Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

How ‘taxes and charges’ on Avios flight redemptions from the US got out of control

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

The level of ‘taxes and charges’ added to long-haul Avios redemptions on British Airways is always a sore point.

In general, following recent rises, I use a ‘finger in the air’ sum of £700 for the taxes and charges on a Club World return redemption from London (£850 for North America) whenever anyone asks what they will be.

That obviously isn’t small change, but given current cash prices it still gives acceptable value for your points most of the time as long as you are redeeming for Club World or First Class.  The biggest threat to Avios – given BA’s dominant UK position – is not from other frequent flyer schemes but from aggressive sale fares from other airlines.

Avios taxes and charges from the United States

Avios is, of course, under threat from other angles.  You can switch from a British Airways credit card to a different rewards credit card.  You can convert Nectar points, Heathrow Rewards points or American Express Membership Rewards into a different treat. 

You can only squeeze things so far, and £1 earned by Avios from Sainsburys when you convert Nectar points is worth a lot more – because it is ‘real’ money – than £1 transferred across intra-group from British Airways.  If people stop seeing value in the scheme, IAG Loyalty will stop seeing the money coming in.

But be grateful you don’t live in the US ….

What you might not realise, if you live in the UK, is how reasonable BA’s ‘taxes and charges’ are compared to what a US resident must pay.

The ‘charges’ element of ‘taxes and charges’ is just a made up number, which BA pockets.  It doesn’t reflect anything in particular and the airline has no qualms about changing it on a market by market basis.

Here’s a little Wednesday quiz

The ‘taxes and charges’ on a Club World return ticket from London Heathrow to New York JFK are £850.

What do you reckon the ‘taxes and charges’ are on a Club World return ticket from New York JFK to London Heathrow and back?  Here’s a clue – it isn’t the £850 you would pay flying UK – US – UK. If you go US – UK – US, would you pay ….




No, sorry, you’re still wrong.

The actual figure is an astonishing £1,801 return for a Club World Avios ticket from New York JFK to London Heathrow. 

You can prove this yourself by doing a dummy booking on  You need to click through to the payment page for it to recalculate to the exact number.

You should see this:

Avios taxes and charges from United States

Why is this?

It isn’t entirely clear why BA treats North America like this.

You don’t see it with other markets.  A return Club World redemption to Dubai is £716.  Book the trip in reverse and you pay £813.  That’s near enough the same, given currency fluctuations.

One view is that, because Avios are so easy to earn in the US (BA has, in the past, given out 100,000 Avios as a credit card sign-up bonus) it tries to create a level playing field with the UK by adding extra charges.

This ‘protects’ UK Avios collectors because it reduces the willingness of US members to redeem on transatlantic flights, with many choosing to use them on domestic American Airlines and Alaska Airways flights instead.  This is only a theory though.

Even if you live in the UK, there is a lesson here

If you are booking Avios tickets to North America, do NOT book them as 2 x one-way tickets.  This is because the ticket from London will attract the lower UK level of ‘taxes and charges’ whilst your flight home, when booked on a separate ticket, will attract the higher US level of ‘taxes and charges’.

For example, as we noted above, a return ticket from the UK to New York has Club World taxes of £850.

Booked as a one-way in each direction, the total taxes are £555 outbound and £774 inbound, for a total of £1,329.

You should bear this in mind if, for example, you see a special one-way cash offer on a low cost airline from the UK.  Don’t think that booking the outbound flight to the US for cash and then using Avios for the return is a good deal, because you will be paying an inflated level of ‘taxes and charges’ for the flight back.

PS.  Remember that using your Avios to fly on Iberia saves hugely on taxes and, for the US East Coast, Avios.

An off-peak Business Class return from Madrid to New York, booked via the Iberia Plus website to avoid British Airways surcharges, costs just 68,000 Avios + £220, a huge saving even after factoring in the cost of getting to Spain:

Redeem Avios from United States to Europe with low taxes

You can learn more about redeeming Avios on Iberia here.


How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (September 2023)

As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards.  Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!

In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.

You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:

Barclaycard Avios Plus card

Barclaycard Avios Plus Mastercard

Get 25,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £10,000 Read our full review

Barclaycard Avios card

Barclaycard Avios Mastercard

5,000 Avios for signing up and an upgrade voucher at £20,000 Read our full review

There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:

British Airways American Express Premium Plus

25,000 Avios and the famous annual 2-4-1 voucher Read our full review

British Airways American Express

5,000 Avios for signing up and an Economy 2-4-1 voucher for spending £12,000 Read our full review

You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points.

