Minimizing Fuel Surcharges When Redeeming British Airways Avios

One thing I love about the British Airways Visa 100,000 point signup bonus offer is how it makes the program really focal and has folks figuring out how to make the most of the points.

The British Airways program was pretty much gutted back in November. They promised that 97% of routes would have the same points cost after they revamped the program but it turned out the part they didn’t say was that would apply only to non-stops from London.

Each flight is now priced as a separate award, with longer distances more expensive. And like most non-U.S. programs, fuel surcharges can be a killer.

My own take on maximizing the credit card signup bonus is to set up a family account and then have multiple people sign up for the card so that you effectively get a bunch of 50,000 point bonuses after first purchase on each card, and can pool the points towards a single award ticket. And for those in a position to hit $30,000 in spend on the card in a calendar year, they not only get the full 100,000 points (earned after $20,000 in spend within 12 months) but also a companion award ticket so that the full bonuses can be effectively used twice.

There are other strategies of course — flying short distances, since those awards are cheap, and finding routes and airlines where the fuel surcharges are lowest or non-existent. (Note that if using a companion ticket, all flights must be on British Airways on not on oneworld or other partners.)

Here are a few strategies to make the most of points while minimizing fuel surcharges:

  • Aer Lingus: Fuel surcharges are very low, can be less than $30 roundtrip, and availability is excellent for US to Ireland. Lucky has done absolute yoeman’s work on this. Boston to Dublin or Shannon runs just 25,000 points roundtrip in coach, 50,000 points roundtrip in business. New York or Chicago non-stop to Ireland 40,000 points roundtrip in coach, 80,000 roundtrip in business. If the seats show available on the United MileagePlus award search engine, it should be available by phone from British Airways.

  • US domestic: American and Alaska don’t add fuel surcharges to domestic tickets, so neither does British Airways. Short-haul tickets are a great value, with awards starting at 4500 points each way. West Coast US to Hawaii runs just 25,000 points roundtrip in coach.

  • US to South America: American and LAN both offer service, and fuel surcharges don’t’ exist on these routes. Miami – Lima is just 50,000 points roundtrip. But non-stop awards to South America are generally a value, such as 100,000 points for New York JFK – Buenos Aires in business again with no fuel surcharges.

  • Intra-Europe: Active members of the British Airways program have fees capped. Prior to that it was frequently the case that intra-Europe tickets could have fees that were higher than the cost of a paid ticket (since the deepest discount fares would often have discounted fuel surcharges as well, while the fuel surcharges on award tickets were higher). I find that one-way awards intra-Europe are often high, especially on roués without direct low cost competition, Europe is one of the strange places that still forces one-way tickets into full fare buckets. So I find I frequently buy roundtrips and throwaway the return.

  • Intra-South America: There are plenty of expensive routes where LAN redemptions are a value and without fuel surcharges.

  • Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and for Intra-Asia: Fuel surcharges tend to be relative low on this route. Though long-haul travel is more points, you at least have fuel surcharges that aren’t mind blowing, less than half of a flight rom North America to London. Intra-Asia the fees tend to be quite low and short distances mean points values as well.

  • Flying to Brazil to start your trip. Not my cup of tea, but Million Mile Secrets walks through how to go to Brazil first on your award (which doesn’t involve fuel surcharges) and then flying anywhere you wish on a ticket that originates there, since doing so avoids fuel surcharges as well.

What other ways have you found to limit fuel surcharges on British Airways awards?

(Note that the the British Airways Visa 100,000 point signup bonus offer provides a referral credit to me if you use my link, which I greatly appreciate.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Don’t forget to add in the cost of having to deal with the BA phone agents and hold times.

  2. Gary,

    If I have 100K membership reward points, can I transfer to Avios and then fly four people round trip LAX-Hawaii? This seems like the best redemption out there, especially with United at 40K and American at 45K for the same flights. Also, summer fares are $1000 in coach so this seems like great value, no?

  3. Can Alaska Airlines tickets to Hawaii be booked through the BA site? If not, can they do it over the phone and waive the fee?

  4. Don’t forget about Qantas flights in Australia. MEL-SYD is 4,500 miles + $13 for a O/W ticket.

  5. Gary, I’m finding bargains on using Avios flights within southern Africa. I’ve compared comparable flights on South Africa and on BA, and avios redemptions win.

    Michael, Membership Rewards points can currently be transferred from US accounts to Avios with a 50% bonus. Thus, your 100K would jump to 150K Avios.

    Latimer, I’ve done several Alaska Air bookings. You must do it by phone. Some on FlyerTalk have reported BA waiving fees. I’ve never been successful. I think I have done 4 redemptions and have been charged the phone fee each and every time.

  6. @Latimer they can be booked over the phone, whether they waive the fee to do so is in my experience very much YMMV

  7. @michael it is a great value indeed, and there’s even a 50% bonus on amex transfers currently, if you can find the seats!

  8. Gary,

    These is a way to get the 100,000 Avios miles for just paying two annual fees of $75. Please see flyertalk for more details. Many of us have confirmed this works and I think this is a better option for many readers than the public offer.

  9. Gary another great post as always. I have been reading about AVIOS miles as up north in Canada we have a 50,000 card which is amazing for us.

    Anyhow my question is do North American domestic awards on AA and Alaska book into business or first. In other words a short haul from say Toronto to New York would it be 9000 Avios business or 13500 first each way?

