Best ways to book Europe flights with Ultimate Rewards
- Part 1: Introduction
- Part 2: Star Alliance-Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer and United
- Part 3: SkyTeam Alliance- KLM/AirFrance FlyingBlue and Korean Air
- Part 4: OneWorld Alliance-British Airways and Iberia Plus
- Part 5: Virgin Atlantic
Using Ultimate Rewards partners in the Oneworld Alliance to book flights between the US and Europe:
There are two partners in the OneWorld alliance to which you can transfer Ultimate Rewards. Those partners are British Airways Executive Club and Iberia Plus. While British Airways is great for so many routes, I will admit that their program, British Airways Executive Club, may not be your best option if you’re trying to use Ultimate Rewards to book flights between the US and Europe. I’ll go into a little more detail below but there are two main reasons for this:
- Fuel surcharges
- The way the program prices award tickets. Their distance-based chart is good if you live in a city with nonstop flights to Europe. But if your departure airport requires you to connect, you will likely be charged more miles than most other options for getting to Europe.
Iberia is good for certain routes between the US and Europe.
I’ll give some basic info about British Airways Executive Club and Iberia Plus, but I have more thorough posts about these two programs that you may want to read.
This post discusses the way that each of these programs calculates redemption costs on award tickets. Each program has a different way of calculating distance, and this can make a difference in redemption cost. Depending on your route, one program may be better than the other.
This post explains the fees and taxes that are common for all award tickets to Europe. Additionally, it explains extra fees known as fuel surcharges. There are ways to reduce these fees, so check out the post for more information.
British Airways Executive Club
- You can use British Airways Avios (BA’s name for miles) to book flights between the US and Europe on British Airways flights or on any OneWorld partner.
- This means that in addition to British Airways flights, you can indirectly use Ultimate Rewards to book flights on American Airlines, Finnair, and Iberia.
- All of the partners that have routes between the US and Europe are searchable on BA.com. Remember that if you’re wanting to book an American Airlines flight with British Airways Avios, AA’s website must show availability at the MileSAAver level.
- British Airways has no close-in fee which is good for booking last minute flights. To compare, American Airlines has a fee of 75$ for any award ticket booked within 21 days of travel.
- Cancellation policy: $55 or taxes and fees, whichever is lower. Since many of the flights we use BA Avios for are on domestic American Airlines flights, the taxes are usually only $5.60. This means I only forfeit the $5.60 to cancel my ticket and get my Avios redeposited to my BA account. To compare, AA would charge $150 to cancel and redeposit miles to my AAdvantage account. Unfortunately, because of the fuel surcharge situation on transatlantic flights, you’re going to have to pay the 55$ cancelation fee so that you can get the surcharges refunded. $55 is still better than $150 though!
- You can transfer Ultimate Rewards to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio
- Transfers from Ultimate Rewards tend to be instant, which is good because British Airways does not allow you to place award tickets on hold.
An interesting and unfortunate thing to note about British Airways is fuel surcharges. British Airways imposes steep transatlantic fuel surcharges if you book an award flight on one of their own flights or on a partner flight. This can add hundreds of dollars in fees to your award ticket, so it could be a deal-breaker. Iberia also collects fuel surcharges, but they are more reasonable.
Click here for more info about fees on award tickets to Europe when redeeming British Airways or Iberia Avios.
How many British Airways Avios will I need to redeem for flights between the US and Europe?
Click here for award charts using Iberia or British Airways.
Since British Airways has a distance-based award chart, the lowest redemption costs for Europe tickets will be from departure cities on the US East Coast.
Some East coast US cities are as low as 13,000 each way, but transatlantic fuel surcharges make many of these routes not worth booking. In other words, paying a few extra thousand miles to book with a different frequent flyer program could save you hundreds of dollars in fuel surcharges.
Here are some examples of roundtrip economy flights:
- Chicago to London operated by British Airways, booked with British Airways Avios: 26,000 or 40,000 Avios, depending on dates (off-peak/peak) Fuel surcharges, taxes, and fees come to a total of $545.
- New Orleans to Rome operated by American Airlines, booked with British Airways Avios. There is one connection each way, but all segments are operated by American Airlines: 65,000 Avios plus $445 in fees
- JFK to Madrid operated by Iberia, booked with British Airways Avios: 34,000 or 40,000 Avios (off peak or peak) plus $413 in fees*
- JFK to Madrid operated by American Airlines, booked with British Airways Avios: 40,000 Avios plus $413 in fees*
*The same route costs a different amount of Avios because using British Airways Avios to book Iberia-operated flights has different pricing than using BA to book flights operated by American Airlines.
Using BA to book business class award tickets to and from Europe is usually a no-go for me. It costs way too many Avios, and the fuel surcharges can be over $1000. If you’re set on business class, the cents per point value is actually decent on some routes, though even after factoring in fuel surcharges. This post explains that a little further.
There is a workaround (kind of)
Use Iberia when possible.
Iberia still collects fuel surcharges, but some are way more reasonable than British Airways.
