How To Book BA Award Flights For Less Than Half Price (Including The Surcharges!)

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I have written a few times about the staggeringly good redemptions you can create by transferring American Express Membership Rewards Points to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles. If you haven’t read those pieces yet, I suggest doing so now, or you might find what comes next a bit confusing.

The only thing I don’t like about Asia Miles is that it does charge surcharges, meaning that your ultra-cheap redemption can end up costing a lot more than you might think – if you don’t choose your flights carefully. Redemptions on Cathay Pacific itself and some other partners are fine, but choosing flights on airlines like BA and Qatar will cost you many £100s.

There is a ‘sort of’ solution to this though – start your award in Brazil!

I am aware that might seem ridiculous on first reading, but it’s really not as mad as it may sound.

I’m not going to go quite as far as suggesting that many readers will fly out to Brazil just to start an Asia Miles award there (I know at least a few who will though!), but if you’re already thinking about travelling anywhere nearby (even Miami could make sense – use Avios to fly with AA to Sao Paulo), pay close attention:

To cut a long story short, airline surcharges on award tickets are banned in Brazil and due to the way Asia Miles allows a stopover (for more or less as long as you want) even on one-way redemptions, there is the opportunity for massive savings.

Let’s say that you want to go to South America and Australia as two separate trips next year. Book your outbound flight to South America however you like (using Avios for Iberia flights through Iberia Plus is probably best for most people), but ensure your trip ends in Rio or Sao Paulo. Now you are in position to book your awesome Asia Miles award – remember that Asia Miles is a direct 1:1 transfer partner from American Express Membership Rewards.

British Airways flies from Rio and Sao Paulo to London, and also from London to Sydney. BA is, of course, a Cathay Asia Miles partner because both airlines are in oneworld, meaning you can book BA flights with Asia Miles. 

As I mentioned, Asia Miles allows you to book a stopover even on one-way awards. You can therefore book Brazil – London (stopover for months) – Sydney as one award. Asia Miles also has remarkably good redemption rates for these awards. In Business Class, you’d be looking at 90,000 Miles in total, or 135,000 in First Class:

One irritating quirk is that the Asia Miles website doesn’t show how much the taxes and surcharges are going to be, unless you already have enough miles in your account to book the award. Instead, (from the UK) just phone 0800 092 3595 and the Asia Miles agents will be able to help.

At the time of writing, the above award was bookable and award space was available for both flights.

[ Tip: If you do phone and want to book a stopover on a one way, make sure you are very clear that you want them to search a multi-city award and give them the exact flight details that you want to book.]

I was quoted 90,000 Asia Miles + approx £265 ($2,612 Hong Kong Dollars) for the above itinerary in Business Class, which is more or less what you would expect from looking at ITA:

For comparison, if you booked the flights using Avios through British Airways Executive Club, you would pay between 200,000-240,000 Avios (depending on peak/off peak dates) + £710 in taxes and surcharges.

By transferring Amex MR Points to Asia Miles rather than Avios, you would pay less than half the miles and less than half the taxes/surcharges. To be specific, you would need just 37.5%-45% of the points and pay just 38% of the taxes/fees…

I don’t want to go to Brazil…

That’s fine! 

You can still benefit massively by using Asia Miles for long haul BA flights rather than Avios, but you’ll ‘only’ be saving points/Avios rather than the cash for the surcharges. The surcharges will be roughly the same as if you booked your ticket with Avios, and 90,000 miles is the maximum that Asia Miles charges regardless of how absurdly long your ‘one way’ itinerary is.

Due to the fact that you are only allowed two segments (i.e. two flights) on a one way Asia Miles award, if you want to fly BA then the best way to maximise your miles is to start outside of the UK and then to stack awards together.

For example:

Step 1: Use Avios, other miles or a cheap one way cash fare to fly to the USA

Step 2: Book an Asia Miles award from the USA to London (stopover for x months) and then carry on to Sydney

Step 3: Book a second Asia Miles award from Sydney to London (stopover for x months) and then carry on to Cape Town

Step 4: Book a third Asia Miles award from Cape Town to London (stopover for x months) and then carry on to xxxxx

Step: 5: Etc, etc

You don’t need to book all of these at the same time of course, which gives you time to collect more miles and decide on your next destination (though do be aware of scarce award availability on popular routes). Also note that the above are all just random examples – you can pick anywhere BA flies.

Bottom line

The savings you can make by transferring Amex Membership Rewards Points to Asia Miles rather than Avios for BA long haul Business/First Class flights are astonishing. If you ever happen to find yourself in Brazil, even better! 

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