Sneaky cheap ways to fly to the USA using Avios for minimal taxes

In May, I am heading off to New York to test-drive Upper Class on the Virgin Atlantic 787-9 Dreamliner.  It’s tough work but someone has to do it.

I wanted to find a cheap way to get home.  Virgin had no availability on my preferred date whilst British Airways wanted £306 of tax for the one-way Avios flight.  I didn’t like the sound of that.

Luckily, there are three ways of flying from the United States to Europe without incurring huge taxes and charges bills.

airberlin und oneworld auf der Baustelle des Flughafens Berlin B

The one I have booked is airberlin.  I have used them before from New York and it is a perfectly fine experience with fully lie-flat beds as you can see below.

The tax for a one-way flight from New York JFK to Dusseldorf is £3.  Yes, £3.  And, of course, 60,000 Avios points.

As well as Dusseldorf, airberlin also flies to Berlin (surprise!).  I booked a BA Reward Flight Saver redemption as a connection to get me back to London.

You can learn more about airberlin flights to the US in this ‘Avios Redemption University’ article.

airberlin fully flat seat business class review 3

There are two other ways to fly back cheaply across the Atlantic.

Aer Lingus is a great option, dropping you into Dublin or Shannon for an easy connection back to the UK.

By September 2016, Aer Lingus will be flying to New York, Washington, Orlando, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, Los Angeles and Hartford.

A new impressive business class seat is currently being rolled out.

The key thing to remember with Aer Lingus is that you cannot book on  You need to ring BA and enquire about availability.  There is no online resource which accurately matches what BA can offer you – other airlines which offer Aer Lingus redemptions online, such as United, have access to a different range of seats.

And the tax?  For a return flight to the USA, you will pay around £75 in Business Class.  That is around £475 less than a British Airways redemption in Club World.

My ‘Avios Redemption University’ article on Aer Lingus is here.

Aer Lingus 350

Finally, we have Iberia.

Iberia is now offering fully flat business class seating on the majority of its aircraft.

Taxes are low.  A one-way flight from New York to Madrid will incur taxes of just £56 as long as you book on the Iberia website.  Book on and you will pay over £300 in tax.

You can find out more in my Iberia ‘Avios Redemption University’ article.  Because of a quirk in the Iberia Avios redemption table, New York redemptions can be exceptionally cheap in Avios terms – as low as just 34,000 Avios one-way in Business Class.

Had I been able to get availability – and I couldn’t – my one-way from New York would have been 34,000 Avios plus £56.  That is a better deal than 60,000 Avios plus £3 on airberlin, although the connection back to London is cheaper from Germany.

One thing to remember, however, is that there are no ‘off peak’ dates when booking a redemption on Aer Lingus or airberlin.   You may need to use more Avios than you would when using BA.

With Iberia, remember that Iberia has a totally different calendar of peak and off-peak dates!  68,000 Avios return is their off-peak return cost.  On some days, which BA treats as peak and Iberia treats as off-peak, the saving is 52,000 Avios compared to paying 120,000 with BA!

(Want to earn more Avios?  Click here to visit our home page for the latest articles on earning and spending your Avios points and click here to see how to earn more Avios from current offers and promotions.)

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  1. James67 says:

    Title needs amending to read ‘fly from the USA’

    I’m unconvinced the inconvenience and time is worth it to save £300ish, particularly when factoring in the cost of connecting flights back to the UK. Furthermore, for those of us in the regions, we have to factor in that the £300 also includes our domestic connection (with a little more fees) and provides an optional stopover in London. The options you describe though become win-win for those who want to spend some time in Dublin, Berlin or Madrid.

    • I agree, James, but like anything involving money, people will have different priorities and ways they wish to spend it. I know for certain some of my friends would be willing to do it.

      Enjoy the B787, Rob. I was coincidentally on the inaugural flight to DEL last year in Virgin UC. It’s a good product, but unfortunately just like how BA didn’t bother doing anything with their A380 seats to really distinguish it from their fleet, the same is true with Virgin. It’s more a minor evolution than revolution.

      • Is it not worth going out of my way to try UC on the 787 in your opinion? There are 2 flights to San Francisco I’m looking at, one is a better time but on the a340 and the later one which isn’t such a good time for me is on the 787, trying to decide between the 2.

