Never has there been a better time to visit London for Americans!!!!
A trip to London and the UK is always a good idea. Who doesn’t love to watch the Queen’s Guard march up to Buckingham Palace or hear the Beefeaters at the Tower of London recount stories of the famous prisoners kept and killed within those ominous walls? Americans love the history and the fanfare, the double-decker buses and high-brow theatre scene. We love munching on a plate of fish and chips even if we don’t know what to do with that intriguing little bottle of vinegar.
But, I get it. London and the UK are not cheap. And the value of the Pound against the US Dollar? Let’s just say it’s been about as friendly to us American travelers as Henry the VIII was to Anne Boleyn.
Oh yes dear old Blighty, you woo us with your crown jewels and your castles. We laugh at your witty sarcasm and swoon over those sexy accents. We sip tea and dunk scones together only to realize later on it would’ve been cheaper just to pay the darn tea tax slapped on us by crazy old George III!
Well, changes are afoot in the UK and all signs point to positive impacts for travelers, especially those of us from the U.S. As Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage…” and it appears Brexit has entered stage right and stolen the spotlight.
While the (unlucky) elected leaders proceed to sort through an ungodly pile of pages with policies, laws, and agreements, travelers, especially from the U.S, stand to gain…at least for now.
How can Brexit help you to save money in London?
Here’s what we know right now about how Brexit has affected travel to the UK for Americans.
The Pound has lost value against the US Dollar. At the current 1 Pound to $1.33 conversion rate, American travelers can get the best exchange rate in 30 years.
Since the Brexit vote, flight searches from the U.S. to London have surged. Combine this with cheaper oil prices and low-fare airlines creating competition, round trip flights to London this fall can be found in the $500-$600 range! On average, it’s 30% cheaper to visit the UK today compared to 8 years ago.
London has surpassed Mexico and the Caribbean as the top International choice among American travelers this year, according to a Travel Leaders Survey of travel agents and other industry experts. However, the uncertainty of what Brexit will truly mean has also fueled a lot of travel speculation.
London post Brexit
Here are a few questions that’ll only be answered with the passing of hours on Big Ben’s clock.
London is a travel hub because of its location as an entry-point into Europe and the plentiful number of cheap flights on budget airlines to points on the continent. It makes for a great starting point for that European vacation so many Americans dream about. But, will future visitors be put off by having to deal with UK and EU border controls and customs? Will the UK no longer be part of the Open Skies agreement which helped to spur cheap flights across Europe?
Will immigration laws change and impact non-Brits living and working in the UK? Would this mean higher labor costs for things like taxi rides, hotel rooms, restaurant outings, and tours? (Wait, is that even possible?! Taxi rides in London costing more!?)
Use miles and points to visit London for less
Given some of these concerns, now is an excellent time to plan that trip to London and the UK. Travelers earning miles and points through the generous award travel programs in the US stand to gain even more. Redeem your miles and points for flights to the UK and save space for your travel rewards credit card for the London Pass and a pair of new Union Jack socks.
Not sure about the best way to maximize your miles and points for flights to the UK? No worries! Use the tips below to book your award flights like a pro.
Three Smart Ways to Use Your Miles and Points to visit London and the U.K.
American Airlines off-peak SAAver Awards
American Airlines offers off-peak SAAver awards, from January 10th to March 14th and November 1st to December 14th, between the 48 continental states and Europe for 22,500 American Airline miles each way in economy.
Plus: Although American Airlines devalued their award chart in March of 2016, the off-peak SAAver tickets to Europe are still cheaper than the 30,000 one-way needed to fly on a competitor like United or Delta.
Minus: American Airlines OneWorld partner, British Airways, is ironically NOT a smart way to cross the Atlantic for your trip to London. British Airways charges steep taxes and fees upwards of $600-$700 per person! You MUST book this award on American Airlines operated flights to avoid these outrageous out-of-pocket costs. You can search on the AA site and this will bring up details of all partners.
