EDIT: This article has NOT been updated to reflect the Avios changes which took place on 28th April 2015. A revised version of the article will be published on Head for Points in late May.
The “Avios Redemption University” series is a good starting point for beginners, although I hope everyone will learn something from them. Click here to see the other articles.
One of the biggest issues with redeeming Avios for long-haul flights is the level of taxes and surcharges imposed by British Airways. These usually run to around £500 per person in Club World and £350 in Economy, return. For Club World, I can live with this – after all, I would be paying a lot, lot more for a cash ticket. For Economy seats, though, it often makes your Avios close to worthless.
BA has two partners, however, who offer long-haul flights from Europe without excessive surcharges. In this article we will look at Aer Lingus. Another article in this series covers airberlin.
Aer Lingus flies to a smaller number of places than airberlin and charges a little more in taxes (but still 80% than BA!). However, there are good reasons to fly it:
- For a lot of people, getting to Dublin to pick up a flight is easier than Berlin or Dusseldorf
- airberlin may not have availability for the dates you want
- Aer Lingus lets you clear US immigration in Ireland, allowing you to land as a domestic passenger and saving a potentially long queue at immigration there
What routes are available?
Aer Lingus flies the following routes from Ireland long-haul.
- Dublin to New York
- Shannon to New York
- Dublin to Orlando
- Dublin to Chicago
- Dublin to Boston
- Shannon to Boston
The airline is also adding San Francisco and Toronto from April 2014. This expansion to the network is made possible due to the loan of three Boeing 757’s from Finnair.
What are the taxes?
Do NOT do a dummy booking on the Aer Lingus website to try to work out the taxes. BA does not use those figures.
Work on the basis that, for a return business class ticket, it should be under £100.
If you know how to use the ITA Matrix website, you can pull up the numbers. This is what Dublin to New York in Business looks like on a cash ticket:
- USDA Aphis Fee 3.91
- US Immigration Fee 5.47
- US Customs Fee 4.30
- Irish Passenger Charge 16.95
- Irish Travel Tax 3.00
- Fuel Surcharge 21.03
- Irish Pre-Clearance Charge 7.50
- US International Arrival Tax 13.05
- US International Departure Tax 13.05
- US September 11th Security Fee 1.96
- US Passenger Facility Charge 3.52
That is a total of Euro 93.74, or around £75-£80.
How many miles?
All routes require the same number of Avios as would a British Airways flight except for Dublin or Shannon to Boston. This flight is just a touch under 3,000 miles, which puts it in a cheaper band than London to Boston or Dublin to New York.
Dublin or Shannon to Boston is just 25,000 Avios return in Economy and 50,000 in Business Class. This is potentially the best Avios redemption anywhere, with any airline.
Other routes are the same as BA – New York and Chicago are 40,000 Economy / 80,000 Business. Orlando is 50,000 Economy / 100,000 Business return, as are San Francisco and Toronto when they launch.
This is the real downside of booking Avios rewards on Aer Lingus.
First, you can only book Aer Lingus redemptions via British Airways Executive Club. You therefore need to move your Avios from avios.com (if that is where they are) or iberia.com to BAEC. This is free and instantaneous via ‘Combine My Avios’ on ba.com (under ‘Manage My Account’ once you are logged in).
Secondly, you should have a look at the Aer Lingus online timetable to see what flights go on what days.
Thirdly, you need to ring British Airways Executive Club and try to book.
You cannot book Aer Lingus online. The BAEC website is very disengenuous – it will say that Aer Lingus is available on a partner route and will encourage you to click through to search availability, even though it isn’t there!
You can look for Aer Lingus availability by signing up for a free United Airlines or Qantas frequent flyer account and searching their website for Aer Lingus seats. However, the general view is that you cannot trust this availability to be accurate. If United or Qantas can see a seat then BA can probably book it, but BA may also be able to see other available days.
It is also important to note that Aer Lingus’s economy seat availability is better than their business class availability. This is good news, though, since the benefits of lower taxes are most keenly felt on economy redemptions.
It is possible to get four business class seats on the same plane, though, so Aer Lingus is a decent option for families. This seems most common on Dublin to Boston.
Aer Lingus has pretty average business class seats, ie:
… which do not really compare with the BA fully flat Club World bed. That said, the catering has a good reputation and it is a smaller cabin that you get on a BA 777 or downstairs on a BA 747. On a day flight, the lack of a fully flat bed is also not a major issue. The Dublin lounge is not Heathrow standard, though.
Here is a good trip report on flying Dublin to Boston in business class, complete with menus etc.
The airline has recently announced plans to bring in fully flat business class seats, although these will not appear until 2015 at the earliest.
Remember the downsides of booking separate tickets for an award
You will, of course, need to book a separate flight ticket to get to Dublin to start your flight. However, this cannot be on the same ticket as your Aer Lingus long-haul, or you will be liable to UK Air Passenger Duty at the long-haul rate. Booking a separate flight from the UK to Dublin, even on Aer Lingus, will be cheaper.
However, when you are on separate tickets, Aer Lingus has no liability to you if you miss your connecting flight due to the late arrival of your incoming flight. You may therefore need to travel to Dublin a day earlier, or give yourself a long connection time in Dublin. You need to factor all this in when considering whether this is a better deal than a BA redemption to the US, even if the taxes are lower.