I had long thought that it wasn’t possible to use British Airways Avios to book an award and still take advantage of American Airlines AAdvantage Elite Benefits — including upgrades — on those flights. It turns out that it is possible, but it requires some chicanery.
British Airways accepts points transfers from just about every major travel credit card (Chase Sapphire, Citi ThankYou, Amex Gold and Platinum). The distance-based Executive Club Avios program is ideal for shorter hops on American Airlines flights within the U.S.
Flights under 1,151 miles are just 7,500 Avios while those that are under 2,000 miles are 10,000 Avios. Using American AAdvantage, 12,500 AAdvantage miles is the standard economy price for most flights within the continental U.S.
Savvy fliers take advantage of airline partnerships and alliances. For instance, the single best use of 50,000 American AAdvantage miles is not on American’s flights, but rather on partners Etihad and Malaysian.
If you’re an American Airlines elite member, there’s also a simple trick to getting your elite benefits (including automatic complimentary upgrades for Executive Platinum status and above)—even when booking with Avios.
To top it all off, there’s even the possibility to fly in first class as an Executive Platinum for less than 5,500 points on flights less than 1,151 miles, like New York to Miami.
Finding American Airlines Award Space on BA’s Website
First things first. Award space on American isn’t always available. However, as an NYC-based traveler, I’ve had a lot of success with finding space on routes that have frequent or niche service. This includes routes like the 15-20x daily New York to Miami and the soon-to-be-discontinued New York JFK to Denver service. New York to Miami happens to fall right within the 7,500 Avios zone, as do some typically pricy routes like New York to Toronto.
American shares award inventory with British Airways, thus the most practical way to search is by using the British Airways website. Once you login to your account, click on the Executive Club tab, then click spending Avios, then “Reward Flights.” The search form here will return eligible American Airlines flights, along with the Avios price and taxes.
Compare this price to American’s program for the same flights. 2,500 miles saved. Sweet.
The Trick To Getting Your AA Elite Benefits Acknowledged
While booking through British Airways, you’re logged in as an Executive Club member. This means that you can’t enter your American AAdvantage information to take AAdvantage of your American elite status. End of the road, right? Wrong. The trick is to both delete your Executive Club number on BA’s site and input your AAdvantage frequent flier number directly on American’s website after booking—here’s how to do it.
Once you complete the booking process on BA, you’ll receive an email confirmation with the six-digit alphanumeric Passenger Name Record (PNR). This BA PNR works directly on American’s website when you search for your trip.
Next, your reservation will appear—the only thing missing is your AAdvantage number. Scroll halfway down your reservation page and click on “Add/Edit Passenger Information.” If you didn’t leave your Executive Club number blank on BA’s site, this won’t be editable. However, if you left it blank, you’d be able to select the AAdvantage program and enter your AA frequent flyer number.
Presto. You’ll receive all the non-mileage earning benefits of your American elite status. And conveniently, if you’re Executive Platinum or ConciergeKey, you should be automatically added to the upgrade list as an elite benefit.
Note that American doesn’t want you to be using your elite benefits when booking with miles on another airline. While you could theoretically call up or tweet AA to add your AAdvantage number to your Avios booking, it comes with the possibility that the rep refuses—or even worse, flags your reservation as one that shouldn’t get any elite benefits.
Pro-Tip: Gauging Executive Platinum Upgrade Odds
Seat maps are not the best indication of seats sold. However, for some lower yield and higher frequency routes—like the struggling JFK-DEN on a Saturday—it does provide a decent sense of upgrade probability up to a week or so before departure. Take for instance this first-class seat map for a flight departing on a Saturday in three days, from JFK-DEN.
As you can see, both seat maps for first and economy look fairly empty. There’s a high probability that your upgrade will clear as an Executive Platinum—even when booking an award ticket—because:
- First class is wide open.
- While any non-award Executive Platinum would be ahead of you on the upgrade list, they would’ve likely already received upgrades, since the flight is within the 100-hour upgrade window.
- Saturday is primarily leisure travelers which means fewer business travelers that book directly into first class and fewer to compete with for an upgrade.
- The flight is departing in less than 72 hours—there’s little time for either cabin to fill it up much more.
The key takeaway from this is to take a look at seat maps and monitor them if you’re interested in an upgrade as an EP or CK. While there are a handful of factors, you’d at least get a sense of the likelihood of moving on up.
How To Fly In First For 5,358 Amex Membership Rewards Points
Avios are easiest to come by via transferring American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou Rewards. Normally, it’s 1:1 ratio of Membership Rewards points to Avios, but there’s a 40% transfer bonus through November 30th.
As an Executive Platinum, this means you could potentially fly in domestic first for a flight less than 1,151 miles (like New York LaGuardia to Miami) for 5,358 points. I’ve booked and flown this exact itinerary using these steps:
- Transfer Amex Membership Rewards points to British Airways Avios at a 1:1.4 ratio.
- Use Avios to book an available American flight under 1,151 miles.
- Add your AAdvantage Executive Platinum number to your reservation at AA.com.
- Clear a complimentary award upgrade.
In Need Of A Boatload of Membership Rewards Points?
The Platinum Card from American Express has a targeted 100,000 Membership Rewards points bonus after spending $5,000 in 3 months via CardMatch—much higher than the 60,000 public offer. You can see if you’re targeted using the CardMatch tool, which is great to check for special offers since there’s no hard credit pull.
Within American’s AAdvantage program, there are plenty of opportunities to make the most of your elite status, especially as an Executive Platinum. These tricks might help you score an unexpected upgrade or maximize your points and miles.