- You can use Iberia Plus Avios (IB’s name for miles) to book flights between the US and Europe on Iberia flights or on any Oneworld partner.
- Iberia and partner outes between the US and Europe are searchable on Iberia.com, but I find it easier to search for availability using AA.com. Remember that if you’re wanting to book an American Airlines operated flight, AA’s website must show availability at the MileSAAver level.
- Iberia has no close-in fee for last minute flights.
- One-way tickets are allowed on flights operated by Iberia. Partner flights such as American Airlines must be booked roundtrip.
- Cancellation/change policy: $25 Euros. This is generous compared to many programs.
- You can transfer Ultimate Rewards to Iberia at a 1:1 ratio
- Transfers from Ultimate Rewards tend to be instant, which is good because Iberia does not allow you to place award tickets on hold.
How many Iberia Avios will I need to redeem for flights between the US and Europe?
Since Iberia has a distance-based award chart, the lowest redemption costs for Europe tickets will be from departure cities on the US East Coast. While British Airways calculates distance per segment, Iberia adds the total distance to calculate the cost. This means that adding a connecting flight may not add to your redemption cost if you use Iberia! This post explains that in more detail.
Click here for award charts using Iberia or British Airways.
- New Orleans to Rome operated by American Airlines, booked with Iberia Avios. There is one connection each way, but all segments are operated by American Airlines: 65,000 Avios plus $408 in fees
- DFW to Amsterdam (nonstop) operated by American Airlines, booked with Iberia Avios: 65,000 Avios plus $373 in fees
- PHL to Madrid (nonstop) operated by American Airlines, booked with Iberia Avios: 42,000 Avios plus ~$100
- JFK to Madrid (nonstop) operated by Iberia, booked with Iberia Avios: 34,000 or 40,000 Avios (off peak or peak) plus $185 in fees*
- JFK to Madrid (nonstop) operated by American Airlines, booked with Iberia Avios: 42,000 Avios plus $103 in fees*
*The same route costs a different amount of Avios because Iberia has different charts. There is a chart for their own flights and then a chart for each partner airline.
Notice that some of those surcharges are much more reasonable than the same flights booked with British Aiways
Flights to Madrid operated by Iberia or American Airlines have much lower fees than the exact same flights booked with British Airways. The American Airlines operated flight costs 2,000 more Avios than if booked with British Airways, but the surcharges are $300 less! I’d rather redeem 2,000 more Avios and save $300.
On the other hand, flights to other European cities on American Airlines still come with $320 in carrier fees/fuel surcharges/whatever you want to call it.
Here is the breakdown of the Amsterdam flight: $320 of the $373 fee is ‘operator charges’ which is basically another name for fuel surcharges.
Even if Madrid isn’t your destination, Iberia might be the best way to get across the pond on a Oneworld flight
The best options I’ve seen are on flights operated by American Airlines to Madrid, booked with Iberia Avios. The carrier/operator/fuel surcharges are less than $50. Factoring in unavoidable government taxes and fees, the total is around $100 roundtrip for an economy seat. American Airlines operates nonstop flights between Madrid and these US cities:
- New York (JFK)
- Philadelphia (PHL)
- Charlotte (CLT)
- Dallas/ Fort Worth (DFW)
- Miami (MIA)
Using Iberia Avios to book Iberia flights may also be a decent deal, although fuel surcharges may be higher. Iberia has nonstop flights to Madrid from these US cities (some may be seasonal and/or not daily):
- Los Angeles
- San Francisco
Iberia has a large network in Europe, so even if Madrid is not your destination, you can add a connection. If a connecting flight isn’t available and/or makes the redemption cost too high, you can buy a cheap intra Europe flight to your destination. Or take a train. It is very easy to travel between European cities.
One more thing: British Airways and Iberia have a unique partnership
One thing I want to point out is that British Airways and Iberia are more than just Oneworld partners. They are owned by the same parent company*. British Airways and Iberia have separate loyalty programs, but you can transfer Avios between a British Airways and an Iberia account.
You normally could not transfer miles/points/avios between Oneworld partners, but you could use any Oneworld frequent flyer program to book another Oneworld partner’s flight. In other words, I cannot transfer American Airlines AAdvantage miles to British Airways Avios, but I can use Aadvantage miles to book flights operated by British Airways.
This isn’t really relevant here since I recommend keeping your Ultimate Rewards in your Ultimate Rewards account until you are ready to book, but it’s something I wanted to point out. If for some reason you transfer Ultimate Rewards to British Airways, and then you later realize Iberia is a better program for an award ticket you want to book, you cannot transfer the Avios back to Ultimate Rewards. But you could actually transfer the British Airways Avios to Iberia. Again, this is not the norm!!
Using the frequent flyer programs of Iberia or British Airways to book flights to Europe means you are going to have to pay fuel surcharges. This is usually a deal breaker for British Airways. British Airways is great for many flights but unfortunately, Europe routes usually aren’t great values despite the low cost in points (avios) from the east coast. On the other hand, Iberia can be very reasonable.