Review: Executive Club, the frequent flyer program of British Airways

Friday newsletters always feature luxury travel contests, tips, series, or news.

Today (May 24, 2019): British Airways’ loyalty program (Executive Club) explained.

Launched in 1995, the frequent flyer program of British Airways is called the Executive Club. In 2011, following its merger with Iberia, the flag carrier of the United Kingdom and the founding member of the Oneworld global airline introduced dramatic changes to its Executive Club program, creating a distinct reward currency, Avios. Avios is a coalition program, offering members of the frequent flyer programs of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Meridiana thousands of ways to earn and redeem Avios for flights, hotels, and even travel experiences. Although Executive Club has some downsides, it scores high in my list of the world’s best frequent flyer programs because it’s the only well-established loyalty program of a major Western legacy airline that is not revenue based (yet).

What is your opinion about British Airways’ Executive Club? Leave a comment below.

In this overview, I explain the Executive Club program and how to benefit from it:

  1. Executive Club elite levels
  2. How to earn Avios in the air
  3. How the earn Avios on the ground
  4. How to spend Avios (and travel for free)
  5. Best and worst Avios redemptions
  6. Pros & things I like about Executive Club
  7. Cons & things I don’t like about Executive Club
  8. Poll: what’s the world’s best frequent flyer program?


1. EXECUTIVE CLUB ELITE LEVELS

You earn two types of miles within the Executive Club program:

  • Avios is the Executive Club’s mileage currency. You collect Avios on flights, hotel stays and even car hire (more on that below). Avios can be spent on award redemptions.
  • As well as Avios, you also collect Tier Points every time you fly with British Airways or one of its Oneworld airline partners. The sole purpose of Tier Points is to determine your status within the Executive Club program; they can only be collected by flying, they can’t be spent on rewards, and they reset back to zero every new year. The amount  of Tier Points you earn depends on your ticket type, the fare class, and the distance flown.

So, Avios unlock rewards while Tier Points unlock Executive Club benefits. There are four Executive Club elite levels that you can work your way up as you collect more Tier Points. Blue is the entry-level; Bronze the second level; Silver the third level; and Gold is the top-level. Each level has benefits and as you move from Blue to Bronze then Silver and finally Gold, these benefits become more valuable.

  • Blue is the entry level. Just signing up for the Executive Club program will already give you access to the following benefits:
    • Access to members only offers
    • Priority over non-members on standby and reservation waiting lists
  • Bronze status is reached after collecting 300 Tier Points in a year, and has the following benefits:
    • Priority check in and boarding
    • Free seat selection 7 days before departure
    • 25% bonus Avios
    • Access to members only offers
  • Silver status is reached after collecting 600 Tier Points in a year, and has the following benefits:
    • Priority check in and boarding
    • Free seat selection at booking
    • Access to Business Class lounges
    • Extra baggage allowance
    • 50% bonus Avios
    • Access to members only offers
  • Gold status is reached after collecting 1500 Tier Points in a year, and has the following benefits:
    • First Class check in and boarding
    • Free seat selection at booking
    • Access to First Class lounges
    • Extra baggage allowance
    • 100% bonus Avios
    • Additional reward flight availability
    • Access to members only offers
  • Executive Club has also a secret fifth tier, called Executive Club Premier, which is an invitation only tier, typically reserved for those whom British Airways considers as being of commercial importance (e.g. politicians, celebrities, CEOs, and other influencers). The tier comes with the following benefits:
    • All benefits of  Gold status
    • Access to all British Airways Lounges, including the Concorde Room
    • A dedicated 24/7 customer care line and special email service for queries
    • Fees waived for all reward ticket bookings, changes, and cancellations
    • Priority consideration for upgrades when the cabin is oversold
    • British Airways may even delay a flight by up to 30 minutes to facilitate tight connections

