Iberia vs. British Airways: Battle of the Distance-Based Programs

Update May 2021: Iberia has updated its award chart for AA and other partner flights.  You can read more about that here.  Basically, redemption prices are now going to be the same with either program (for AA operated flights at least). It seems like the only difference between the two programs may be the fuel surcharges/carrier fees.

Update: As of May 30, 2019, British Airways has slightly increased the amount of Avios required for partner flights (such as AA operated flights).  Fortunately, this change wasn’t enough to change the fact that British Airways is a great way to book American Airlines (and other OneWorld partner) flights.  You can see the changes here. 

When British Airways Executive Club isn’t a good option for American Airlines award flights, try Iberia Plus

You can book American Airlines flights with British Airways Avios or Iberia Avios.  Avios is the name for the award currency (miles) of the frequent flyer programs of British Airways and Iberia.

American Airlines flights booked with British Airways or Iberia

Why would I want to use Iberia Avios or British Airways Avios to book American Airlines award flights?

I generally encourage people to collect Chase Ultimate Rewards points or American Express Membership Rewards points rather than airline miles.  If you take my advice and earn either (or both) of these currencies, neither transfer direct to AAdvantage, the frequent flyer program of American Airlines.  There is a way to book American Airlines flights indirectly with Amex MR or Chase UR, though.

American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to British Airways and Iberia at a 1:1 ratio.  You cannot transfer British Airways Avios or Iberia Avios to AAdvantage, but you can use Avios to book American Airlines flights.  You can also use Avios to book flights operated by other Oneworld partners.

Oneworld partners

British Airways and Iberia  are both Oneworld alliance members.  This means you can use their frequent flyer programs, Executive Club and Iberia Plus, to book flights operated by Oneworld airlines.

Oneworld alliance 2018

British Airways and Iberia have distance-based award ticket pricing

A distance based program means that the redemption price is calculated based on the flight distance.  The longer the flight, the more Avios you will have to redeem.  Distance ranges are divided into tiers and each distance tier has a certain cost.

The sweet spots with these progams are city pairs that are just under the max distance of a tier.

Each distance based airline program has its own redemption costs, distance ranges, and rules.  This means that an American Airlines flight booked with British Airways Avios may have a different redemption cost than if you use Iberia to book the same American Airlines flight.

British Airways is great for nonstop flights.  But what about those who do not live in hub cities?

I talked about using British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights in this post.  I discussed the fact that non-direct flights may end up costing more with a distance based program.  Any route that has even 1 connecting flight may increase the redemption cost so much that it isn’t even worth using Avios.

I always talk about using British Airways Avios because I happen to live in an AA hub city.  Hub city=nonstop flights.  British Airways is the best way to book many nonstop American Airlines flights, especially within North America.  I wanted to give a possible solution for those who do not live in an American Airlines hub city.

Even though British Airways and Iberia both have distance based programs, each program has different ways of calculating the cost.  Iberia’s program is often favorable to those who live in cities that require connecting flights.

British Airways and Iberia calculate distances differently 

I’ll explain why Iberia’s program may be an alternative for booking American Airlines flights when you do not live in an AA hub city.  First I need to explain how British Airways works, though.

I’m going to focus on economy flights in the examples throughout this post, but the same principals apply to many routes in business class with these programs.  Also, keep in mind that American Airlines isn’t the only partner for which you can redeem flights with Iberia or British Airways Avios.  Remember, you can use  either of these programs to book flights on other Oneworld alliance partners.  I’m going to use American Airlines as an example in this post, though.

British Airways Executive Club

Here is the pricing for economy award tickets on American Airlines and other partner airlines booked with British Airways Avios:

  • 1-650 miles: 4,500 Avios (only outside of US, in US it is 7,500)
  • 651-1,150 miles: 7,500 Avios
  • 1,151-2,000 miles: 10,000 Avios
  • 2,001-3,000 miles: 12,500 Avios
  • 3,001-4,000 miles: 20,000 Avios
  • 4,001-5,500 miles: 25,000 Avios
  • 5,501-6,500 miles: 30,000 Avios
  • 6,501-7,000 miles: 35,000 Avios
  • 7,001 miles-up: 50,000 Avios

British Airways calculates the price based on distance per segment, not total distance.  So any flight that has even one connection automatically adds to the cost.

