Maximizing British Airways Avios on Long-Haul Routes

Apr 16, 2015

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British Airways Avios are prized for the value they offer on short-haul flights, while most frequent flyers ignore them entirely on longer routes. Today, TPG Contributor Richard Kerr explains why we should rethink that strategy before the upcoming devaluation.

There are only a few weeks left until British Airways devalues its award chart. The changes will hit long and medium-haul routes the hardest (especially in premium classes), with the cost of some redemptions increasing by 50% or more. Add in the fact that fuel surcharges on these routes can be quite hefty, and most people will be running for the hills when it comes to using Avios on longer flights. However, there’s still time left to book before those changes go into effect, so today I’ll show you how to get value out of your Avios on long-haul routes prior to the devaluation on April 28th.

For the purposes of this post, I’ll count long-haul as any flight of 4,000 miles or more (zones 6-9 of the current British Airways Avios award chart), plus any transatlantic routes.

The current Avios award chart good until April 28.
The current Avios award chart is good until April 28.

I began my research by looking at the 50 longest airline routes departing the U.S. or Canada, and pricing out all the ones operated by Oneworld carriers. The results clearly indicate which airlines to avoid when using Avios on long-haul service. The table below shows each route along with the redemption cost in Avios, the expected taxes, fees and surcharges, and the operating carrier. All costs displayed for one-way, economy flights.

Route Avios Taxes/Fees/Fuel Surcharge Operating Carrier
Hong Kong – Newark 35,000 $78.00 Cathay Pacific
Hong Kong – Los Angeles 35,000 $78.00 Cathay Pacific
Hong Kong – Chicago 35,000 $55.00 Cathay Pacific
Hong Kong – Vancouver 30,000 $68.00 Cathay Pacific
Hong Kong – JFK 35,000 $78.00 Cathay Pacific
Los Angeles – Brisbane 50,000 $331.00 Qantas
Los Angeles – Sydney 50,000 $318.00 Qantas
Dallas/Ft. Worth – Sydney 50,000 $318.00 Qantas
Houston – Doha 50,000 $235.00 Qatar Airways
Miami – Doha 50,000 $235.00 Qatar Airways
Chicago – Doha 50,000 $235.00 Qatar Airways
Dallas/Ft. Worth – Doha 50,000 $235.00 Qatar Airways
Shanghai – Dallas/Ft. Worth 50,000 $202.00 American
Hong Kong – Dallas/Ft. Worth 50,000 $78.00 American

Logical conclusions would be to avoid the higher charges on Qantas and Qatar flights, and to check American flights individually. Let’s now look at Oneworld partners that traditionally don’t pass on fuel surcharges on Avios bookings.

Air Berlin

Route Avios Taxes/Fees/Fuel Surcharge
Dusseldorf – Cancun 25,000 $32.00
Dusseldorf – Los Angeles 30,000 $86.00
Dusseldorf – Punta Cana 25,000 $100.00
Dusseldorf – Fort Meyers 25,000 $86.00
Dusseldorf – Miami 25,000 $86.00
Dusseldorf – Puerto Plata 25,000 $100.00
Dusseldorf – Curacao 25,000 $32.00
Dusseldorf – Varadero 25,000 $69.00
Berlin- JFK 20,000 $84.00
Berlin – Chicago 25,000 $84.00
Berlin- Miami 25,000 $84.00
Berlin- Varadero 25,000 $66.00

Air Berlin flies some unique routes that have as many as 4 business class seats open during peak transatlantic travel season in May. Fort Meyers to Dusseldorf always seems to have 2 seats available, and not many people outside of South Florida are aware of the route’s existence. It’s a great option to get you over the Atlantic.

Some of the routes operate on irregular or infrequent schedules. I find the Oneworld interactive route map to be most helpful, as there is a monthly calendar view that shows you when a direct flight is operating between two cities. With Cuba opening up, a $69 Varadero to Germany hop would be pretty cool.


LAN and TAM long-haul space out of their respective hubs of Santiago and São Paulo is tough to come by. I spent a long time searching through the available schedule on and rarely found available flights. Flights out of Lima seem to have greater award availability. One plus for space out of São Paulo is that fuel surcharges on award tickets are illegal when departing Brazil.

