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Q&A: How Could a British Airways Award Ticket Cost More Than $500?

Q&A: How Could a British Airways Award Ticket Cost More Than $500?

Question From Ingrid

I am a regular reader of your emails and have benefited much from your advice. Now I have a concern regarding fees or taxes imposed when flying through London on British Airways and using frequent flyer miles. I have sufficient miles to fly from Texas to South Africa and was told this morning by a less than communicative BA customer representative (and after an extremely long hold) that I may incur charges as high as $600-700 for such a trip. It required a number of questions before he volunteered that the amount changes daily and that it is contingent upon the destination.

If this is indeed the case, then it is hardly worth my while traveling on miles and possibly subjecting myself to less than desirable schedules and connections.

I’d greatly appreciate if you can find out if the information given to me is correct.

Answer

While it may be no consolation, yours is a common complaint.

In stark contrast to the great majority of U.S. carriers, British Airways imposes fuel surcharges for award tickets, which, as you’ve discovered, can amount to hundreds of dollars and seriously undermine the value of frequent flyer miles earned in the Executive Club program.

British Airways’ current fees chart (which you’ll have to log in with your Executive Club credentials to view) shows fuel surcharges from the western U.S., including Dallas, to London ranging from $156 for coach to $220 for first class, each way. Those numbers could change at any time to, according to the website, "reflect the fluctuating price of worldwide oil."

Fuel Surcharge Shock and Awe

I can’t speak for citizens of Great Britain, but I’ve heard from many Americans who were not only incensed by the fees, but blindsided by them as well. No wonder.

In the U.S., fuel surcharges haven’t been a significant factor in airline pricing since oil prices backed off their high of $147.27 a barrel on July 11, 2008. So British Airways’ policy is likely to come as a shock.

Exacerbating the problem, British Airways has done a decidedly halfhearted job of making customers aware of the fees.

Case in point: Even though I was well aware of their fuel surcharges, it took me almost 30 minutes of searching British Airways’ website to find the page where the fees are published.

Where Do You Go From Here?

Having confirmed that award flights on British Airways flights would indeed require significant cash co-payments, mostly for fuel surcharges, the next step was to look for less pricey alternatives.

Since the British Airways website is notably unhelpful in explaining which fees apply to award flights on partner airlines, I called the U.S. Executive Club service center. The agent verified that the fees for an award flight to Johannesburg would be between $400 and $500, mostly fuel surcharges.

When I expressed surprise that the cash cost would be so high, she explained that the fees were tantamount to a "luxury tax" because the miles were "a gift, and taxed as a bonus." One hopes that she’s not expressing British Airways’ official position on the issue, as the travel consumers I know would argue that their frequent flyer miles were bought and paid for—not an entitlement, but hardly a gift.

When pressed for more cost-effective options for redeeming Executive Club miles, the agent rather reluctantly suggested domestic flights on American or Alaska Airlines, which could be had without fuel surcharges.

The irony of earning miles on a self-proclaimed global airline only to find oneself forced to redeem them for domestic flights was not, I suspect, lost on her.

Further Reading

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  • Karenrad

    I have discovered that the fuel surcharges on UK carriers are lower on the UK->US portion of the trip. You can reduce fees by flying a US carrier one-way to the UK and a British carrier on the return. Of course, this only works on airlines that have one-way awards.

  • Bryan

    I paid $1000 per ticket in taxes and fees for two British Airways first class award tickets from the USA to Africa. This year I redeemed two first class tickets on Cathay Pacific from the USA to Africa and the taxes and fees were $150 per ticket. Both redeemed with BA miles.

  • Fred Smith

    One way to try to avoid this BA fuel charge is to try to use your BA miles on American code share flights. When pricing flights, I noted that the price was the same on all the BA/AA code share long haul flights after all taxes and fees and fuel charges, but the BA price was about $200 less before the added Taxes, fees and fuel charge.

  • Charlie

    Codeshare is the answer.

  • Maureen

    I will be travelling to London from Barbados by British Airways Business/club class using AA Frequent Flier miles I will have to pay USD681.90 in fees I think it also varies according to what the USD rate is to the POUND on the particular day

  • Eric

    These high fees are not unique to British Airways. Lufthansa also charges comparable fees. Last summer, my wife, son, and I travelled to Paris on award tickets via Lufthansa miles. We needed to fly through Germany, of course. Each ticket cost us about $350 in taxes, surcharges, etc. (The good news was that Lufthansa has reduced mileage awards for children, so we were able to get a reduced mileage award for my son.) So for the three of us, it cost a bit over $1000, so basically three tickets for the price of one. This was not so good when compared to the charges of an American carrier, yet Lufthansa had quite a bit of availability and, booking 6 months in advance, it was easy for all three of us to get frequent flyer tickets on the same flights.

  • Sam

    I too am disgusted with this situatin. I have about 300,000 BA miles left. Can I afford to use them?

  • Peggy

    Isnt BA part of the Star Alliance? In that case you should be able to use your miles on United, Continental, US Airways, Air Canada, or any of the other airlines ( or a combination) to get around the charge.

