My Favorite British Airways Avios Redemption + Getting Upgraded As An AA Elite

by Chris Dong

Update: There is a 40% transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios through October 1, 2019. 

British Airways accepts points transfers from both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. The distance-based Executive Club Avios program is ideal for shorter hops on American Airlines flights within the U.S.

While there was a slight devaluation for partner award bookings earlier this year, flights under 1,151 miles are just 9,000 Avios and are still a great value. Using American AAdvantage, 12,500 AAdvantage miles is the standard economy price for most flights within the continental US. (Flights under 500 miles are 7,500 AAdvantage miles.)

Save miles by using Avios on shorter domestic flights.

Related: Fly First Class Suites Twice With Just 50,000 American AAdvantage Miles

My Favorite US Redemption Using British Airways Avios

New York to Miami is my favorite award domestic redemption using British Airways Avios for a quick weekend getaway. (Beach, anyone?) As you can see below in the chart, this route falls within zone 1, right below 1,151 miles, so typically just 9,000 Avios are required. That’s a good deal for some Miami heat.

The reason this is my favorite redemption as well is that availability is fairly readily available, especially in the fall and winter months. 

However, it can get even better. Combined with the current Membership Rewards 40% transfer bonus and the “trick” to get upgraded on Avios award bookings as an American Executive Platinum, it’s possible to fly in domestic first class for less than 7,000 Avios on this route. 

Zone Distance in Miles Economy
Zone 1 Up to 1,151 9,000
Zone 2 1,152 – 2,000 11,000
Zone 3 2,001 – 3,000 13,000

Getting Upgraded On An Award Ticket 

Back in 2017, American began allowing its most loyal customers to get upgraded when booking award tickets domestically. This means if you’re an American Executive Platinum or ConciergeKey elite and use AAdvantage miles to book, you’d be automatically placed on the upgrade list (behind others within your status level but above the following status level).

I had long thought that it wasn’t possible to use partners (like British Airways) 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.

Step 1: Finding American Airlines Award Space on BA’s Website

LaGuardia to Miami is 1,096 miles.

LaGuardia to Miami is 1,096 miles.

First things first. Award availability on American isn’t pretty. However, as a NYC-based traveler, I’ve had a lot of success with finding MileSAAver space between New York-LGA and Miami, two of American’s hubs. (This is perfect for a winter weekend trip, especially when it’s miserably cold in the Northeast.)

As mentioned, New York to Miami happens to fall right within the 9,000 Avios zone.

American award inventory is visible on British Airways’ website. Once you login to your BA 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.

Step 2: The Trick To Getting Your AA Elite Benefits Acknowledged (YMMV)

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, right? Well, the trick that has worked for me 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.

On the second page of the booking process on BA, be sure to delete and leave blank your Executive Club membership number from your reservation. 

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.

Enter your BA PNR here.

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 theoretically should be able to select the AAdvantage program and enter your AA frequent flyer number. Again, YMMV here.

Input your AAdvantage number here & the elite status gods work its magic.

Presto. If the process above works, you should then receive all the non-mileage earning benefits of your American elite status. And conveniently, if you’re an Executive Platinum or ConciergeKey, you should be automatically added to the upgrade list as an elite benefit.

Side note: While you could theoretically call up or tweet AA to add your AAdvantage number to your Avios booking, most likely AA will refuse since they don’t allow to use benefits from two programs.

Pro-Tip: Gauging Executive Platinum Upgrade Odds

Seat maps are not the best indication of seats sold. However, it does provide a decent sense of upgrade probability. Take for instance this first class seat map for a flight departing on a Saturday in three days, from LGA-MIA.

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:

  1. First class is wide open.
  2. 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.
  3. Saturday is primarily leisure travelers which means fewer business travelers that book directly into first class and fewer to compete with for an upgrade.
  4. 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 I’ve Flown First For 6,429 Amex MR 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 October 1, 2019. 

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 6,429 Avios. Previously, with a transfer bonus, I have 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.

Even if you don’t get the upgrade to first, a coach flight is a great deal for 6,500 Avios since that would normally cost 12,500 AAdvantage miles.

In Need Of More AMEX Membership Rewards Points?

The Platinum Card from American Express has a welcome offer of 60,000 MR points after $5,000 in purchases in your first three months of card opening. (See rates & fees.) That card also earns a whopping 5x MR points per dollar spent on airfare directly with an airline. Meanwhile, the American Express Gold Card has a bonus of 35,000 MR points after just $2,000 in spend in the first three months. (See rates & fees.) That card is perfect for restaurant and grocery purchases since it earns 4x MR points per dollar on those categories.

