As of the end of April, US Airways still was not imposing fuel surcharges on partner awards, including one of the new partners it got thanks to joining Oneworld back in March, British Airways.
Why It Mattered?
That was significant because among the airlines, British Airways is notorious for levying some of the highest carrier-imposed surcharges on flights to/from its hub in London – up to about $800 on some economy tickets, and over $1,300 on some business class and first class tickets. So booking British Airways award tickets is a tricky value proposition where you could still end up paying hundreds or thousands of dollars even if you are using your miles. However, British Airways releases a lot of award inventory (in comparison to many other carriers) so being able to book without these crazy fees was unique and a huge benefit.
By using US Airways miles to book British Airways award travel, however, you ended up just paying the normal taxes and fees on a ticket, around $300 for a roundtrip itinerary to/from London. That meant flyers could take advantage of BA’s extensive route network to fly to London and beyond to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia all for much cheaper than using British Airways Avios or American Airlines miles since AA also hits flyers with BA’s carrier-imposed fuel surcharges.
Last week, it looked like US Airways was finally getting around to updating its award pricing system and that some British Airways awards were starting to include these onerous charges. The trick, it seemed, was that if the agent you got on the line was able to price out the award automatically including mileage and taxes, you were still getting rates without the carrier-imposed surcharges. However, on more complicated itineraries like those that routed through London to other parts of the world, where the agent would have to go check with their “rate desk,” then they would come back on the line with British Airways’ infamous surcharges included in the price of the award.
So for instance, last week, I found a roundtrip business class award on British Airways from Chicago ORD to London Heathrow from September 4-October 1 for 100,000 miles and $327.65 in taxes and fees – the same as American Airlines and US Airways would charge on American operated flights to/from London.
However, when I tried to book this Chicago-Hong Kong itinerary via London, the total worked out to 110,000 miles and $979.96 in taxes and fees.
The key to avoiding the surcharges was to keep it simple and hope that the agent could generate the pricing automatically when inputting the flight information.
The Current Situation
Unfortunately, this week, it looks like US Airways finally got around to updating its pricing system for British Airways awards themselves as well. I decided to check into the situation again for an update and here’s what I found.
I searched for a roundtrip business class award ticket on British Airways from November 12-19 on AA.com. American priced it out at 100,000 miles and $1,195 in taxes/fees.
I called US Airways with the same flights and the agent was able to find them immediately but she sounded puzzled and asked me to hold on for a moment while she double checked the rate with the rate desk because she thought it looked very high. Uh oh. Sure enough, when she came back on the line a few moments later, she told me that the award had priced out the same as on AA.com.
I then asked her to look up the following simple roundtrip itinerary from Chicago ORD to Hong Kong in business class on Cathay and she was able to price it out for 110,000 miles and $85.48. No surprise there, since American doesn’t impose carrier surcharges on Cathay awards either.
For another quick test case, however, I went onto USAirways.com, which is now displaying American paid and award flights and found the following roundtrip itinerary on American’s Raleigh-Durham RDU to London Heathrow route.
US Airways did display some different level award availability than I had found on American, but I was able to use the calendar function to search for saver awards and found the following business class award.
It priced out at 100,000 miles and $378, versus 100,000 miles and $328 on AA.com thanks to US Airways’ $50 award processing charge.
A (Small) Bright Spot
So unfortunately, it looks like US Airways was able to update its pricing system and that it will now be including the same carrier-imposed surcharges that American Airlines does on certain partners including British Airways, Iberia and Finnair.
On the bright side, US Airways offers some extremely flexible routing and stopover rules, which mean that you can actually fly around the world for the price of a roundtrip, as in the case of that Hong Kong itinerary which routed outbound via London on British Airways, but returned to the US directly on Cathay, so even with carrier-imposed surcharges, you might still be able to find some great itineraries where paying the extra money is worth it.
What have your experiences been? Is anyone still getting awards without the fees? Congrats to all who were able to book before fuel surcharges were added! Based ont he number of emails/Tweets and messages I received, I know a lot of TPG readers were able to save thousands of dollars, so while I’m sad they are now being collected, I’m happy knowing a lot of people got in on this deal while it lasted.
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