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The United Kingdom has some notorious air taxes and fees — an expensive combination of government-imposed duties, airport fees and carrier-imposed surcharges — which, frustratingly enough, also apply to award ticket redemptions. And these fees don’t discriminate, affecting modest coach redemptions and rising to ridiculous heights for those flying in premium classes.
So we asked our TPG Lounge readers who travel to and from London to share their tips and tricks for getting around these extra charges. We received a lot of feedback, including advice about booking trips through airlines other than British Airways, taking the train over from other European cities or even flying from other airports to bypass the issue altogether. Here’s a look at some of our favorite answers. (Some responses have been lightly edited for style and clarity).
Book UK Redemptions Through Partner Airlines
While the extra taxes and fees are annoying enough to begin with, British Airways actually takes things one step further by adding its own round of surcharges. Our TPG Lounge readers’ advice? Redeem awards through partner airlines or by opting to fly in premium economy instead of business class when the only option is to fly home from Europe via BA…
“I just redeemed Chase Ultimate Rewards points via Iberia for tickets from New York to Barcelona in July. I was able to find nonstop business-class AA seats going, but the only option on the return day I wanted was on British Airways through London. I picked premium economy, which knocked almost $1,000 off the taxes and fees.” — Jason H.
“I’m not sure how Iberia compares with American Airlines, but it is significantly cheaper than British Airways for the same tickets with an identical award chart (as far as I know). There are ways to transfer Avios between BA and Iberia if you deal in Avios, but it’s not straightforward I’m sure there are plenty of articles out there to help though.” — Steven A.
“The pure AA strategy is one I have been working. Availability is tough though since most business saver awards are on BA metal. I’ve never tried the Iberia angle though and have to look into that one. Most of my points are Chase Ultimate Rewards so now that Iberia is a transfer partner, it makes that part easy.” — Mike Z.
“I have never had success booking via the website. I always call American Airlines. If you are trying to avoid the taxes, steer clear of BA and book directly with AA.” — Tim I.
Take the Train to Reposition Yourself
Some of the more creative responses we received included integrating train travel on your European adventure, working in side-trips to Paris and Edinburgh to avoid flying from LHR.
“We flew into Paris and took the train from Paris Nord to London’s St. Pancreas [sic] Station on Eurostar for less than $100 each in December of 2016. I will say it’s a short ride, about 90 minutes if I recall, so the cheap seats are fine. I found the best resource for train travel in Europe was the blog, The Man in Seat 61. “ — Nicole D.
“It looks like the Scottish government may be able to decrease — and eventually eliminate — departure taxes in the near future as there is considerable support from the devolved government. With nonstop flights from EWR [Newark] and some seasonal flights from ORD [Chicago] and other US airports, that might become an option. The train from Edinburgh to London is just four hours and is both cathartic and a pretty route!” — David D.
“For shorter trips, I generally try to take night trains so that I’m being productive with my sleep time. We used it last June since it was only a bit more expensive then a night in a hostel and meant we spared ourselves from missing out on about four hours of sightseeing had we opted to take the high-speed train in the morning. Because of the older trains and a stop it makes to split or join, it can be up to nine hours of journey time. We caught the train not long after dinner and arrived in London around 6:00am. After a quick shower in the Virgin trains lounge, we were able to get to Kings Cross Station feeling good as new to snap pics at Platform 9 and 3/4 without any lines! Or, if you’re looking for an experience, the Caledonian Sleeper is an option, especially after the overhaul they’re expected to do on the cars and sleeping chambers.” — Suzanne M.
Use Low-Cost Carriers to Avoid London Altogether
Of course, the most popular advice from our TPG Lounge readers was to use low-cost carriers to navigate around Europe instead of flying home from London at all.
“It’s the UK taxes that kill you. They’re high in coach and extortionate in J/F [business/first]. Avoid British Airways to avoid fuel surcharges for sure, but fees on American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines are going to be about the same. Take a short hop to Dublin or Paris and fly transatlantic from there to get around the higher taxes.” — Maureen J.
“The cheapest option for my trip in 2016 was to fly from BOS [Boston] to JFK [New York] to LHR, then to fly home from Edinburgh (EDI) to JFK to BOS. We flew on American because British Airways had higher fees. It was also more expensive to go round-trip vs multi-city.” — Katie D.R.
“Flights in the £10–£20 range are very common, especially to Dublin. Bag fees are rarely £50. For example, EasyJet’s bag fees to Amsterdam are £12, while Ryanair’s to Dublin are £15 if added at the time of booking, so there is a cumulative savings if there is more than one person traveling and everything fits into one bag. It’s all dependent. I fly without bags where possible so the savings are there to be had. If I do have bags, surface transport is best for positioning. Taxes and charges for business-class redemptions can run into multiple hundreds of pounds ex London so it is often worthwhile financially to position. Whether it is worthwhile in terms of time and effort is always a personal choice taking all factors into account.” — Steven A.
“1. Fly Norwegian. 2. Then fly Aer Lingus with Avios via Dublin. 3. Use hidden city booking to fly elsewhere in Europe.” — Barukh B.R.
“[Note that this] also depends on your proximity to the low-cost airports. I’m in West London, so getting to any Ryanair airport — which are generally far from city center — can take longer than the flight. Just mentioning that so others are aware that it’s not so straightforward.” — Amy G.
Accept That Fees Are Just Part of the Ticket Cost
Sometimes — especially if you’ve only got enough time and resources to fly to London — you just have to suck it up and work in the extra fees as part of your trip costs. So sayeth several of our TPG Lounge members…
“Personally, for flying around Europe, we go on British Airways. I love the flat £35 economy or £50 club fee with the Avios, especially as we mostly fly for pleasure during the school holidays when ticket prices are high. As far as flying further afield, we factor the taxes into our trips. It’s generally around £900 for the three of us to fly in economy or £1500 for the three of us to fly in BA Club World.” — Fiona B.
“The only way to go nonstop from Austin (AUS) to London (LHR) is via British Airways. My hubby is English, so we go there a lot. It’s so convenient that we just build it into our trip costs.” — Mary L.
“If you’re going to London, just pay the taxes. It’s too much hassle to fly or take a train to somewhere else on the continent unless you plan on visiting there, too.” — Nick B.
Featured image by Jonathan Chng via Unsplash.
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