If you just want to experience First Class or have always had a hankering to visit Russia, this is one of the best value redemptions you can get with British Airways. Add in a BA Amex 2-4-1, and it’s laughably cheap. First class to Moscow costs £55 and 68,000 Avios return off-peak or 80,000 peak. The real benefit is the £55 fee. So why is it so cheap? Well, it just comes in under the 2000 mile criteria to benefit from Reward Flight Saver, so as long as you qualify it’s fantastic value (you must have earned at least 1 Avios in last 12 months to use RFS).
One thing to bear in mind is you will probably need a visa to visit Russia. From Roving Reporter’s experience be prepared for a visit to the embassy in London where you try to remember every place you have visited for the last ten years! (I’m not actually sure I could). You can read about his experience on this route in First here.
Only one flight a day has First on British Airways, but it is the B787 at the moment which only has eight seats and is one of the best First class cabins on BA for me. It is only 3½ hours so make sure you get your money’s worth of Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle! BA do not seem to be offering First class over the winter period in 2019, but it is back again at the end of March 2020 if you fancy booking it.
Using vouchers is a great way to get more value out of your Avios redemption. Given that taxes and charges are now around £600 per person, this can make them a lot more cost-effective.
There are two main voucher options – the British Airways Premium Plus (BAPP) American Express card and a Gold upgrade voucher. Paul will take a more in-depth look at 2-4-1 vouchers versus Gold upgrades next weekend. In essence, you need to spend £10,000 in a year on the card to get two Avios tickets for the price of one on the BAPP. This only applies to the number of Avios, you still have to pay the full taxes and charges for each person. You can have a supplementary card on the account, which means you would only need to spend £5000 each which makes it more attainable.
The other option is to earn 2500 BA tier points as this gives you an upgrade voucher to upgrade by one class. They can be used on Avios or cash bookings.
American Airlines transcontinental
If you have struggled to get flights to the West Coast or have found a bargain to New York, you could consider the American Airlines Transcontinental service on miles. Unlike most US domestic flights, these flights from New York to San Francisco or Los Angeles cost 100,000 Avios First which comes with lie-flat seats in a 1-1 configuration. The price in cash? £8.20 – I think most of us can stretch to that! The flights regularly cost over £1000 return, so you are getting a good return on your Avios. The seat in First is the same as American Airlines international business class seats – the reverse herringbone which I find very comfortable.
If you want something a bit cheaper on the Avios, you could also try the business class seats which are also lie flat in a 2-2 configuration. This costs 75,000 Avios and £8.20 return. You can read my review here.
Iberia actually provides one of the best value ways to use Avios for business class. This is due to their much-reduced taxes and charges. It does mean starting in Madrid, which obviously you need to factor into the cost. However, Madrid is a beautiful place to visit so you could take advantage of the positioning and turn it into a two-centre holiday. Also, you can fly from Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh to Madrid with Iberia Express, which makes it a lot easier to use Avios to connect to an Iberia long haul flight.
As well as paying less cash, specific destinations are also much cheaper than BA. Iberia do have peak and off-peak prices as well, which differ from BA’s. This could be mean a cheaper price if it works in your favour.
Iberia have a reliable business class product and fly A340s and A350s. It is not a particularly luxurious experience, and I find the crew aren’t overly friendly, but they are efficient. It is perfectly acceptable though, with all aisle access seats and decent food and drink. You can find reviews of Iberia’s A340 and A350 business class flights here.
Iberia doesn’t have such a great route network as BA, but they cover a lot of South America for example. Here are some of the costs for redemptions in business class off-peak return:
- New York, Boston, Chicago, San Juan Puerto Rico for 68,000 Avios plus £158
- Miami for 85,000 Avios + £175
- Buenos Aires, Santiago for 102,000 + £198.90 or 86,700+ £378.90
- Johannesburg, Havana, Lima, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Miami, Panama, Quito, Rio de Janeiro, San Jose, Costa Rica, Santo Domingo, Sao Paulo for 102,000 Avios
- Tokyo or Shanghai for 119,000 Avios
You do have to transfer your Avios to Iberia and redeem through them to get the lower prices. You can find out more about redeeming Avios on Iberia in this article.
