How To Avoid High Taxes, Fees & Surcharges on European AA Award Redemptions

One question that I get asked often is how to avoid the high taxes, fees and surcharges on European American Airlines award redemptions. Oftentimes the AA search engine will route your itinerary through a London airport on a British Airways flight which will result in high taxes, fees and surcharges. Take for example a random flight in September from Orlando to Frankfurt.

While this may not seem like such a big deal at first glance, once you select the flights, you get hit with incredibly high taxes, fees and surcharges.

As you can see, this business class redemption will cost you 100,000 miles + $1,094.50 in taxes and fees! For ~$1,100 you can just about purchase that business class ticket during one of British Airways’ premium cabin fare sales.

So why are the taxes, fees and surcharges so high on European AA award redemptions? Because the flights are on British Airways aircraft that route through London airports. When you fly British Airways, you are hit with the UK duty tax and fuel surcharges. You may be asking yourself why the airline is charging fuel surcharges when fuel prices are low. The simple answer is that British Airways recognizes that this is an additional revenue stream for them that they simply did not want to do away with. From a business perspective I can certainly understand the charge since people are clearly still flying British Airways. But from an award traveler looking for the best points and miles redemption standpoint, it sucks!

But not to fret! If you know where to look and what routes to look for you can substantially decrease the taxes, fees and surcharges you pay on your AA award redemptions to Europe. I generally recommend that you search segment-by-segment on either the AA website or on the British Airways website (which will require you to have a British Airways Executive Club account) for this availability. Generally speaking, if the British Airways sight is showing the availability, AA should be able to see that same space at the saver level. Once you have all of your flights worked out, if you cannot get the AA website to price out your trip, then call in to AA to have a customer service representative book the trip for you. Remember to ask them to waive the phone booking fee since you could not book your trip online!

American Airlines

Cover Picture

This may seem obvious, but people often overlook searching the routes AA operates directly to Europe. I will include the UK airports in this list just so it is complete, but remember to avoid the UK airports if you can to avoid the UK duty tax. AA flies to Europe via the following routes:

  • Philadelphia (PHL) – Athens (ATH)/ Rome (FCO)/ Venice (VCE)/ Munich (MUC)/ Zurich (ZRH)/ Barcelona (BCN)/ Brussels (BRU)/ Amsterdam (AMS)/ Paris (CDG)/ Madrid (MAD)/ London (LHR)/ Lisbon (LIS)/ Manchester (MAN)/ Glasgow (GLA)/ Dublin (DUB)/ Shannon (SNN)
  • Chicago (ORD) – Rome (FCO)/ Dusseldorf (DUS)/ Paris (CDG)/ London (LHR)/ Manchester (MAN)/ Dublin (DUB)
  • Charlotte (CLT) – Rome (FCO)/ Frankfurt (FRA)/ Barcelona (BCN)/ Paris (CDG)/ Madrid (MAD)/ London (LHR)/ Dublin (DUB)
  • Miami (MIA) – Milan (MXP)/ Barcelona (BCN)/ Amsterdam (AMS)/ Paris (CDG)/ London (LHR)/ Madrid (MAD)
  • New York (JFK) – Rome (FCO)/ Milan (MXP)/ Zurich (ZRH)/ Barcelona (BCN)/ Paris (CDG)/ Madrid (MAD)/ London (LHR)/ Birmingham (BHX)/ Manchester (MAN)/ Edinburgh (EDI)/ Dublin (DUB)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – London (LHR)

Even if your ultimate destination is not on this list, you can still search for a connecting flight to combine with your AA flight into Europe. For example, if you were traveling to Vienna (VIE) from Orlando, so long as saver level availability is showing, you can fly MCO-PHL-MUC-VIE for the same number of miles as MCO-PHL-MUC. Best of all, AA does not charge fuel surcharges and your taxes and fees should remain extremely reasonable.

