Why I chose United Economy over British Airways First Class

I made preparations to experience British Airways First Class all the way back in 2009 by applying for the British Airways Visa Card when there was a 100,000 British Airways Avios sign up bonus. My wife did the same and we each hit the $2000 spend in order to get the total of 200,000 Avios sign up bonuses.

In 2010, I then planned to hit the $30,000 annual spend on my card in order to receive the British Airways buy one award ticket get one award ticket voucher. Purchasing coins from the US Mint was still in full effect at this time and hitting the $30,000 was pretty easy. I completed the $30,000 spend in June of 2010. I therefore had two years in order to use my voucher.

In 2011, I thought about using the voucher in order to get myself to the Maldives, but finding business / first award seats from London to Male was impossible. I ended up using Delta Skymiles via Malaysia Airlines instead.

Fast forward to the fall of 2011 and it’s time to start planning our 2012 vacation and with the voucher expiring in June 2012, I was determined to finally use them. I start searching preliminarily for several destinations trying to decide where we wanted to go. I still several destinations in Europe on my bucket list.

Then in November 2011, I fell off a ladder at my house and broke both of my wrists and the last thing going through my mind was using these vouchers. In fact, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be able to even function much less worry about a vacation. So I put the thought of a vacation far away and instead worked on recouping and doing massive amounts of physical therapy.

By March of 2012, I had healed to the point where I was functioning again and I began to think again about taking a vacation. However, I was positive with such short notice of only four months till June that I wouldn’t be able to find open award seats and use the British Airways voucher. I signed up for the Platinum level of the KVS tool to search British Airways availability. I started to search for flights out of Los Angeles to London Heathrow and there was nothing available in first class on any of the days in late May or early June. It was not surprising given how late in the year I was looking to leave. I was pretty much ready to give up the search at this point.

I then started to search for flights leaving out of New York and Boston and I was totally surprised. Flights from Boston to London Heathrow had First Class seats available. It wasn’t even on specific days, it was basically every day (except weekends) in May and June. I reread through the KVS tool instructions to make sure I wasn’t missing something. It was wide open!

The next part was to piece together something leaving out of London Heathrow and now I had to decide where to go. Lisbon? Madrid? Athens? Istanbul? After a lot of research I felt like going to Istanbul would be a departure from our usual beach vacation we had taken recently in the Maldives and before that in Phuket, Thailand. Once again there was decent availability from Heathrow to Istanbul and back in business class. Return flights in first class from London to Boston where wide open again. Everything was magically falling into place.

A quick check of award nights at the Conrad Istanbul showed they had nights available and therefore I could use my large stash of Hilton points to stay for free.

I went to the British Airways website and entered in all the dates that I had pieced together on the KVS tool and finally had the entire itinerary as we wanted it. I went to the final check screen – and it showed $2000 was due for the taxes and surcharges. I knew ahead of time that taxes would be in that range – so I wasn’t surprised. It gave me a second to pause. I would still have to either buy two $300 tickets or use Skymiles to get from Salt Lake City to Boston. Factoring in that, I was looking at a possible outlay of $2600 before we had even stepped in the country. I knew all of this all the way back in 2009 when I started this whole process. However, I started to weigh the pros and cons. It’s an incredible First Class journey to Istanbul. I thought about this blog and writing a sweet trip report and all the pictures I could take. It would be an amazing trip! The cost of the taxes pales in comparison to the actual value of those First Class tickets if purchased separately. On the other hands, $2600! That could pay for an entire vacation elsewhere! After discussing it back and forth, my wife and I agreed – we weren’t going to Istanbul. We weren’t going to fly First Class. We were going to allow the vouchers to expire and not spend all that money at this time.

Instead, I used the KVS tool and searched for flights from Los Angeles to Maui. On United. In Economy. I found plenty of dates and low award availability for 40,000 United miles per ticket. I searched the Starwood site for award night rooms available at the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa and it was wide open as well. So I booked the United economy tickets for 40,000 miles a piece plus $20 in taxes and secured nights at the Sheraton Maui Resort and Spa where I’ll be making my first stay as a newly minted Platinum and we’ll put that $2600 to good use in Maui.

It’s not as glamorous as staying in Istanbul but I just couldn’t bring myself at this time to spend that much money on taxes but I’m excited to be going to Maui. So what now with all those British Airways Avios points I have stashed away? I imagine that in 2013 I’ll make another run at a $30,000 spend for another voucher or perhaps use them for trips domestically. Whatever the case, I will fly British Airways First Class – now just wasn’t the right time.

This is what is so great about this hobby – I’m feeling down from heading to Maui after having been to Phuket, Maldives, Bora Bora, and Stockholm recently on award trips!


  1. I too have 2 vouchers, probably will get one every year that they are offered, but will never use them, too expensive.

  2. You have to view the BA vouchers in a different light – you are essentially paying for an economy ticket and essentially using 100,000 miles (more or less) to fly C/F across the pond. It is a great deal from the West Coast (you can actually sleep on a 10 hour flight) but maybe not as big a deal from NYC or BOS. Consider that UA and AA would require many more miles and very difficult to find business class award seats.

    Personally I would not use 40k miles to fly UA to Hawaii when you can often find flights for $500 or less from the West Coast. Though perhaps a better value for those who live farther away.

  3. I have 3 vouchers sitting there and will let them all expire as well. Simply worthless perk. Too many miles form west coast and too short of a flight to pay 2K in fees from east coast.

  4. This sounds almost exactly like my plan as well. I could find some flights to the Maldives.. in June 2013.

    It looks like we will end up going First Class to London for the New Year and then a week in Dubai with $3300 in fees, 270,000 miles, and the companion voucher. That is more than what it costs to buy the ticket in coach. But it is in First Class and we get better ticket flexibility (can cancel for full refund less $65).

  5. BOS-LHR in BA F is quite the treat, i will tell you that.

    Having said that, I totally agree with your decision. Saving yourself $2600 from those surcharges seems more than reasonable. It’s only a matter of perception. Have a great time in Maui!

  6. “not as glamorous as staying in Istanbul”.Istanbul is not all it’s cracked up to be. I’ll take Maui over Istanbul any day of the year. Especially if you save $2600. BAs business class it mediocre. I don’t know about 1st class. But Boston to London is just 6h, I could sit in coach for that.

  7. I agree that you’ve made the right call. BOS to LHR is about as long as SLC to BOS, so most of your trip would not be BA F if you count the LHR-IST segment…

    It’s only a matter of perception Maui vs Istanbul. For us Europeans, Maui is a lot more glamorous than Istanbul or anywhere in Turkey.

  8. BA have two flights out of Philly each day and the early flight has first class next time you are searching availability. I recently paid $325 to upgrade from my Club World seat to First and it was nice. I use my BA points only to upgrade on BA usually WT+ to Club otherwise fly J class on partners

  9. I understand your choice. I have two BA vouchers and I’m going to let them both expire and use my Avios for partner awards with low surcharges. I just can’t bring myself to pay their fees. Easter Island here I come!

  10. Agree with the decision not to waste $2,600 for “surchages”.

    You could use those Avios to book Cali to OGG for 25K Avios roundtrip in economy in American or Alaska (any day that SAAver availability is available on AA website). I believe it’s double that in business, though American’s business to Hawaii is kind of “eh”. You can book AA flights via Avios online but you have to call BA for Alaska flights.

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