some frequent-flier basics (part six: a real-world example!)

It's December and I've been invited to a friend's birthday in Europe late June of next year. Because I'm always trying to live my "earn and burn" mantra, I'd like to spend some of the 200,000 British Airways "Avios" miles I've got in my account. (I'm not-so-secretly hoping I can find a seat in First or Business Class!)

He doesn't know yet where he's having the party, but I have old friends in London I want to see and I'll take a cheap no-frills airline flight to Barcelona or Lisbon or wherever the party ends up being. Flights to Europe in summer are pretty hard to snag reward seats for, so I'd really like to book the transatlantic part as soon as possible.
  1. I dutifully checked Wikipedia (like I mentioned in Part 2) and found out that my local area (New York City) has two airports with direct flights to London. London has 3 major airports I could potentially fly home from. 
  2. I hopped on to Kayak to see what it would cost to fly there in Business Class, making sure that I chose "NYC" and "LON" as my cities (rather than "JFK" and "LHR") so my search results would show flights from ALL the airports in those cities.  Right now it's looking like $3869 per person ($2700 fare + $1169 in fuel surcharges and taxes!!)
  3. I logged in to my British Airways account to search for flights on my desired dates.
  4. The results tab shows that I have quite a few options including a few in Business and First. (NYC-London is very heavily traveled route, so the availability is quite good). BA also shows flights with their partners (e.g., American Airlines).

    TIP: If you're having trouble finding a ticket, use the 'View Calendar of BA availability' button to quickly see the whole month at once and save yourself a ton of clicking.
  5. Looking over the various departure times I remember that it's a lot better to sleep on an overnight flight to Europe, so I look for something leaving in the evening and landing in the morning.
    BA availability chart

  6. Once I've clicked my desired flights the price appears: 80,000 points plus $1169 in fuel and taxes (the same as when I priced it out on Kayak).
    Total cost of trip displays below.

  7. Doing my math is see that my 80,000 miles will save me $2700 (since I'll have to pay $1169 fuel+tax no matter how I buy the ticket). So $2700 ÷ 80,000 = $0.034 (3.4¢ a mile). Since we know that anything above 2¢ is a good redemption, I'm happy. But as I mentioned before, it's very difficult to get above 2¢ flying in Economy so don't hold your breath waiting to find it.

    TIP: while doing this math is helpful to see if you're making good use of your miles, it's important to do a reality check here — if you would NEVER pay $3869 to take that flight, these miles aren't really saving you that much money. Your miles might be better spent buying 2 (or 3 or 4) economy tickets instead of one glamorous one. Only you can decide what the right "math" is for your situation.
  8. Once I've found my seats I move on to booking. British Airways is annoying in that they charge everyone except their top elites a fee to pick your own seat on the plane. I usually visit seat guru and plug in my flight numbers to see if their expansive seat map inventory shows a particularly good (or bad) seat and then decide from there. 
  9. Bust out the credit card to pay the fees (which are higher than any other airline's) and I'm all done :)

other resources

<< back to part 5


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