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How to Use British Airways Miles: Post 4, Spotlight on Taxes and Fees

by on April 11, 2011 · 68 comments

in American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, Points Guy Pointers, Qantas

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Update: The current offer for the British Airways Visa is 50,000 Avios with $2,000 spend in the first 3 months.

This is the fourth installment of my series on maximizing British Airways miles. Since so many of you got in on the super-lucrative 100,000 mile BA Visa sign-up bonus (see details of the current 100K offer), it would be beneficial to check out: General tipsPost 1 – Booking BA Awards, Post 2 – Booking Partner Awards, Post 3 – Oneworld Alliance, Post 4 – Taxes and Fees, Post 5 – Household Accounts, Post 6 – Companion Ticket, Post 7 – Using ExpertFlyer for Partner Award Availability, Post 8 – The Art of the Stopover, Post 9 – Leveraging Miles and Cash Redemptions, and Post 10 - Using Qantas.com to Find Oneworld Award Availability. Also, be sure to check out my post on the credit card deal itself and the lengthy Q&A in the comments section.

One of the less desirable aspects of using British Airways miles is the high taxes and fees they tack on to most award redemptions. But, while these fees can be higher than what you are used to paying with other loyalty programs, you can still get great value out of British Airways miles because their One Oneworld Partner award chart is generous and there are some hidden gems. Some of my favorite  BA awards are Cathay Pacific Business/First Awards to Asia, Domestic awards on AA, and almost all South American redemptions on Lan and American.

Coach flights to Europe are hard to justify when the taxes/fees come to $500 – I’d probably just suck it up and pay for coach at that point. American Airlines flights to Asia don’t make much sense if you live in a Cathay gateway city (check out my post on Oneworld coverage from yesterday), since Cathay has nicer planes and lower fees. However, considering you can get a whopping 100,000 BA miles for $95 with their Chase Visa promotion, I guess we can’t complain too much about the miles not being the most valuable out there.

Overall, there may be other awards that make sense for you. My main goal is to give you a sense of what fees are out there so you can plan accordingly. If you want to do some research of your own, follow the tips I highlighted in this post – note that BA.com is by no means perfect. For example, if JFK-Madrid is available on American Airlines, it will automatically try to route you on BA through London. I’ll be highlighting other means of checking Oneworld award availability later this week, so don’t automatically think that the britishairways.com booking engine is 100% accurate – because it’s not.

If you still haven’t gotten the card, check out my original post on the deal and the long FAQ session in the comments section. If you apply through my site I get a commission, so if you support me doing more of these posts please consider using my link (it’s the same exact offer as britishairways.com).

Now let’s check out sample awards, starting with British Airways. These are just a small sample of potential awards, but I think it should give you a decent idea of what to expect for award fees.

First example: British Airways Chicago – London in Coach… not worth it in my opinion unless its on a peak day and its over $1,200 to buy tickets

ORD-LHR Premium Economy

ORD-LHR Business Class

ORD-LHR First Class

Let’s move on to American Airlines and see what their fees are like.

Chicago to Dublin in Coach … Ouch

JFK to Budapest in Business

Miami to Buenos Aires in Coach

Miami to Buenos Aires in First Class

Domestic Coach Roundtrip

Los Angeles to Shanghai in Coach (one of their new routes – lots of award availability)

Los Angeles to Shanghai in First Class

Now let’s look at Cathay Pacific, which is one of the highest-rated carriers in terms of service.

Chicago to Hong Kong in Coach

Chicago to Hong Kong in Business Class

Los Angeles to Bali via Hong Kong in Business Class (Great honeymoon destination)

Toronto to Hong Kong in First Class

JFK to Vancouver in Business

Iberia

Miami to Barcelona in Coach

Qantas

San Francisco to Sydney in Coach

San Francisco to Sydney in Business Class – well worth it for such a long flight!

