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Avios + Cash Bookings with British Airways: How does it work???

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I'm considering joining the new BA Avios Program and purchasing a RT airfare with BA. Over the next 5 years I will have to travel to UK once a year, so I figured I might aquire enough points to put towards a 6th UK trip that will include my family. I did some researching and found that it is difficult to book Avios award seats from SFO to UK. Is it easier to do a Avios + Cash booking? How does it exactly work? I'd like it to be simple for me to redeem points (even with "cash") and book the seats I want for myself and family members. I have no flexibility in dates since it will be a trip to attend my graduation.

My other option is to stick with United Airlines. Airfares are slighlty lower, even with economy plus. Though I am disappointed that the aircraft doesn't have personal monitors (this will help my kids get through the flight) as well as tend to have the worst luck with flight delays and lost luggage with United.

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