Reader Pamela recently sent us a trip request, hoping we could help her find the best way to use her British Airways Avios to travel from New York to Paris. She wants to bring her 5 year-old, who has fallen in love with Paris from some of her favorite movies. Talk about an awesome mom!
Pamela needs to travel between April 3-4 and April 10-11, presumably due to her child’s school schedule. She has 350,000 Avios on hand and is looking for the best way to put them to use for this trip.
The Trouble With Avios
I love using Avios for domestic travel on American and US Air for two reasons. For one, they can offer incredible values thanks to BA’s distance-based approach to award flights. Short flights can cost as few as 4,500 Avios each way, even though the same award seat would cost 12,500 miles in American or US Air’s programs, a flat rate levied on all domestic travel regardless of distance.
The other reason I like using Avios domestically is because they’re generally terrible to use for transatlantic flights. That’s because British Airways levies maddening fuel surcharges for award tickets on its flights. For example, take a look at the cost for two Economy tickets roundtrip from New York to Paris:
At just 20,000 Avios per passenger each way, this wouldn’t be a bad deal if it weren’t for eye-popping fuel surcharges adding up to more than $1,400. That’s basically the price of a cash ticket, which is why Economy redemptions on British Airways for transatlantic travel are particularly poor options. Let’s take a look at Premium Economy and Business Class options:
Premium Economy requires 50% more miles per passenger, but fuel surcharges only jump a couple hundred dollars. Comparatively, this is a much stronger value than a regular Economy redemption, but still presents poor value. For Business Class, not only are Avios rates twice as high as for Economy seats, fuel surcharges jump by $1,000. These seats might retail for $8,000-$10,000+ a piece at times, but $2,400 is $2,400: too much for a trip that’s supposed to be “free”.
Unfortunately, you can’t outrun these fuel surcharges by booking your flights on American or US Air using Avios: BA attaches fuel surcharges to these flights, as well. Thankfully, there are two solutions that allow for transatlantic travel using Avios without thousands in out-of-pocket expenses.
Avoiding Avios Fuel Fees On Transatlantic Flights
Three carriers partner with British Airways but allow heavy fuel surcharges to be avoided.
Iberia is actually British Airways’ sister airline, owned by the same parent and based out of Madrid. They have a separate frequent flyer program also called Avios, and it’s possible to freely transfer Avios at a 1:1 rate between British Airways and Iberia’s versions of Avios. To do so, though, you have to have accounts with both airlines in place for at least 90 days.
It’s worth creating an Iberia frequent flyer account just so you have the option for future travel. Our friends at One Mile At A Time have a full guide on how to transfer Avios between the two carriers.
Iberia cuts most of the fuel costs out of award tickets on its own flights, though not on flights with other partners. That means flights to Madrid can be far less expensive than flights to London, so long as you book them through Iberia’s version of Avios.
For example, I priced out a trip from Miami to Madrid on Iberia and received a quote of 150,000 Avios + $448.32. While that’s more Avios, that’s about a thousand dollars less in surcharges than, say, on a shorter British Airways flight from New York to London.
For this trip, another option offers better value, but Iberia’s a solid option if you’re traveling to Spain in particular.
Irish carrier Aer Lingus isn’t part of the Oneworld alliance, but they do partner with British Airways and offer award tickets free of heavy fees.
One route offers particularly excellent value: Boston to Dublin is just a few miles short of 3,000 in length, meaning Economy tickets can be booked for just 12,500 Avios each way! Better yet, since Business Class tickets always cost just twice the Avios of an Economy ticket, you can fly in Aer Lingus Business Class for a mere 25,000 Avios between Boston and Dublin!
These numbers jump to 20,000/40,000 Avios for flights from New York due to the extra distance, but this is still a good value. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to book Aer Lingus award flights with Avios online. You must call British Airways to check availability on these flights (or use a paid tool like ExpertFlyer) and speak with a BA representative to make bookings. The good news is, these award flights remain relatively unknown to many flyers, so availability tends to be fairly good.
Our third option – and the one best fit for this itinerary – is to use Avios on Oneworld carrier Airberlin. Fuel surcharges are nonexistent on these flights and it’s possible to search for availability and book flights directly through BA.com. Airberlin flies to Dusseldorf and Berlin from New York.
Pamela might want to end up in Paris, but dirt-cheap positioning flights can get her there from Dusseldorf or Berlin. Remember: the expensive part is crossing the ocean; once you’re there, extra hops are relatively easy and inexpensive!
On the date Pamela wants to depart, there’s an outstanding option available from JFK to Dusseldorf:
Remember, the fuel surcharges mentioned previously were for the roundtrip, but 40,000 Avios + $11 for two passengers from New York to Germany one way is an exceptional value, considering British Airways wanted at least $1,400 in fuel surcharges for the roundtrip to Paris.
There are a multitude of flights from Dusseldorf to Paris available, all for about the same price. We found one for $62 that seemed like a good fit:
For the way home, an even cheaper flight at $51 can get Pamela back to Dusseldorf from Paris:
Unfortunately, for the day Pamela wants to return, only Business Class seats are available. However, despite the upgrade, she’d still only need to part with 80,000 Avios + $200:
On the surface, using Avios for transatlantic travel is often a terrible idea. However, good values can be found with just a bit of extra work, leveraging three of BA’s partners.
Let’s add all of these pieces together:
- 40,000 Avios + $11 gets us to Dusseldorf.
- $62 + perhaps $25 each for a bag gets us to Paris. That’s a total of $174 for two passengers.
- $51 + maybe $25 for baggage gets us back to Dusseldorf. That’s a total of $152.
- 80,000 Avios + $200 gets us back to New York, and in Business Class, to boot!
That’s a total of 120,000 Avios and $537 for two passengers roundtrip, which is an outstanding value considering the back half of the itinerary is in Business Class. That saves over $1,000 for the price of a little extra work.
Remember, British Airways would require a connection in London, so it’s not like we’re turning down a direct flight. Rather, just a bit of extra work and distance saves a serious pile of cash better put to use exploring Paris!