Royal Jordanian

JFK to Amman in Coach

Finn Air

Helsinki to Bangkok in Coach

Japan Airlines

Chicago to Tokyo in Coach

Honolulu to Tokyo in Business

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

Lantean April 11, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Is it just me or did “Post 4″ get lost?

Adam April 11, 2011 at 3:37 pm

Brian great recap of the uses of miles. If flying coach, one of the best deals I found so far was South America. i.e. JFK – Buenos Aires on LAN for 40,000 miles plus ~$41 for tax.

The Points Guy April 11, 2011 at 3:51 pm

@Lantean- good catch, this is actually Post 4- changed the title so others wouldn’t be confused. Now off for my second cup of coffee for the day….

@Adam- agree that Lan or American coach to South America is an amazing value at 40k. Thats 2.5 roundtrips for $95 with the card bonus!

Jeremy April 11, 2011 at 7:41 pm

How does codeshare work when redeeming miles? Is that considered using one Oneworld partner? Looking ORD-LIM, neither AA or LAN fly directly between those cities, but I could get there on codeshared flights with both. I’d really like to use my miles to go to Cuzco, but I can’t get BA.com to recognize it.

Matt April 11, 2011 at 7:54 pm

Thanks for these Brian. Just what I was looking for!

The Points Guy April 11, 2011 at 9:22 pm

@Jeremy- when booking using miles, its all about the operating carrier. So if you want to leave from Chicago and use the Single Oneworld Partner award chart, you have to fly American to Lima and then buy or use miles for a separate ticket to Cuzco (since AA doesn’t fly there). Or you could get yourself to a Lan gateway (Miami/New York/San Fran/ Los Angeles) but I think it would probably be cheaper to buy the Lima-Cuzco leg.

jphripjah April 11, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Great post. Very helpful.

HoKo April 11, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Not so sure about that, Lima to Cuzco is extremely expensive if you book on LAN’s english version website (we’re talking one way fares of 240USD)..I’ve heard rumors that it is cheaper if you use the Spanish version or buy your tickets from a travel agent once in the country.

I am meeting up with some friends in Peru soon, I will be on an award ticket: IAD-MIA-LIM(overnight)-CUZ, CUZ-LIM-MIA-JFK(overnight)-DCA but they are paying for their tickets out of pocket so we’ll see what sort of fares they end up getting

rb April 12, 2011 at 7:42 am

Thanks for this Brian. This is extremely helpful.. I am trying to search for JFK-AMD but it always comes up with error stating BA and it’s partners do not fly to that destination so I modified it to JFK-BOM but BA is the only option that comes up with ~$650 in taxes. Calling BA is the only work around if I want something from JFK-AMD? Thanks again..

Tim April 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm

Hey Brian

Thanks so much for all the info and advice. I am going to apply for this card in the next 2 weeks through your link to support you for sure! You’ve helped me so much!

The huge fee son award tickets to Europe is a huge turn off. Do you think it would be a waste to use the 100,000 BA miles for 4 free LAX-JFK trips on AA? Like when then fares are $500+?

The Points Guy April 12, 2011 at 2:42 pm

@rb the only cheaper option would be LGA-ORD-del on American

@Tim- no, I think that’s a great use of miles. $2,000 in airfare for a $95 card! The only thing is that you don’t earn elite status on award tix but saving money is more important to most people

muyf April 12, 2011 at 10:35 pm

thanks so much for this series! i just came across your blog yesterday, and so far am loving it!

about BA miles, do you know anything about BA’s policy in changing award tickets from coach to business? am trying to book a trip on AA using BA points, and only coach is available right now. am considering just booking it so i can have those dates, and periodically checking to see if biz opens up. do you know if there would be a change fee to do that?

Tim April 12, 2011 at 10:43 pm

Thanks Bryan.
If it has your blessing I know it’s a good move!
I actually fly United and have Prem Exec status with them.
But I’d use these free AA flights for some bonus trips to NYC I wouldn’t normally do.
One can’t have enough weekend getaways to NYC I say!