BRITISH AIRWAYS TIERS


2. HOW TO EARN AVIOS IN THE AIR

As mentioned above, you earn two types of miles within the Executive Club program: ‘Tier Points’, which determine your status, and ‘ Avios’, which can be exchanged for a variety of rewards. Whenever and wherever you fly, you can earn both Avios and Tier Points with British Airways, its Oneworld alliance partners and its other airline partners. You can even earn Avios and Tier Points for eligible flights you’ve already taken, up to a full three months prior to the date you joined the Executive Club. Almost all flights are eligible; the only flights you do not earn Avios or Tier Points on are reward flights, agency discounted fares and industry discounted fares:

  • You earn Avios and Tier Points on all airlines of the Oneworld alliance: American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LATAM Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, S7 Airlines, and SriLankan Airlines.
  • You earn Avios but no Tier Points on the following British Airways airline partners: Aer Lingus, Air Italy (formally Meridiana), and Alaska Airlines.

The amount of Avios and Tier Points you collect depends on which airline you fly, how far you fly, the cabin you fly in, the type of ticket you hold and your Executive Club tier. For example, this is the amount of Avios you earn when flying with British Airways:

Earning Avios on British Airways Flights
Class of travel
Fare class
Avios awarded
Avios Tier Bonus
Earn Tier Points
Economy (Lowest)
Q, O, G
25% of miles flown
✓
✓
Economy (Low)
K, M, L, V, S, N
50% of miles flown
✓
✓
Economy (Flexible)
Y, B, H
100% of miles flown
✓
✓
Premium Economy (Lowest)
E, T
100% of miles flown
✓
✓
Premium Economy (Flexible)
W
150% of miles flown
✓
✓
Business Class (Lowest)
R, I
150% of miles flown
✓
✓
Business Class (Flexible)
J, C, D
250% of miles flown
✓
✓
First Class (Lowest)
A
250% of miles flown
✓
✓
First Class (Flexible)
F
300% of miles flown
✓
✓

Contrary to most other airline loyalty programs, British Airways does not publish a chart for determining the number of Avios and Tier Points you’ll earn on any given flight. The easiest way to work it out is to use the Executive Club’s online flight calculator. The calculator is for direct flights only; for connecting journeys, enter each flight separately, then add the amounts together to get your total. For example, a flight from London to New York will earn you the following number of Avios & Tier Points as a base (Blue) member:

Elite members of Executive Club will receive bonus Avios on top of these base miles: a 25% bous for Bronze members, 50% for Silver members and 100% for Gold members.


3. HOW TO EARN AVIOS ON THE GROUND

The possibilities to earn Avios are endless, even when not flying, by making use of the many partners of the Executive Club program (for a full list of all partners, click here).

  • You can buy between 1,000 and 100,000 Avios each calendar year for yourself or a friend.  Avios points can only be purchased on Ba.com using the Purchase Avios points Application Form. In most cases your Avios will appear in your account immediately, for you to spend straightaway. However, there are some instances where this could take up to five working days. Your Avios cannot be used until they have been added to your account.
  • You can grow your Avios balance everytime when you stay with any one of British Airway’ hotel partners. You can book direct with dozens of different brands or convert your points from a participating hotel loyalty scheme to Avios.
    • Participating brands include Marriott, AccorHotels, Hyatt, Best Western, Intercontinental, Langham, Mandarin Oriental, and Shangri-La.
    • Executive Clubs also collaborates with booking engines such as Booking.com, Hotels.com, Agoda, Kaligoo and Rocketmiles. For example, with hotels.com, you will collect 6 Avios per £1 spend without earning Hotels.com Rewards, and 3 Avios per £1 spend while earning Hotels.com Rewards.
  • You earn Avios every time you rent a car with Avis: three Avios per £1 spent, with a minimum of 500 Avios per one or two-day rental or 700 Avios per three-day rental or more. In addition, you get at a free additional driver with every rental. You also earn Avios for car rental with Budget, Maggiore, and Zipcar.
  • As an Executive Club Member, you can collect 1 bonus Avios for every £1 you spend when you book a British Airways holiday package (e.g. flights & hotel or flights & car packages). On top of the Avios you’ll collect for your package holiday, you will also be rewarded with additional Avios for the flight and car rental elements of your package.
  • Members earn Avios by shopping online in the British Airways Avios eStore, a collection of more than 400 online retailers including Macy’s, Nordstrom, Apple and eBay. Occasionally, there are promotions that give you more Avios for your money. Other shopping opportunities that earn you Avios are shopping at Heathrow airport and purchasing High Life Shop products onboard British Airways flights (or alternatively, when you shop online and pre-order directly to your seat onboard).
  • You can also earn Avios for purchasing lifestyle-related products, such as newspapers (The Economist and Financial Times) and Sky TV.
  • You can dramatically increase your Avios mileage earning with credit card spendings: 
    • You can transfer program points from the American Express or Diner’s Club Rewards Programs into your Executive Club account to boost your Avios account.
    • One of the fastest ways to earn Avios is by using a British Airways co-branded credit card (only available in selected countries, such as the USA, France, and the UK). These credit cards also offer a considerable amount of bonus Avios upon your first purchase (often enough for a longhaul redemption ticket). For example, the British Airways Visa Signature Credit Card is offered to USA citizens and earns you 3 Avios for every $1 spent on British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus purchases, and 1 Avios for every $1 spent on all other purchases; the credit card also includes a 10% discount off all British Airways flights and a companion ticket every calendar year when you make $30,000 USD in purchases.

