How to Use Avios to Book Aer Lingus Flights for Low Fees and Low Miles to Europe
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How do you get to or from Europe (preferably in business class) when you have a relatively low number of points and want to avoid paying hundreds of dollars in fees and fuel surcharges? As I pointed out yesterday when discussing how we got my in-laws to Europe and back, you probably need to find a program that is a partner of the various types of point currencies you may have. In this case that meant picking British Airways as they are a transfer partner of both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, and then instead of getting hit with massive fuel surcharges to fly British Airways operated flights we went for Aer Lingus operated flights as the fuel surcharge was very, very low in comparison. Aer Lingus is a partner of British Airways, and they can be one of the most economical ways to get across the pond on points, depending on where you live.
While I went through my thought process in finding and selecting this option in yesterday's post, today I want to share five tips to keep in mind if you are considering using British Airways Avios to fly on Aer Lingus operated flights.
1. Aer Lingus award availability is not displayed on the British Airways site, so you have to find the award availability elsewhere.
I stumbled across the availability using United.com and then called British Airways at 1-800-452-1201 to verify they saw the same thing. United is in the Star Alliance whereas British Airways is in the OneWorld Alliance, however Aer Lingus is a partner of both airlines so it wouldn't surprise me if the availability that United sees often lines up with the same availability made available to partner British Airlines. However, it wouldn't hurt to also check award availability in Expert Flyer (if you have a subscription) and/or just call British Airways directly to double check the availability before assuming it is 100% accurate.
The availability I checked seemed neither amazing or terrible, though booking as far in advance as possible does seem to up the odds of success. Looking for just two seats at a time also seems to up the likelihood of success.
2. The British Airways award chart is distance based, so the deals will be better to/from destinations that are closer to Europe.
In fact, Boston is just 2993 miles which means it rings in at only 12,500 miles one-way in coach or 25,000 round trip in coach. That is the same price that most airlines charge for a low level round trip economy redemption within the lower 48! That same Boston - Dublin round trip in business class would be double the price at 50,000 Avios. Let that sink in - 50,000 Avios to fly to Europe and back in (angled lie flat) business class. Amazing!
For those not familiar, you can use this calculator to find out how many Avios are required for a particular route. The Boston - Dublin route is such a great price as it rings in 7 miles in distance under the 3,000 cap on the 12,500 Avios pricing threshold. Flights that are 3,001 - 4,000 miles in distance are 20,000 Avios each way in coach or 40,000 in business. The Chicago - Dublin route that my in-laws are flying is an example of that pricing tier. The Toronto and New York routes would also be in that pricing category. Flights that are 4,001 - 5,500 miles in distance are 25,000 Avios in coach and 50,000 in business. The Orlando and San Francisco flights would fall in that category.
Aer Lingus flys to/from Dublin and Toronto, Boston, New York, Chicago, Orlando, San Francisco. New York and Boston are also served by the Shannon flights. In my view, the really good values are the flights from Toronto, Boston, New York, and Chicago. Of course, the deal isn't limited to only those in those cities as you can add on connecting flights via other British Airways partners.
3. Remember each segment is charged individually.
As you may already know, British Airways prices the trip based on the distance of each segment individually, so you need to fly in as direct of a route as possible to keep the Avios price down. My in-laws are flying from Amsterdam - Dublin in coach on Aer Lingus for 4,500 Avios and then Dublin - Chicago for 40,000 Avios in business class. Ultimately they need to get back to Kansas, so they may book another flight using Avios on partner American Airlines from Chicago to Wichita for 4,500 Avios in coach. If you just checked the distance from Amsterdam - Wichita you would come up with 4,683 miles, but that won't help you price out the total price of the award as you have to price it out in segments the way that British Airways does.
4. Aer Lingus operates flights from Ireland to other points in Europe.
You don't have to have a final destination of Ireland to use Aer Lingus to fly to Europe (though Ireland is so awesome you should spend some time there!). Aer Lingus operates flights from Dublin to cities like London Heathrow, Edinburgh, Madrid, Berlin, Barcelona, Zurich, Vienna, Nice, Amsterdam, Rome, and many more. Again, remember the British Airways chart you are using to book Aer Lingus is distance based so the destinations that are geographically closer will be a lower cost on points. From what I can tell, Aer Lingus seems to primarily operate economy seats on intra-European flights which is good since business class within Europe usually isn't worth the additional miles anyway (other than when it helps you cut really long security lines!).
Just to give you some reference points, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, and Brussels are all under 650 miles in distance from Dublin, so should price out at just 4,500 additional Avios in economy on Aer Lingus.
5. Booking Aer Lingus Flights With British Airways Avios.
To actually book you will have to call British Airways, which can be a bit of a nightmare due to insanely long hold times. I personally have had the best luck calling earlier in the day (the call center opens at 7:30AM Eastern) and then selecting option 2 instead of option 1 that says it is for Avios bookings. Others have reported success calling the Singapore or Hong Kong booking office (using Skype or similar). Since you cannot book these awards online you should (politely) ask to not be charged the phone booking fee. You likely have mixed success with this request, but it is certainly worth asking.
British Airways doesn't hold awards the way some airlines do, so be prepared to book right away if you find what you like. Chase Ultimate Rewards via cards like the Ink Bold® Business Card, Ink Plus® Business Card, and Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and American Express Membership Rewards via cards like Amex EveryDay Credit Card and American Express(R) Premier Rewards Gold Card transfer pretty much instantly, so you can transfer the points as soon as you verify the award availability on the phone with British Airways if you are quick on your keyboard.
Of course if you racked up points via the British Airways Visa Signature® Card then the points will already be in your account and ready to go.
Aer Lingus flights can be an amazing use of your British Airways Avios to get to Europe - especially if you live in the Eastern half of the United States. I've only flown them within Europe so far, but hope to use them to cross the pond perhaps by taking advantage of the often low prices for flights from Houston - Boston and then just using Avios to fly from Boston to Dublin!
If you have used Avios to book Aer Lingus I would love to hear about your tips and experience!