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London regularly ranks among the world’s most-visited city thanks to its historical sights, world-class museums, fabulous hotels, a dynamic dining scene and a diverse patchwork of up-and-coming neighborhoods.
While there are often cheap flight deals to or connecting through London, using points and miles to fly there can be an expensive proposition because of huge airline fees and taxes.
However, there are still plenty of savvy strategies to help you save your budget for sightseeing and entertainment instead of travel by using your points and miles to get to good old London Town.
The good news is, the exchange rate of British pounds to US dollars remains steady at a favorable £1 : $1.30 or so.
Now for the bad news. Traditional airline award tickets that begin or end in London are often subject to hefty fuel surcharges that can add hundreds or even thousands of dollars to the price of a ticket on British Airways or Virgin Atlantic, specifically.
You might consider saving regular airline miles and forgoing transferring points from American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, Citi ThankYou Rewards, or Marriott Bonvoy to one of their airline partner programs. Instead, we’ve been seeing some truly phenomenal flight deals to London, including one-ways for as low as $49 in one case and $51 in another, $279 round-trip in August, or $315 just this past February.
If those prices are within your budget, consider booking a deal like that when it comes along using a card like the Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard, or the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card. You can then redeem your miles at a fixed value for a statement credit toward the travel purchase.
That $51 flight? It would cost you just 5,100 Venture miles or 4,845 Arrival miles (though keep in mind, you must redeem at least 10,000 miles with the Arrival Plus). For comparison, that much more common $315 fare would be 31,500 Venture miles, or 29,925 Arrival miles. Still quite reasonable.
Certain airlines like Norwegian and WOW that tend to offer the lowest fares are not typically bookable through Amex Travel or the Citi ThankYou Rewards travel portal, so that does restrict your options somewhat. However, now that Chase’s Ultimate Rewards travel portal is on an Expedia platform, they should be bookable there using points from a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card. If you do have the Sapphire Reserve, remember you can redeem points directly for travel through the portal at a rate of 1.5 cents per point. So a $300 airfare would cost just 20,000 points — another bargain.
If you still want to use traditional airline miles, Delta has been posting some cheap flash award sales, including one to London for just 36,000 miles round-trip in August, 30,000 miles on another occasion in August and 32,000-44,000 miles in January. The program is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards if you have a card like The Platinum Card® from American Express or the Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express.
For its part, United offered a Cyber Monday deal of up to 50% off economy awards to Europe that brought award prices down to a mere 30,000-48,000 miles round-trip.
Finally, don’t forget about Air France/KLM Flying Blue Promo Awards, which chop 25%-50% off regular award prices to Europe from a variety of North American gateways that change every month. It’s hard to peg down award rates now that Flying Blue has begun pricing awards dynamically, but economy awards should range up from around 11,000 miles each way, and business class can be found for as low as 26,500 miles each way. Just beware taxes and surcharges that can be several hundred dollars. The program is especially useful, though, as it is a transfer partner of Amex, Chase, Citi and Marriott.
Have a few more dollars and points to spare? Even a small stockpile will get you a lot more luxury when flying to Europe.
As with the budget traveler, if you’re looking to save some money on your airline ticket, your first order of business should be to avoid British Airways. Not only is the airline’s business class looking quite old at this point (though improvements are imminent), but the airline also imposes surcharges that can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on the class of ticket that you book. This is unfortunately true for awards booked with partner miles, such as those of American Airlines or Alaska Airlines, as well.
Instead, consider redeeming United MileagePlus miles for United flights to/from the UK. The program is a 1:1 Chase transfer partner, and will charge 30,000 miles each way in economy, or 60,000 in business class on its own flights such as in this example (the fees are high because this was a close-in booking).
Or you could also get lucky and find a business-class award on its Star Alliance partner, Air New Zealand, from Los Angeles (LAX) to London Heathrow (LHR) for 70,000 miles each way. That’s not to mention other Star Alliance options like Air Canada, Lufthansa and SWISS.
Virgin Atlantic has decent mileage redemption rates, but also charges high fees for award tickets to/from the UK. For example, here’s a round-trip economy award from San Francisco (SFO) to London (LHR) in April for 50,000 Virgin Atlantic miles plus $474 in taxes fees.
Versus 65,000 Delta SkyMiles plus $188 in taxes and fees.
Unfortunately, awards in Virgin Atlantic Upper Class that used to cost 75,000 SkyMiles each way in business class are now a jaw-dropping 120,000 SkyMiles (with no notice, as usual). No thank you!
Instead, you might actually want to spend the 47,500-57,500 Virgin Atlantic miles you’d need for the same award…plus $527 in taxes and fees.
Given the high taxes and fees on many award tickets to London specifically, this could be one instance where it’s worth the splurge to pay to fly business or first class. Rather than talking too much about how miles will save you a bundle, let’s cover some ways to score premium tickets at a discount.
But first, if you do want to go purely points and miles for a business- or first-class redemption, we have a few posts for you to check out. Those include Booking First Class Awards to Europe, The Top 5 Ways to Fly to Europe in First Class and The Top 10 Ways to Fly Business Class to Europe Using Miles.
