Cathay Pacific that many people took advantage of prior to the program change:
  • Old BAEC program:  50/100/150K  BA miles + taxes/fees
  • New Avios program:  95/190/285K  Avios points + taxes/fees
Or how about the other great value to Easter Island (SFO-LIM-SCL-IPC) on LAN:
  • Old BAEC program:  40/80K  BA miles + taxes/fees
  • New Avios program:  95/190K  Avios points + taxes/fees
The only exception seems to be departing from the East Coast with Europe as your destination, where the points requirement actually decreased on many routes. This is a result of changing the program over to a distance-based system, since the East Coast is actually quite close to Western countries of Europe. To illustrate this, let's take a look at the difference between traveling from the East Coast and the West Coast to Europe:
  • JFK - LHR:  40/80/120K  Avios points + taxes/fees
  • SFO - LHR:  50/100/150K  Avios points + taxes/fees
So departing from the East Coast actually decreased in points needed, while departing from the West Coast stays the same as the old program, which really isn't that bad. One very important note, however, is that this new distance-based system isn't altogether consistent across the board. For example, let's compare the non-stop routes of JFK-HKG (8072 miles) and LAX-SYD (7488 miles):
  • JFK - HKG:  70/140/210K  Avios points + taxes/fees
  • LAX - SYD:  100/200/300K  Avios points + taxes/fees
You would think since JFK-HKG is quite a bit farther than LAX-SYD, the points required should therefore be more. However, that is certainly not the case as seen above. I suspect the final determination of points requirements is still a combination of variables, including distance, carrier, popularity of route, etc.

One of the more positive changes to the Executive Club program, however, comes from shorter direct routes. The worst part of the U.S. legacy carriers' reward programs is that they charge 25,000 points to fly anywhere in the lower 48 states, no matter what the distance is. So a flight from SFO-LAX costs exactly the same as SFO-JFK, which makes absolutely no sense. But with Avios points, things become distance-based, so the short SFO-LAX hop now costs only 9,000 points roundtrip! That's a fairly good deal in my opinion since that route can run anywhere from $120 to more than $200 during certain times of the year. Using this method, you can also see some interesting routes that used to cost a lot more in the old program because they were in 2 different zones, but are actually quite close distance-wise (hence a decrease in Avios points requirements):
  • IPC - PPT (2644 miles):  25/50/75K  Avios points + taxes/fees
  • LAX - SJD (911 miles):  15/30/45K  Avios points + taxes/fees
  • LAX - HNL (2556 miles):  25/50/75K  Avios points + taxes/fees
  • MIA - CUN (531 miles):  9/18/27K  Avios points + taxes/fees
Similarly, you can find plenty of deals on short-haul flights all over the world - the cost has really come down. In Europe, BA has even created a category of awards called the Reward Flight Saver, where as long as you have earned at least 1 Avios point in the last 12 months, you can redeem award flights within Zones 1-3 for reduced points requirements and a flat fee, instead of paying the old exorbitant taxes/fees. In my opinion, short-haul flights are where the real value lies in the new BA Executive Club program. I know I will be using the rest of my 90,000 Avios points for these short hops in the future!

Additionally, Executive Club service fees have changed. A base fee of $40 is now charged for both changing the date/time of an award booking and for cancelling an award booking, whether it is done online or over the phone. Doing either over the phone, however, will incur an additional $25 fee (for a total of $65). There is still no fee for making your award booking online, while doing so over the phone will cost $25. Full details can be found here.

You can play around with the new Avios Calculator on the BA website to see how many points you will now need for each segment. Note that the calculator works for only direct segments, not routes. So if you wanted to look up how much SFO-HKG-DPS costs now, you must search for SFO-HKG first, then HKG-DPS, and then add up the points for each. It's a pain, but at least it's fairly clear and accurate. Or, the easier way is to just go ahead and search for the complete route using the award booking system. It's very similar to the old system, and it will add up each segment automatically for you. So far, I haven't noticed any huge glitches yet. Just click below, and then click on the "Book flights with Avios" link. You must be logged into your Executive Club account in order to use the award booking system.

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