Using US Airways Miles to Avoid British Airways Fuel Surcharges

Apr 29, 2014

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One of the bright spots in the American Airlines-US Airways merger and US Airways joining Oneworld is the fact that you can use British Airways Avios to fly US Airways, and you can use US Airways miles to fly British Airways. Although US and American airline reps have said that US Airways will charge the same taxes and fuel surcharges (i.e. high ones!) on British Airways and Iberia redemptions that American currently does, that doesn’t seem to be the case for the moment. In fact, taxes and fees on British Airways award tickets booked via US Airways are actually quite low. That might end any day, though, as the airline becomes more closely aligned with American, so if you’re thinking of using your US Airways miles and British Airways is one of your options, now is the time to book that award. Side note: To make my upcoming award redemption cost $0 out of pocket, I  plan on paying for my taxes/fees with my Barclaycard Arrival so I can use the 40,000 points from my sign-up bonus (worth $440) to cover the taxes and fees on my award ticket. 

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Forget flying US Airways – use your miles to fly BA with lower fuel surcharges!

Apart from just saving on flights to/from London, this could be a great way to get to Asia via Europe thanks to US Airways’ lax routing rules and its lower mileage redemption levels to various regions including North Asia (which includes Japan and China, but also Hong Kong, Taiwan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macau, Mongolia, South Korea, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

For example, flying from New York to Hong Kong using miles will cost you the following depending on the airline – just note, I’ve included the mileage for flying JFK-Hong Kong via London Heathrow versus just catching a non-stop flight on American or Cathay Pacific:

American Airlines British Airways US Airways
Economy 160,000 (70,000 direct) 100,000 (70,000 direct) 60,000
Business 210,000 (110,000 direct) 200,000 (140,000 direct) 110,000
First 265,000 (135,000 direct) 280,000 (210,000 direct) 120,000

But it’s the taxes and carrier-imposed surcharges where the advantage of using US Airways miles really comes into play. Here’s a sample itinerary in first class on British Airways from JFK to HKG via London – you’ll note I had to price it out as two separate itineraries due to American’s routing rules and maximum permitted mileage. Here’s the first leg including mileage and taxes:

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 1.46.45 PM

So the JFK-LHR return trip prices out at 125,000 miles and $1,186 in taxes and fees.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 1.46.29 PMThen the LHR-HKG route prices out at 140,000 miles and $970.60 roundtrip.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 1.48.50 PMThat’s a whopping 265,000 miles and $2,156 in taxes and fees!

British Airways is even worse in terms of mileage, but not fees surprisingly. I was able to price out the same itinerary on for 280,000 Avios and $1,614 in taxes and fees.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 1.52.03 PMCurious to see what US Airways’ redemption would work out to on the route, I called the airline. Now, I spent quite a while on the line with the agent because she was not seeing the same availability on the return, even when I spoon-fed her exact flights and dates and gave her alternative dates as well. Eventually, I just had her book a first class Cathay Pacific ticket back from Hong Kong to New York non-stop rather than routing through London.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 2.22.15 PMLike the others, this trip is all in first class, and it’s actually a de facto round-the-world itinerary. However, thanks to US Airways’ rules, it priced out at just 120,000 miles and $131 in taxes and fees!

Curious, I asked the agent I spoke with to look up just the JFK-LHR portion of this trip and the same return as on the other itineraries and it priced out correctly at 125,000 miles, but $382 in taxes and fees. Keep in mind, I could actually have planned a London stopover on the outbound and continued on to Hong Kong and still ended up with the lower mileage and taxes figure.

Still curious, I looked up a random American Airlines business class itinerary from Raleigh Durham to London in October in business class that priced out at 100,000 miles and $326 in taxes and fees:

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 2.47.49 PMOn, it priced out at the same 100,000 miles, but $377 in taxes and fees.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 2.50.13 PMOn, it priced out at 80,000 Avios and $1,134.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 2.52.35 PMSo you’re pretty much splitting a $50 difference between using AA or US miles, but though you’re using 20,000 fewer Avios, you’re paying nearly $800 more!

In terms of booking a British Airways flight to London, I found the following itinerary from JFK-London on British Airways in business class, returning to LaGuardia via Boston.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 3.25.26 PMThe total came to 100,000 miles and $1,200 in taxes and fees using American miles!

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 3.24.32 PMI called back in to US Airways just to price the same itinerary out quickly and the agent I got – who had a bit of trouble finding British Airways (which she kept calling “British Airlines”) flights but with a bit of polite coaxing finally came up with the flights I told her one by one – priced out the itinerary for me at 100,000 US Airways miles plus $378.82 including a $50 phone booking fee.

Screen Shot 2014-04-28 at 3.31.17 PMA much better deal than booking through American!

The Strategy

While it’s difficult to pull some hard and fast rules out of this, here’s my attempt to do so.

1. Do not use Avios when flying through London. You’ll get hit with hundreds if not thousands of dollars in fuel surcharges.

2. Only use US Airways miles to book British Airways awards. Both American and British Airways price out awards on BA itself with astronomical carrier-imposed surcharges while US Airways does not seem to be doing so…for the moment.

3. Use US Airways miles on complicated routings. The airline’s award chart sweet spots like 110,000 miles for business class and 120,000 for first class to North Asia are great in their own right, but what’s even better is that you can route through Europe from the east coast and even build in a stopover there – getting two trips for the price of one, and your taxes and fees will be much lower than using Avios or AAdvantage miles.

4. Flying to/from London might incur more surcharges than continuing travel. Per the US Airways redemptions I went through, even though I would be flying BA via London to Hong Kong, the taxes and surcharges actually ended up being lower than stopping in London either on British Airways or on American, so I would only plot this out for trips that do not begin or end in London.

Have any of you been using your US Airways miles on British Airways awards? What were your experiences and taxes/fees like?

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