When Avios is not very useful…

Avios is one of the best mile currencies for short-haul redemptions (LAN was also, but given that the SPG transfer ratio devalued it’s not so great of an option anymore), especially for transborders which are prohibitively expensive. Just look at the fare for the next month with a paid fare:

Month of Fares

Month of Fares

I mean, that’s $200 for a 50 minute flight! That’s almost as expensive as a paid first class ticket! Okay, now I kid am playing with you. So it should be a great deal with Avios, with one ticket at 4,500 points, which should yield over 4 cents in value, right?

Well, I don’t think so. Let’s look at the breakdown of an award ticket – taxes and fees are $49.60.

Fare Breakdown

That’s right – $49 dollars in taxes for an award ticket!

Fare Breakdown

I could get a car and drive down, but I don’t really want to do that since I lose three hours of “working” time. So I went and took Amtrak.

Amtrak Ticket

Amtrak Ticket

That’s right! The entire ticket is cheaper than the taxes and fees on the flight.

Keep in mind I’m not saying that Avios is not useful. In fact, in most cases, it is hugely useful as you use the fewest amount of miles and which gives a great rate of return. For example, the other way (SEA/PDX-YVR) is only 4,500 miles and $2.50. It is the airport taxes that are undermining the value of this redemption. Just remember that Avios is not the end all, and this is the same with all currencies. Make sure you are looking for the best redemption at all times, even considering paid and other options.

I found Amtrak Cascades very nice and there was wifi too! Trip report coming soon. 🙂



  1. How was the wait at border ?
    Was your train on time ? How long did it really take you from Vancouver to Seattle ?
    Are last minute tickets expensive ?

    • It was around four hours, which when comparing the time to drive or take a plane wasn’t really that much longer.

  2. Good to know. I’m planning on taking the 6:40 am cascades from Vancouver to Seattle instead of an avios redemption as well. Was there wifi throughout? Also, is it worth it to pay $22 for the business seat? Thanks!

    • There is a bit more seat pitch and width in business class, but I do not think it is worth it since I sat in the dining car the whole time and had plenty of legroom.

  3. @Winston – business seat is totally worth it at that price. Those cars will likely be nearly empty.

    Watch out for (unannounced) track closures on that route – I did it last year and Amtrak substituted a bus for half the trip, adding something like 1.5 hours to the transit time, including an hour at an absolutely desolate station somewhere along the way that didn’t have enough room for all the passengers. And of course no biz class on the bus – uncomfortable, impossible to work. Seemed like a common occurrence.

    Last time I needed to get out of Vancouver, I wound up with a 25K AA-mile redemption on CX to JFK in C (the redeye; a nice place to sleep) and a revenue ticket back to SFO. Combination was cheaper than the YVR-SFO revenue ticket.

  4. Thanks for the feedback guys. Fortunately, I don’t have to be in Seattle til 4:00 pm so in case of a delay I should be ok. Looking forward to my inbound flt though on CX First from jfk and a few days to enjoy Vancouver.

  5. The real problem here is the taxes imposed on flights from Canada. Avios works just fine on the return from the US, or if you stay within the US.

  6. I would like to add that if one of your legs booked with Avios as two separate tickets is cancelled and the other is not, that’s a problem. Because that plane is still going to go to its destination with or without you. You may have to resort cancelling both reservations and use a different airline if you have the miles, which is what I had to do. Please keep this possibility in mind.

  7. Another way of looking at this is that you get 3c value out of Avios, not 4. 4500 miles for 135$ plus taxes.
    That is OK. Usual cost of Avios with promotions is less than 1c, so what is wrong with getting 3c back?
    Still better than getting 1c value using UA miles at 12500 a ticket.

    • This is because I value the Amtrak as essentially equivalent to the flight. That means the cheapest value of the flight to me is essentially $30. So I feel like I’m getting around 0.75 cents in value. Again, this valuation is completely arbitrary. If you don’t like Amtrak, you are getting approximately 2.1 cents return (because that is what you can buy them for).

  8. I’m flying SNA-PDX-YVR next Friday with AA miles on AS 12,500 AA miles one way. Flying back on WestJet straight to LAX. Any opinions on WestJet?

  9. Amtrak Cascades may not be the fastest and most cost-efficient way of doing YVR-SEA. Check out Boltbus too. It might be a bit less comfortable, but will probably be closer to $20, and the ride should clock in at 4 hours or less.

  10. Great points you make. One other thjng is if you book the avios points for Alaska don’g you also have to pay an additional $75 phone reservation fee as ghey cNnot be booked online

  11. Don’t forget that the train gets you to downtown Seattle (or a few other cities within metro Seattle), while the plane takes you to SEA airport, and you’ll need a cab or rental car to get out. If downtown Seattle is your destination, taking the train can cut down significantly on your total travel time as well as your cost.

    From downtown Vancouver, the train station is reasonably close… the airport is also very convenient with SkyTrain.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *