11 Times It’s Better to Book American Award Flights Through British Airways

Jan 28, 2019

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American Airlines is the largest airline in the world by number of passengers carried. But even when it’s the best way to get from airport A to B, don’t automatically look to use your AAdvantage miles when you’re booking an award flight. There are quite a few scenarios when it makes sense to book an AA award flight using British Airways’ Avios.

Don’t have Avios? Well, you could mint some instantaneously if you have American Express Membership Rewards (1:1), Chase Ultimate Rewards points (1:1) or Marriott Rewards points (3:1 with a 5,000-Avios bonus for transferring 60,000 points).

Here’s some scenarios where it can make sense to book an American Airlines award flight with British Airways Avios:

In This Post

Nonstop, Domestic Flights Between 501 and 1,151 Miles

British Airways charges 7,500 Avios for a nonstop award flight of under 1,151 miles, while American Airlines requires 12,500 miles for all domestic awards that cover more than 500 miles in distance. As a result, there’s a sweet spot for the distance from 501 miles to 1,151 miles where you’re better off redeeming Avios.

Flight Miles (domestic US, economy) AA (standard
domestic)
AA (reduced
mileage awards)
British Airways
Avios
1 – 500 7,500* 6,500* 7,500*
501 – 1,151 12,500 8,750 7,500*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing

This price discrepancy is also true in the front cabin, with nonstop award flights costing 15,000 Avios or 25,000 AAdvantage miles. While short flights aren’t generally worth paying double the economy rates to get first class, I’ve seen times where there’s business saver award space at a lower AAdvantage mileage cost than the AAnytime economy awards.

Flight Miles (domestic US or Canada, first class) AA (standard
domestic)
AA (reduced
mileage awards)
British Airways
Avios
1 – 500 15,000* 14,000* 15,000*
501 – 1,151 25,000 21,250 15,000*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing

The difference grows when you’re looking to book business class award flights with lie-flat seats. As of Jan. 16, 2019, American Airlines adds a 7,500-mile surcharge “if the award includes travel on an aircraft that offers lie-flat seats in the US and Canada.” Meanwhile, British Airways still just prices the award flight based on the flight length and cabin:

Flight Miles (domestic US, first class) AA (standard
domestic)
AA (reduced
mileage awards)
British Airways
Avios
1 – 500 15,000* 14,000* 15,000*
501 – 1,151 32,500 28,750 15,000*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing

Nonstop to Canada Between 501 and 2,000 flight miles

As of January 16, AAdvantage merged Canada into the US award chart — slightly dropping award prices for both economy and business class. However, there are still times when it makes more sense to book with British Airways Avios than AAdvantage miles.

Flight Miles (US-Canada, economy) AAdvantage miles British Airways
Avios
1 – 500 7,500* 7,500*
501 – 1,151 12,500 7,500*
1,152 – 2,000 12,500 10,000*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing

Examples of when it’s cheaper to book with British Airways include:

  • Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Montreal (YUL): 7,500 BA Avios vs. 12,500 AA miles
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Vancouver (YVR): 7,500 BA Avios vs. 12,500 AA miles
  • Charlotte (CLT) to Montreal or Toronto (YYZ): 7,500 BA Avios vs. 12,500 AA miles
  • Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Vancouver (YVR): 10,000 BA Avios vs. 12,500 AA miles
  • Phoenix (PHX) to Vancouver or Edmonton (YEG): 10,000 BA Avios vs. 12,500 AA miles
  • Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Calgary (YYC), Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver: 10,000 BA Avios vs. 12,500 AA miles

The difference grows for first class awards. Since AA mostly flies regional aircraft to Canada, it’s likely not worth splurging for a first class seat, but for sake of completeness, here’s how it compares:

Flight Miles (US-Canada, first class) AAdvantage British Airways
Avios
1 – 500 15,000* 15,000*
501 – 1,151 25,000 15,000*
1,152 – 2,000 25,000 25,000*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing

Examples of when it makes sense to book with Avios include:

  • Chicago O’Hare (ORD) to Montreal (YUL): 15,000 BA Avios vs. 25,000 AA miles
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Vancouver (YVR): 15,000 BA Avios vs. 25,000 AA miles
  • Charlotte (CLT) to Montreal or Toronto (YYZ): 15,000 BA Avios vs. 25,000 AA miles

Nonstop Economy Flights to Hawaii

Another one of the sweet spots in the Avios vs. American Airlines battle is nonstop flights between the West Coast and Hawaii on either American Airlines- or Alaska-operated flights. Booking one-way, nonstop award flights under 3,000 miles in length through British Airways is going to cost just 12,500 Avios plus $5.60 in taxes/fees each way.

