Frequent flyer miles . . . you need lots of money, too?
October 23, 2012 10:12 AM   Subscribe

Are big-time charges now routine when redeeming frequent flyer miles for overseas flights?

Did the golden years of using frequent flyer miles end, and I didn't have a clue? We've accumulated 150,000 frequent flyer miles on American Airlines, and I thought: "Oh, good. We can go to Europe." There were plenty of flight options, so I plugged in our dates and flights. At the end, the message said the tickets would use up 80,000 miles (round trip for two people travelling from US to Paris) + $1376!!! WTF? I tried other dates, tried buying more miles. Nothing doing. Is this just the way it is now?

Sorry to be so 20th century, but I clearly remember back in the Juraissic Period that one could purchase tickets with frequent flyer miles and few or no fees. Break it to me gently.
posted by Elsie to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
use them to redeem on Iberia to Madrid and onward to Paris. The problem you've got is that BA/AA both charging crazy fees flying through Heathrow. It sucks. Madrid is cheaper.

Alternately Cathay and Lan are cheap redemptions in that family if you ever wanted to go to Asia or South America.

But while fees and taxes generally have gone up a lot, BA is a whole different level from other airlines.

Actually the really smart way to do it is open an Iberia Avios account, wait three months to transfer your AA miles in, and then use that to buy the ticket.
posted by JPD at 10:16 AM on October 23, 2012

Usually such fees are related to local taxes and airport fees over which the airline has no control. Local taxes and airport fees can create huge differences among destinations in fees that are added when using points/miles to purchase tickets. If possible, try booking to a different nearby airport and see if the fees are different (although my impression is that in Europe they are generally high - and I would guess they may be unified to some extent throughout the EU but I don't know).
posted by Dansaman at 10:19 AM on October 23, 2012

Nah, you can do this. Definitely try to do this through One World. AA itself is a lot wacky right now in all regards.

You can definitely get somewhere for 150K miles. :) You're just gonna have to work for it.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:20 AM on October 23, 2012

The AA award chart says that to go from North America to Europe with miles has a maximum of $236 in fees per one-way. There might be an "expedite fee" of up to $125. That still leaves an extra unexplained $307.
posted by grouse at 10:21 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

hat still leaves an extra unexplained $307.

My guess is "fuel surcharge" though I am far far far more familiar with BA's fees.
posted by JPD at 10:24 AM on October 23, 2012

Yeah, you've got to shop around. Like, I have a bunch of British Airways Avios, so it seems like the logical thing to do would be to use them to fly to from the US to London. But no! It turns out actually it is cheaper to use them ANYWHERE ELSE. Boston-London: 50,000 Avios and $700 RT; Boston-Dublin: 25,000 Avios and $125 RT.

There are a lot of "travel hacks" blogs and forums that will tip you off about the best ways to use your miles. One of the big rules, though, is never fly BA transatlantic. Their fees are crazytown.
posted by mskyle at 10:26 AM on October 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Last year I wanted to use 300,000 points for 3 RT tickets from LA to Paris. Long story short: checking several times a day for several days in a row finally got me the tickets, sans surcharge. I think they're using algorithms that constantly change the offerings & seat availability. It was an annoying project but the outcome was good.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:39 AM on October 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check out's miles and points forum which is dedicated to frequent flyer programs and has tons of info on navigating programs and redeeming miles.
posted by shoesietart at 11:00 AM on October 23, 2012

This is likely due to some taxes and surcharges imposed by the airports. For example, we are using miles to upgrade a flight from Heathrow; the UK imposes a luxury tax on business class and higher flights, so we have to pay that tax. There's no way around taxes & fees imposed by the airport or country, unfortunately.

Usually they should be able to explain what the fees are if you call. You can also do as others have suggested and try doing either a oneworld award or try different airports or routes to get to your destination. And make sure AA is not giving you a BA codeshare, because their fees are indeed nuts.
posted by bedhead at 11:47 AM on October 23, 2012

Something is crazy. Premium cabin awards to London can run $400 or so per ticket in fees and taxes. Typical fees to Paris in coach should be more like $100. Also 80,000 miles doesn't make sense on AA either. 2 coach tickets to Paris should be 60,000 peak or 40,000 off-peak with fees of more like $200 each. It also isn't the right number of miles for OneWorld award trips nor is it the right amount for business class (which should be a total of 100,000).

