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How to cut surcharges & still fly British Airways with AAdvantage miles

by on Fri October 30, 2015 • 12 Comments
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British Airways

It’s the bane of many an award search to Europe with American AAdvantage miles.

You see space available on dates you want, but when you click to see the flights, they’re all on British Airways, which tends to have lots and lots of award space to Europe. And that space often comes with maddening fuel surcharges of hundreds of dollars on an ‘award’ ticket.

You could choose to avoid British Airways altogether using these alternatives.

But we took a deep look into current British Airways fuel surcharge prices by destination (you can see the info below).

And while some of their surcharges are truly obscene, like $1,636 for a roundtrip in Business Class from the U.S. to South Africa, completely ignoring British Airways options for your award travel means you’re missing out on reasonable options that can take advantage of British Airways’ generous award availability, especially in First and Business Class.

We’ve found using British Airways for award travel from the U.S. with AAdvantage miles can be very reasonable if you:

  1. Book round trips as two separate one way awards to take advantage of lower surcharges on awards that appear to start in Europe.
  2. Fly a no surcharge option like American Airlines across the ocean, then use a short British Airways flight in Europe, with surcharges of only about $40 for many destinations.
  3. Fly home from low fee airports like Dublin and Tel Aviv, which can save you hundreds of dollars.

1. Always book round trips as two separate one way awards

Fuel surcharges are generally set in the currency of the region you’re starting your trip.

And with the strong dollar and weaker demand for flights from Europeans, you’ll save a lot by booking two one ways instead of a round trip if you’re starting in the U.S. That will let you take advantage of more favorable European pricing for your flights back home. Otherwise if you just book a straight roundtrip on one ticket, you’ll pay U.S. based prices for the whole thing.

Two one way award tickets costs the same number of miles as a round trip, but a lot less in taxes and fees.

Two one way award tickets costs the same number of miles as a round trip, but a lot less in taxes and fees.

Here are examples:

London

  • U.S. to London: $257 Economy ($229 surcharge + $28 taxes), $442 Business / First ($414 surcharge + $28 taxes)
  • London to U.S.: $334 Economy ($125 surcharge + $210 taxes), $527 Business / First ($205 surcharge + $322 taxes)
  • Roundtrip: $695 Economy ($458 surcharge + $237 taxes), $1,272 Business / First ($904 surcharge + $368 taxes)
  • Two one ways for a roundtrip: $591 Economy + $969 Business (save $104 in Economy, $303 in Business / First vs roundtrip)

Dublin

  • U.S. to Dublin : $311 Economy ($248 surcharge + $63 taxes), $466 Business / First ($403 surcharge + $63 taxes)
  • Dublin to U.S.: $212 Economy ($114 surcharge + $98 taxes), $263 Business / First ($165 surcharge + $98 taxes)
  • Roundtrip: $657 Economy ($496 surcharge + $151 taxes), $967 Business / First ($806 surcharge + $161 taxes)
  • Two one ways for a roundtrip: $523 Economy, $729 Business / First (save $134 in Economy, $238 in Business / First vs roundtrip)

And you’ll find this discrepancy between two one ways and a straight up roundtrip with just about every British Airways destination from the U.S.

Never, ever book a single roundtrip British Airways award from the U.S.

Always book a roundtrip as two one ways. You’ll pay the same number of miles, but far less in taxes and fees.

2. Fly American Airlines to London, then British Airways beyond

The current surcharges for flights from the U.S. to destinations British Airways serves are pretty high when you fly British Airways the whole way:

  • UK: $229 Economy, $414 Business / First one-way
  • Continental Europe plus Israel: $258 Economy, $428 Business / First 0ne-way
  • Ireland: $248 Economy, $428 Business / First one-way
  • India: $250 Economy, $667 Business / First one-way
  • South Africa: $175 Economy, $780 Business / First one-way

But if you fly an American Airlines flight to London and connect to a British Airways flight, here are the surcharges you’ll pay:

  • UK: $32 Economy, $40 Business / First
  • Continental Europe plus Israel: $32 Economy, $40 Business / First
  • Ireland: $32 Economy, $40 Business / First
  • India: $175 Economy, $253 Business / First
  • South Africa: $209 Economy, $366 Business / First
Fees for New York to London on American Airlines, connecting London to Venice on British Airways

Fees for New York to London on American Airlines, connecting London to Venice on British Airways in Business Class

For the most part they’re much lower than flying British Airways across the ocean, especially to Europe, even though you’re still flying British Airways beyond London.

There are some modest airport taxes of about $30 for connecting in London, but these are all reasonable prices to pay.

This is even more interesting when you consider American has recently opened up tons of Business Class award space on its own flights to London.

3. Fly back from low tax / fee airports, even on British Airways

When you’re flying from Europe you’re going to be paying over $100 in taxes on an award ticket no matter what airline you fly or miles you use, thanks to the governments and airports there.

Adding fuel surcharges on top of those taxes, most trips back to the U.S. with British Airways flights across the ocean will run you $400 – $500 all in for Business and First Class tickets.