The Upshot

Take advantage of the 40% Membership Rewards transfer bonus to British Airways by flying a route like New York to Miami (less than 1,141 miles) for a measly amount of miles. AND have the potential to get upgraded to domestic first if you hold American Executive Platinum or CK status.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

16 comments
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16 comments

Gene October 25, 2018 - 10:39 am

@ Chris — This does not work. You cannot remove the BA number and replace with AA number online at AA.com.

Reply
Chris Dong October 25, 2018 - 11:21 am

Gene – while with most tricks YMMV, this has personally worked for me on at least a half dozen flights and most recently on a flight this past Monday. When I enter the PNR, the BA number is never attached under “Add/Edit Passenger Info.”

Reply
Matt B October 25, 2018 - 11:27 am

When trying this trick to add my AA # to an AA flight booked using Avios, when I go to the page you show above (Add/Edit information), the name as well as frequent program and frequent flyer number are all greyed out with no ability to change. What did you do that I didn’t?

Reply
Chris Dong October 25, 2018 - 11:39 am

Matt – did you also add your Executive Club number within the Avios booking process? I always leave that box blank even though I’m obviously logged into EC when making the booking.

Reply
Gene October 25, 2018 - 11:59 am

It auto-fills at BA.com, so how do you leave blank?

Reply
RKToledo October 25, 2018 - 11:40 am

There is a separate trick that needs to be performed on BA.com before one is able to perform what Chris describes on AA.com. I read it on flyertalk but do not remember the specifics.

Reply
Byron October 25, 2018 - 12:02 pm

Nice article, but help me to figure out how to become Exec. Plat. on AA. That would be an even better article.

Reply
Chris Dong October 25, 2018 - 1:28 pm

Fly, earn, and burn on Oneworld partners 🙂

Reply
Wes October 25, 2018 - 12:02 pm

I think a big key is to be sure to delete your BA EC number during the booking process on BA.com. It usually auto-populates in the field for me during the check out process on BA.com. So I simply delete it, leave it blank, then head over to AA.com and add my AAdvantage number. Even as a non-elite, this provides some value to me as it enables the itinerary to populate in my AA app, and as an AA CC holder, it adds my free checked bag benefit.

Reply
Gene October 25, 2018 - 12:08 pm

@ Wes — Thanks.

@ Chris — We don’t mean to be critical! Your article has the potential to be helpful, but it may be better if you add the extra steps indicated by Wes.

Reply
Chris Dong October 25, 2018 - 12:24 pm

@Wes – I mentioned that as a possibility above to Matt, but will update the article to make it more clear on what to do on the BA side. Thanks for the confirmation!

@Gene – All good! I always left my BA EC number blank or deleted it, but didn’t realize that it was that was indeed the key to be able to add my AAdvantage number on AA 🙂

Reply
Matt B October 25, 2018 - 12:20 pm

Yeah, that must be the key. Good for future reference.

As a side note, up until about 4 months ago I never had problems adding my AA number to an existing Avios booking by Tweeting AA. This has historically worked for me as I assume they can override. However, about 4 months ago was the last time I traveled on a booking where I had changed the FF# in this manner. When I went to check in, it still had my AA number tied to the reservation but the kiosk charged me for bags. Was running late and didn’t bother going to the counter – I just figured i’d call AA later and deal with it. I actually tweeted them back after the flight, and their response acknowledged that I had added my AA number to an Avios booking and I was thus not allowed my traditional AA benefits. I just swallowed it at that point, but found it interesting. I have no idea why they should care how I pay for my ticket – if I am an elite, to me that means I travel them enough to be treated slightly better than others that don’t travel them as frequently. I don’t know why paying cash vs credit card vs voucher vs AA miles vs Avios should mean they treat me differently. I’m still their friggin customer. But i digress.

Reply
boogen October 25, 2018 - 1:03 pm

The last few times I flew from SFO to LAX using avios, I was upgraded with my BA number on the ticket as a BA gold.

Reply
Zack September 23, 2019 - 2:52 pm

Any updates here? Got an avios booking on AA metal coming up. Is this still working?

Reply
Chris Dong September 23, 2019 - 2:54 pm

Hey Zack, YMMV, but yes I was still able to get upgraded on an Avios ticket operated by AA just last month.

Reply
Zack October 6, 2019 - 7:40 pm

Thx Chris!

Reply

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