Avios: Iberia vs British Airways: Which Avios to Use to Fly Iberia in Spain?

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Alhambra By: Jorge CG

Avios is the common currency for all 3 airlines, British Airways, Aer Lingus, and Iberia, which might give you a false idea that all these programs are the same or similar. Nothing can be further from the truth. They have very different programs, separate peak and off-peak calendars, and, most importantly, different fuel surcharge rates. In other words, Iberia Avios and British Airways Avios are different Avios. You don’t want to use either program’s currency blindly if you want to maximize the value of your awards.

Since the demise of Air Berlin, Iberia has attained a unique position in the oneworld alliance – it’s currently the only oneworld airline based in continental Europe, and unlike the only other European oneworld airline, British Airways, it has very reasonable fuel surcharges for transatlantic travel. If you are an international traveler, then the Iberia loyalty program, Iberia Plus, should be one of the most important tools in your arsenal.

But British Airways is the king of evil fuel surcharges …

Every loyalty program is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Some have more Jekyll in them, and others have more Hyde, but even the meanest loyalty program has at least some redeeming qualities. I was reminded about this simple truth while researching my travel to southern Spain this fall (courtesy of that insane Iberia promotion last year). My cousin Timmy’s and my travel plans include a couple of domestic flights in Spain, but I’ve come to detest BA’s egregious transatlantic fuel surcharges so much that I didn’t even look at British Avios initially. In the end, British Airways is like a modern-day king Midas — everything they touch turns to fuel … pardon me, “carrier-imposed” surcharges.

But that’s for long-haul travel. Inside Europe, BAEC has a lot of Jekyll in it.

Iberia Avios vs British Airways Avios vs. cash 

I love Spain and keep coming back to this gorgeous country over and over again, this time to explore the South — Seville, Cadiz, Granada, Malaga, and more. I’ve heard great things about Spain’s AVE fast train service and at first wanted to use it to travel everywhere I’d go. Then the reality set in. We only have 12 full days, and we want to explore a lot of places, and there should be quite a few advantages of flying vs. riding, although having thought more about it, I’ve only come up with 2.

  • Flights are still faster than even the fastest train
  • Domestic flights in Spain can be very cheap whether on cash or miles

We aren’t staying in Madrid. The plan is to get from Madrid airport to Seville or Granada, and use a combination of train rides and a car rental to travel to the shore and the mountains with a returning flight back from Malaga or Cadiz (Jerez) to Madrid before flying home. We haven’t decided yet.

My “legit” research, however, quickly deteriorated into something I’m truly passionate about — losing myself in a hunt for a better deal. 🙂

Here is a flight between Malaga and Madrid I found on the Iberia Plus website.

4,500 Avios and $26 in charges and fees — not bad, right?

But take a look at the same flight on the British Airways site.

$14 is better than $26, no?

See? Same price in miles, but with a smaller cash component

Next, I checked another option we’re considering, from Madrid to Granada. It would be almost ideal because it departs at 9 AM from MAD while our flights from JFK arrives at 6:15 AM. That would give us a comfortable transfer time without wasting too much of it.

Here is what Iberia charges for it (keep in mind, that’s for 2 people).

 And this is from British Airways

In both examples, it seems that Iberia adds about $12 fuel surcharges to its domestic flights. Of course, you can just shrug it off; in the end, it’s just $12! But you know, it’s $12 here, $12 there … $12 here and there is always more than $12.

The trend continues

If you need more convincing that it’s more expensive to use Iberia Avios than British Avios on Iberia metal in Spain, here is probably the longest Iberia domestic flight — to Tenerife, Canary Islands (for 2 people).

And this is what the same Iberia flight would cost you with British Avios.

Avios: Iberia vs British Airways

Award tickets on British Airways are (slightly) cheaper

The difference between the cash portion of BA Avios and Iberia Avios is slightly less pronounced on this ticket, but why waste any money anyway?

Would international short-hauls from Spain be any different? Nope.

And British Avios:

Wow, it seems Avios is a bargain in Spain, right?

It surely can be unless the cash fare is so cheap that using Avios would be stupid.

As a part of my research, I’ve considered flying to Seville first. The problem with Seville for us is that our flight from JFK arrives at 6:15 AM, while the Seville flight we would like to take departs at 7:40 AM. That’s tight, but we still might risk it — I don’t know! It doesn’t help that the next one departs 4 hours later.

In any case, here is what a cash fare for our date looks like.

