After booking a hotel in Los Angeles with starpoints, I present you today the booking of a plane ticket with avios miles (British Airways Executive Club) between Montreal and California.
Introduction to British Airways Executive Club
Avios miles allow you to book award tickets on Oneworld airlines as well as Alaska Airlines (which is not part of any alliance).
In North America, you can book award tickets on American flights (a combination of American Airlines and the late US Airways). The big advantage is that these bonus tickets are very low taxed.
For example, from Montreal, you can fly directly from American to 6 airports: New York (LGA and JFK), Charlotte (CLT), Chicago (ORD), Dallas (DFW) and Miami (MIA).
And from these 6 airports, you will be able to connect to many others.
However, it’s best to calculate your trip to see if it’s worth the “cost”: unlike Aeroplan, which has a flat rate in miles for all of North America (25,000 Aeroplan miles for medium-haul flights and 15,000 Aeroplan miles for short flights), British Airways applies one rate per trip as we will see in the following example.
Booking a flight from Montreal to California
I did it at the last minute (3 days before departure). I was therefore quite limited in the availability of award tickets on Aeroplan(Star Alliance: Air Canada / United), British Airways Executive Club ( Oneworld alliance: American) and Flying Blue ( Skyteam alliance: Delta Airlines).
My goal was to fly from Montreal (YUL) to Los Angeles (LAX) OR one of the airports in the area: Burbank (BUR), Ontario (ONT), Long Beach (LGB) and Orange County (SNA).
In order to know all the possibilities, I use the Flightconnections.com map which shows me the companies and flight times for each of these airports.
From Montreal, only Air Canada (Aeroplan) has a direct flight to Los Angeles (or its region). Unfortunately, as this one was not available for the outbound flight, I had to fall back on a connecting flight.
And before heading to the W Hollywood for the last few nights of my trip, I will be staying at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach which is only a few miles from the Orange County Airport (SNA). So I’m favoring flights heading to that airport.
Flights Montreal (YUL) – Orange County (SNA)
Thanks to Flightconnections.com, I can quickly identify flights to Orange County.
6 are of particular interest to me:
- Chicago (ORD): direct flight from Montreal with both Air Canada / United and American
- New York (EWR): direct flight from Montreal with Air Canada / United
- San Francisco (SFO): direct flight from Montreal with Air Canada
- Dallas (DFW): direct flight from Montreal with American
- Las Vegas (LAS): direct flight from Montreal with Air Canada Rouge
- Houston (IAH): direct flight from Montreal with United
As you can see, we have plenty of choices, even for a “secondary” destination like Orange County Airport.
After a brief overview of the different routes and connection times, I chose Dallas with American which:
- is available
- has the fastest connection
- makes me arrive in the early afternoon in Orange County (SNA)
My other choice would be with Air Canada via San Francisco: the flight leaves later in the morning and most of the journey (6 hours) will have been made before taking the connection which is practical when traveling with a baby!
Booking a flight from Montreal (YUL) to Orange County (SNA) with Avios miles
For some destinations, British Airways Executive Club does not always allow you to search for connecting routes. You may therefore find yourself facing a screen indicating “no availability”.
That’s why the route must be broken down by trip. But to make a reservation, you will have to call British Airways Executive Club (I will explain several tips about this below).
Here is my itinerary divided into 2 routes:
- Montreal (YUL) – Dallas (DFW): 10,000 avios in Economy (if available) / 20,000 avios in Business and $59
- Dallas (DFW) – Orange County (SNA): 10,000 airline miles in savings and $7
There was no availability in economy class on the Montreal – Dallas route.
Flying business class therefore costs me 10,000 avios more… but offers me:
- the comfort of business class
- the meal
- priority check-in
- priority boarding
- free checked luggage… to the destination (even if the second part of the journey is done in economy)
Booking an award ticket by phone with British Airways Executive Club
This complete itinerary was not available online, so I had to call British Airways Executive Club. Usually, there is a fee for booking by phone BUT this is not applied if the itinerary is not available for online booking (as was the case for the example above).
Please note that customer service for North America (1-800-452-1201) is only open from 7:30 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and is only available in English.
If you are comfortable with English, I strongly advise you NOT to call this number: you will be faced with tens of minutes of waiting. Use Skype and call customer service in Singapore or Japan: they usually answer within a minute!
If you wish to speak in French, you will have to call the customer service located in France with a surtaxed number (do it by Skype: +33 826 826 747 – open from 9am to 6pm French time).
For the list of all call centers, here is the dedicated page on British Airways.
As for me, I made the reservation at 6am… by calling the service in French via Skype, and it took less than 10 minutes!
How to collect Avios miles in Canada
In Canada, American Express and RBC are major partners in the British Airways Executive Club program. It is therefore possible to accumulate Avios miles by taking advantage of sign-up bonuses on various credit cards and by accumulating miles through your spending.
- RBC offers a British Airways Executive Club card that allows you to earn Avios miles directly.
- RBC also offers the transfer of RBC points into Avios miles through its RBC Rewards program.
- American Express, through its Membership Rewards program, allows the transfer of Membership Rewards points into Avios miles. 4 Membership Rewards cards (with the exception of the American Express Cobalt card) allow you to earn frequent flyer miles indirectly. And at certain times of the year, a transfer bonus is offered. Often it is +25%. So 1000 privilege points = 1250 air miles
Avios miles can also be earned through the Marriott Bonvoy rewards program. If American Express Marriott Bonvoy card is a safe bet – that we call the Swiss Army knife of the traveler -, we must not forget the new Cobalt card from American Express ! The latter allows you to accumulate 5 Membership Rewards points / dollar spent in grocery stores (don’t forget the gift cards…) and restaurants.
These Cobalt Membership Rewards points are special: they cannot be converted directly into Avios Miles (or Aeroplan Miles). However, they can be converted at a 2:1 rate to Marriott Bonvoy starpoints! And since starpoints can be converted to Avios miles at a 1:1 rate, this makes the Cobalt Card a “very” indirect transfer partner of the British Airways Executive Club program! Your grocery and restaurant spending on the American Express Cobalt card earns you 2.5 Avios / dollar… which is unheard of!
Think about it: the “official” RBC British Airways Executive Club card earns you only 1 Avios mile per dollar!