4. HOW TO SPEND AVIOS ON FREE TRAVEL

The most popular way to spend your Avios is to redeem them for free flights. Executive Club members can redeem Avios on all Oneworld member in addition to British Airways’ partner airlines Aer Lingus, Air Italy, and Alaska Airlines. In fact, members have the ability to fly to almost 1,000 destinations in over 150 countries worldwide. You pay these reward flights with Avios plus a cash amount to cover the taxes, fees and carrier charges.

The number of Avios and cash you’ll need for a free flight depends on your travel class (Economy vs Business vs First Class) and the route (there are nine zones based on the distance between your departure and arrival airports). Each leg of your reward itinerary is calculated separately, with no layovers, stopovers, or open jaws included. Therefore, if your trip from Cape Town to New York includes a layover in London, the cost of your journey will be the sum total of the two individual legs. Executive Club doesn’t publish a detailed rewards chart but you can work out the cost for a reward flights using the Executive Club online calculator. You can search for availability and proceed with booking an award ticket using the Executive Club online search engine.

There are a few ways to reduce the amount of Avios you need for a reward flight:

  • For reward flights with British Airways, you will pay either a peak or off-peak Avios amount, depending on the date of your flight. Two thirds of the year is off-peak. When booking reward flights, you can choose all peak dates, all off-peak dates, or a mixture of the two. The taxes, fees and carrier charges you pay are the same for both peak and off-peak dates, but you’ll need a lower amount of Avios for off-peak dates.
  • Reward Flight Savers are the program’s best value reward flights. You pay the Avios and a flat fee in cash plus a low flat fee instead of the taxes, fees and carrier charges. Reward Flight Savers are only available on return flights (operated by British Airways) in Europe and return flights (operated by British Airways’ subsidiary Comair) in Southern Africa.
  • If you don’t have enough Avios for your chosen reward flight, or would like to save some for your next reward, you can reduce the Avios cost by paying an additional cash amount. The fewer Avios used, the more you make up in money. You’ll be presented with a range of these Avios & Money payment options at the checkout process when booking a reward flight.

For example, this is the amount of Avios & cash you need on peak and off-peak dates for a one-way Business Class ticket from London to New York:

Another great way (and IMHO, the best way) to use your Avios is to spend them on upgrades. Only cash bookings on flights operated by British Airways, Iberia and American Airlines can be upgraded with Avios, either at the time of booking or later on depending on availability. Always keep in mind that upgrades can only be applied to the next higher cabin of service: Economy to Premium Economy, Premium Economy to Business, and Business to First Class (but not Economy to Business when the plane features a Premium Economy cabin). In general, the lowest priced Economy Class fares cannot be upgraded.