But there are some cities where you’ll pay closer to $300, even on British Airways flights across the ocean, thanks to lower taxes and surcharges:

  • Dublin to the U.S.: $263
  • Madrid or Barcelona to the U.S.: $337
  • Amsterdam to the U.S. : $338
  • Tel Aviv to the U.S.: $302

Since you pay about $100 or so in taxes no matter how you fly back, think of it as paying about $200 extra to take advantage of the great availability of British Airways award seats in Business and First Class.

bafirstclass

Indulge in the luxury of British Airways First Class for just 62,500 AAdvantage miles plus $200 or so in extra fees

Here are current surcharges and taxes for flights to the U.S. from some of the most popular destinations:

  • Amsterdam: $274 Economy ($159 surcharge + $115 taxes) + $338 Business / First ($224 surcharge + $114 taxes)
  • Cape Town: $298 Economy ($161 surcharge + $137 taxes) + $626 Business / First ($489 surcharge + $137 taxes)
  • Delhi: $319 Economy ($186 surcharge + $133 taxes) + $531 Business / First ($376 surcharge + $155 taxes)
  • Dublin: $212 Economy ($114 surcharge + $98 taxes) + $263 Business / First ($165 surcharge + $98 taxes)
  • Frankfurt: $343 Economy ($173 surcharge + $170 taxes) + $407 Business / First ($237 surcharge + $170 taxes)
  • London: $334 Economy ($125 surcharge + $210 taxes) + $527 Business / First ($205 surcharge + $322 taxes)
  • Madrid: $270 Economy ($163 surcharge + $107 taxes) + $338 Business / First ($229 surcharge + $109 taxes)
  • Paris: $285 Economy ($158 surcharge + $127 taxes) + $394 Business / First ($222 surcharge + $172 taxes)
  • Rome: $253 Economy ($136 surcharge + $117 taxes) + $385 Business / First ($268 surcharge + $117 taxes)
  • Tel Aviv: $261 Economy ($151 surcharge + $110 taxes) + $302 Business / First ($192 surcharge + $110 taxes)

Surcharges are the same no matter where you arrive from the U.S., so the prices above apply for New York, Los Angeles, Houston, or anywhere else you can reach in the U.S. with your miles.

Putting it together…

Here’s a trip in the height of summer from Los Angeles to Rome.

On the outbound, you can fly American to London, then British Airways on to Rome in Business Class.

lax-fco

That leg is just 50,000 miles plus $40 in fuel surcharges on top of the typical taxes.

And on the way back you can fly British Airways all the way to New York in First Class, followed by American’s luxurious transcontinental First Class from New York to Los Angeles.

fco-lax

Just 62,500 miles plus $270 in fuel surcharges on top of the taxes you’d already be paying with or without British Airways.

All very reasonable for a luxurious award with convenient connections during the height of the summer.

So if American’s recent generous award availability to Europe in Business Class gets tighter, know that not all British Airways options are obscenely priced. You just have to break up your search, and be creative with the strategies we listed above.

 

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12 thoughts on How to cut surcharges & still fly British Airways with AAdvantage miles

  1. tom jovicich

    I think that its wonderful that you show how to do this using miles. How about some posts and how to pay for tickets and get CONFIRMED upgrades. I need to pay to accrue miles to retain my status and have a great interest in learning how to pay as little as possible and use upgrades or miles to fly upfront.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @tom – It’s getting less compelling to upgrade with miles (often worth it now just to buy a cheap biz class fares instead as those have come down in price in recent years) but will keep in mind for future posts.

      Reply
  2. Leah

    Thank you for this post! I am pretty new to international travel hacking. My first attempt was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Cape Town, South Africa. I used all my points and ended up getting slammed with fuel surcharges and taxes. I am trying to book a ticket for myself and my mother to go from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to London, England in August 2016, but I am fearful this same situation will happen again. Any advice you can give would be helpful.

    Thank you!

    Reply
  3. Stuart Falk

    Great and helpful post. Thanks. Could you tell me, what would the one way surcharges and taxes be using BA in Business from Marseille or Paris, France to Heathrow, connecting to BA First to Los Angeles?

    Reply
  4. DaninMCI

    Good tips that I also have found to be true. I just wish I could find a way to get around the high round trip charges when using a BA Companion pass in Business of First. I know I can book a one way but then I only get part of the value. I’m thinking Open Skies might be a possible option somehow but I have to get to NY to use that option I think.

    Reply
  5. Vulcanico

    For the second leg, inbound, where do you look for the award space, AA website? For the itinerary above, AA should give you options on their own metal first, right?

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Vulcanico – They give a mix of own metal and partner options when you tab through the results. But yes the examples above were all generated on AA.com.

      Reply
  6. Jerry Mandel

    Your example of LAX to FCO with low surcharges makes no sense to me. I want to go DFW-FCO but AA will only let me fly on BA via LHR with big surcharges. Even though AA has many daily flights from ORD/PHL/CLT.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Jerry – Check different dates. For example July 12 in Biz Class. Options via the nonstop on AA to LHR, then BA to FCO, or DFW-CLT-LHR all on AA, then BA to FCO.

      $105 in total taxes/fees, of which $40 are fuel surcharge.

      Reply
      1. Jerry Mandel

        I want to go DFW-FCO award Business class on May 15, 2016 and I did try different dates. Same for PHL/ORD/CLT-FCO. No matter the date, the ONLY routing on aa.com or by telephone is on BA via LHR with huge surcharge. It’s strange (sarcasm) that BA always will have availability but none of the MANY AA flights will have availability.

        Reply

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