Last week, British Airways announced a new, and surprising, route to be served by its Dreamliner 787: Austin, Texas <-> London-Heathrow, starting March 3, 2014.
The Austin route is the third Dreamliner route announced. The plane is already flying to Toronto and starts service to Newark on October 1, 2013.
I had a chance to speak to Simon Brooks, BA’s Head of Sales for North America about the new route, for which tickets are already on sale. He filled in some of the details of the new route for me.
I’ll be following this route and all future British Airways 787 routes with great interest because my recent taste of the plane has me excited to fly it on a longer flight. See Trip Report of the Brand New British Airways 787 with Tons of Pictures.
I’ve checked into the award space on the flight, and for the moment it’s excellent for next summer. I’ve priced out several awards to find the best way to stretch your miles and get on to the route.
Why Austin? How is the award space? How many miles, taxes, and fuel surcharges to get onto the Dreamliner’s newest route?
Info from BA
Austin <-> London begins on March 3, 2014.
British Airways flight 189 will depart Heathrow Terminal 5 at 1:35 PM and land 10hr25min later at 5:00 PM in Austin.
British Airways flight 190 will depart Austin at 7 PM and arrive nine hours later at 10 AM in London.
The 787 is a mid-size plane with incredible fuel efficiency and range. It’s supposed to make it profitable for airlines to fly direct longhauls to second-tier cities. I’ve talked about ANA’s 787 route from Tokyo to San Jose, California for example. The same thing is happening with this route.
According to Brooks, British Airways chose Austin because it is home to several large corporations with extensive business travel to Europe. If that’s true, British Airways has the market cornered, since its new route will be Austin’s only flight to Euorpe.
Brooks said that plans had not been finalized for a lounge in Austin. There is an American Airlines Admirals Club lounge in Austin, but let’s hope British Airways doesn’t send its business class passengers there.
I also asked about future 787s. The gossip on my 787 flight was that British Airways’ next order of the planes might include a first class. He said that British Airways had options on 787-9s for 2017, and those could possibly include a first class, but nothing has been decided.
I took a look at the award-space picture for the route in both directions and saw basically the same thing. Starting from the inaugural flight on, British Airways is releasing economy seats on the flight five days a week–every day it operates.
By May, the flight is operating seven days a week, and business class award space begins to open up on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Perhaps British Airways is anticipating more paid-business class demand on the route in its first few months, but I expect more demand in May and June when London is nicer. Folks who want to go in early summer have great award space to choose from.
American Airlines and British Airways are both charging the exact same price for these flights in business class. (I’ll mostly ignore economy class in this article because the fuel surcharges make it an awful deal.) The outbound costs 50,000 American Airlines miles or British Airways Avios and $476.20.
On the return, we see the same picture. Business class award availability begins to show up May 7 on Wednesdays and Saturdays and continues through the heart of peak summer demand.
The returns costs even more money. The fuel surcharges are a bit lower, but those savings are more than wiped out by a $214 Air Passenger Duty levied by the UK. The total cost is 50,000 miles/Avios + $590 for the return.
If you’ve added up the out-of-pocket costs, you’d think a roundtrip would cost 100k Avios/miles + $1,066.20. That would be bad enough, but for some reason, a roundtrip prices out higher than two one ways at 100k Avios/miles + $1,239. Simple solution: purchase this flight as two one ways even if you want a roundtrip award.
With these insane fuel surcharges, is there any value to the route?
I think there’s some value. I am very high on British Airways Club World business class, and I loved flying the British Airways 787 the other day. I’d value flying the 787 in business class maybe $150 more than flying United business to Europe for example.
And if I lived in Austin or wanted to combine it with a trip to Europe, I’d value this direct flight at another $150 premium or so.
With those things in mind, I think there are two value spots because of this routing.
1. Use British Airways Avios for the outbound and pay 50k Avios + $476. For the return from Europe, fly in a surcharge-free and low-tax way. For instance, return from Spain with United miles.
Even better, get the Avios from a Membership Rewards transfer when there is a transfer bonus. During the recent 35% transfer bonus from Membership Rewards to Avios, this would have required only 37k Membership Rewards and $476 for the one way flight, which is starting to get very reasonable.
The best way to get Membership Rewards is to open the The Business Gold Rewards Card® from American Express OPEN with 50,000 bonus Membership Rewards after spending $5k in the first three months of cardmembership.
2. Use American Airlines miles and add two free oneways to Hawaii onto the main award.
American Airlines free oneways require you to live at an international gateway city, so Austinites should rejoice that Austin is now an international gateway city on this route. See Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards for more information on free oneways and international gateway cities.
I’ve got some screen shots below of just how easy it is to Add a Free Stopover Online to an American Airlines Award. The one mistake I made in them is booking the award as a roundtrip. Book it as two one ways and save $173 as discussed above.
The first step is to do a multi-city search. I’ve made both free oneways from/to Honolulu, but you can choose other Hawaiian islands or other parts of North America.
For the Austin to London to Austin segments in the middle, only the direct flight will be displayed as an option since you need to fly directly from Austin to somewhere outside of North America to make these free stopovers and free oneways work.
Don’t forget that flying international business class entitles one to fly domestic first class on the same award, so the flights to and from Hawaii are in first class.
As with all free oneways, the free oneway before the main trip has to be TO Austin. And the free oneway after the main trip has to be FROM Austin.
That means the free oneways can’t be combined into one roundtrip to Hawaii. Each is half a roundtrip, and the other half will require separate one way awards or cash tickets.
Here’s what the full award looks like on the purchase screen. For 100k American Airlines miles and about $1,120 (if you book this as two awards instead of one), you get a roundtrip to London in British Airways business class and two oneways between Austin and Honolulu in American Airlines first class.
The free oneways to Hawaii would normally have cost another 75k American Airlines miles, so that could make up for the $1,100 out of pocket if you also really love Hawaii and live in Austin.
There are big fuel surcharges on the new route from Austin to London, but British Airways is operating a fantastic plane with a fantastic product, and a few tricks like transferring Membership Rewards to Avios with a bonus or tacking on free oneways to Hawaii in first class might make this route attractive to some.
And if you want to fly the route, you’ve got a great chance to do it next summer with all the award space that is open.