You can fly from Madrid to Seville for $33 including everything

 … Or save $9 at a cost of 4,500 Avios

What would you rather pay, $33 all in or $24 plus 4,500 Avios? I guess the answer is obvious unless you value your Avios at around 1/5 of a penny.

Of course, with a high enough fare the math is different. Our flight home from Madrid leaves around 5 PM, so should we decide to fly back to Madrid from Malaga, we’d have to take the 9:20 AM flight from Malaga. That means paying $143 …

… or 4,500 Avios and $26. That’s 2.6x value, which is not bad at all!

Of course, the moment you go back to transatlantic, Dr. Jekyll gets flushed.

Avios: Iberia vs British Airways

British Airways will make you pay the whopping $301 from Madrid to Santo Domingo in addition to the 21250 miles

BAEC will charge you $301; Iberia — only $130.

It’s settled then: use British Avios for short and medium hauls on Iberia metal. Right? 

Nah! It’s not that easy.

All things being equal, yes, you should use British Avios vs Iberia Avios. But things aren’t always equal. BAEC members a) don’t have access to Vueling, b) can only see inventory for saver (Blue Class) awards, AND c) in general, have access to fewer award seats than Iberia Plus members. In this respect, the relationship between Iberia and British Airways isn’t different from any other airline partnership, despite having the same daddy (IAG).

Here are a couple of more screenshots to illustrate this point before I let you go. 🙂

Avios: Iberia vs British Airways

Only 2 flights to CDG are available

What you see is 2 flights available on the BA website bookable on Iberia metal between Madrid and CDG. Both are inconvenient evening flights, and only the later one is available in Economy. Granted, on my search day, BA has great availability to Orly, but I personally like De Gaulle better. I prefer to use public transportation rather than a cab from the airport, and unless something has recently changed, public transportation from ORY sucks.

Avios: Iberia vs British Airways

More redemption options with Iberia Avios

If you share my dislike for ORY, take a closer look at what Iberia Plus can offer us on the same day to CDG.

First, you could book a morning Vueling flight for 7,500 Avios that British Airways doesn’t have access to. And second, remember that 5:55 PM flight you were unable to book in Economy with British Avios? You can book it after all with Iberia for a little more — 11,250 Avios. Although to be perfectly honest, if that were the case, I’d splurge 3,750 more for Business.

In any case, Iberia Avios can give you more options that might be unavailable on BA.com

Avios: Iberia vs British Airways — to recap

Using British Airways Avios rather than Iberia Avios on Iberia short and medium hauls will save you a little cash. On the other hand, sometimes you’d be better off booking with Iberia Avios anyway due to better award availability. And do use cash if the fare is low enough.

Have you used Avios on Iberia domestic flights?

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5 Responses to Avios: Iberia vs British Airways: Which Avios to Use to Fly Iberia in Spain?

  1. Hi, Andy,

    Reading your articles is always so much fun! I chuckled out loud when I read your take on BA’s “evil fuel surcharges.” Ha-ha! I fully agree with your feelings on that issue!

    I also love the way you can poke a little fun at yourself, e.g., “losing [your]self in a hunt for a better deal” is actually enjoyable for you! You remind me of . . . me!

    Anyway, I hope you and Timmy have a wonderful trip to Spain.

    Just for the fun of it, here’s a photo of me on an Iberia flight, accompanied by my parents, back in 1967 — long before loyalty programs came into being. However, there *were* deals to be had, and my father was excellent at tracking them down and booking them. This trip to Europe was one such instance.

    Cheers,

    Peter
    http://bit.ly/2FLSXXs

  2. Oops! There’s a typo in my message. My photo aboard an Iberia flight is from 1976. Sorry!

  3. TimmyD says:

    Maybe a dumb question…I know you must have an active Iberia account to transfer British Avios in. My Iberia account expired a long time ago- how do I revive it? Will transferring in from all other sources other than Avios bring it active again?

    • Andy Shuman says:

      Timmy, I doubt you’d even be able to transfer miles into your account if it’s disabled. I had a similar situation with my Virgin account that got deactivated for inactivity, and all it took was one phone call to reinstate it. So with Iberia, I would call them and ask them to reactivate, but get ready for an uphill battle. Iberia is this backwater airline. They once messed up my logon credentials. In order to restore my access, they sent me a PDF file that would verify my identity. I was told to print it, sign and fax it back, although I did get away by filling it up in DocHub and sending it to their email address. Good luck!

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