AirBerlin Devaluation Opens Short-Term Sweet Spots
Air Berlin's TopBonus program hasn't been covered much by TPG in the past, and there's a reason for that: Mediocre award rates compounded by fuel surcharges make it a less-than-desirable transfer partner. The best use of the TopBonus program so far has been to get free Oneworld status.
Starting September 1, the TopBonus award chart is getting even worse. Economy-class flights between the US to Europe are increasing from 25,000 miles to 30,000, and business-class flights are jumping from 40,000 miles to 60,000 miles each way:
Along with these negative changes comes a positive one: TopBonus is reducing fuel surcharges on all award flights. Also, if you want to pay a much-higher redemption rate, you can get a "free flight" — where you don't have to pay any fuel surcharges or taxes/fees.
This later development is an interesting twist. While "award flights" are generally thought to be free flights, the taxes/fees and fuel surcharges can certainly make a "free" flight quite expensive. So, it's nice to see the option to book flights with no out-of-pocket cost. That said, the "free flight" award rates are too high to be of much value.
While the award rates are going up and fuel surcharges are going down, there's a rub: They aren't happening at the same time. The fuel surcharges were reduced effective immediately, but the award rate increases are effective September 1. In addition to giving advanced notice about the rates, TopBonus is giving all of us with miles a golden opportunity to clear out our balances before the devaluation.
I ran some searches with the new fuel surcharges. As before, the taxes/surcharges on economy flights are still too much to justify. For example, from Los Angeles (LAX) to Dusseldorf (DUS) in economy costs 50,000 miles — which doesn't sound bad until you add the taxes and surcharges of €281 ($317). Ouch!
However, if you're looking for business-class awards, there are some decent options. For example, I'm seeing San Francisco (SFO) to Dusseldorf (DUS) round-trip in business class for 80,000 miles plus €478 ($539) of taxes and fuel surcharges. While certainly a long way from free, the low award rates and the lower-than-before surcharges make this competitive.
For reference, the same flight options booked through American Airlines' AAdvantage program would set you back 115,000 miles, although there aren't fuel surcharges passed along. Meanwhile, British Airways would charge 90,000 Avios just for the outbound flight.
If you book these same flights through TopBonus after September 1, the rates will be 120,000 miles round-trip — with the same fuel surcharges. So, you've got less than three months to take advantage of the current chart, now with smaller fuel surcharges than before.
If you don't have TopBonus miles, there are only a couple options:
- Buy up to 30,000 miles for €600 ($677) — a rate of 2.26 US cents per mile
- Starpoints transfer to AirBerlin at a 1:1 ratio, with a 5,000-mile bonus for transferring 20,000 points.
H/T: Spencer Howard