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.
But take a look at the same flight on the British Airways site.
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).
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.
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.
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 …
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. 🙂
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.
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?