  10. Gary I probably shouldn’t mention this but one way to reduce fuel surcharges is to book your trip as 1-way segments instead of a round trip.

    Often this will reduce overall costs by a couple hundred dollars on a first class booking.

    Makes no sense, but it often works.

  11. I booked recently a FCO to BER for EUR33.53 for next October on LH, and I flew last year LHR to LIS for EUR90 on BA.

    There are some routes that you can find one way fares even cheaper than Easyjet and other low costs.

  12. @Greg Canada-US flights on American generaly are considered business while US domestic flights are generally considered first

  13. Also, if going through Brazil, you have to pay visa fees (MMS does point this out), which come out to 160. still likely cheaper than fuel surcharges, but definitely decreases the benefit…

  14. I was amazed at the difference in pricing out two F tickets for SFO-LHR-SFO versus SFO-LHR, BCN-SFO through LHR. The first was 300,000 Avios and about $2,000 in surcharges/fees. The second was 330,000 Avios, and $1,356 in fees. Not too bad flying in to LHR, but much better flying back from somewhere else.

    I went with the latter, which made sense since I wanted to go to BCN as part of this trip anyway.

  15. Just my experience, but the United Tool shows wide open business class awards, expert flyer shows none, and BA is somewhere in between (at least right now)

  16. I understand that vouchers are not transferable and the cardholder must travel on the award that uses the voucher.

    Can I earn 2 companion vouchers (say, in 2012 and 2013), and then use them on an award booked for 4 people, while only paying miles required for 2. Seems like technically I would not violate the “must travel on the itinerary” rule. Does this violate the non-transferable rule? Any idea? Thanks!

  17. Duh, the 4th person does not matter in this example, of course.

    The basic question is: can I use multiple vouchers on the same award, for multiple companions?

  18. If this blogger has any contact with BA or Avios officials, or will get to see them at an upcoming industry awards show, I’d encourage him to confront those people on BA somewhat suddenly applying a “ghost” fuel surcharge to award tickets out of Brazil, shortly after blogs like this pointed out the benefit of no fuel surcharges applying to flights departing Brazil.
    Notice in these two recent posts on other blogs, links from Brazilian readers to a government agency statement from 2010, which stipulates (in portuguese) that only government-based tax charges can be added to an air ticket. Fuel surcharges do not fall in that category in Brazil, never appear on a revenue ticket, and up until a week ago never appeared on an award ticket either.

    With enough pressure from bloggers like you, we may get BA to reverse their actions.

  19. Don’t forget about their partner – Air Berlin! I just booked two direct round trip flights from JFK to Dusseldorf, Germany for 40k points and $103.10 out of pocket per ticket (so 80k points and $206 total). We are going on a 2 week loop around Europe (Amsterdam, Paris, Venice, Krakow), so it didn’t really matter which airport we flew into if it was close to a start/end city. I did have to call BA customer service to book the flight – I found the flight on their website but it wouldn’t let me complete the booking online. Since it was a website issue, they didn’t charge me the phone booking fee.

  20. @Gary – is it possible that BA and AA charge different taxes / fees / surcharges for the same redemption on BA metal. AA is charging me more than double the money ($650 vs $300, though obviously less miles on AA 90K vs 135K). This is for a India – US one way in F.

  21. I have been a loyal British Airways customer since 2002. With limited international travel each year (2 or 3 times) I have always been able to manage to retain Silver status by flying premium economy, allowing me to use BA lounges, which has been key to making my business travel (especially transiting from Africa to the USA) bearable. I work for a USA-based non-profit so I need to keep my travel costs as low as possible. This has hit a snag in two ways recently: First, premium economy tickets seem to be much more expensive in recent years, to the point where it is now double the cost of economy. Second, the way BA is about to allocate tier points will (starting May) make it impossible for me to earn elite status even when paying for premium economy. So I am in the market for a new loyalty program for the first time in 13 years. I am looking for advice.

    Is United Airlines a good option for me? Seems like I can get access to all United (and star alliance) lounges by purchasing a MileagePlus Club Card for $395 a year and the fly economy on United. Does this make sense? I am less interested in accumulating maximum ff miles (though that is important too) and more interested in access to lounges when I travel.

    I am wide open to advice!

  22. Only problem with BA is that there are virtually NEVER any spaces available in Business. I was looking for a roundtrip from DC to London and BA’s site showed “no seats available” for the next YEAR. I have always disliked Wee Willy Walsh but now I detest him. BA has progressively become more unfriendly towards its customers over the years. In the end I used Virgin and got a round trip Upper Class with award miles. I think that I will try to use my remaining miles with them as fast a as possible before Delta ruins everything.

  23. I am considering using Avios points to book AirBerlin SFO-Dusseldorf for next October but read recently that AirBerlin is having financial difficulties and is turning over its short haul flights to Lufthansa. While this would not affect my plans, per se, I am concerned about booking with an airline that seems in such precarious financial condition. If I book thru BA and then AirBerlin cancels its flights or goes under, do I get the Avios points back? What is your take on AirBerlin going forward?

  24. Question – Is there a website (be glad to pay for it) that allows you to put in:

    Inbound city
    Outbound city
    Dates of travel – 1 way or round trip

    Then see the availability of all airlines that travel to that destination (non stops, 1 stop) and the miles needed…

    SeatSpy has something but I can’t seem to find wear to can leave air blank.

    Thank you

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