Alex April 13, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Hi Brian – First, thanks a ton for all the detailed info – I’m forwarding your link to everyone I know.

Regarding taxes&fees on stopovers – in your experience are they closer to the non-stopover cost, or closer to adding all the individual segments together? For example ORD-HKG priced at $116, HKG-BKK at $40 (total of $156). ORD-HKG-BKK (no stopover, same flts) priced at $141. Bad example because the price diff isn’t huge, but you get my point. Maybe it’s something you can include when you post about stopovers.

And one more question – any chance ORD-HKG-BKK-SIN works with stops in each city? Or is the SIN add on too much? I noticed CX flies BKK-SIN too.

askmrlee April 13, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Hi Points Guy. I discovered you through NYTimes’ bucks blog. BA does not necessarily charge more for awards. It’s the UK government which has very high taxes on flights which increase substantially in business and even more in first. The same taxes would of course apply if you redeemed AAdvantage for JFK-LHR. In every one of the examples, I’ve seen, the trips with the highest taxes include a UK flight in C or F.

So if your trip does not need to include the UK, simply avoid routing your flight there.

Alex April 13, 2011 at 10:41 pm

@askmrlee – Sorry to disagree but BA does charge significantly more in fees simply because they include the fuel surcharge – especially for transatlantic flights. The main US carriers do not. I just checked JFK-LHR from my AA account, and the total taxes & fees for econ are $168, for biz are $266. Continental clocks in at exactly the same – $168 & $266. These are obviously drastically better than the equivalent BA award fees of $528 & $795, which is the point Brian is making.

Mike April 14, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I’m confused about how the taxes/surcharges work when I use my BA miles on a OneWorld partner. For instance, I’d like to use my 100.000 miles to fly round trip from Los Angeles to Dehli. American Airlines flies this route through Chicago, and BA through London. Can I use my BA miles via oneworld and book the AA route, thus avoiding the taxes and fees BA would charge for its route via London?

The Points Guy April 14, 2011 at 6:16 pm

@mike- yes- fees will still be around $400, but less than BA for sure

@Mrlee- same thing for Europe- taxes will be more than AA but less than flying BA planes

Ben April 15, 2011 at 11:40 am

Seeing AA does not fly out of DLH I am looking to do a MSP – HNL booking. Any chance you could help me out with how my routing would go and what airlines do fly out of MSP that I could stay with a OneWorld Partner to get to HNL? I am curious what I might be looking at for fees and miles per ticket. Your page is fantastic and is such a great wealth of knowledge.

The Points Guy April 15, 2011 at 11:42 am

Ben- you’d have to use American or Alaska airlines out of MSP to get to HNL. Thanks for your comments!

Tim April 16, 2011 at 2:57 am

Applied via your links today for the BA 100,000 mile card and the Amex 50,000 Platnium Card

Will let you know how I go!

Thanks Bryan!!!!!

Nick April 18, 2011 at 12:55 pm

When using BA miles for AA domestic can it be out of any city for example Austin? Or does it have to be out of Dallas or a city that BA goes to? Thanks

The Points Guy April 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm

@Tim- Thank YOU!

@Nick- any city that AA flies to

Carol April 21, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Did all of the prices get stripped out above? The only price I can see is for the very first example. First example: British Airways Chicago – London in Coach… not worth it in my opinion unless its on a peak day and its over $1,200 to buy tickets

Otherwise there are airport pairs, but no numbers. This is very important information that you are sharing, and I am interesting in seeing what was once here. (I am using Firefox on Mac.)

Kevin @ Thousandaire.com April 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm

I’m getting the same thing. Just a bunch of broken images.

The Points Guy April 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm

@carol/Kevin- thanks for letting me know- I switched web hosts/databases last night and this post seems to have been a casualty- I’ll get it fixed asap

The Points Guy April 23, 2011 at 1:29 pm

All- the database issue has been fixed so the screen shot images should be loading correctly. Let me know if you have any issues. Thanks for your patience!

