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How to Fly to the U.K. Using Rewards — Without Paying Huge Surcharges

Young male traveler on a trolley in London wearing sunglasses with British flag design on them.

Image source: Getty Images

Glasgow, Scotland is one of my favorite cities in the world. Unfortunately, it’s one of the hardest places to get to using travel rewards — which is how I pay for most of my travel.

Why is it so hard to get to the 7th most populated city in the U.K.? The same reason as the other six: surcharges.

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You see, many award flights to or from the U.K. (or sometimes just award flights with layovers in the U.K.) tack on outrageous “carrier-imposed fees” that can easily top $700 per flight for business class. And yes, that’s on top of the tens of thousands of miles you’re also paying.

Is this still less than paying cash? Sure. Should you suck it up and pay the surcharges? Absolutely not.

Pick your poison: Money, miles, or time

It’s worth noting here that not every carrier imposes those surcharges on the way there. In my experience, however, these types of award flights tend to have (at least) one of two issues:

  1. Excessive layovers: Get ready to enjoy two separate layovers on what would otherwise be a six-hour direct flight! (I saw one flight from JFK to London that stopped in both Manchester, England and Dublin, Ireland before getting to London.)
  2. Very high miles cost: Who doesn’t want to fork over 245,000 for a one-way business class fare?!

If you don’t mind dealing with one — or both — of these issues, then feel free. Or, you can use my favorite workaround.

Fly into Europe and skip the nonsense

The simplest way to skip the stupid surcharges — be they in your money, miles, or your time spent in layovers — is to avoid having your destination in the U.K. entirely.

No, I’m not saying don’t visit the U.K. Instead, I’m saying you need to take a minor detour.

Instead of booking your award trip to a U.K. airport, choose to fly somewhere in Ireland or mainland Europe. You’ll miss out on a lot of the silly surcharges, and you may even open up some more award flight options (there are a lot more airlines going all over Europe than the few heading to the U.K. each day).

Once in Europe, you can take a cheap flight or train ride to your U.K. destination, all while spending less money out of pocket than your surcharges would have cost.

Myriad ways to get to the U.K.

How to travel that last leg to your destination in the U.K. will depend on a lot of things, including your budget, your timeline — and your sense of adventure.

For example, you can easily take a one-hour flight from Dublin to London if speed is your goal. Ryanair will take you there for $25 if you don’t need overhead bin access. British Airways and Aer Lingus will take you — and your bags — for around $85.

Flights from mainland Europe are a little more expensive, but not by much. Flying from Paris to London starts around $40 (no bags), and Amsterdam to London starts around $60 (no bags). Both cities have flights on non-discount airlines — i.e., you get overhead bin space — for around $130.

Consider the train for added adventure!

If you really want to make the detour memorable, consider taking the train. The trip from Amsterdam to London takes just four hours (Paris to London is only 20 minutes longer). Tickets start around $150, which is still less than your typical business class ticket surcharge. Plus, you’ll enjoy idyllic European scenery and a thrilling trip under the English Channel!

Enjoy your serendipitous detour

Another bit of advice: Choose a city you have yet to explore and make a destination of it in and of itself. Give yourself a day or two in the city before you move on to your eventual U.K. destination. (I really love the hop-on-hop-off tour buses for a quick-and-dirty way to see the sights!)

Remember: This trick works both ways

The surcharges we’ve been talking about this whole time aren’t limited to your flight to the U.K. In fact, they can be even worse on your way home.

Happily, you can use the same trick you used to get there without surcharges, to get back home without them. Instead of flying out of the U.K. directly, hop a quick flight or take a short train ride into a European country for a much cheaper experience.

Using travel rewards to fly for free is a great way to make travel accessible on any budget. But keep an eye out for extra fees and other gotchas that can sour the experience.

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The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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