        • I wouldn’t bother, Simon. The seat is 95% the same and the screen is the same size with the same content. Of course the plane is more quiet and the entertainment system doesn’t feel like it’s from the 80s, but to me that isn’t worth it. The bar is also very small compared to their 747. I’ve flown Virgin UC multiple times between New York, Orlando, Miami, Hong Kong and New Delhi. With other airlines, I specifically look for their newest plane, but with Virgin, whilst I’d look it up, I consider it a much less relevant piece of information.

        • Thanks, I’ll go for the flight with the better times then I think, I’ve only been UC once on Virgin, enjoyed it but a bigger TV screen would have been nice! There is always the chance of a change of aircraft as well I guess.

        • I agree it’s not much of a change from the existing product – I was disappointed the screen wasn’t improved (was hoping for higher definition at the least).

          It does has wifi of course. When I used it, I was able to stream netflix which I thought pretty cool (and immediately told all my friends).


        • I’ve only done 1 UC recently, admittedly from Man, and I was extremely disappointed.
          The lounge and check in were disappointing. The cabin, on a 747, I thought wasn’t private enough and the service was the worst, I’ve had, on any premium cabin I’ve travelled recently.
          I flew back from Newark, on that trip, and walked passed the Virgin clubhouse, which was next door, to the BA lounge and was tempted to ask if I could go in and see what I had missed by not flying from London but I didn’t ask as I didn’t have that much time and wanted to check the food out in the BA F lounge. We had unbelievably good service in the BA lounge rounded off by the lady bringing out a chocolate brownie with Happy Birthday, in icing, for my son’s 10th birthday 😉

    • Raffles says:

      Given my time is flexible, it is an easy £250 saving, netting off a RFS from DUS.

    • AndyGWP says:

      Partially agree re: Dublin and Berlin being a pain from the regions, but for those going to MAN (I know this is of no use to you) then the direct Iberia flights from MAD will certainly be of use 🙂

      Nice to have as an option anyways (even if I do keep forgetting about it! 😀 )

      • In relation to the regions, DUB probably serves the uk regions far better than the other suggestions. A look on the DUB airport website shows they fly to 17 uk airports, including 4 in Scotland.

        Now, serval of those will be with low cost airlines and thus not redemption options, but it might still be a workable option for many.

        • AndyGWP says:

          Indeed. I suppose it depends how much luggage you plan to take 🙂

        • This is the issue – whilst both Ryanair and Aer Lingus fly between Dublin and say Glasgow fairly cheaply (Ryanair especially so), for two people with one small (15kg) checked bag each it’s an additional £100 for luggage alone on top of the cost of the flights.

      • With 9 flights at day DUB is by far the easiest option for MAN. BER is a pain I agree since the loss of the LH service, you have to schlep across the city to catch the EZY flight.

  2. If you are Avios rich and want to save money, then Air Berlin is a great deal. I flew NYC to Berlin when it was only 40,000 each way – it was a complete bargain. The service and seat are far superior to CW, I found, though the actual cabin is quite cramped. There are two ‘problems’ – the first is that Air Berlin uses the AA lounge in the terminal it departs from, which is absolutely rubbish – no food to speak of, vouchers for two drinks and that’s it. Even with status, you can’t really use other lounges (I think), because they’re in different terminals. The second problem, as has been mentioned is moving on to your destination. I was flying on to Vienna, so it made no real difference to me, but I think I would prefer to fly direct to London rather than sitting around in Tegel until my next connection, if that’s where I was ending up.

    • Brian, those two vouchers were for their premium beers/wine/Champagne. You can drink as much beer as you like. My Dad thought that you could only have two drinks too. I didn’t have a problem with the connection as we stopped in Dusseldorf for two nights which was well worth it. Plenty of good beer there too. Hopefully you made up for the loss of drink on the plane.

      • Didn’t realise that – thanks for the tip! Still a rubbish lounge, mind. Yes, if you want to spend a couple of nights in Berlin/Dusseldorf, it’s very much worth it – like an ex-EU, where you stay in Copenhagen or Amsterdam!

    • Raffles says:

      AB requires the same number of Avios on a peak day, which is when I am flying. On an overnight flight I couldn’t care less about whether the food beats Club World.

  3. mister.c. says:

    Food for thought for my travel plans in the next year or two. I love Berlin and also with direct flights from there to my neck of the woods (Yorkshire – Doncaster/Sheffield) then it might offer a less painful homeward trek than via the London airports.