Rahul Francis April 24, 2011 at 4:08 pm

Hey, TPG, quick question. I signed up for the 100k card and was planning to get 2 tix to Euro Zone 1 until I saw the taxes (550!). I’m considering other destinations and have heard that if I don’t fly through LHR the fees are reduced. Unfortunately, the BA search engine keeps routing me through LHR. I’m more than happy to fly into Dublin, Zurich, Amsterdam, etc. if the taxes are reduced but I cannot change the routing. Anybody have any ideas?

Rahul Francis April 24, 2011 at 4:09 pm

???

Caroline April 25, 2011 at 3:59 pm

@Rahul – Though not an expert myself, I was doing some similar searches on BA. It seems that BA will route you through London (and hence have you flying with BA rather than a partner airline) on any route they fly, and for which they have available flights. I was doing some searches for this summer (for which many of the BA rewards flights had sold out), and only then did it give me the option of trying to book with Iberia or American. (I got a screen prompting me either to choose another date, or to try with one of the partner airlines.)

It seems a little tricky to pull off: given the huge availability of BA reward flights (which I think is a huge advantage in itself, taxes aside), it’s hard to avoid flying with BA for a North America to Europe transatlantic. But it does seem to be possible. It is, though, much easier to get rerouted to AA or Iberia on a route that BA doesn’t fly (hint: not Europe). ALTHOUGH, note that BA doesn’t fly to all the European cities — I know from personal experience, as a frequent traveler to Spain, that they don’t fly to Seville. Iberia does of course. On the other hand, Spain is Europe Zone 2 and a roundtrip is 60K miles.

All that said, flying with Iberia or American transatlantic didn’t seem to help tons. I think the searches I did showed around $500 for BA, but around $400 for either Iberia or AA (note: not both — that just makes it worse, I think). I’m not totally sure why this is, since in other contexts I understand that AA has very low taxes and fees.

I’m a little bummed about the taxes and fees myself, because I fly to Europe all the time, and would love to cash in my miles on a transatlantic flight or even on European domestics. (My flight preferences in part define why I fly with and have an account with BA.) But, it might make more sense to use the miles for multiple domestic US flights. Less climactic, but economically wise.

The Points Guy April 25, 2011 at 4:35 pm

@Rahul- the online engine will try to route you through London, but you can call and book to other destinations. While taxes won’t be as high as BA, they will still be $400ish+. All transatlantic flights, regardless of carrier have these high fees. As I’ve written about many times before, using BA miles for domestic, South America, Asia and Australia flights are better because they don’t currently have the high surcharges like European flights.

@Caroline- you hit it on the head- the online engine tries routing through London, but you can get other carriers to show up when BA doesnt show availability. You can use aa.com as a tool to find AA MileSaaver flights. The kvstool.com will also show partner availability even when BA has available flights.

Bottom line- you are going to be hit with high fees going to Europe so BA miles are best used on non-European trips.

Rahul Francis April 25, 2011 at 10:10 pm

@Caroline and TPG- Thanks for the prompt response. I will look into it.

Theresa April 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm

I am confused. Can I use the bonus miles to just fly within the U.S. on the bonus miles?

The Points Guy April 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

@Theresa- you can use British Airways miles to redeem for American Airlines flights. With 100k BA miles, you could get 4 domestic coach roundtrip flights and the taxes are usually $5 on those flights- a pretty amazing deal.

doug April 28, 2011 at 1:29 pm

I had looked forward to flying Cathay from SFO to Bangkok via Hong Kong in coach several years ago (before the crises) but the actual experience was underwhelming – nothing like I had heard about some of the east Asia-based carriers. Half the plane is utilized for about 60 first and business passengers, and the other 300 of us were packed in the back. I can’t imagine it has gotten any better given the issues the industry is facing. I didn’t find it any less cramped than a long-haul U.S. based carrier. The one advantage was that the food was more interesting – for example they offered congee for breakfast. The point is, I’d be indifferent in coach between AA and Cathay, but would prefer, say, an airline where I can get a window or aisle over a middle bulkhead seat.

milaohu May 2, 2011 at 12:54 am

I observe that the taxes and fees for a roundtrip is different from the combination of two one ways. Sometimes roundtrip is more expensive, some time it is cheaper. The difference could be as much as $100, especially for AA award between US and Asia.
Any insights on this issue?