The Avios amount required for an upgrade is based on the Avios costs for reward flights in the cabins you are upgrading from, and will depend on whether your flight is scheduled on a peak or off-peak date. The formula is: Avios for the cabin you wish to upgrade to  Avios for the cabin you make your booking in = Avios required to upgrade one way. Here’s an example for a peak one-way upgrade from London to New York, upgrading from premium economy (World Traveller Plus) to business (Club World): Club World: 60,000 Avios  World Traveller Plus: 40,000 Avios = 20,000 Avios to upgrade.

There are several ways to check upgrade availability:

  • If you have an existing booking: log in to Manage My Booking, select your flight and choose “Upgrade this flight with Avios” to see if your flight can be upgraded
  • If you’re just making plans: use the ‘book and upgrade’ form to search for specific flights and dates to see if you can upgrade as you book or use the reward availability tools to search for inspiration and availability

Much like on the earning side, British Airways also provides a variety of (less lucrative) ways to redeem your Avios with non-airline partners, such as car rentals, hotel stays, travel experiences, and more.


5. BEST AND WORST AVIOS REDEMPTIONS 
  • IMHO, the best way to use your Avios is to upgrade to Business Class with British Airways, Iberia or American Airlines. Starting at just 20,000 Avios one way on longhaul flights, you can upgrade from Premium Economy to Business Class, enjoying a flat bed the whole way. Finding these upgrades is easy (as explained above).
  • Paying shorthaul flights with Avios almost always represents fantastic value. For example, Sri Lanka to the Maldives, Melbourne to Sydney, and most domestic flights within Japan are only 4,500 Avios one way in Economy Class. New York to Chicago, Miami to Cancun, or Lima to Cusco? All 7,500 Avios!
  • Another great route to spend your Avios is the USA West Coast to Hawaii: all 12,500 Avios one-way in Economy Class with either American Airlines or Alaska Airlines. The typical cost of this route is more than 20,000 miles using most other frequent flyer programs.
  • Making use of Reward Flight Savers, short haul European flights (e.g. London to Paris, Amsterdam, Brussels, Berlin and Prague) are just 4,000 Avios off peak.
  • Business Class redemptions on British Airways with Avios are not very interesting anymore because of the insanely high surcharges you have to pay in addition to Avios points. This is often $700- 1000 USD one way, especially when you start or end your journey in the UK or USA. There is a way around these surcharges though, and that is to start your itinerary in a country where surcharges are illegal or not imposed (such as Brazil, Hong Kong, and South Korea to name a few).
  • Business Class redemptions on Oneworld partners remain valuable because of the often modest surcharges, as long as you don’t depart or arrive in the UK. IMHO, the best Business Class redemption is on Qatar Airways’ sublime Qsuite from Doha to the Maldives, which is only 37,500 Avios for a full-service 5 hour flight.
  • One of the disadvantages of Avios awards, is that these are priced per flight segment. There is a way around this however. When you book a redemption flight with two or more Oneworld partner airlines along with British Airways, the Multi-Carrier Reward Flight option is available. Under this scheme, members are able to book as many layovers, stopovers, and open jaws as they like. The only thing that matters is the total distance of the entire itinerary. This reward option is great for round-the-world trips or trips where you foresee many stops along the way.
Multi-Carrier Reward Flights (Two Or More Oneworld Partner Airlines)
Total Miles
Avios Needed
Additional Charges
0 – 1,500
30,000
Up to $502.84 taxes, fees and carrier charges
1,501 – 4,000
35,000
Up to $1,039.57 taxes, fees and carrier charges
4,001 – 9,000
60,000
Up to $999.03 taxes, fees and carrier charges
9,001 – 10,000
70,000
Up to $833.80 taxes, fees and carrier charges
10,001 – 14,000
90,000
Up to $1,226.25 taxes, fees and carrier charges
14,001 – 20,000
100,000
Up to $1,153.90 taxes, fees and carrier charges
20,001 – 25,000
120,000
Up to $1,160.17 taxes, fees and carrier charges
25,001 – 35,000
140,000
Up to $1,144.97 taxes, fees and carrier charges
35,001 – 50,000
No pricing information available

