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
- Part 5: Virgin Atlantic (no alliance)
Using Ultimate Rewards partners in the OneWorld Alliance to book flights between the US and Europe:
There is only one partner in the OneWorld alliance to which you can transfer Ultimate Rewards. That partner is British Airways. 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 distance based chart. The distance based chart is good for those on the east coast and even as far west as DFW and a few other cities. But if your departure airport is on the west coast, you will likely be charged more miles than most other options for getting to Europe. In other words, the longer-distance your flight, the more you will want to consider programs that do not have distance-based award charts.
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, airberlin, 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 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. This is also known as British Airways “metal”. As I’ve pointed out many times, I almost always suggest using British Airways Avios rather than American Airlines AAdvantage miles to book short-distance American Airlines flights since it costs less miles/points/Avios. Although British Airways does not pass on fuel surcharges for American Airlines flights within North America, they unfortunately do add charges for award tickets between the US and Europe on American Airlines and most other partner flights.
Keep in mind that award space from the US to Europe on British Airways flights is generally pretty good. The problem is that they impose a fuel surcharge on award tickets, and the transatlantic fuel surcharges can be pretty outrageous. This charge can be anywhere between $400-over $1000 roundtrip per ticket depending on your route and class of service.
On American Airlines and other partner award flights between the US and Europe booked through British Airways, the surcharges are slightly lower.
FYI, American Airlines does NOT collect fuel surcharges on their own flights between the US and Europe when award tickets are booked using the American Airlines AAdvantage program. In other words, I can get from DFW to Frankfurt for $5.60 in taxes and fees if I book the flight with AAdvantage miles.
How many Avios will I pay for flights between the US and Europe?
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 carrier could save you hundreds of dollars in fuel surcharges.
Oh, and don’t even think about using BA to book business class award tickets to and from Europe. It costs way too many Avios, and the fuel surcharges can be over $1000.
Here is an example of an economy flight:
If booked with British Airways, an American Airlines flight from Chicago to Paris will cost 50,000 Avios roundtrip in late May of 2018. Since this is out of the range for off-peak dates with American Airlines AAdvantage, these exact flights would cost 60,000 if booked with American Airlines miles. So that’s easy right? Save 10,000 miles/points/avios! Not so fast… Since were talking about Europe flights, were going to have to consider fees and fuel surcharges.
Grand total: 50,000 Avios and $373.23
No thanks! To compare, here are the flights if booked through AAdvantage:
Grand total: 60,000 miles and $82.66. Much better!
Note that the $82.66 includes government fees that are imposed on the return flight. There is no way around these fees as they are set by local governments. In other words, you will pay this fee no matter what airline program you booked your award ticket through.
Now remember, American Airlines is not a partner of Ultimate rewards. I am just using this example to demonstrate fuel surcharges! But if I already have the AA miles and I am given a choice between these two, I would probably pay 10,000 miles extra to avoid paying ~300$ in fuel surcharges! As always, do the math. I am going to calculate whether 10,000 is worth the out-of-pocket difference. Click here if you want to learn how to calculate the value!
- $373-$82=291 (I subtracted the fees if booked with AA. So I will use 291$. basically I need to determine if $291 is worth 10,000 points.)
- 0.0291 x 100= 2.91
- 2.9 cents per point. I actually consider that a good value!
Now, even though I would rather use more miles to pay less cash in this scenario, it still may not be a good use of points. Considering flights to Europe often go for under $400 in economy these days, you may want to consider saving your points. I definitely would not pay 50,000 Avios plus $373 for these flights, and I probably would not pay 60,000 miles to book with American Airlines either. As always, check the fares for your flights and dates, do the math, then do what you feel is best for you!
There is a workaround (kind of)
It’s a little convoluted so I will definitely need to make a separate post, but there is a way to save money on fuel surcharges and still use British Airways Avios for flights to and from Europe. It involves their partner Iberia.
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. Their programs are called British Airways Executive Club and Iberia Plus. Both refer to miles as Avios. Although their programs are separate, you can transfer Avios between a BA and an Iberia account.
Iberia still collects fuel surcharges, but they tend to be way more reasonable than British Airways. I will go into more detail in a separate post and show some examples of how much you can save just by creating a free Iberia account.
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. Check back for my post on transferring Avios to Iberia and then using Iberia to book. This may be a good solution, but it depends on your departure city.
If you’re trying to use Ultimate Rewards to book a flight to Europe, I suggest checking other Ultimate Rewards partners first. British Airways could be a good last resort option though. You could also consider using the Ultimate Rewards booking portal to redeem. Let me know if you have any questions!