Take your ORD-HKG on CX Business Roundtrip as example
http://thepointsguy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/CX-ORD-HKG-J.jpg
Roundtrip takes 100k + $262.04
Two one ways take 100k + 299.64, which is $38 more expensive
ORD->HKG takes 50k+$ 134.60
HKG->ORD takes 50k + $ 165.04

Yannick May 4, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Hi.
Pardon the potentially stupid question but when BA says that a trip from North america to Europe Zone 1 will cost you 50,000 BA miles, will a flight from say Denver to Heathrow to Marseille, Marseille being in Europe Zone 1 and being the final destination (no stop over), will that cost 50,000 BA miles or is it only the Denver-to-london that will cost 50,000 BA miles and then you still have pay/use xtra miles for the London-Marseill trip?
Thanks.

The Points Guy May 4, 2011 at 6:26 pm

@Yannick- it would include all travel to Marseilles. So JFK-London is the same price in miles as LAX-Marseilles. Silly, but thats the way most mileage programs work- I’m not complaining!

HoKo May 4, 2011 at 6:30 pm

@ Yannick

That price is for your final destination.

For example I just flew IAD-MIA-LIM (overnight) – CUZ.

Many people think you can only fly into the capital city, or a major hub or something like that but so long as the airline (or alliance) in question has service then you can incorporate it into the ticket.

It’s a good thing too b/c the CUZ-LIM leg costs about $300USD RT so it saved me a ton of money wrapping it all into the same award.

Sandy May 5, 2011 at 7:19 am

Hi,
I plan to see how much it would cost me ( miles and cash) to fly from JFK to Delhi (DEL). I want to avoid expensive BA taxes. Is there any way to go via AA and pay less taxes and miles.

The Points Guy May 5, 2011 at 9:36 am

AA flies ORD-DEL – find availability on aa.com in the saaver level and then plug those days into the BA.com engine following my tips on booking partner awards and you’ll see how much taxes/fees are for your flight

Pulley Bone May 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Brian, you are amazing! These tips are priceless.

Greg May 5, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Hi Points Guy – love the blog and have been an avid reader since I discovered it in January. I’m new to the game, and I’m really interested in this deal, but I was hoping you could clear up the Domestic flights scenario using BA miles for AA MileSaaver awards. Is the bottom line that we have to call BA to book a simple LAX-JFK flight, for example? I’ve read all the posts and the flyertalk thread, but can’t seem to find a straight answer. Thanks a lot!

The Points Guy May 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm

@Greg- many itineraries will load on BA.com, in fact I recently booked a one way SFO-JFK in first class for 37,500 miles and $2.50. However, if you don’t see it on BA.com AND you see Saaver availability on AA.com, then just write down the flights that are SAAver and call BA to book it- they should waive the phone booking fee since it can’t be booked online. The BA.com engine isn’t perfect, but it does work well once you massage it- I try searching for availability segment by segment- don’t allow it to “think” too much because it won’t automatically put together multi-stop options. Hope that answered your question!

Zack June 10, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Can I also fly Cathay in Business to Hongkong and then New Delhi or Mumbai as final destination for 100,000 miles?

Maren June 13, 2011 at 1:07 am

Hello!

Point of confusion- I looked up a flight from SFO-NRT on AA.com and the fees come up to around $55. When I try and book on BA.com, it gives me the same flights but for $650! What’s going on? Can calling BA get me the lower tax/fee rate?

Thanks for your wonderful blog!