They have been increasing the amount of fees they sock us with, but nowhere near what you describe. I'm flying first class to Peru in a couple of days and the whole ticket cost me $94 (plus miles, of course).
posted by Lame_username at 12:17 PM on October 23, 2012

Yes, there's something wrong there with those fees. The mileage sounds right because a round trip to Europe from the States (or vice versa) on AA is 40,000 miles. I just redeemed 40,000 miles for a round trip from Heathrow to JFK and the total fees were £111 (about $150) which is primarily UK airport taxes.
posted by essexjan at 1:28 PM on October 23, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the all the advice so far, which I'll check out in the AM. To clarify: the flight is Boston-Heathrow-Paris, 40000 FF miles per person=80,000 FF miles+$1364 USD.
posted by Elsie at 1:40 PM on October 23, 2012

That explains it -- Heathrow fees/taxes/etc. are extreme. BOS-JFK-CDG prices out to 40k miles plus $91/person in fees for me on American's site.
posted by backupjesus at 2:36 PM on October 23, 2012

Best answer: That explains it -- Heathrow fees/taxes/etc. are extreme.

Yeah. I only halfway joke when I say a roundtrip ORD fare is 1/3rd outbound fare, 1/3rd return fare, and 1/3 Heathrow fees.

There is a $75 fee for booking AA award trips within 21 days of travel, so you may want to push back the dates if you're within that.

However, I do have a question. Is this a Paris trip, or a trip to London and Paris?

If it's a Paris trip:

Redo the trip, but on the first page of AA's award flight selection, make sure that "AA, American Eagle and AmericanConnection" is selected in Section 6, not "AA + AAdvantage Participating Airlines." This will take BA out of the equation.

AA flys CDG from BOS, ORD, MIA, DFW and JFK. All should be legal connects, since you're not flying farther the "wrong" way than you are to your destination, but obviously, BOS-DFW-CDG is suboptimal.

Hmm. I just looked. 12-18 Dec BOS-JFK-CDG, 40K per person plus $91.60 in taxes, fees, etc. BOS-ORD-CDG was similar.

If it's a London and Paris trip:

What you're really booking is BOS-LHR and then LHR-CDG. What I'd do is look at an alternate way to get to Paris, namely, the Channel Tunnel, and avoid LHR's fees. I don't know if London Gatwick (LGW) has the same fee problem that London Heathrow does, so checking LGW-CDG and LGW-ORY may be worth it. The only Paris flight from London City (LCY) is to Paris Orly* on Air France, which isn't part of OneWorld, thus, miles won't help you there, but it may be worth checking the cash price -- LCY is by far the most civilized and easy to reach airport in London.

Since you're not on a linked ticket here, you'll need padding on the return to make sure you catch the LHR-(XXX)-BOS return, so plan on spending a day in London on the way back.

Taking Eurostar does mean paying cash, but it's 2:30 or less from London St. Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord, and both are near the center of the city, rather than way out in the sticks. Base far runs about $115 R/T when purchased in advance, sometimes less -- and it beats the hell out of LHR's crazy crazy fees.

* Ya Rly.
posted by eriko at 5:04 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Some other oneworld-y possibilities:

• As others have suggested, fly Iberia from Boston to Madrid, then on to Paris

• Could you do Boston-Dublin on AA, then do a cheap Aer Lingus run out of pocket to, if not Paris, Amsterdam, Cologne, or Lyon? All these places, though it's a bit of a hassle, are linked via high-speed train to Paris; Schiphol airport in Amsterdam has a Thalys station right inside with 11 trains a day to Paris Nord.

• Get to NYC somehow, Air Berlin NYC-Dusseldorf, TRAIN to Paris? Probably the cheapest of all.
posted by mdonley at 8:25 AM on October 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

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