Short haul on long haul
If you want to experience a BA long haul business class seat but don’t have enough for a long haul flight, there is another option. BA currently use a long hail aircraft on certain flights on their Madrid route. Until the end of August, this features their brand new Club Suites with a door. The cost is slightly high at the moment as it is peak prices, but it is still a good deal at 30000 Avios + £ 50.00 return.
The A350 is on BA464/465 daily except 13, 23, 24, and 31 August. BA456/457 will also have the A350 on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday until 30 August. The schedule is showing the aircraft type, so make sure you check as training flights are subject to change (including at the last minute).
They also have a B777 on the BA460/461 daily with Club World seats. If you are lucky you may even get upgraded to first class (though still Club Europe food and drink sadly!).
They can be booked as usual via britishairways.com.
I had a terrible experience with Aer Lingus on my trans Atlantic flight (read more here) but if you get the new seats which all aircraft bar one have, it can be a cheap option. The prices are comparable to BA in terms of Avios, but the taxes and charges are significantly less expensive.
New York or Boston from Dublin is 100,000 Avios off-peak and 120,000 Avios peak in business class return. However, the taxes and charges are very different at around £150 versus £600 on BA. The other advantage is that the peak pricing dates are different to BA, so it may pay to book with Aer Lingus on some dates. Also, you may get availability on dates where there is none on BA or AA. With the demise of Avios.com, you will now need to book by phone with British Airways. As you can’t see the availability with ba.com, it is worth joining Aer Club if you plan to do any redemptions to see what there is before you call.
If you fancy visiting Japan, Virgin has one of the best bargains for redemptions which has just got even better.
- ANA First to Tokyo for 120,000 miles
- ANA Business to Tokyo for 85,000 miles
ANA are an excellent airline, and the redemption in first class is a bargain if you compare it to BA’s 204,000 Avios needed in First return. The product is superior with Krug champagne and caviar served, as well as a suite-style seat. ANA have just introduced some very spacious new business and first class seats which will be on the London-Tokyo route. This makes it one of the best value redemptions for long haul that there is.
All Nippon Airways (ANA), is rolling out a total of twelve completely redesigned Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. The first redesigned aircraft is now on the Tokyo/Haneda-London route (NH211/NH212). Daily operation of the redesigned aircraft will start from the end of August or beginning of September. Until then, the aircraft will be operated on the even number dates in August, and odd number dates in September. As always, the schedules are subject to change.
Luckily Roving Reporter has booked his First class trip with his Virgin miles, so we will be able to bring you a review later in the year.
You can find out more about redeeming on Virgin Atlantic in this article.
With the addition of Tel Aviv to the Virgin route network from 25 September 2019, this gives a low price redemption to try Upper Class. The prices start from a reasonable 28,000 one way or 56,000 return off-peak plus £324 in taxes and charges.
If you are struggling to find return flights with BA or Virgin to the US, it could be worth considering two one ways. But don’t use BA back from the US as the charges are crazy expensive. Delta though has some very reasonable taxes and fees for redemptions back from the US versus the other way. I usually would not have recommended Delta due to the old seats to London, but as we announced in this article, starting this winter, all of Delta’s Heathrow-JFK and Boston flights will operate on its newly retrofitted Boeing 767-400 aircraft. These feature a more private Delta One experience which is better than the seat on Virgin in Upper Class. Flights cost from 50,000 miles one way.
Vouchers with Virgin
Virgin also have a credit card that allows you to get a companion voucher after spending £10,000 in a year. It is not such a great deal as the BA one unless you have status with Virgin. Red tier members can only use companion tickets for economy. Silver can redeem for economy or premium economy, and Gold members can redeem for any class, including Upper.
How to find the flights you want
One of the easiest ways to find availability for both Virgin and British Airways is Reward Flight Finder. This will display a whole year’s worth of availability for a particular route and class. If you what want isn’t available, you can set up alerts for free when a seat becomes available.