Toree June 17, 2011 at 9:37 am

Hi there,
So ultimately, any recommendations on JFK to London, more than willing to fly economy, currently have 100.000 miles on my saphire. Or is Barcellona a better idea? I must admit, this award flight business is tough to comprehend at times. Any advice would be much appreciated!

JP June 30, 2011 at 9:59 pm

Hi There..I took advantage of the 100k BA credit card and now . have been trying unsuccessfully to book LAN awards or find any availability using BA.com for South American awards between now and March 2011. (Argentina/Brazil from Los Angeles).

Found some success through Qantas.com. Question for you… is there a usual time that airline partners (one world) “release” seats to BA for award bookings? (90 days out, 180 days out? ) other?

guest July 24, 2011 at 8:13 pm

Can I book a an AA flight using BA miles to a city that BA flies to? I’m flying Chicago to Paris or Rome, and BA and AA both go there.

Is it possible to book it on AA to avoid the taxes?

Anonymous July 24, 2011 at 8:34 pm

All European itineraries, whether on BA or AA will have crazy taxes if you use BA miles. No way around it. BA miles are best used for non-European trips

Anonymous July 24, 2011 at 8:34 pm

if its on qantas you can book using BA miles- you’ll just have to call

Anonymous July 24, 2011 at 8:35 pm

Not sure what the question is. its 50k roundtrip in coach to Europe, but just know you’ll pay $400+ in fees so it may make more sense to just buy the ticket. BA Miles are best used on non-European awards

Anonymous July 24, 2011 at 8:36 pm

That seems a little high for taxes on an Asian award. I’d try calling BA to see whats up. Are you sure they arent trying to route you via London?

Guest July 26, 2011 at 6:54 pm

Comparing the same Nashville>Manchester (England) itinerary 5/16/2012-5/30/2012, between BA.com and AA.com, the fees/taxes on the former run $499.50; on the latter they run $145.50. All flights in the itinerary are operated by AA. The fuel surcharge is of course what accounts for most of that difference. What I don’t understand is how BA can legally collect a fuel surcharge for flights it doesn’t operate. Their own policy reads:

“The surcharge is based on flight duration and applies to all passengers, including children and infants travelling on British Airways operated international and domestic services.”

I asked an Executive Club rep what the deal was today and he said that’s just the way it is.

Michael August 11, 2011 at 7:49 am

Brian,

For the life of me I cannot replicate your LAX-HKG-BALI flight on BA.com.

http://thepointsguy.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/LAX-DPS-J-300×295.jpg

I’ve spent about 1 hour trying to get to that page in any way from the BA homepage and can’t seem to replicate it. Can you help me with some of the steps?

Mike

Anonymous August 11, 2011 at 1:44 pm

Explain to me the steps you are taking on BA.com and i’ll let you know where you are going wrong

Jacqui September 4, 2011 at 7:50 pm

I also just tried booking a flight on Cathay to Bangkok using BA miles and the fees were over $600 per person. Any idea why this is?

SterlingGuy September 8, 2011 at 2:06 am

Tried to book LAX to Lima with points (one way). BA showed the flight avail. But after I put in my cc #, I got a can’t complete the transaction, call BA. What’s with that? Why show a flight is avail, let me put in my cc #, then say it’s not able to book it. A friend of mine tells me she had the same experience over and over and just gave up.

Bracoi12 October 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm

I am trying to do similar thing, to make business reservation (from ORD-HKG-DPS), but I can not make it work at BA site (flights avaialble to show just as segments ORD-HKG and HKG-DPS). Any way you can explain further?
Thanks

Anonymous October 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm

You will have to call to book if the site won’t allow it. just write down the flight numbers that are available and call the rep to book your flight

David Shih January 1, 2012 at 7:03 am

Hi TPG: Is there a list of airlines that you can redeem using BA Avios without the expensive fuel surcharges? I tried a few routes and it seems like CX and JL all have the surcharges.

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