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Maximizing British Airways Avios Series: Spotlight on Taxes and Fees

April 11, 2012
12 min read
Maximizing British Airways Avios Series: Spotlight on Taxes and Fees
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This is an installment in my new Maximizing British Airways Avios series. Other posts include Master FAQ Post on British Airways 100,000 Avios Offer, Distance-Based Awards, Travel Together Companion Ticket, Household Accounts, Using Avios to Upgrade Paid Tickets, The Avios and Cash Option, Save Money on Fuel Surcharges by Transferring British Airways Avios to Iberia, Using Avios For Non-Flight Redemptions.

While 100,000 Avios points on the British Airways Visa Signature Card is an amazing deal for a single credit card bonus, you need to understand that British Airways Avios points work differently than most US frequent flyer programs. The biggest gripe people have about these points is that some redemptions (like those to Europe) have outrageous taxes and fees, but here’s the inside tip: Not all Avios redemptions have huge fees! I'll list the ones that do and don't below, but here are a couple of other things you should know about using Avios.

You should also know that British Airways does not charge last-minute redemption or award-ticketing fees like American, which levies a hefty $75 fee for any awards booked less than 21 days in advance. Plus, if your plans change, it’s only $70 to cancel your ticket and redeposit your Avios to your account. So in terms of award fees, it’s actually a pretty good program.

Fee Low Down

British Airways Operated Flights
As I said, British Airways sucks in terms of levying huge fuel surcharges—so if your goal is to fly to Europe, prepare to pay at least $600 in taxes and fees, even on an economy award ticket and up to $1,400 for first class redemptions to far flung destinations. In this economy ticket scenario it’s probably better just to purchase your ticket and earn those Avios and Tier points toward elite status.

Here are some sample itineraries and how many Avios they would cost you.

-LAX-LHR Economy
To fly roundtrip on this route, you’d need 50,000 Avios and $655 in taxes and surcharges.

Because Avios awards are distance-based, this trip will set you back 50,000 Avios and $655 in taxes and fees. Might as well just buy a ticket.

-Philadelphia-London in Business
This route requires less Avios than a trip from LAX-LHR would since it originates and ends on the East coast and the Avios formula is based on distance. But the numbers are still high because it’s in BA’s business class. This roundtrip would run you a decent 80,000 miles in business plus a staggering $1,099 in fees!

Just 80,000 Avios for BA business from the East Coast to London, but $1092 in taxes. Expensive!

-Toronto-London in First
Just to switch it up a little and give some love to my Canadian readers, I also wanted to price out a sample itinerary from Canada to Europe, so I looked up a First Class award ticket from Toronto to London. That came in at 120,000 Avios and $1,092 in taxes and fees. Hey, at least you are paying about the same as a business class ticket in fees and taxes and you get to experience BA’s amazing First Class product, but then again, you’re also shelling out an extra 40,000 miles.

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Toronto to London in BA's amazing First Class is 120,000 Avios and an astounding $1092 in taxes and fees.

-London-Athens in Economy
And just to showcase an intra-Europe itinerary on the airline, I priced out an itinerary from London to Athens, which is going for 20,000 Avios roundtrip plus $162 in taxes and fees. It would cost $320 to buy this itinerary, so the 20,000 points save you $158- less than a cent per point. Not great if you ask me.

Even intra-Europe redemptions can be expensive--this one is just 20,000 Avios, but $122 in taxes and fees.

American Airlines
If American Airlines is your carrier of choice, using Avios can be a great value, except to Europe where BA levies those huge charges - even on American Airlines flights. Let’s take a couple examples.

Note: When pricing partner awards through British Airways, you’ll either get a screen that says BA does not fly a certain route (for instance the two below) and that has a button to include airline partners that you will have to hit. If the route is serviced by both BA and airline partners, be sure to include them anyway so you get a better idea of what kinds of mileage and fees partner airlines charge because they might be better than BA’s options. Also, if your award isn’t available on the dates you select, there is an option to select “Search up to 7 days later” which will find award tickets within a week’s range. I’ll get to more of these specifics in a later post on how to book BA Award tickets.

-LAX-Kauai in Economy
This economy ticket between LA and Kauai would cost you between 35,000 miles roundtrip if you were booking through AA and using AAdvantage miles, but using Avios, it’s just 25,000 Avios and $22 in fees. Not bad!

One of my favorite redemptions, US West Coast to Hawaii for just 25,000 Avios and $22 in taxes and fees.

-Chicago-Shanghai in Business Class
This itinerary using AAdvantage miles would cost 55,000 miles and $2.50. The same itinerary using BA Avios would be 70,000 and $302.70. AA clearly takes the cake for this redemption, though AA miles are generally much harder to come by.

Chicago to Shanghai for 70,000 miles and $302.70.. ouch!

LAN has some of the best partner availability and is one of the most popular partners for people to use their Avios on those routes from North America to South America.

-Miami-Santiago in Business
The direct flight from Miami to Santiago and back in Business Premier on LAN will cost you 100,000 Avios and $87.90 in taxes and fees.

One of the best (and most popular) redemptions for Avios is this route from Miami to Santiago in business class on LAN, which costs 100,000 Avios and just $88 in taxes and fees.

If you are already in South America, using Avios for Lan intra-South America flights can also be a huge value. For example, Santiago to Easter Island can be had for only 25,000 Avios and $25.90 roundtrip!