Route Avios Taxes/Fees/Fuel Surcharge
Santiago – Punta Cana 22,500 $61.00
Santiago – Cancun 22,500 $61.00
Santiago – Mexico City 25,000 $51.00
Santiago – JFK 25,000 $47.00
Santiago – Auckland 30,000 $43.00
Lima – JFK 20,000 $48.00
Sao Paulo – Miami 25,000 $54.00
Sao Paulo – Cancun 25,000 $59.00
Sao Paulo – Mexico City 25,000 $59.00
Sao Paulo – JFK 25,000 $54.00
Sao Paulo – Madrid 25,000 $37.00
Sao Paulo – Barcelona 25,000 $37.00
Sao Paulo – Milan 30,000 $37.00
Sao Pauo- London 30,000 $37.00

LAN is flying its new 787 Dreamliners on many long-haul routes, including the new 787-9 from JFK to Santiago this summer, and could make for a comfortable ride with low fuel surcharges. However, I couldn’t find availability for GRU-MCO, LIM-MAD, or SCL-MAD.

Aer Lingus

You can’t use to find Aer Lingus space. Instead, you have to use Expert Flyer, the United search engine, or the Qantas search tool. There’s no guarantee that British Airways will see the same space, but it’s a good starting point. Perhaps with British Airways taking over Aer Lingus, you’ll finally be able to book that space online and avoid the cranky $25 phone ticketing fee.

Route Avios Taxes/Fees/Fuel Surcharge
Boston – Shannon 12,500 $60.00
Boston – Dublin 12,500 $60.00
JFK – Dublin 20,000 $60.00
Chicago – Dublin 20,000 $60.00
San Francisco – Dublin 25,000 $60.00
Orlando – Dublin 25,000 $60.00

Other Tips

1. Transfer to Iberia
The frequent flyer community has known for a while that a good way to avoid fuel surcharges is to transfer Avios to Spanish airline Iberia, and then book Iberia flights from its own program. That wisdom still holds, and for good reason. Consider this one-way flight from Madrid to New York on British Airways:

One way taxes and fees comes to $203 now to fly Iberia transatlantic.
One way taxes and fees come to $203 now to fly Iberia transatlantic using BA.

Now consider the same flight booked through Iberia. The lowest Blue Class fare was unavailable for that date, so you would have to spend more Avios. However, even for a full economy fare you end up spending 5,500 more Avios while saving roughly $100, effectively redeeming those extra points at around 1.8 cents apiece.

The same flight using Iberia's own program cuts the charges in half.
The same flight using Iberia’s own program costs more in Avios, but cuts the fees in half.

2. Fly Oneworld Carriers out of Brazil
Carriers are barred from imposing fuel surcharges for flights departing from Brazil, so you don’t have to be as picky when searching for availability. Consider this flight from São Paulo to London on British Airways for just 30,000 Avios and $37!

Only $37 in taxes and fees to fly Sao Paulo to London Heathrow on British Airways.
Only $37 in taxes and fees to fly São Paulo to London Heathrow on British Airways.

3. American Airlines Is All Over the Map (no pun intended)
As I mentioned previously, American sometimes adds fees and surcharges that are almost as bad as British Airways itself, while other times fees are almost non-existent. This flight from Dallas to Paris comes with a substantial add-on:

Flying American transatlantic can be just as bad as flying British Airways.
Flying American transatlantic can be just as bad as flying British Airways.

However, this flight from Miami to Rio de Janeiro tacks on just a paltry $5:

It will only cost you $5 in taxes and fees for Miami to Rio. 2016 Olympics??
It will only cost you $5 in taxes and fees to fly from Miami to Rio. 2016 Olympics, anyone?

4. Get the Most out of Domestic Flights
Fly as long as possible on domestic flights to avoid international surcharges and country departure tariffs. Transcons on American would be considered long-haul for the infrequent traveler. The best domestic redemption to avoid surcharges? I think it’s the East Coast to Hawaii:

Only $5 in taxes and fees to fly JFK-LAX-HNL.
Only $5 in taxes and fees to fly JFK-LAX-HNL.

This strategy doesn’t only apply to U.S. domestic flights; you could also potentially get some long-haul flights within Russia on Oneworld member S7 Airlines.

Bottom Line

The lists and examples above are by no means an exhaustive display of all options to fly long-haul using Avios and avoid those pesky fuel surcharges. Writing this post made me reconsider whether the Avios program deserves its poor reputation for long-haul flights. There are clearly plenty of options available that allow you to fly round-trip for under $150.

In general, to avoid high fuel surcharges when using Avios to fly long-haul, avoid British Airways, Finnair, Japan Airlines, Iberia (booked through British Airways), Malaysian, Qantas, Qatar, Sri Lankan and Royal Jordanian. While short-haul flights remain the best use of Avios, there are still some great uses for them on longer flights. If you have your eyes on a long-haul redemption, I recommend booking prior to April 28, when the number of Avios required for these flights will increase.

For more info, check out these posts:

Which other long-haul routes do you fly using British Airways Avios?

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