Any AA flight segment within North America under 1150 miles in distance is 7500 Avios.  At the minimum of 7,500 for US flights, if your flight has 2 segments(1 connection), that is at least 15,000 Avios each way.  If any segment is greater than 1150 miles in distance, the cost will be even higher.  For that reason, British Airways may not be the ideal program for booking American Airlines flights if you’re in a city that requires multiple segments and/or long distances.

What makes Iberia Plus different?

First of all, Iberia has a different chart with different distance ranges than British Airways.  But what makes Iberia favorable in some situations is the way Iberia calculates the distance.  Iberia calculates the total based on the total distance, not per segment like British Airways.  This can make a huge difference.

The chart below is the cost for a roundtrip award ticket on a flight operated by American Airlines and booked with Iberia Avios.  Iberia only allows roundtrip award tickets when the flights are operated by American Airlines.

It looks like most Oneworld partners are the same or very similar to this, but technically each Iberia partner has its own award chart. . Here is the chart for flights operated by AA:

Using Iberia Avios to book American Airlines award flights

How to calculate the distance

Honestly, the good ole google is probably the quickest tool.  Google “(destination a) to (destination b) (airline) distance miles”.  For example, ‘DFW to CLT AA distance miles’.  This will help give you an idea if you’re trying to calculate which program is better.  If you’re really close to the cutoff of a tier, keep in mind that the price may be in the next tier up or down.  I’ve seen certain routes that are technically ~200 miles over the cutoff that end up pricing in the next tier down.  But I’ve also seen routes that are only 40 miles over (see example below) the cut off and they get priced at the expected tier.

You need to find the distance between each segment on the route.  If your flight is Atlanta to LAX with a connection in DFW, you would need to find the distance between ATL and DFW.  Then find the distance between DFW and LAX.

  • ATL to DFW is ~733 miles
  • DFW to LAX is ~1239 miles

For British Airways you need to find the cost for each segment and add them together.

  • ATL-DFW is 7,500 Avios
  • DFW to LAX is 10,000 Avios
  • Each way is 17,500 Avios
  • Roundtrip is 35,000 Avios 

For Iberia, you need to add the total mileage of the segments then refer to the chart for the amount of Avios required

  • ATL-DFW (733)
  • DFW-LAX (1239)
  • LAX-DFW (1239
  • DFW-ATL (733)
  • Total: 3,944 miles
  • This falls into the 2,001-4,000 tier which prices the award ticket at 23,000 Avios

British Airways is usually the better program for non-stop flights

using Iberia Avios to book American Airlines flight

Example: Nonstop DFW to Destin

The distance between DFW and Destin (VPS) is ~641 miles each way, which means roundtrip would be ~1282 miles.  1282 falls into the 1,001-2,000 range.  According to Iberia’s chart for AA flights, redemptions for that range cost 17,000 Avios.

According to the British Airways chart above, a segment less than 1150 miles is 7,500 Avios.  The cost will be 7,500 Avios each way.

  • British Airways: 15,000 Avios roundtrip (7,500 Avios each way)
  • Iberia: 17,000 Avios (roundtrip only allowed)

In this case, you would be better off booking with British Airways, but adding a short segment changes things.  If you live in Houston, there are no direct AA flights to Destin.  You can use British Airways Avios to book a flight with a connection, but it’s going to cost twice as much as the nonstop flight.

Iberia may be better way to book award tickets with connecting flights

Adding even a short connection adds a minimum of 7,500 Avios to your cost each way if you use British Airways to book.  Because of the way Iberia calculates redemption costs (total distance of all segments), adding a short segment onto your route may not result in a higher redemption cost.