American Express Preferred Rewards Gold

Your best beginner’s card – 20,000 points, FREE for a year & four airport lounge passes Read our full review

The Platinum Card from American Express

30,000 points and a huge range of valuable benefits – for a fee Read our full review

Run your own business?

We recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.

Capital On Tap Business Rewards Visa

Get a 10,000 points bonus plus an extra 500 points for our readers Read our full review

You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.

EDIT: Applications for this card are temporarily suspended due to IT issues with the British Airways On Business SME loyalty scheme.

British Airways Accelerating Business American Express

30,000 Avios sign-up bonus – plus annual bonuses of up to 30,000 Avios Read our full review

There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.

American Express Business Platinum

40,000 points bonus and an annual £200 Amex Travel credit Read our full review

American Express Business Gold

20,000 points sign-up bonus and free for a year Read our full review

Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.

Comments (96)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • Brian P says:

    it’s worth adding (counter intuitively) that the fees for a uk resident are asymmetric and actually less on the US-UK leg due to APD. I just booked economy out to ORD and business back for our family of 4 because of this. (found out the hard way you can’t use the old and the new amex voucher on a family of 4)..

  • Ben says:

    I remember when Virgin’s ‘taxes and charges’ used to undercut BA’s. I checked yesterday and a return trip LHR to JFK in upper class would be £1,000 in taxes and charges. Even higher than BA. Any chance this will ever be brought back under control?

  • AJA says:

    BA’s charges on long haul are getting ridiculous. It just devalues the whole scheme. If the idea of a loyalty scheme is to encourage you to fly with BA then they need to make it worthwhile collecting the Avios and allow you to redeem them.

    They seem to be going down the same path in the UK of giving away Avios through credit card SUBs (which is prepaid by the credit card companies) but then charging customers somewhere close to the cost of the flight in their charges.

    Plus they are slowly devaluing the Avios by increasing the number you need to spend on a long haul flight and indeed short-haul with the default of RFS charges being £1 + a shed load of Avios.

    I think this is damaging the brand in the longer term.

    Especially as they seem also to be turning into a transatlantic only long haul carrier and forcing passengers on to other OW airlines going east. This reduces the opportunities to redeem 2-4-1 vouchers which damages the brand as people cotton onto the fact that it is pointless saving and paying for the BAPP card. It is also turning them into a points scheme that happens to have an airline on the side.

    I also think BA have realised how many people are just cashing out to Nectar given the change to the Avios to Nectar conversion rate. This is a very real cost to BA hence the change.

  • Richie says:

    How do Cathay Pacific, Finnair and Qantas compare for redemptions from the US to Hong Kong, Helsinki and Australia on their websites?

    • memesweeper says:

      Cathay was cheaper last time I checked. But for real bargains you need to avoid the joint venture partners of BA/AA/Fin

  • Charles Martel says:

    I’d have thought BA would have lowered fees/taxes on North American redemptions to compete with the domestic programmes (and possibly compensated with higher Avios requirements), but what do I know? The fees must be an almighty shock to people not used to paying them at all.

    • Rich says:

      Seat occupancy is high, cash fares are stratospheric. Market forces are at play.

    • memesweeper says:

      Cathay was cheaper last time I checked. But for real bargains you need to avoid the joint venture partners of BA/AA/Fin

  • Charles says:

    Good article and useful to know. Thanks for the research

    • BJ says:

      +1, I like to see articles lije this on HfP. Also nice to see a decent amount of reader engagement this time. There have been some excellent analytical articles in the past where readers might not always have grasped the significance of what Rob had to say if the number of comments were anything to go by.

  • Rui N. says:

    “It isn’t entirely clear why BA treats North America like this.”

    Of course it’s clear. It’s because US consumers print avios like crazy via credit cards.

    • ediflyer says:

      Totally this!

    • John T says:

      Exactly. It is far easier to earn Avios in the US than in the UK so they charge even higher surcharges to dissuade US travellers from snapping up all the seats.

    • BJ says:

      Didn’t BA/IAG have to pay some big settlements in the USA? Perhaps clawback in an element.

  • ediflyer says:

    As well as massive sign up bonuses in the USA you forgot to mention the really high earnings rates (eg 5 points per USD) and also regular 25% bonuses. If I was in the US I’d just collect Avios for use on other routes and use AA for TATL. They still get an amazing deal from credit cards so I wouldn’t feel too sorry for them!

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.