American Airlines’ award chart prices flights between the US and Hawaii at 22,500 miles each way during peak dates or 20,000 miles each way during off-peak dates — the latter of which run now through Mar. 12, Aug. 11 – Nov. 18 and Nov. 24 – Dec. 10. Note that these prices apply to flights on both American and Alaska Airlines, so in either case, you’re better off redeeming Avios for awards to Hawaii from multiple West Coast gateways.

However, American recently introduced “Economy Web Specials” with discounted economy award prices. So, it’s worth checking to see if there’s a cheaper award option through AA.

Remember too that the Avios pricing above only applies to nonstop flights, so if you start adding connections, you’ll want to compare prices in each program before deciding which offers the best value.

Finally, flight deals between the West Coast and Hawaii have been excellent recently, so make sure to check how much airlines are charging for these flights before booking economy flights with any type of mileage currency.

Nonstop Business Class Flights to Hawaii

While there may or not be savings to be had in economy, you’re definitely going to save a lot more by booking business class flights through Avios than AAdvantage. As of January 16, American Airlines increased business class award flights to Hawaii by up to 56%. However, British Airways is going to still charge the same amount as before.

First, let’s consider domestic first class recliner seats from West Coast to Hawaii. For non-lie-flat options between the US mainland and Hawaii, award flights through the AAdvantage program cost a whopping 55,000 miles each way. Meanwhile, nonstop American flights between 2,001 and 3,000 flight miles (i.e. flights from Los Angeles and Phoenix to Hawaii) cost just 37,500 Avios each way.

The difference grows significantly if your flight to Hawaii utilizes a lie-flat international business class seat. As noted above, American’s award chart says these awards are now subject to a 7,500-mile surcharge for booking a flight with lie-flat seats.

Flight Miles (US to Hawaii, first class) AA (recliner seat) AA (lie-flat seat) British Airways
Avios
2,001 – 3,000 miles (LAX, PHX and most Alaska-operated flights) 55,000 62,500 37,500*
3,001 – 4,000 miles (DFW) N/A^ 62,500 60,000*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing
^No flights between Dallas/Fort Worth and Hawaii currently use standard recliner seats. All are on widebody aircraft with lie-flat seats.

The most drastic example of this difference is the daily A330 flight that AA is currently operating between Phoenix (PHX) and Honolulu (HNL). American Airlines is currently only charging 55,000 miles each way, as it seems that it’s struggling to code in the 7,500-mile surcharge:

Even without the surcharge applied, booking through British Airways is still cheaper at 37,500 Avios plus $5.60 in taxes each way:

Nonstop Flights to the Caribbean

Hawaii isn’t the only beach getaway where it makes sense to use British Airways Avios rather than American Airlines miles. However, the big limitation again is that you’re going to need to find nonstop award availability on American Airlines, so this is only relevant to flyers that live in an American Airlines hub. For those that do, the savings is pretty solid:

Flight Miles (US to Caribbean) AAdvantage (off-peak) AAdvantage (standard) Avios (economy) AAdvantage (first class) Avios (first class)
1 – 1,151 12,500 15,000 7,500* 25,000 15,000*
1,152 – 2,000 12,500 15,000 10,000* 25,000 20,000*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing

For travelers based in Miami (MIA), there are too many destinations to map within 1,151 miles. Booking these award flights through British Airways will cost just 7,500 miles — half of what AAdvantage charges:

Image generated via Great Circle Mapper.

There are fewer options from Charlotte (CLT) to the Caribbean that fall within this distance band, but these options nearly maximize the 1,151-mile allowance:

Image generated via Great Circle Mapper.

For example, the 1,097-mile flight from Charlotte to Grand Cayman (GCM) costs 15,000 AAdvantage miles each way:

Or just 7,500 Avios plus $5.60:

Nonstop Flights to Mexico

As with the Caribbean, you can also save miles by booking nonstop award flights to Mexico using British Airways Avios instead of American Airlines AAdvantage:

Flight Miles (US to Mexico) AAdvantage (off-peak) AAdvantage (standard) Avios (economy) AAdvantage (first class) Avios (first class)
1 – 1,151 12,500 15,000 7,500* 25,000 15,000*
1,152 – 2,000 12,500 15,000 10,000* 25,000 20,000*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing

Examples include:

  • Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Mexico City (MEX) or Cancun (CUN): 7,500 BA Avios vs. 15,000 AA miles
  • Miami (MIA) to Cancun: 7,500 BA Avios vs. 15,000 AA miles
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Cabo San Lucas (SJD): 7,500 BA Avios vs. 15,000 AA miles
  • Phoenix (PHX) to Cabo San Lucas, Guadalajara (GDL), Mazatlan (MZT) or Puerto Vallarta (PVR): 7,500 BA Avios vs. 15,000 AA miles
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Mexico City or Puerto Vallarta: 10,000 BA Avios vs. 15,000 AA miles

Nonstop Flights to Central America

Yet another time when it can make sense to book with British Airways Avios rather than AAdvantage miles is for flights to the “Central America” region on American Airlines’ award chart. As these destinations are further south, there are fewer options than you’d find to the Caribbean and Mexico. That said, there are still some solid savings.

Flight Miles (US to Central America) AAdvantage (off-peak) AAdvantage (standard) Avios (economy) AAdvantage (first class) Avios (first class)
1 – 1,151 12,500 15,000 7,500* 25,000 15,000*
1,152 – 2,000 12,500 15,000 10,000* 25,000 20,000*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing

All of the 7,500-Avios options to Central America are going to be from Miami. Destinations that I can find for under 1,151 flight miles include:

Image generated via Great Circle Mapper.

Dallas-Fort Worth has none in the lower distance band but several Central American destinations that’ll price at 10,000 Avios each way:

Image generated via Great Circle Mapper.

There’s exactly one 10,000-Avios option from Charlotte (to San Jose, Costa Rica). American Airlines doesn’t operate any sub-2,000 mile flights from Chicago, Philadelphia or Phoenix to Central America.

Nonstop Flights to Northern South America

The American Airlines award chart breaks South America into two regions. The “South America Region 1” includes Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Manaus, Brazil (MAO). Economy flights to these destinations are going to cost 20,000 AAdvantage miles each way. However, first class award prices match domestic US, Caribbean, Mexico and Central America at just 25,000 miles each way.

Flight Miles (US to South America 1) AAdvantage (off peak) AAdvantage (standard) Avios (economy) AAdvantage (first class) Avios (first class)
1-1,151 17,500 20,000 7,500* 25,000 15,000*
1,152-2,000 17,500 20,000 10,000* 25,000 20,000*
2,001-3,000 17,500 20,000 12,500* 25,000 25,000*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing

I’m only finding two options from the US to South America Region 1 that are under 1,151 miles:

  • Miami (MIA) to Barranquilla, Colombia (BAQ)
  • Miami (MIA) to Cartagena, Colombia (CTG)

For the same award flight, AAdvantage will charge almost 3x as many miles:

Certain one-stop award flights to Hawaii

While all of these options so far have focused on nonstop awards, there are actually some times it makes more sense to book one-stop awards through British Airways than American Airlines. One example of this is an award flight to Hawaii on American’s peak dates. By combining a sub-1,151-mile flight (7,500 Avios) from your city to a West Coast Hawaii gateway with a 12,500-Avios flight to Hawaii, you’ll pay a total of 20,000 Avios vs. 22,500 AA miles.

That’s not a huge savings, but it’s worth keeping in mind — especially when you can generate Avios easier than American Airlines miles.

Nonstop Flights to Japan in Economy

When booking with AAdvantage miles, flights from anywhere in the US to Japan cost 35,000 miles each way in economy or 60,000 miles one-way in business class. You can save 2,500 AA miles by booking an economy award during an off-peak date (US-Japan: Jan. 1 – Apr. 30, July 1 – Nov. 30; Japan-US: Jan. 16 – Apr. 19, May 2 – 31, Sep. 1 – Dec. 31).

However, there are quite a few times when you can fly from the US to Japan for fewer miles by booking award flights with Avios.

Flight Miles (US to Japan) AAdvantage (off-peak) AAdvantage (standard AA or on JAL) Avios (economy)
4,001 – 5,500 32,500 35,000 25,000*
5,501 – 6,500 32,500 35,000 30,000*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing

When you also consider Japan Airlines flights, I’m seeing four routes requiring just 25,000 Avios that would otherwise cost 35,000 AA miles:

  • Seattle (SEA) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) on Japan Airlines
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) on Japan Airlines
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) on American Airlines or JAL
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) on American Airlines

And there’s at least four routes that you can book for 30,000 Avios vs. 35,000 AA miles:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Osaka (KIX) on Japan Airlines
  • Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) on American Airlines or JAL
  • Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) on American Airlines or JAL
  • San Diego (SAN) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT) on Japan Airlines

Unfortunately, the business and first class awards aren’t cheaper with Avios than AAdvantage miles. Flights between 4,001 and 5,500 miles in distance cost 75,000 Avios in business class (vs. 60,000 AA miles) and 100,000 Avios in first class (vs. 80,000 AA miles). As a result, if you’re looking for premium class awards to Japan, booking through AAdvantage is your best bet.