Example: Houston to Destin via DFW

Most cities in Texas are going to connect through DFW for this particular destination.  Even though the flight is less than an hour from Houston to DFW, British Airways charges the minimum for a North America segment which is 7,500 Avios each way.  This is in addition to the DFW to VPS segment.

The distance between Houston (IAH) and DFW is only ~225 miles each way.  Iberia would calculate this as IAH-DFW (~225) plus DFW-VPS (~641) plus VPS-DFW (~641) plus DFW-IAH (~225).  The total that Iberia would use to calculate IAH-DFW-VPS is ~1732 miles roundtrip.

  • British Airways: 30,000 Avios roundtrip
    • 7,500 for IAH-DFW plus 7,500 DFW-VPS=15,000
    • 7,500 for VPS-DFW plus 7,500 for DFW-IAH=15,000
    • Total roundtrip is 30,000
  • Iberia: 17,000 Avios since ~1732 falls into the 1,001-2,000 range.

The difference between using British Airways and Iberia is 13,000 Avios!!!  Huge difference.  You would definitely want to use Iberia in this scenario.

Example: One way is nonstop, but return trip has a connecting flight

Even though DFW has direct flights to and from VPS, let’s pretend the nonstop VPS-DFW isn’t available for your flight home, but there is a flight available that connects in Charlotte.  VPS to Charlotte (CLT) is ~461 miles.  CLT to DFW is ~936 miles.  This is a total of ~1397 miles.

  • British Airways: 22,500 Avios roundtrip
    • DFW-VPS is 7,500
    • VPS-CLT is 7,500 and CLT to DFW is 7,500 for a total of 15,000
  • Iberia: 23,000 Avios roundtrip
    • DFW to VPS is ~641 miles
    • VPS-CLT is ~461 miles plus CLT-DFW is ~936 miles for a total of ~1,397 miles
    • ~1397 plus ~641 puts the total at ~2038 which is just over the 2,001-4,000 tier

British Airways comes out slightly better, but if any segment of the route was just 40 miles shorter, Iberia would have been the better partner because the total mileage would have been under 2,000.

I feel like this post is getting cluttered with math so I won’t type it out, but DFW to VPS connecting in Charlotte both ways totals ~2,794 miles.  That distance keeps this route in the 2,001-4,000 tier which is priced at 23,000 Avios.

Next is an example of a route that puts the total mileage in Iberia’s next tier.

Example: Seattle to Destin via DFW (Longer-distance and with connecting flight)

When a short connecting flight is involved, I already showed that Iberia is the better option.   But I also played with some routes with longer distance connecting flights.  I found that even if your connecting flight distance bumps you into the next tier, you still come out better with Iberia.

DFW to Seattle is ~1660 miles.

  • British Airways: 35,000 Avios
    • SEA-DFW is 10,000 Avios plus DFW-VPS is 7,500 for a total of 17,500 Avios
    • VPS-DFW is 7,500 and DFW-SEA is 10,000 for a total of 17,500 Avios
  • Iberia: 28,000 Avios
    • SEA to DFW is ~1660 miles plus DFW-VPS is ~641 miles for a total of ~2,301 miles
    • VPS-DFW is ~641 miles plus DFW-SEA is ~1660 miles for a total of ~2301 miles
    • ~2301 plus ~2301 puts the total at ~4602 which falls in the 4,001-5,000 tier

Iberia is the better option here, but if you have other miles and points, you may be able to beat 28,000 Avios.

  • If you have AAdvantage miles, AA’s chart would be better for this particular flight.  The cost would be 12,500 AA miles each way or 25,000 roundtrip.
  • If you have Amex Membership Rewards points, you can transfer them to Etihad to book this route for 12,500 Etihad miles each way or 25,000 miles roundtrip.

Obviously if I have the option, I would rather redeem 25,000 than 28,000.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that 28,000 is a bad deal though.  It just depends on the cash fare of the ticket.

Iberia Avios to book American Airlines flights

If possible, it’s best to avoid distance-based award charts for some routes

American Airlines AAdvantage and Etihad Guest have a different type of award pricing system.  The type of pricing these programs use is called zone-based or region-based.  Zone/Region-based means that the entire world is divided into different regions.

