How – and Why – You Can Almost Always Get Four First Class Award Seats to Europe

I absolutely hate fuel surcharges. They’re a scam which is basically just a tax on frequent flyers’ loyalty. On some itineraries they can amount to $1000 roundtrip. Although bear in mind that you may pay lower fuel surcharges when you book two one way awards than a roundtrip.

British Airways settled a class action lawsuit because fuel surcharges really have nothing whatsoever to do with the price of fuel, they’re just extra charges for no reason other than that the airline can since they tell you when you can use your miles, they say what you can use your miles for, and they say how much.

Now British Airways — and other airlines — just call them ‘carrier-imposed surcharges’. They don’t tell us what the money is for, they just say it’s extra money required by the airline for no purpose whatsoever… other than that they can.

These surcharges make economy redemptions almost always a bad deal. You wind up paying almost as much in taxes and fees as just buying a ticket, and that’s more flexible and earns miles.

Nonetheless when I’m in an absolute pinch I can talk myself into paying fuel surcharges for a first class award. I think of it as a discount coach ticket which doesn’t earn points but where I’m spending miles for a confirmed triple upgrade.

And the thing about British Airways first class in particular is that it’s often very available. Here’s Boston – London Heathrow for four passengers non-stop in first class.

Here’s Atlanta – London Heathrow for four passengers in first class.

Here’s Chicago – London Heathrow for four passengers in first class.

British Airways also flies to Austin, Baltimore, Dallas Fort-Worth, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New Orleans, New York (JFK and Newark), Oakland, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, Tampa and Washington Dulles. They’re adding service to Pittsburgh.

Some of these routes are to London Gatwick, for better or worse (it can be better for connecting to some leisure destinations) and not all are served with aircraft offering a first class product. But with all of the flights they offer, and since they extort redemption customers for cash in exchange for redeeming miles, availability tends to be good.

British Airways promised when gutting their own loyalty program seven years ago all flights would offer business and coach award seats when loaded into the schedule. This was a limited-duration commitment but it’s largely continued.

While on the whole I like American AAdvantage miles for first class transatlantic redemptions — costing 85,000 miles each way and including connecting flights in the U.S. and in Europe — I try to redeem my British Airways Avios for these since I have to pay fuel surcharges anyway and I’d rather save AAdvantage miles for redemptions where they don’t pass along these scam fees.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Paying for F on a flight as short as BOS-LHR doesn’t seem to make sense to me. If the flight is longer (like DFW-LHR or LAX-LHR) and the sleep quality would improve then maybe, but 4 hours of sleep sucks no matter what cabin you’re in.

  2. I agree with Doug. I’ve flown JFK-LHR in economy, business, and first class and have always felt the same after each flight due to the lack (or very small amount) of sleep regardless if it’s on a flatbed or not.
    Sure business and first is more comfortable but I’d rather save those miles to fly business or first class on a longer flight (over 10 hours).

  3. Survharges are just part of the battle. The wife and I have a bus class flight jfk to lhr in a few weeks. Remaining seat availability seemed to be going fast. We do not have BA status but want to make sure we are able to sit together, so i had to pay $106 each to reserve seats for us on the flight. So in addion to $1,100 in surcharges, as I had anotjer $212 in seat chargeses. They get ya coming and going. !

  4. So how much was the fuel surcharge on these awards? I see it says “from $5.60 per person per award.” Was it actually $5.60 or was it “from”? Thx

  5. Surcharges on BA in F are usually about $500 per, each way. They’ve been the only direct option from PHX to Europe offering F/J, AA set to change that next year with their own direct flight to LHR, so I’m very curious to see what the fees will be (AA only offering J on the upcoming route so far as I can tell)

  6. Gary, speaking of First class awards, I have noticed that Alaska Airlines is not showing available first class upgradeable fares (well, the fare shows but it satpys it’s not available) as far out in advance as they used to. They’re certainly not showing when the flights are included in their bookable schedule. I have called Alaska but not been able to get an answer as to when I can expect the upgradeable fares to be bookable. Have you found this to be true as well and have an explanation?

  7. There are other ways to cross the pond. Since I refuse to pay BA’s extortion fees, I’ve flushed them down the toilet. They can Burn in Hell as far as I’m concerned.

  8. I think the BA surcharges are a rip-off on awards and on the BA compainion pass. I also think that if they just lowered them a bit to Iberia levels they would generate a ton of revenue and goodwill from customers. A great example of this is the partner fees on the RJ AMM-TLV route.

  9. @Gary – what’s your experience with BA opening F seats closer to departure on BOS-LHR – specifically the morning departure from BOS ? Been watching for a late October date – availability is F9 but no awards yet . Have alerts set – just curious if you have experience with BA and the possibility of opening award space close to departure. Thanks

  10. Maxie, I waited and waited for F to open on BA, boarded in BIZ and looked at first and there were two seats open. So much for that. Note we had “paid” for first going over but only biz coming back still paid the vig.

    On the flip side on long haul sometimes I don’t mind as your buying peace of mind having a confirmed reserved seats and for 10 12 hours or more that works for me

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