If you have the money and miles to spare, it could also be worth considering the British Airways Visa Signature Card and its “Travel Together” Companion Ticket. We have a comprehensive post on the topic here.
But to summarize, if you have the British Airways card and spend $30,000 within a calendar year, you get a two-for-one award voucher. What that means is, when you use British Airways Avios to book an award ticket, including in business or first class, on BA’s own flights, you get a second equivalent award ticket for a companion on your same reservation for no additional Avios. The one caveat is that you have to pay taxes and fees on the tickets, which can be well over $1,000 round-trip in business and first class.
That said, you could save a significant amount of Avios and pay a fraction of the price of what a full-fare business class or first class ticket would normally cost. It’s also a sound points strategy overall because British Airways releases quite a lot of business and first class awards on its flights to and from the US.
If you have the Amex Platinum or The Business Platinum® Card from American Express, you could consider paying for your tickets, too. Both cards participate in Amex’s International Airline Program, which you can now book online via chat, and which can include significant discounts on premium economy, business class and first class tickets on over 20 participating airlines.
Partner carriers include Air France, Air New Zealand, British Airways, Delta, Iberia, KLM, Lufthansa, Swiss and Virgin Atlantic, among others. In our tests of the International Airline Program we found savings of hundreds or even thousands of dollars on flights to Europe. Again, this is a good option only if you wanted to pay for your ticket anyway; you might as well save money and points when doing so, while still earning airline miles and elite credit.
Bear in mind too that Business Platinum cardholders can enjoy a 35% points rebate on business- and first-class redemptions when using Amex’s Pay With Points feature, so if you find a good paid ticket, this could be a way to put your Membership Rewards points to use.
Stocking Up on Points and Miles
That’s a lot of options, but it can also be a lot of miles. If your balances aren’t quite up to it, the good news is that there are some incredible credit card offers currently available. Many feature historically high sign-up bonuses that can put the awards you want within reach. Among those to consider based on the strategies above are…
Transferable and Fixed-Value Points Cards
If you want Amex Membership Rewards points that transfer to British Airways Avios, Delta SkyMiles and Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, you could consider getting The Platinum Card® from American Express, which is offering a welcome bonus of up to 100,000 points via the CardMatch Tool. (Offer subject to change at anytime.)
Chase Ultimate Rewards points transfer to British Airways Avios, United MileagePlus and Flying Blue, among other partners. The Chase Sapphire Reserve also offers 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Though its annual fee is $450, you get up to $300 worth of travel credits each calendar year and enjoy a wealth of additional perks.
The Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard currently offers 70,000 miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days and earns unlimited 2x miles on every purchase. When you redeem miles for travel redemptions, you get 5% of them back. This card has an $89 annual fee.
With the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you also earn 2x miles per dollar on every purchase and can redeem them at a fixed value of one cent apiece for statement credits or transfer them to over a dozen partners. The card’s $95 annual fee is waived the first year. It currently carries a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months.
The Bank of America Premium Rewards credit card also has a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus after you make at least $3,000 in purchases in the first 90 days of account opening. Though it has a $95 annual fee, you also get up to $100 in airline fee credits each year, which can save you on things like checked bags or seat assignment charges. The card earns 2x points per dollar on travel and dining, and 1.5x on everything else. Miles are worth one cent apiece when redeemed for statement credits and travel purchases, among other options.
At the moment, the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express is offering a historically high 75,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) to new cardholders who spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in your first 3 months, plus a $100 statement credit for making a Delta purchase with your new card within your first 3 months. This special offer expires April 3, 2019.
The Gold Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express has a current welcome bonus of 60,000 miles after you make $2,000 in purchases on your new card within your first 3 months, plus a $50 statement credit after making a Delta purchase with your new card within your first 3 months. This special offer expires April 3, 2019.
For its part, the Delta Reserve® Credit Card from American Express is offering 75,000 SkyMiles and 5,000 MQMs, to new cardholders after you spend $5,000 in purchases on your card within your first 3 months. This special offer expires April 3, 2019.
The United Explorer Card is currently offering 40,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. However, the sign-up bonus on this card has gone higher in the past, so I’d recommend waiting for one of those offers instead.
The taxes and surcharges British Airways levies on award tickets are tough, but there are still some great ways to get value from British Airways Avios, including the “Travel Together” ticket mentioned above. If you want to stock up on Avios, the British Airways Visa Signature Card is offering a spending-based bonus of 4 Avios for every $1 spent on all purchases within your first year up to $30,000. That’s up to 120,000 bonus Avios. The card has a $95 annual fee.
Featured image by ivanastar / Getty Images
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NEW INCREASED OFFER: 60,000 points! With great travel benefits, 2x points on travel & dining and a 60,000 point sign up bonus worth up to $1,200 in value, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is a great card for those looking to get into the points and miles game. Here are the top 5 reasons it should be in your wallet, or read our definitive review for more details.
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