  4. Well obviously the article is avioscentric! I am astonished to see some bargains to and from s.america at the moment for redemptions with Iberia, i am trying to sort out if booking a redemption or getting a deal and Silver in one shot. West or East??
    I agree it’s not for all, as everything, but at least for those who can, have time and are not bothered, it may work better than spending £300. I, for example, will be looking at ExEu and back to EU in anycase both for saving and for route. I have time and may travel alone. So it really depends.
    At least we got the options!

    • There is also some excellent BA availability in premium classes to GIG after the Olympics. We used our amex 2 for 1 voucher for return First flights in October. Taxes were £522 each, cash price of tickets on our dates ranged from £600 in economy to £3300 in first, so we are happy!

  5. Thanks for the article. How about getting to the US cheaply? Are there cheaper options than EI Shannon/Dub to Boston? Maybe a cheap cash fare with Norwegian or via Iceland, BA from INV/Jer or Birmingham using part pay with Avios?

    • Raffles says:

      Works both ways obviously. Saving is even bigger TO the US as you avoid Business APD.

      • Thanks – taxes still seem higher going from Europe than coming back from the US.

        • Lady London says:

          @choons That’s because taxes, meaning taxes imposed by external authorities such as governments and local airports, TSA etc., indeed seem to be lower in the US than in most European countries.

  6. In May I will get the Economy to PE upgrade voucher from the Black credit card. We have enough Virgin miles to do one way in UC and one way in Econ/PE with the voucher to the US. We want to drive Route 66 in 2017 so need to fly in to Chicago and out of LA. Virgin use the Airbus 330-300 on the Chicago route and 787-9 on the LA Route. We would also like to try out the Clubhouse at LHR. Should we forfeit the visit to the Clubhouse to fly back UC on the Dreamliner from LA ? Is there any big difference between the 787 and the 330 UC product? We flew Virgin back from LA last summer in Economy on a Dreamliner which was only a month old – the flight over in BA was cramped and uncomfortable – the Dreamliner was comfortable and lovely, even in Economy!

    • Raffles says:

      I think the A330 has narrowed seats – Virgin has announced it is refitting them as customers hate them.

      • Hi Liz, as a very regular Virgin flyer and with detailed knowledge of the cabin interiors (read between the lines!), I would suggest – for your predicament – W to Chicago and J from LA.
        The W cabin on the 330 is very nice, it’s the shorter flight, and it’s a day flight at the start of your holiday when it will be nice to sit two abreast to enjoy chatting.
        On the way home you have a J suite on the 787 which some perceive to be more comfortable than its equivalent 330 suite, the flight is longer, and it’s a night flight where sleep is paramount.
        There is a newly refitted Clubhouse in LAX also (not another airline lounge, an actual clubhouse).
        For me your predicament is a complete ‘no brainer’. Do let me know if you have any more questions.

    • You might want to factor in the arrivals lounge at LHR, which is rather good, I found. Haven’t been to BA’s, so can’t compare, but found the service and food to be on a par with other Virgin lounges – i.e. very good.

      • And the showers when you come off an overnight flight are definitely worth it.

        • Just be aware of the LHR Revivals lounge opening hours in relation to VS8 (LAX 1) arrival time. I’m not convinced they are compatible. I’m almost certain you won’t find the lounge open post-arrival of VS23 (LAX 2).

    • I would definitely do Upper back. There is a Virgin lounge at LAX (obviously nowhere near as impressive as the Heathrow one but still a cut above your usual US lounge). Plus you get arrivals lounge and as the longer flight and overnight much more comfortable in a bed! The seats are slightly smaller on the 330 and all seats angle towards another row (one side on the 787 faces the back of another so more private). However I am perfectly happy with the 330 seats and don’t really understand the hate for them, they’re not that different! (Full disclosure: I am 5ft and weigh less than 8 stone though so maybe it’s different if you’re taller!)

  7. Mikeact says:

    Not forgetting that Boston is just on the edge of Avios bands as the ‘least expensive ‘ Avios way of getting across the pond.

    • Exactly – but what is the absolute cheapest way of getting across, other than having someone else pay for your ticket? Depends on how much you value your time/avios/sanity I guess.

      • Give your destination & we could play with the rest 🙂

        • UK-based can leave from anywhere in Europe though as have plenty of avios for RFS. Destination: New York on 21 December next year. 2 adults, 2 kids, both teens over 12.

          Boston looks like a good option but then I have to factor in the cost of the train from there to NY, although I could hire and drive, weather might be an issue though.