  • Jerry Mandel

    Book on AA if you can-at least to/from UK. Find routings on http://www.oneworld.com Another option is Iberia (also in Oneworld) to Madrid and on to South Africa. BA is notorious for high fuel surcharges. Also, UK and Germany are now imposing high air departure fees. Avoid them if you can. Anyway, contact Iberia and AA.

  • Mike Walach

    I ended up paying $900 for two redeemed tickets to London on Air Canada. I also looked at Virgin Atlantic and found similar fees. What I really found interesting on Virgin Atlantic is that the fees were lower if I would use cash. That would belie the fuel surcharge and tax excuses.

  • Gilbert L. Moorman

    I have flown across the pond for many, many years. I have used free tickets on Delta, Northwest, US Air and Lufthansa, both Business class and cheap seats and I have never encountered taxes and fees close to the ones described above. I had no idea British Air had a third world award program. Do the Chinese still charge for the bullet when they execute someone?

  • jim

    I agree- if you use BA points to fly on [artner airlines (like AA) you don’t have to pay the fees. Last year I used BA points to fly from the US to RIO on American. No significant fees.

    However, if you are flying across the Atlantic using Ba points, they require you to fly on BA, I think.

    So if you want to avoid the fees, use your BA points for non-transatlantic flights, like flying to South America on American, flying to Asia on Cathay Pacific, etc.

  • Ashok

    I had used both BA and staralliance awards using my United miles. The BA fees are order of magnitude higher. For example: I paid $2.50 (yes two dollar fifty cents) for one-way travel from SFO-India on Singapore, using United miles. My son had to pay $400 for his one-way ticket from India-SFO on BA using BA miles. I have been annually 100K miles flier for last 10-year. I left BA for last 5-year due to such reasons. Also, they have reduced award miles from Europe to India by 75%. So, be carefull, if you are BA FF members.

  • zud the hut

    I gave up on the idea that I could fly BA internationally years ago just because of this discussion. It doesn’t make sense to fly BA internationally when one could buy a tix that is on sale for about the same price.

    I just use BA miles mainly on AA domestic flt.

  • Jim G

    As a few people have noted, sadly BA is not alone in these surcharges, but they are almost without a doubt the worst. I never cared much for BA when I had to fly coach anyway (Club World is fine if you can afford it) but the double penalty of high taxes and outrageous “surcharges” dramatically devalues BA’s program. I always accrued miles (not well – they ding you for anything less than full coach) on my AA number when I flew BA and never flew them over the Atlantic. You DO have a choice when you fly – make a good one.

  • ChR

    LUFTHANSA IS EVEN WORST !

    Their Miles and More award tickets booked on flights operated by UNITED are subject to fuel taxes, even when UNITED does not charge such surcharges for award tickets !!! At least, when you fly AA with a BA award ticket, BA has enough decency not add the fuel taxes …

    The interesting thing is that when you book an award ticket thru UNITED’s Mileage Plus on LUFTHANSA flights, UNITED is nice enough not to add the fuel surcharge… So here is the total quoted for a LH return award ticket Brussels-Bogota, same flights same days:

    UNITED Mileage Plus: 80.000 miles + 100.25 EUR
    LUFTHANSA Miles and More : 80.000 miles + 397.98 EUR , 4 times more !!!!!

    Most agree that fuel surcharges are often misleading and non transparent. But when it comes to frequent flyer awards, it’s not far from a scam. Many US airlines don’t defraud the passenger that way anymore (DoT regulation or just fair commercial practice?), but most EU airlines still do.

    The answer?

    Airlines respectful enough of their customers to consider that that a gift is a gift, and don’t charge you for giving it to you (yeah…right…)

    Myself, I just try to avoid airlines like LUFTHANSA or BA, and if I have to fly with them, I put the miles on their US partner airlines…

  • chris

    LUFTHANSA IS EVEN WORST !

    Their Miles and More award tickets booked on flights operated by UNITED are subject to fuel taxes, even when UNITED does not charge such surcharges for award tickets !!! At least, when you fly AA with a BA award ticket, BA has enough decency not add the fuel taxes …

    The interesting thing is that when you book an award ticket thru UNITED’s Mileage Plus on LUFTHANSA flights, UNITED is nice enough not to add the fuel surcharge… So here is the total quoted for a LH return award ticket Brussels-Bogota, same flights same days:

    UNITED Mileage Plus: 80.000 miles + 100.25 EUR
    LUFTHANSA Miles and More : 80.000 miles + 397.98 EUR , 4 times more !!!!!

    Most agree that fuel surcharges are often misleading and non transparent. But when it comes to frequent flyer awards, it’s not far from a scam. Many US airlines don’t defraud the passenger that way anymore (DoT regulation or just fait commercial practice?), but most EU airlines still do.

    The answer?

    Airlines respectful enough of their customers to consider that that a gift is a gift, and don’t charge you for giving it to you (yeah…right…)

    Myself, I just try to avoid airlines like LUFTHANSA or BA, and if I have to fly with them, I put the miles on their US partner airlines…

  • chris

    LUFTHANSA IS EVEN WORST !

