The Trick to Booking British Airways Avios Awards With $0 in Taxes and Fees

The best uses of British Airways Avios are for short haul non-stop flights, because their distance based chart is very cheap for short distances — starting at 4500 points each way — but gets astronomically expensive for business (2x) and first class (3x) as distances get longer.

And it’s even better when you can fly on airlines or routes with no or low fuel surcharges, since British Airways passes along those costs when booking an award ticket whenever they would be part of a paid ticket.

The classic ways to avoid fuel surcharges are:

  • Fly Air Berlin (no fuel surcharges) or Aer Lingus (low fuel surcharges) transatlantic
  • Transfer BA Avios into an active Iberia Avios account, and redeem those points for Iberia flights (low fuel surcharges)
  • Redeem for US domestic flights and trips to South America (no fuel surcharges)

Those aren’t the only options, of course. Fuel surcharges on Australia domestic routes are very low, too, e.g. ~ $2 between Sydney and Melbourne in economy.

Here’s another one .. and with taxes so low, the British Airways website errors out when you try to buy it. But there’s a trick to force it through.

While I’m fairly certain I knew this I also think I may have forgotten, but Japanese domestic flights also have no fuel surcharges.

Head for Points makes an interesting point about these flights. Some of them even have no taxes.

  • British Airways cancellation fees are generally capped at the amount you pay in taxes (just cancel online), so those tickets are effectively free to cancel and redeposit points.

  • I had also been under the impression that Japanese domestic flights are usually only available for redemption close-in, but while that may be a rule for redemptions in the JAL program BA can actually redeem much further out.

Here’s the rub, though. You have to make it through the payment page to book an award even when there is no payment due!

Before 9/11 US domestic award tickets really were free. With the advent of the ‘security tax’ US frequent flyer programs began adding the $2.50 segment charge even onto award tickets (in some sense, an early example of nickel and diming).

But now paying some taxes is common. BA’s systems aren’t built to process an award where you pay nothing!

You could call to get things ticketed but then you’ll likely be charged the telephone booking fee. Although you may succeed in arguing your way out of it. Fortunately, there’s a trick.

Here’s availability for a coach award between Fukuoka and Sapporo, Japan six months from now.

That’s an 879 mile flight so it’s 7500 points one-way in economy. And there’s no airport taxes for this city pair.

Thus a price quote of zero:

Here on the payment page I have to enter my credit card details (and in particular, security code for the card I have on file with them)… in order to authorize a charge of $0.00.

They cannot bill me $0, though, so the system returns an error.

The trick that Head for Points notes, though, is that you can actually add a donation during the payment process. Just choose a dollar.

The transaction should then go through!

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. I hope to use this for booking a flight from Lima to Buenos Aires. Thanks for the pointers!

  2. I know, just joking around. But it seems like a good charity, so I would think a tenner or so would be a good thing to do.

  3. “British Airways cancellation fees are generally capped at the amount you pay in taxes (just cancel online), so those tickets are effectively free to cancel and redeposit points.”

    This part is very interesting to me, I had no idea. So is it the case that booking AA/US flights domestically with Avios, you only forfeit the negligible airport fees and not the $55 fee quoted on the website?

  4. @Darin,
    That is true. You just forfeit the tax that you paid. I flew US Airways yesterday from DCA to LGA using Avios. I had to change the date once. That would have cost me 55 dollars. I simply cancelled the ticket. Avios points were redeposited to my account immediately. Only thing i lost was 5 dollar tax that i had paid. I simply re-booked for the desired date.

  5. Using Avios for JAL in Japan is one of my favorite redemptions. I lived in Okinawa last year and used a ton of Avios for JAL flights to the mainland and also Mileage Plus for ANA (it used to be 6,000 each way on united amazing! I thinks its either 7,500 or 10,00 post devaluation). With the JAL flights you can also buy up to business class for 1,000 yen about $10 at the airport. Though you don’t lounge access or food in flight, just a bigger seat with the middle blocked off. Worth it though.

  6. I changed the date on CVG-JFK AA flight booked with BA miles. Got dinged the whole $50-some-odd-bucks. Later I read that if I had cancelled and rebooked, I wold have just paid the taxes — probably $5 each for two tickets. Same result, different “punishment.” Your readers probably understand that “the devil is in the details.”

  7. Gary,

    Murtuza is correct. What you wrote is incorrect to the average reader. It is like $15 in taxes and fees, not $2. Whichever way you refer to them they are still taxes and more than US domestic etc.

    Most people don’t differentiate between YQ and tax.

  8. I was interested in trying to use Avios on a South American trip or Transatlantic on Air Berlin or Aer Lingus from Denver. Do you know if it is best to find my own transportation to the hub city or would the award include the connecting flight on AA or another partner?

  9. @bobdevens – British Airways charges separately for each flight segment, so the flight to the gateway would be a separate additional award price

  10. @harry The differentiation between British Airways and in most cases US programs is fuel surcharge. All programs pass on taxes, but not all programs pass on fuel surcharges. And fuel surcharges are definitely not taxes, they are no government-imposed, they are made up fees.

  11. Hi,

    question for you. I’m based in DC and am looking to get back to LHR (one-way). I have plenty of avios.

    But the Air Lingus and Iberia options are not super appealing as they require three hops right? IAD -> somewhere – > Dublin or Madrid -> LHR

    Am I missing something? thanks for any tips…

  12. Gary, using as a search tool, I noticed with Air Berlin, there is no availability close in, but 10-11 months out from now much more especially Chicago or New York to Germany.

    What about Iberia? Similar pattern 10-11 months out has best availability?

  13. A domestic ticket on AA has only $2 in taxes, but a ticket to SJU has $20 in taxes. Do you know why?

  14. @Al – search for the same itinerary on ITA Matrix. In the final screen there is the breakdown of the taxes and fees.

  15. @harry Where did anyone claim that you’d only pay ~$2 for MEL-SYD? Gary very clearly only claimed that the *fuel surcharges* are ~$2 on that ticket. The context of that comment was a paragraph about routes with low/no *fuel surcharges*. Non-US taxes and airport fees are generally unavoidable, with the exception of those charged only if you’ve been in that country for over a certain amount of time. Taxes on US originating/departing itineraries depend on whether or not fuel surcharges are levied. If they are, certain taxes are collected that would not otherwise be. Taxes are complicated. Fuel surcharges are less so. That’s what Gary’s posting about here. Just because many people conflate government/airport-imposed charges with carrier-imposed surcharges doesn’t mean that a blogger should do so.

  16. @harry It sounds like you just don’t get it. He never said the taxes and fees were $2. Gary mentioned YQ in the three preceding bullet points, therefore it made sense to quote the YQ for that flight. You may believe that was misleading; you’re entitled to your opinion. But he was factually and semantically correct.

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