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Even novice points and miles enthusiasts understand the annoyance of trying to book award flights operated by British Airways. The extraordinary taxes, fees, and carrier-imposed surcharges offset the great award seat space British Airways makes available.
To make things more irritating, there is a constant false hope of thinking we can use AA miles at the SAAver availability level for transatlantic flights, only to see all your options are operated by British Airways and the taxes and fees are offensive for an award flight:
In the hopes of eventually being able to book one of my most coveted flights, I’ve recently spent a lot of time combing the Cathay Pacific Asia Miles award search engine, whose robust abilities don’t get a lot of publicity. In the pursuit of finding affordable award seats on the all-business class British Airways A318 that flies from JFK to London City Airport (LCY), I found a rather encouraging pattern of taxes and fees imposed on British Airways flights — they can be roughly 50% less when using Asia Miles compared to booking with any other program.
Remember, you can transfer both American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou points to Asia Miles at a 1:1 ratio, making it rather easy to have the required miles for the examples I’ll discuss below. You can also sign up for the Synchrony Bank Cathay Pacific Visa Signature card, which is offering 35,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 in the first 90 days of account opening.
New York (JFK) to London City Airport (LCY)
Here are the miles — and taxes and fees — required for my coveted one-way JFK-LCY flight when using three different Oneworld member programs:
American Airlines — 57,500 miles and $506.40
British Airways — 60,000 Avios and $506.40
Asia Miles — 45,000 miles and 2,023 HKD (~US$259)
Booking through Asia Miles represents not only a nearly $250 cash savings, but is also 15,000 miles less than British Airways and 12,500 miles less than AAdvantage. I think 45,000 miles and $250 for a business class ride across the Atlantic is more than tolerable and actually a pretty great deal compared to what many programs charge.
Atlanta (ATL) to Reykjavik, Iceland (KEF)
Having seen the difference, I searched for more British Airways operated itineraries to maximize the advantage Asia Miles gives over other programs. I first turned my attention to a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland (KEF) from my new home airport of Atlanta (ATL) and connecting through London Heathrow (LHR).
Why fly through Europe instead of direct to Iceland? The reason is you can have a free stopover on one-way Asia Miles itineraries, which would allow me to see London for a few days — and the rest of Europe if you wanted to nest a second itinerary from London — and then fly on to Iceland for no additional miles.
Here are the miles required plus taxes and fees, again from American, British Airways, and Asia Miles:
American — 57,500 and $526 (no stopover in LHR allowed)
British Airways — 95,000 Avios and $526 (stopover allowed in LHR)
Asia Miles — 70,000 miles and 2,495 HKD (~US$319)
Note: The great circle distance of ATL-LHR-KEF is 5,391 miles, which puts this itinerary into zone D of the single airline Asia Miles award chart. The initial search results on Asia Miles show 45,000 miles required, which is zone C. But when you click through to check out, it will price correctly into zone D.
You can save miles and book with AA, but no stopover is allowed and it doesn’t make sense to fly through continental Europe enroute to Iceland if you’re not going to stay in London for a bit. That means if you want to see Europe in addition to Iceland, booking with Avios will cost you 25,000 more miles and $215 more dollars than using Asia Miles. Thats a great savings.
Let’s look at another situation where savings are substantial, but not quite 50% off.
Booking Round Trip versus One Way
I took a look at booking British Airways’ new route from Nashville (BNA) to London Heathrow beginning in May. I compared booking the route both as two one-ways and as a single round-trip ticket, using either Asia Miles or AAdvantage miles (British Airways’ fees will match AA’s). All itineraries are in business class. Here’s what I found:
American — 115,000 miles and $1,299.01 (ouch!)
Asia Miles — 80,000 miles and 7,107 HKD (~US$909)
You save 35,000 miles and ~$400 by booking the itinerary with Asia Miles. $900 is still hard to swallow, but both the mileage and cash savings might make it tolerable for some compared to American’s cost.
American — Nashville to London for 57,500 miles and $506.40
Asia Miles — Nashville to London for 45,000 miles and 2,434 HKD (~US$311)
American — London to Nashville for 57,500 miles and $515.81
Asia Miles — London to Nashville for 45,000 miles and 4,219 HKD (~US$539)
There are several interesting observations about these results:
- You’ll pay $278 less in taxes and fees with American booking two one-ways versus a round trip ($1,299 vs $1,021).
- You’ll pay $58 less in taxes and fees with Asia Miles booking two one-ways versus a round trip ($909 vs $851)
- You’ll pay $170 less in total taxes and fees for both one-ways if you book them both with Asia Miles instead of AAdvantage miles.
- The one leg from London back to Nashville is actually ~$23 more with Asia Miles than American, a rare example where you’d be better off booking with AA.
- You’ll pay 90,000 Asia Miles booking two one ways versus 80,000 miles booking as a round trip.
As I value saving 10,000 Asia Miles more than $58, I would book the round trip for 80,000 miles and $909. However, if you’re locked into using AAdvantage miles, the better option in that case would be to book two one-ways and pay $1,021 and 115,000 miles, since AA charges you the same amount of miles for two one-ways or one round-trip.
But by using Asia Miles, your net savings over booking with AAdvantage is 35,000 miles and $111 for a round-trip ticket, versus booking two one-ways with AA.
I really like the miles and cash savings Asia Miles represents for transatlantic flights departing the US. Departing from the UK is not as great, but the mileage savings still makes it a program to search. When you add in the ability to have a free stopover in London on one-way itineraries for no extra miles or cash, Asia Miles really takes a leap over British Airways and American AAdvantage.