    Their Miles and More award tickets booked on flights operated by UNITED are subject to fuel taxes, even when UNITED does not charge such surcharges for award tickets !!! At least, when you fly AA with a BA award ticket, BA has enough decency not add the fuel taxes …

    The interesting thing is that when you book an award ticket thru UNITED’s Mileage Plus on LUFTHANSA flights, UNITED is nice enough not to add the fuel surcharge… So here is the total quoted for a LH return award ticket Brussels-Bogota, same flights same days:

    UNITED Mileage Plus: 80.000 miles + 100.25 EUR
    LUFTHANSA Miles and More : 80.000 miles + 397.98 EUR , 4 times more !!!!!

    Most agree that fuel surcharges are often misleading and non transparent. But when it comes to frequent flyer awards, it’s not far from a scam. Many US airlines don’t defraud the passenger that way anymore (DoT regulation or just fait commercial practice?), but most EU airlines still do.

    The answer?

    Airlines respectful enough of their customers to consider that that a gift is a gift, and don’t charge you for giving it to you (yeah…right…)

    Myself, I just try to avoid airlines like LUFTHANSA or BA, and if I have to fly with them, I put the miles on their US partner airlines…

  • Sam

    I got blind-sided by a fuel surcharge on a paid ticket with CO to Shannon. My ultimate destination is Wales. I have about 300,000 BA miles! The BA surcharges put me off flying with them or transiting the UK by air! So I decided to fly to Shannon to avoid all the haneous UK taxes. And when I completed my on-line purchase, Voila! A $220.00 fuel surcharge! Continental made no mention of it until after purchase.

  • Karen Kinnane

    I gave up my BA credit card and refuse to fly BA because of this rip off. I’d rather deal with airlines which don’t try to cheat the customers. I fly over 50,000 miles per year, so BA won’t notice, but I feel I’ve voted with my money.

  • Atul

    This purely a rip off and a deterrent. On top of it, the BA agents are rude when pressed for more details and have you tried to call them to make a change in your executive club reservations from the US? I have to be on hold for a min of 30 to 60 minutes. When I complained they said we have been busy but this is the normal pattern. The suck in phone service and these taxes are a huge put off!

  • Jim B

    I’ve got an even worse story. I bought a BA flight with miles, then had to change it. I was told over the phone that I would be charged about $32 per ticket for the change (4 tickets, about $130 total). I had already been charged the obscene amount of $1700 for the 4 tickets to cover the fees. When I got my credit card statement, the charge was $1300 — TEN TIMES what they said it would be on the phone. BA STOLE over $1000 from me!

    When I called BA to inquire, they told me they DO NOT send receipts for changes and that was what the charge is, the taxes changed, end of discussion. I disputed the charge through my credit card company, but it’s a BA credit card, so guess who they sided with. I’m out a thousand bucks.

    I am STILL trying to get an itemized receipt from BA that will tell me why I was charged this amount (the flight was in August). I was told by phone that I needed to email them to get a receipt, and by email I was told that I need to fax them. I am sure that the answer to my fax will be that I need to call.

    UNBELIEVABLE. I still have miles with BA but I’ll take everyone’s advice here, and use them on American, instead. The guys at BA will probably be happy that they don’t have to give me free tickets anymore. British Airways Frequent Flyer program is a scam!

  • longhorns

    I just looked up DFW-MADrid round trip in coach in May on AA.com using AA miles. The AA computer showed $775 taxes/fees/surcharges each way ($1,550 total).

  • Kris

    I used 75K BA miles + $600 taxes and fees for a RT San Diego via London to Cairo ticket for my mother in Law. While I felt a little duped to be paying so much in fees, if I had purchased the ticket outright from a travel agent it would have been $1100. So, I paid the $95 to become a BA Visa user for the 100K miles and saved $400 in the end. I will be more careful next time I book so that I can try to avoid paying the BA fees and taxes.

  • Kim

    After reading all these posts, I have decided not to become a BA Card holder to earn miles. I noticed on tickets that I was getting a quote on through Delta the tax was very high to go to London. With the World Recession, They may want to rethink this. I will travel where the tax is $10.00 for a reward ticket.

  • longhorns

    Again, notice the very high taxes (not fuel surcharges) for flying to UK on any airline. Also, Germany has high air taxes. last year, we flew DFW-JFK-MXP (Milan, Italy) round trip on AA using AA miles. The total taxes/fees for each of us was $25 USD. Going by way of UK would have cost much more. No fuel surcharges for our trip. You will be lucky if you can use BA Avios (miles) to Europe without having to go via UK.

  • jo

    I got the BA card last year.
    I redeemed my miles by using 80,000 miles for 2 1st class tickets from NY to Puerto Rico on AA to attend a wedding. The fees were under $100 total. I then used up the rest for a hotel stay. Then I dropped the card.
    I think the offer is a very good deal if you fly domestic but international is another story.

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