      • The cheapest revenue ticket I was offered by our corporate travel agent recently was LHR-IST-JFK on TK but I suggested that the additional time and distance in the wrong direction was a little excessive!

      • I will be able to tell the sanity of my trip once i will be back from the US in March. I am ashamed to say what I am doing, so please wait for the end of March. IF i stick to my plans…obviously:-)

        • I personally love spending time in Spain, so the 68K Avios off-peak return on IB sounds perfect 🙂 You can’t beat Spain in the springtime, especially Andalusia (Madrid is mountainous/ high plain so can still be chilly).

        • roberto says:

          The spring is lovley i have to agree but today was not too bad either.. Spent the afternoon drinking a passable rioja or two in the Majas sunshine watching the world wander by..

        • Mijas?

        • Lady London says:

          @harry I couldn’t agree more. Especially Andalucia. My favourite month is May. But there’s not much to choose between April and earlier part of May, before it gets much hotter in late May.

        • I look forward to hearing them, mine are a bit mental at Easter too!

  8. Thanks, this is very useful. How about a “Use Avios to fly to Asia without tax” as your next article? It’s less straightforward than going across the pond, as neither Iberia nor Air Berlin have Far East destinations. I’d be interested to see some creative routings other than from HEL.

    • A piece on Cathay has been on the back burner for a while …..

      • James67 says:

        Don’t forget some of the ‘stupid’ fares that can be had exAsia on MAS (now MAB!). Unfortunately the value has diminished since devaluation (KUL-LHR being band 8) and CDG, AMS and FRA all biting the dust.

      • Thanks, looking forward to it!

    • Fly to Moscow on RFS and then S7 onwards? The Russian visa eats into your costs though unless you can argue the case you are in transit on two unlinked tickets.

      • Thanks, creative indeed!! As a Hong Kong passport holder (one of the few visa-free passports for Russia) this is actually viable for me. I see that JAL also flies DME-NRT.
        As for S7, I don’t see much written about it online – is it any better than Aeroflot!?

    • Not sure about getting there in the first place, but we recently booked F tickets from HKG>LHR with Cathay and it cost a whole £38.

  9. Would I be correct in assuming that an Aer Lingus return Cardiff to Dublin could not be added to the ticket without the high taxes & APD ?

  10. GodSaveThePoints says:

    Did VS comp your 787-9 flight? If so I want in!

    • No, I used a pile of VS points built up from referring HFP readers to Flying Club. They probably would have comped it if I asked but I couldn’t be bothered – I will save my goodwill with Virgin for another day!

  11. j peters says:

    There is a clear message here, if one airline is making unreasonable and heavy charges and other airlines are not, there seems only one logical conclusion. Profiteering.

    When do you think someone will start a class action against this airline, or the EU looks after consumers interests and considers this practice. No other country in the world permits this level of surcharge.

    When oil is trading at a 12 year low, what possible justification can there be?

    • Why give money to profiteering lawyers?
      Just book the lower fare: it’s called competition!

    • Lady London says:

      Errrr…. after the court case that was brought against them in the USA for continuing to demand ridiculous levels of fuel charges when the oil price had gone down so significantly, IIRC BA no longer has fuel charges. But miraculously, we now seem to have ‘carrier charges’ of pretty much the same amounts as the former fuel charges on every ticket…. Allegedly.

  12. Can’t find any availability on AirBerlin in Economy in 2016, JFK-TXL or JFK-DUS… ridiculous.

  13. Has anyone else seen the 50% off reward flights for new topbonus members?

    Would like to go to Las Vegas this Autumn. We have approx 50,000 virgin miles which should get us a cheap one way from Manchester to Vegas or lax I think.

    Then for the return we saw this 50% off promotion. About 40k avios +£100 becomes 20k + £100 and much more interesting. The only bit I can’t work out is whether I need the full 40k avios before I can book the flight, then the 50% is credited. Or if it will lt me book with just the 50% in the first place.

    Any ideas?

    • You need topbonus points to benefit from this promotion, I expect, not Avios. 2 different programmes…

      • Ok thanks – I assumed because of the one world affinity that you could switch avios from baec etc in to topbonus like you would with Iberia. Never mind!

  14. Do you need to be part of Iberia Plus to book a flight on IB using Avios?

    • You can book them via but you pay the higher tax.

      Otherwise, open an IB account, earn an Avios, wait 90 days and then you can transfer in.