Posted by: Mary | August 2, 2012

The trouble with booking mileage award travel

Last year, I spent some time in Germany, visiting the Christmas markets.  the trip was inspired by a trip I had taken with my sister to Praha (Prague) in December 2003.  In addition to the usual sites, we enjoyed the Christmas markets in the city, as well as a concert of Christmas carols from around the world in a church, and the celebration of St. Nicholas Day.  For a long time, I had wanted to get back to Europe at that time of the year to visit more of the markets in other countries.

After Germany, I vowed to return this year and visit another country.  I’ve had my heart set on going to Budapest and Bratislava for their markets and when I shared the info with a friend, she was interested in joining me.  We got together for dinner last night and started talking about possible itineraries and decided that it would be best to do three cities – Budapest, Bratislava & Vienna.  We’d fly into one and out of the other, with Bratislava a 24-48 hour stop in between.  Due to budget constraints since we are both saving up for more expensive trips in 2013, we wanted to use our airline miles.  This hasn’t been a problem for me around this time of the year in the past. For the past several years, I’ve used miles to go to Germany, Lithuania & Latvia, and to Switzerland.  Unfortunately, it looks like things won’t go as smoothly this year.

We both have enough miles on American Airlines (AA) to make the trip, but AA doesn’t fly its own planes to either of these cities.  It uses a partner airline, British Airways (BA). Flights are available, but it’s the taxes & fees that are a killer! Usually, it runs around $100 when booking award travel on one of the U.S.-based airlines, but this itinerary came back with almost $700 in taxes & fees!  I compared to purchasing a ticket & sure enough, this was the total in taxes & fees if I paid for the ticket with money instead of miles.  It made me remember that I ran into this back when airline websites didn’t publish the taxes & fees in the price until you tried to book the ticket.  You’d often find a great fare, only to discover it wasn’t so great.  Taxes & fees on airlines that are not based in the U.S. seem to be significantly higher than U.S.-based airlines, although their base fare is often lower.  Could it be the VAT (Value Added Tax)?

Lesson learned: when booking award travel on AA (or another U.S.-based airline), look for routes where they fly their own planes and not partner airlines, unless the partner airline has low taxes on its tickets.  Lufthansa is one example.  If I had enough miles, I could have booked this same route through United on Lufthansa for a cost of around $111.  For now, it’s “back to the drawing board” to see where we may go to visit the Christmas Markets in Europe.  The trip to Budapest/Bratislava/Vienna may need to wait until next December so that I can accumulate enough miles.



  1. good stuff. needs to be looked into more. lista de email lista de email lista de email lista de email lista de email

  2. Oh yes, trans-atlantic BA flights are so expensive! I’m a brit and I travelled across to Central America this summer – my flights cost about that much and I’m now very jealous of Americans living so close!

    Having said that though, we do have some seriously cheap budget airlines in Europe – we can get from the UK to Italy or Spain for less than 50 pounds, so it’s not all bad!

    • Yes, I am envious of your fares on airlines
      Ike Ryanair. I wish I could get to Italy for a weekend. I have found some good transatlantic flight prices, but when using mileage to purchase a ticket, I have to stick with U.S. based airlines or Lufthansa. All of the others have fees so high that it’s not worth spending the miles. I did find a great fare on Iberia between Barcelona and Madrid when I get there in December. At $60, it was cheaper and faster than the train. I hope you’re able to find some good prices to Central America at some point. Sometimes, the airlines put together packages with the hotel where the airfare is seriously discounted. I’m not sure if they’re ever offered for travel beginning outside North America, though.

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