In a zone-based program, any flight between 2 zones costs a fixed amount of miles.   Every airline program with this type of award pricing has its own definition of regions and its own rates.  In other words, AAdvantage and Etihad both have zone based charts, but each program has its own rules and redemption costs.  This means one program might cost less than the other for certain routes.  For this particular route, Seattle to Destin (continental US to continental US), AAdvantage and Etihad happen to have the same cost.

This type of award pricing, as opposed to distance-based charts, can save you lots of points, particularly if your flight has multiple connections and/or long segments.  When using American Airlines AAdvantage or Etihad Guest to book an American Airlines award flight, a redemption between any two zones costs a fixed amount of miles, regardless of the distance or number of connections*.  In other words, SEA-DFW-VPS is priced the same as DFW-VPS.

  • SEA (origin) is continental US.
  • VPS (destination) is also continental US.
  • Continental US to Continental US is 12,500 miles for either AAdvantage or Etihad Guest.
  • Any connections you have to make between the origin and destination (DFW) do not affect the redemption cost.

Programs with zone-based charts make sense for the Seattle to Destin example.   On the other hand, short direct flights usually cost more when using a zone based chart.  DFW-VPS nonstop:

  • DFW (origin) is continental US
  • VPS (destination) is also continental US
  • Continental US to Continental US is 12,500 miles each way for either AAdvantage or Etihad Guest.

You would be better off using British Airways since the distance based chart requires only 7,500 each way for this route.

*Note that some zone-based programs may have rules that limit connecting segments.  But in this particular example, both programs mentioned (AAdvantage and Etihad)allow multiple segments without changing the redemption cost. 

American Airlines recently launched a nonstop flight from DFW to the airport that serves 30a beaches!
Chase Ultimate Rewards options for booking American Airlines award flights

Remember, Chase UR (and Amex MR) do not transfer to AAdvantage.  If you have Chase Ultimate Rewards, Iberia and British Airways are the only partners that can book AA flights.  When Iberia and British Airways both seem like a bad redemption, you can check the Ultimate Rewards booking portal.  If the cash fare is decent, you might get a better deal than using a transfer partner.

Using the Seattle to Destin example, you would need to transfer 28,000 points to Iberia.  You can check the portal to see if there is are any options that cost less than 28,000 points.  To book in the Ultimate Rewards portal for less than 28,000 points, the cash fare would need to be $350 or less if you have the CSP or $420 or less with CSR.

Another factor to consider in the British Airways vs. Iberia debate: fuel surcharges

I didn’t get into long-haul flights, but there are definitely going to be times when Iberia is better than British Airways even if you live in a hub city.  British Airways collects fuel surcharges on flights to Europe.  Iberia does, too, but the cost isn’t nearly as outrageous.

One more thing: Aer Lingus, British Airways, and Iberia have a unique partnership with each other

These 3 airlines are under the same parent company.  There are certain conditions that apply, but you can actually transfer Avios between the 3 airline programs.   This isn’t really relevant if you’re transferring from Amex since you can transfer Membership Rewards to any of the 3 programs.  It is something that I wanted to point out, though.

I want to reiterate that this is not the norm.  Usually you cannot transfer airline currencies to other airlines, including partners.  Instead, you can use one program’s currency to book an award flight operated by a partner airline.  For example, you can use British Airways Avios to book an American Airlines flight.  You cannot transfer British Airways Avios to American Airlines miles.  This means your redemption cost is determined by British Airways Executive Club, not American Airlines AAdvantage.


If you are trying to book American Airlines flights (or other Oneworld partners) by using either British Airways or Iberia, make sure you choose the right program!  It could save you lots of points.

British Airways is generally best:

  • When you need to book a one-way (Iberia does not allow one-way for American Airlines operated flights)
  • If you live in a city that has non-stop flights
  • If your destination is a hub city
  • Flights with only 1 connection

For other flights, check Iberia!

For the best current credit card offers, click here.

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