How to Avoid Ticketing Fees on Last Minute Award Redemptions

For all you last-minute travelers/procrastinators, there are many frequent flier programs that penalize travelers if they book an award redemption close to the departure date. For example, if you book a ticket using miles on either American or United and your departure date is less than 21 days away, you will have to pay a $75 ticketing fee. Sometimes this fee will wipe out the value of a redemption and on the rare occasion, it will be more than the entire cost of the ticket were you to pay in cash. Delta doesn’t charge a ticketing fee but will charge additional 5k points per one way ticket (and even more for business class). Alaska Airlines does not charge a close-in ticketing fee and neither does JetBlue.  Southwest does not charge a ticketing fee but the number of miles required will increase significantly. If you have status with an airline, that might be enough to skirt around the close-in booking fees. There are a couple of ways to bypass the close-in fee and I’ll demonstrate how.

Using British Airways to Book on American Airlines

  • I talked about the benefits of using British Airways Avios to book on American Airlines here.
  • One valuable aspect of British Airways Avios is the ability to redeem it on American Airlines as close to a few hours prior to departure.
  • British Airways has a distance based chart so certain redemptions can be made using fewer miles.
  • If economy saver award tickets are available on AA.com, they will usually be accessible through British Airways.

Here is an example of the exact same flight from Albany, NY to Chicago (ORD) and the costs associated with the two different programs.

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ALB2ORDAA

If I were to book this one-way ticket using AA miles, the cost is $12,500 miles plus a $75 ticketing fee (the mandatory 9/11 security fee is $5.60 making it $80.60). Now let’s see the price using British Airways Avios…..

ALB2ORDBA

ALB2ORD2

No $75 ticketing fee and only 7.5k Avios as opposed to the 12.5k AA miles that would have been required. It is important to note that if you have a connecting flight, it will cost double the Avios for a trip since BA charges 7.5k per segment. I’d still rather dish out 15k Avios rather than 12.5k AA miles with the $75 ticketing fee tacked on.

Using Singapore Krisflyer Miles to Book on United

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If I want to book a one-way flight to Chicago for this Friday using United miles, it’s 12.5k miles + $80.60

  • Similar to AA’s policy, United also charges a $75 ticketing fee for flights booked within 21 days of departure.
  • Singapore Airlines allows you to book via United up until 24 hours prior to departure if saver award redemptions are available on United.
  • Unlike the American Airlines example, this ticket cannot be booked online. You need to call Singapore Airlines reservations and they will book it for you. Just make sure you have a Singapore Krisflyer frequent flier account set up prior to calling.

Both British Airways and Singapore Airlines are transfer partners of Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Points, and Starwood Preferred Guest. Singapore Airlines is also a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou points. If you are booking on United Airlines via Singapore miles, DO NOT transfer any points into Singapore Airlines until you have confirmed seat availability for your travel dates on United. Transfers into an airline’s frequent flier program are not reversible.