25,000 miles and $25.90 for a coach roundtrip Santiago to Easter Island

Cathay Pacific
Redeeming Avios for awards on Cathay Pacific is one of my favorite uses for BA Avios points—especially when it gets me into first class, like on my recent return from Hong Kong to New York via Vancouver (which I’ll be reviewing later this week).

-Chicago O’Hare-Hong Kong in First Class
No surprise here, the distance plus the class of service mean you have to spend 210,000 Avios roundtrip to redeem for this route, but the taxes and fees of $364 aren’t bad at all considering the redemption.

That flight from Chicago to Hong Kong on Cathay in First Class will cost you 210,000 Avios, but just $363 in taxes and fees.

-JFK-Vancouver in Business
This is a good example of a non-obvious redemption where you actually get to take advantage of Cathay’s excellent new business class since this is one leg of the JFK-HKG route. Business class is 50,000 miles and coach is 25,000 roundtrip and $111 in fees - pretty good for flights that are routinely over $600!

While US to Europe flights incur crazy fuel surcharges, Asia to Europe flights on Cathay do not. See the Hong Kong to Milan business class roundtrip award as an example, 120,000 Avios and $327 in fees for a roundtrip award.

Hong Kong to Milan roundtrip in business class for 120,000 miles and $327

Because these flights are so far and Avios are based on distance, these are some instances where using your Avios is probably not worth it since they require a ton of Avios, and the taxes and fuel surcharges are a big part of the cash you have to pay for a ticket whether you purchase one or not. Meaning the Avios you use don’t hold much value just to save you a few hundred dollars.

Los Angeles-Sydney in coach on Qantas would cost you 100,000 Avios and $780 again, but considering you could get a ticket for just under $1,190, it’s not worth using a whopping 100,000 Avios to save a measly $410.

Economy from LAX-Sydney costs 100,000 Avios and $780 in fees.

-Sydney-Dallas roundtrip in Business
This redemption costs 200,000 Avios and $939 - better than coach since business class tickets are often $5,000+.

Sydney-Dallas-Sydney in business class for 200,000 miles and $939 roundtrip

Japan Airlines is another oneworld partner, and the first, I believe, that will be flying Boeing 787’s, so I thought it would be fun to price out some awards on it including to Tokyo’s new(er) international hub at Haneda.

-San Francisco-Tokyo Haneda in Economy
You might as well be flying from the US to London for this route because it’s costing you 50,000 Avios and a huge $680 in taxes. Unbelievable!

JAL's San Franciso to Narita route costs 70,000 Avios in economy plus $680 in taxes. Expensive!

-JFK-Tokyo Narita in Business
Let’s try Narita to see if it’s any better. Nope! The taxes and fees are the same, and flying business instead of economy will cost you 140,000 Avios instead of 70,000 Avios and the same amount of money in economy.

Roundtrip business class from New York to Narita on JAL runs you 140,000 Avios and $680 in fees.

What can I say, I was impressed with the four saunas at the Helsinki airport I learned about during the oneworld Megado, so let’s just say I wanted to hit up Helsinki for a weekend on Finnair…
-JFK-Helsinki is nearly impossible to pull up because it will always try to route you through London on British Airways. You can expect the taxes/fees to be the similar to British Airways transatlantic flights at $500+.

Royal Jordanian
Another route for you Canadian readers, and one aboard an airline that I hear has some good service and updated equipment is Royal Jordanian. I found an economy class roundtrip ticket from Montreal to Amman for 60,000 Avios and $482 in taxes and fees, though the cost of a paid ticket was closer to $1,400, but at least that would be over 1.6 cents per point in value.

Taking Royal Jordanian's Montreal-Amman flight costs 60,000 Avios and $480 in taxes in economy.

-Miami-Barcelona in Economy
This is a really popular route from Miami, so I thought I’d price it out, and the numbers I came up with by searching were a low 50,000 Avios, but a sky-high $577 in taxes and fees!

Iberia's popular Miami-Barcelona route is a low 50,000 Avios but a high $577 in taxes--another example of when using Avios to Europe is not a great idea.

Air Berlin
-Ft Meyers to Dusseldorf in Economy
Air Berlin is a new oneworld member and their hub in Dusseldorf is pretty much smack dab in the middle of Western Europe, so it’s easy to get anywhere from there. So, for this off-label-style routing of Ft. Meyers to Dusseldorf, you’d need just 50,000 Avios, but a cool $489 in taxes and fees. The ticket’s going for about $1,200 though, so you’d be saving over $700 at least.

Might as well take advantage of Oneworld's newest member and catch a flight from Florida to Europe for 50,000 Avios, but those $489 in taxes might make you think twice!

It can be very expensive to fly to Europe because of the taxes and fuel surcharges levied on those tickets, and to Australia as well because of the long distance, but the value you can reap can still be huge, especially considering the 100,000-Avios payday and how easy it is to rack up Avios.

Stay tuned for the following posts in my Maximizing Avios series:
-Award Pricing–Maximizing the Avios Distance-Based Formula
-Using Avios to Upgrade Paid Tickets
-The Miles & Cash Option
-The Travel Together Companion Ticket
-Household Accounts
-Calling In To Book Awards: The Best Option With BA
-Tools to Find Award Tickets
-Non-Airline Redemptions

Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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