Pro Tip: Etihad is an American Airlines partner, which means you can use Etihad miles to fly on American airlines. The Etihad Guest program transfers 1:1 with Citi ThankYou and Amex Membership Rewards. You can also transfer Starwood Preferred Guest points in 20,000 increments to your Etihad guest account and get a 5,000 mile bonus.
Many redemption rates are similar or the same as the American Airlines award chart before the March 2016 devaluation and off-peak flights booked this way cost just 20,000 points. Best of all, off-peak travel to and from Europe is for any time between October 15th and May 15th.
Bonus Pro-Tip! If you can, avoid departing from the UK. The UK has some of the highest departure taxes in the world. Take the high-speed train 2 1/2 hours to Paris. Train tickets purchased in advance start at $60 one-way.
Consider the following scenarios. (I’ve used AA miles for the comparison, but you’ll face high departure taxes with any airline when you leave from the UK.)
- Depart from the UK on an American Airlines flight back to New York City in November. You’ll need 22,500 AA miles + $167.86 in taxes.
- Purchase a train ticket to Paris for between $60-80. Enjoy seeing the City of Lights.
- Fly back to NYC from Paris in November for 22,500 American Airlines miles and just $75.66. Now that’s how you get a free layover!
Which scenario looks like the best value for your money? Even if the money spent on a train ticket and Paris departure taxes is equal to paying the UK taxes, isn’t better to get two cities like London and Paris for the price of one?
Virgin Atlantic flies from the eastern US to the UK and the rest of Europe for just 17,500 miles and $135 in taxes and fees one-way in economy. If you book before September 22nd, you can take advantage of the current promotion and fly to London for just 12,250 Virgin Atlantic miles and the applicable taxes and fees!
Plus: Virgin Atlantic points are easy to earn. They are 1:1 transfer partners with Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Citi ThankYou points.
Minus: Taxes and fees can be high on Virgin Atlantic. Paying the fees for higher class tickets and return tickets from the UK is NOT worth it. Instead, use American or United miles to fly back to the US from another European city as in the Paris example above.
Pro Tip: Keep an eye out for Virgin Atlantic sales on economy awards and Amex Membership Rewards transfer bonuses. I combined both of these promotions for a one-way flight from New York to London for just 10,000 Membership Rewards points and $135 in fees. Well worth saving my other miles and points for another trip!
Air France and KLM Flying Blue promotions
Air France and KLM Flying Blue promotions release discount award seats for select routes on the 1st of every month. Awards between North America and Europe can be anywhere from 25% to 50% off the normal amount of miles typically needed, bringing economy awards down to 12,500 miles or 18,750 miles depending on the discount.
Plus: Air France and KLM Flying Blue miles are easily earned. They’re a 1:1 transfer partner of Citi ThankYou Points, Amex Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, and a Starwood Preferred Guest airline partner. Taxes and fees on promo awards start at just $50 each way.
Minus: Promo awards change regularly and book quickly. The exact route combination from North America to the UK might not be available when you want to travel.
Pro Tip: Combine a Virgin Atlantic economy award from the eastern US to London with an Air France/KLM Flying Blue Promo award from a different European departure city for fewer miles (plus a bit more in taxes and fees) than an American Airlines off-peak SAAver award!
With the changes happening in the UK and how easy it is to earn miles and points for flights, there hasn’t been a better time to book your trip to London and the UK!
So, who’s ready to tour Westminster and then drive (on the left) into the countryside in search of Downton Abbey and the Crawley family? who?
Have you ever used miles to visit London?
Maybe you have already been super savvy and used your miles to book a trip to London. We would love to hear any tips you have for anyone else planning to do the same. Just pop them in the comments below.
Welcome back to my guest contributor
Thanks to Jackie from the Globetrotting Teacher for her fabulous guest post today showcasing how she managed to bag a bargain to Europe this summer (and how you can too, of course!). Grab her free cheat sheet to London here.
You can also catch up with Jackie in the Travel Hack Trio Facebook group, a group designed to help those who want to earn more miles and make more of them. Come and join us!