6. PROS & THINGS I LIKE ABOUT EXECUTIVE CLUB
  • British Airways’ Executive Club is one of the few remaining large frequent flyer programs in the world that is not revenue based (yet). You earn status within the program based on miles flown and not on the money spent.
  • Executive Club allows you to earn and spend miles on airlines of Oneworld, which is my favorite airline alliance of the three major alliances (the other two being SkyTeam and Star Alliance). Oneworld is a collection of some of the most prestigious flagship airlines in the world that offer overall the best service and Business/First Class products in the skies.
  • Executive Club has the best online search tool for award flights of all Oneworld airlines. That said, you should always stick to searching for individual flight segments rather than connecting itineraries, since the online search engine has a known issue with showing phantom partner award space.
  • Tickets booked with Avios are flexible. You can cancel an Avios booking as long as it’s more than 24 hours from departure, and you’ll only pay a $55 USD re-deposit fee or forfeit the taxes and fees of your booking, whichever is less.
  • Executive Club offers a generous amount of bonus miles to its elite members. Gold members earn a 100% bonus, Silver members earn a 50% bonus, and Bronze members a 25% bonus on top of base miles earned while traveling with British Airways and partner airlines.
  • Executive Club allow you to pool your Avios in a household account with up to six people who live on the same address, letting you make full use of the collective balance. Everyone in a household account will continue to collect Tier Points and move through the tiers of the Club individually, but they can also spend Avios taken from the pooled household account (so that award redemptions are reached faster). When any Avios are spent, a proportional amount will be deducted from each member’s balance in the household account. There are a few important things to remember about a household account:
    • Members of a household account cannot redeem their Avios for anyone outside of the household account
    • Changes to the registered household account address can only be made once every six months
    • Executive Club Members must be 18 years or older before they can spend their Avios
  • You can transfer up to 27,000 Avios to another Club Member each calendar year. Transferring Avios will reset the 36-month period for both the person sending and the person receiving the Avios.
  • Many airlines and hotel schemes are based on earning throughout the calendar year. BA Executive Club is different and is instead based on the year from your original joining date of the program. The number of Tier Points earned in this twelve month period determines your status for the next period.
  • Executive Club gives the Tier Points you’ve earned in the past, real value in the present. All the Tier Points you’ve ever earned, since you joined the program, are added up to become your Lifetime Tier Points. Each year, your annual Tier Points will reset on the anniversary of you joining the Executive Club but your Lifetime Tier Points will remain. Once you reach 35,000 Tier Points, you will be rewarded with Gold membership (and its benefits) for life.
  • Executive Club has a unique and interesting partnership with Hotels.com. The latter is one of my favorite hotel search engines, because it has a great and simple loyalty program called Rewards: when you book and stay 10 nights with Hotels.com, you get one reward night! Hotels.com allows you to earn Avios in addition to its Rewards program, although you choose whether you want to earn nights with Hotels.com Rewards:
    • You collect 6 Avios per £1 spend without earning Hotels.com Rewards
    • You collect 3 Avios per £1 spend and earn Hotels.com Rewards

7. CONS & THINGS I DON’T LIKE ABOUT EXECUTIVE CLUB
  • British Airways imposed insanely high surcharges on its award flights with departure (or arrival) from the UK or USA. For Business Class tickets, these can be in the rang of $700-100 USD one way. This  make long haul redemptions in Business Class o Economy Class generally very poor value (especially since the carrier often launches promos for full cash tickets that come close to what you would pay on surcharges for an award ticket).
  • Reward flights are priced per segment and not for the whole itinerary, which can make routes with one or more connections costly.
  • Your Avios stay valid as long as you collect, spend, purchase or share at least one Avios every 36 months — any longer and your Avios will expire and be removed, so remember to take action before those three years are up.
  • Executive club only rewards its elite members with bonus Avios fly British Airways, American Airlines, Iberia and Japan Airlines. However, flying Cathay Pacific, Malaysian Airlines, Finnair, LAN, Qatar Airways, Srilankan Airways, Royal Jordanian or S7 airlines will not earn you any bonus Avios.
  • Executive Club does not allow stop-overs on award tickets.

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The post Review: Executive Club, the frequent flyer program of British Airways appeared first on the Luxury Travel Expert.