Air Berlin

(Source: Air Berlin)

Air Berlin is Germany’s second largest airline (after Lufthansa) and is a OneWorld alliance member, which means you can redeem your AAdvantage miles on their routes. Air Berlin operates a fleet of Airbus A330 aircraft on the routes listed below and some of them feature fully lie flat seats in business class. Air Berlin’s taxes and fees are substantially lower than British Airways and they do not charge fuel surcharges. Air Berlin flies the following routes:

  • New York (JFK) – Berlin (TXL)/ Dusseldorf (DUS)
  • Miami (MIA) – Berlin (TXL)/ Dusseldorf (DUS)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Berlin (TXL)/ Dusseldorf (DUS)
  • Fort Myers (RSW) – Dusseldorf (DUS)
  • San Francisco (SFO) – Dusseldorf (DUS) (*starting May 6, 2016)
  • Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) – Dusseldorf (DUS) (*starting May 6, 2016)
  • Boston (BOS) – Dusseldorf (DUS) (*starting May 7, 2016)

Just as with AA, you can add on connecting flights to the above airports and from Berlin/Dusseldorf to your ultimate destination in Europe for the same number of miles. You will likely have to use the British Airways site to find connections from Berlin/Dusseldorf depending on where in Europe you are going, but both airports are main hubs and should be able to get you wherever you are looking to go.

Finnair

(Source: Airbus)

Finnair is the flag carrier and largest airline of Finland (shocking, I know) and is one of the safest airlines in the world. Finnair operates the A330 aircraft on these routes which feature fully lie flat seats similar to the Delta 767 which I have previously reviewed. Finnair’s taxes and fees are substantially lower than British Airways and they do not charge fuel surcharges. Finnair flies the following routes:

  • New York (JFK) – Helsinki (HEL)
  • Chicago (ORD) – Helsinki (HEL) (*seasonal)
  • Miami (MIA) – Helsinki (HEL)

Finnair will likely also start flying their brand new A350’s on the JFK-HEL route, so keep an eye out for that as the A350 features Finnair’s brand new reverse herringbone business class product which looks excellent. Just as with AA and Air Berlin, you can add on connecting flights to the above airports and from Helsinki to your ultimate destination in Europe for the same number of miles. As with Air Berlin, you will likely have to use the British Airways site to find connections from Helsinki depending on where in Europe you are going, but Helsinki is a main hub and you should be able to easily get you wherever you are looking to go.

Iberia

(Source: Iberia)

Iberia is the flag carrier and largest airline of Spain. Iberia operates A330’s and A340’s on the routes below. Both aircraft feature Iberia’s fully lie flat business class product. While Iberia’s taxes and fees are substantially lower than British Airways, they do charge fuel surcharges. Iberia’s fuel surcharges are much lower than British Airways though and usually range from ~$150-200. Iberia flies the following routes:

  • Boston (BOS) – Madrid (MAD) (*seasonal)
  • Chicago (ORD) – Madrid (MAD)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) – Madrid (MAD) (*seasonal)
  • Miami (MIA) – Madrid (MAD)
  • New York (JFK) – Madrid (MAD)

Just as with AA, Air Berlin and Finnair, you can add on connecting flights to the above airports and from Madrid to your ultimate destination in Europe for the same number of miles. Again, as with Air Berlin and Finnair, you will likely have to use the British Airways site to find connections from Madrid depending on where in Europe you are going. Luckily Madrid is also a main hub and you should be able to get wherever you are looking to go fairly easily.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, if you know what flights to look for, you can save a substantial amount of money on taxes, fees and surcharges on your AA European award redemptions! This is especially true on those premium business/first class cabin redemptions.

What is your favorite route to Europe?

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4 thoughts on “How To Avoid High Taxes, Fees & Surcharges on European AA Award Redemptions

    1. I’m not sure why you say this as I’ve used this method to avoid high taxes, fees and surcharges on European redemptions for both myself and clients numerous times. Air Berlin, Finnair and Iberia flights are usually pretty easy to find (in economy at least) if you search the individual city pairs or look for an AA operated flight to a European partner hub where you can connect on to your ultimate destination.

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