Last-Minute Award Flights

Even when there might not be a mileage savings between booking with AA miles or BA Avios, there’s another consideration on when it’ll make sense to use Avios: booking a last-minute award ticket. If you don’t have American elite status, you’ll pay a $75 “close-in booking fee” every time you ticket an award within 21 days of departure. There’s no such fee when you book American-operated award flights with British Airways Avios, saving you a significant amount on the out-of-pocket cost.

When Cheaper Isn’t Better

Notice a region missing from the options above? If you’re looking for award flights to Europe, you might think British Airways Avios would be the right choice — especially when looking at the award chart:

Flight Miles (US to Europe) AAdvantage (off-peak) AAdvantage (standard AA or partners) Avios (economy)
3,001 – 4,000 22,500 30,000 20,000*
4,001 – 5,500 22,500 30,000 25,000*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing

However, cheaper mileage costs aren’t always the better option, and this is a powerful example of that very phenomenon. British Airways is infamous for tacking on large amounts of fuel surcharges — so much so that the airline was sued and had to pay out a costly settlement. However, award travelers may not realize that BA also adds these fuel surcharges to partner awards across the Atlantic.

Let’s take the example of the short flight from Philadelphia (PHL) to Shannon, Ireland (SNN) on American Airlines. This award will cost 30,000 AAdvantage miles plus $5.60 of taxes during off-peak dates:

While British Airways only charges 20,000 Avios, it adds on nearly $200 of fees that American Airlines itself doesn’t charge for the same flight.

US/Canada Comparison Charts

If you’re considering your options for a US domestic or US-Canada award flight, here’s a cheat sheet of the different prices for booking awards in economy:

Flight Miles AA (standard) AA (reduced
mileage awards)
British Airways
Avios
1 – 500 7,500* 6,500* 7,500*
501 – 1,151 12,500 8,750 7,500*
1,152 – 2,000 12,500 8,750 10,000*
2,001 – 3,000 12,500 8,750 12,500*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing

And in domestic first class:

Flight Miles AA (standard
domestic)
AA (reduced
mileage awards)
British Airways
Avios
1-500 15,000* 14,000* 15,000*
501-1,151 25,000 21,250 15,000*
1,152-2,000 25,000 21,250 20,000*
2,001-3,000 25,000 21,250 37,500*

*Requires nonstop award flight for this pricing

Generating Avios and Booking

Hopefully this article has helped you find at least one award that you want to book with British Airways Avios instead of American Airlines miles. But what if you don’t have BA Avios? Well, there’s plenty of ways of generating them.

The easiest way is to transfer American Express Membership Rewards (1:1), Chase Ultimate Rewards points (1:1) or Marriott points (3:1 with a 5,000 Avios bonus for transferring 60,000 points). However, you can earn Avios directly through the British Airways Visa Signature Card — which is currently offering up to a 120,000-Avios sign-up bonus offer. You’ll earn 4 Avios for every $1 spent on all purchases within your first year up to $30,000. That’s up to 120,000 bonus Avios.

Once you’ve got the miles in your account, here’s a step-by-step guide on how to book flights with Avios.

A Warning for AA Elites and Cardholders

AA is really tightening down on a previously-unenforced rule preventing AA elites from using their benefits on AA award flights booked through partner mileage accounts. That means you won’t get your benefits such as free checked baggage, priority boarding, priority seating or upgrades.

I’ve found from experience that BA’s system is hard-coded to prevent you from being able to enter your AA number on these award flights. And, AAgents are instructed to not enter this number in your reservation. The AA social team has even started responding to elites to inform them of this rule:

That said, I’ve found carrying my physical American Airlines Executive Platinum card the day of travel helps get back some of these benefits. But, just know that AA considers using your hard-earned AAdvantage elite benefits for partner award flights is considered against the program rules. So, proceed with caution.

Finally, note that the above award rates for flights booked with AAdvantage miles do not include the 10% mileage rebate offered on certain cobranded credit cards (like the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard). This will only change a small number of the above recommendations, like certain off-peak flights from the US to Japan, but it’s worth keeping in mind when you’re comparing your award prices.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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