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Sunday Reader Question: Using American and British Airways Miles Together for Awards

by on April 8, 2012 · 18 comments

in American, Avios, British Airways, Sunday Reader Questions

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TPG reader Andy writes:

“I have about 105,000 American AAdvantage miles and I am about to also get my 50,000 Chase points from the Sapphire Preferred sign-up bonus. However, Ultimate Rewards points don’t transfer to AA, but they do with Oneworld partner British Airways.

I am wondering if there is a way I could parlay both points for a trip from Austin to London then Barcelona back to Austin.

Whats your thoughts on AA working with BA to combine point totals since they are partners?”

While American and British Airways are partners, you can’t physically transfer one bank of miles into the other to consolidate account. However, the good news is that AA and British Airways both allow one-way awards, so you can definitely use them in tandem to book awards when you don’t have enough miles in either program for a roundtrip. The bad news is that British Airways charges crazy fuel surcharges for award tickets from the US to Europe (and vice versa), so expect to pay $300-$700 each way per ticket in taxes and fees. AA also levies these fees on BA partner flights, but not on other Oneworld partners. You should also know that right now it makes a lot more sense to transfer Amex Membership Rewards to British Airways at a 50% bonus than it does to do Chase to BA at no-bonus.

Even though they can be used in tandem, each program has its different rules when it comes to booking awards, so here are some key considerations to take into account when planning your trip:
1) AA allows stopovers at the US departure and arrival gateway, so if you wanted to build in a stopover in NYC on your way to London, I’d recommend booking the outbound segment with AA miles and then the return using BA miles.
2) British Airways prices each segment individually. So you’ll want to minimize the number of connections on the portion of the trip that is ticketed with BA miles, so you’ll likely want to use BA miles on the outbound since you stop in London and can do that in 1 stop from Austin.
3) British Airways charges $90 to make any changes or cancel an award, and AA charges $150 to cancel a trip, but allows free changes as long as the origin and destination stay the same–though you can change the routing between them. I’d use AA miles for the portion of the trip that has the highest likelihood of date change (for example if you think you will want to extend your trip while you are in Europe, I’d recommend booking that portion of the trip with the AA miles).
4) American allows you to hold award tickets for 5 days – British Airways requires instant ticketing. If you are trying to book multiple tickets using both BA and AA, I’d recommend holding the AA tickets first, then ticketing BA, then ticketing the held AA tickets – that way inventory doesn’t evaporate before you can finalize everything.
5) AA has MileSaaver and AAnytime awards. Only MileSaaver awards can be booked using BA miles, however all BA awards can be booked using AA miles at the partner award levels.

There are many other differences, but hopefully these tips help you start thinking about the best way to maximize your points for your trip to Europe. Safe travels!

Disclaimer: 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.

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  • BartNY

    **Disclaimer: I proudly admit to being an Avios hater. Even though I have over 120k Avios miles I find them to be very useless because I almost never travel short-haul flights**

    AUS-LON and BCN-AUS can be as low as 20K miles on AA domestic each way although you have to make 2 stops to get there.

    Your best bet for Avios would be to use LON-BCN since it’s a short haul flight and BA has the best availability for intra-European flights on it’s own airline.

    I think the best way would be:
    AUS-LON on AA (between 20-30K depending on date)
    LON-BCN on BA only 7,500 miles and about 20 USD
    BCN-AUS on AA (again between 20-30K )

    That can come to as low as 47,5K miles (!!!). If you want to add a first class segment to one of the AA flights it would be an additional 42,5k AA miles. Either way you’d still have miles leftover for both airlines.

    There’s low availability with AA in the summer months although still better than BA which can take you quite a while to find an available transatlantic flight in the summer months both because of lack of availability and horrible website.

  • PJ

    Please: ” 1 avios is NOT = 1 UR ” ie 1 UR is much more valuable than one avio.
    Avois are best coming out of Amex MR or sy sign on bonus

    Also if yu have Citi AA card you ” earn 10% back on your redeemed AA miles , up to 10K each calendar year ”

  • Rfento05

    TPG, is the award change fee for BA still $90? I made a change the other day and I got charged $70 plus difference in taxes. Was I lucky with an agent or was it 70 before the avios switch and I booked the award under the old structure?

  • Mattolo

    AA allows free award changes as long as the origin and destination are the same. The routing can change.

  • The Points Guy

    Good call! I updated the post to reflect that rule. Thanks!

  • gomike

    what a misleading title

  • thepointsguy

    How so?

  • thepointsguy

    I updated to clarify that point..thx

  • thepointsguy

    I was charged $90 for making changes to pre-Avios awards. Maybe its $70 for new awards? It’s unlisted on Ba.com

  • Jacob

    AA MILE IS ALMOST USELESS FOR OUT OF COUNTRY TRIP with very HIGH TAX.
    canada miles saver is only 12.k one way, but tax is like $150. you can get one way or roundtrip for sale on $150 .
    same thing for flights to london MILES PLUS VERY HIGH TAX. so use AA miles only for trip within US.

  • thepointsguy

    I’d disagree. AA has pretty low fees on flights to Asia, South America and Europe (excluding British Airways and flying into London/Paris which have separate fees).

    Canada levies high taxes on flights to/from so you won’t get away from them on any carrier. $150 for US to Canada fares is also very rare.

  • Maxim

    It was $70 for pre-Avios awards back in February.

  • thrashsoundly
  • SB

    Does anyone know, while flying Coast-to-Coast in the USA using BA miles on AA, can one structure the trip to land in one city and fly out for another one? The BA website doesn’t let you choose the cities, but maybe there is another way . thanks

  • Pkerr

    Just do two one-way awards. That way you can go to whatever city you want to and then fly out of whatever city you want.

  • Mike Rocosm

    I’m trying to book flights from Tulsa to Punta Arenas, Chile for next year (today is 330 days out, and they’re not showing up just yet . . .) using British Airways miles, on flights with American Airlines (and the final leg from Santiago to Punta Arenas on an American flight operated by LAN). Confused yet? A survey of these flights over a period of six months or so earlier than our desired departure (March 2013) shows maximum miles required right now (60K American miles), and as the departure date gets closer to now (say, October 2012), there are lots of days with musch lower mileage required (20-30K miles).

    So here’s my question: Can I book now at the higher rate, then keep my eye on future availability on those same flights, and change to a lower mileage charge later on, should such become available?

  • egwg

    I guess a date change (same routing) to a pre-Avios award isn’t free to change anymore. I was hoping it would be grandfathered in because you booked it pre-Avios.

  • CV

    Best recommendation for transferring British miles to American Advantage? My American points balance is bigger and I don’t care if I lose some of the British points.

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