My Experience Redeeming British Airways Avios for a Flight on American Airlines

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Before I get into the tidbits of Avios redemption on American Airlines, I’ll share my recent experience with British Airways and how redeeming Avios on American Airlines rather than booking with American using its own AAdvantage miles saved me a huge headache. At a conference in Philadelphia two weeks ago, I arrived at the hotel and was asked to provide a drivers license or an ID and a credit card for incidentals. I opened my wallet and my credit card was there. I assumed I had my drivers license and looked behind a few cards but I could not find it (I left it in my scanner at home when I was making a copy 2 days prior). I went into all out panic mode and frantically started searching my pockets, book bag, and suitcase. I took out every single card from my wallet and nothing came up. I was the guy who booked the hotel rooms for 3 other friends and I’m thinking I might be the guy who might have screwed this whole thing up. I told the receptionist “uhhh I’m really really sorry but I don’t have my drivers license with me.  I think I dropped it. The only thing I have is my school ID.  Can you match that with my credit card and make that work?” The receptionist said they generally don’t allow it but since I was there for the conference, he’d let it slide. If you are some how reading this and you are that receptionist from the Double Tree near Phildelphia International Airport,  God bless you and thank you again. Half the disaster averted. Now I realized I also had a flight from Philly to Albany two days later and not having my license would really make things difficult ( I arrived in Philly via Greyhound and they never checked for ID).  I booked my flight using British Airways Avios on American Airlines for 7.5k Avios plus $5.60 in taxes. The cash price for this one way ticket was going for $422 (!). This gave me an excellent value of 5.6 cents per Avios.  If I had booked the same flight using American Airlines miles, It would have cost me 7.5k AAdvantage miles PLUS an additional $80. If you book an award flight within 21 days of departure on American, you are subjected to an $80 “close in” fee. British Airways does not charge the same fee when using Avios to book on American. This allows you to make same day bookings (if seats are available) without losing value due to a surcharge. Since I didn’t have my license and didn’t want to deal with extra paperwork and questions from TSA trying to board my flight, I decided I would just ride back with a friend who had driven there. I called British Airways about 40 hours prior to departure and requested to cancel my flight. British Airways’ award cancellation policy is very customer friendly. As long as you cancel 24 hours or more prior to departure, they will credit your miles back without charging a fee to reinstate those miles. The only thing you would lose is the $5.60 in tax which is negligible in the grand scheme of things. Had I booked this flight using AAdvantage miles, American would have charged me $150 to cancel the flight and reinstate those miles.

 

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The cost of my flight had I used cash to pay for it. Prior to cancelling, I only used 7.5k Avios, which would have given me a value of 5.6 cents per Avios.

 

For many of the reasons highlighted above,  Executive Club is one my favorite frequent flier programs for domestic travel. BA Executive Club is a transfer partner of Chase, AMEX, and SPG, so there are many ways to get Avios (British Airways’ frequent flier curency). I have never redeemed Avios for international flights on British Airways itself because BA charges a very hefty fuel surcharge on transatlantic award flights flown on their metal. I use Avios to book flights on BA’s OneWorld partner, American Airlines. British Airways utilizes a distance based award chart which means the number of Avios used depends on the distance you’re traveling. Zone 1 costs 7.5k Avios for a one way ticket (0-1,151 miles traveled),   zone 2 costs 10k avios for a one way ticket (1,152-2000 miles traveled), and zone 3 costs 12.5k Avios for a one way ticket (2001-3000 miles traveled).  When you book a saver award using American Airlines, domestic flights that are less than 500 miles require 7.5k AAdvantage miles. Anything more than that requires 12.5k at the saver level.  I do want clarify that British Airways award availability on American Airlines isn’t a sure thing on any given date. Generally if American Airlines is showing saver award availability via their own program, there is a decent chance BA will have access to those as well. I have posted an example of a sample itinerary using both programs.

In this example, we’ll use a one way flight from Chicago (ORD) to Denver (DIA) on September 17th. Let’s start off with American Airlines:

 

We can see that there is MileSAAver availability from Chicago to Denver. A one way flight would cost 12.5 AAdvantage miles.

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There is also discounted MileSAAver availability in business class for 25k AAdvantage miles.

 

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Now let’s see how much the same flight would cost using British Airways Avios:

 

AviosORD2DIAeconomy

 

The same flight we saw above for 12.5k AAdantage miles in economy can be booked for 7.5k Avios. And if we want to book a seat in business class……..

 

AviosORD2DIABusinessClass

 

This same flight costs 25k AAdvantage miles to book in business class. Booking with British Airways only costs 15k Avios for a business class ticket. When you take into consideration that booking just an economy seat using American costs 12.5k miles, an extra 2.5k Avios to bump up to business class is a tremendous value.

Another great use of Avios is for domestic award tickets on Alaska Airlines. Unfortunately, Alaska Airlines does not show up on British Airways’ website the way American does so you would have to call them to book.  If they tell you that a phone booking would cost you a fee, kindly request them to waive it since booking an Alaska flight using Avios is not possible through their website.