(EDIT: This article was updated in June 2014)
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.
Since airberlin joined the oneworld airline alliance in March 2012, it has opened up a new range of long-haul routes from Europe that can be booked with Avios. Along with Aer Lingus, they offer you the chance to redeem your Avios for long haul flights whilst paying far lower taxes than usual.
airberlin is an odd airline. It markets itself like a low-cost carrier, but is generally well regarded for its seating and service. It serves a number of long-haul routes, whilst easyJet and Ryanair are strictly 100% short-haul. It also has a business class product, unlike most low-cost airlines.
airberlin is still a work in progress. It has lost money for a number of years, and has seen frequent changes of management. The ex-CEO of bmi was recently appointed CEO, and took no time in announcing further job cuts and short haul route changes. The good news, though, is that the airline seems keen to expand its long-haul routes.
Etihad, the national airline of Abu Dhabi, is now a 29% shareholder in the airline. It also recently bought topbonus, airberlin’s frequent flyer scheme, from the airline (see this post).
airberlin now has a lot of code share arrangements, most importantly with Etihad. airberlin sometimes makes wild claims about the number of long-haul destinations it serves, but in reality these mainly involve changing to an Etihad aircraft in Abu Dhabi – and these routes are not available for Avios redemptions.
However … strip out the code shares and you are left with a decent selection of routes served with airberlin planes. And there are some good deals to be had!
How many Avios do I need?
Below I have listed the core airberlin long-haul routes, together with the number of Avios needed for a return trip in business class and the taxes required. For economy or one-way business class tickets, halve the number of Avios shown.
Looking at the number of Avios required, some destinations require more than a BA flight from London, and some require less. This is because the distance from Berlin, Dusseldorf or Munich to your destination will be different to a similar flight from London, and this sometimes tips the flight into a different pricing band.
Looking at the taxes required, you will notice that these are a lot lower than flying from London. This is partly due to lack of Air Passenger Duty, and partly due to differences in fuel surcharges. Some of this saving will be offset by the cost of getting to and from Germany to start your trip, of course.
airberlin long haul routes (business class return price plus approximate tax):
Abu Dhabi from Berlin – 50,000 Avios + £51
Abu Dhabi from Dusseldorf – 80,000 Avios + £52
Abu Dhabi from Stuttgart (starts 12/14) – assuming 50,000 Avios + c £50 (short-haul plane)
Abu Dhabi from Vienna (starts 11/14) – as above (short-haul plane operated under NIKI brand)
Cancun from Munich – 120,000 Avios + £88
Cancun from Dusseldorf – 100,000 Avios + £86
Chicago from Berlin (starts 3/13) – 100,000 Avios + £65
* Curacao from Dusseldorf – 100,000 Avios + £46
* Dominican Republic (3 airports) from Munich, Dusseldorf – 100,000 Avios + £105
Fort Myers, Florida from Dusseldorf – 100,000 Avios + £66
Los Angeles from Dusseldorf – 120,000 Avios + £66 (Summer only)
Miami from Berlin - 100,000 Avios + £65
Miami from Dusseldorf – 100,000 Avios + £66
Mombasa, Kenya from Munich – 80,000 Avios + £82
New York from Berlin – 80,000 Avios + £65
New York from Dusseldorf – 80,000 Avios + £66
Phuket from Abu Dhabi – 80,000 Avios + £30 (ends 25 October 2014)
* Varadero, Cuba from Berlin, Munich, Dusseldorf – 100,000 Avios + £53
(* appears to be losing business class seating from Nov/Dec 2014 onwards)
There are also non-EU flights to various destinations in Egypt, Israel, Morocco and Tunisia, although I don’t class them as long-haul for the purposes of this article.
The taxes you pay are, of course, amazingly low compared to British Airways. They are even lower if you just book a one-way TO Germany. I have twice flown airberlin in Business Class from New York to Berlin during 2013. The flight cost was 40,000 Avios … and just £1.60 in taxes! A one-way Avios redemption from New York to Heathrow on BA comes with taxes of £275.
How to book
ba.com now shows flights from partner airlines such as airberlin alongside BA availability, so if seats are available it is relatively straightforward to find them. Note that some routes are only flown a couple of times a week and some are seasonal, so check the airberlin website first to see what days to target.
airberlin only seems to release two business class seats per flight for redemptions. There is no real evidence so far of more seats opening up later. This means that it is not an option for a family.
Things to think about before booking airberlin …
As you can see from the list above, some routes are a good deal and some are a bad deal compared with flying directly on BA from London. The stand-out deal is probably Berlin to Abu Dhabi, which is just 50,000 Avios plus £51 taxes in Business Class, return.
Here are the key points to consider before you book on airberlin:
Avios and cash needed: Some destinations, such as Abu Dhabi from Berlin, require fewer Avios than using BA for London – Abu Dhabi because it is a shorter flight and this puts it in a cheaper Avios pricing zone. Most airberlin routes need the same number of Avios as BA, eg 80,000 in business class to New York. Los Angeles, as an example, actually needs more Avios than BA. All routes offer lower taxes, however.
Transit costs: You obviously need to fly to Germany to start your trip, which adds to the cost. For a destination such as New York, this will mean you end up using more Avios than the equivalent BA flight (since getting to Berlin would be 9,000 Avios return) or spending cash on a connecting flight.
2-4-1: You cannot use an American Express 2-4-1 voucher on airberlin redemptions. If you have one of these vouchers, it will almost certainly be a better deal to stick with a BA flight.
APD: If you fly BA or airberlin from the UK to Germany to connect, and have both flights on the same ticket, you will be liable for long-haul business class Air Passenger Duty. This is £134 or £166 or £188 per person for business class, depending on destination. This wipes out a lot of the saving over flying directly on BA to your destination.
Re-routing: However, if you travel to Germany on a separate ticket to avoid APD and are delayed, airberlin has no liability to you and can refuse to re-route you. You may need to build in an overnight stay in Germany to avoid any risk of misconnecting, which again adds to the cost.
Seat: airberlin is currently upgrading their business class seat. Here is the old version, which only reclines to 170 degrees and which I flew in February:
However, there is good news here. airberlin is now rolling out fully-flat (ie horizontal) business class seats. There are two versions – a copy of the Etihad seat, which will be used for routes to Abu Dhabi, and some seats they acquired (I think) from Swiss.
This latter seat is the one I flew in August from New York:
At the end of the day, you need to consider the trade-off between the Avios needed, the taxes required, the extra cost and time required to take a connecting flight, the risk of misconnecting and the comfort of the airberlin business class seat. Oh, and seat availability of course!
And if you want to travel to Cuba, Curacao, Fort Myers, the Dominican Republic or Mombasa then it is a non-issue, because BA doesn’t fly to these places anyway!