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Sunday Reader Question: How to Book American Airlines Flights With British Airways Avios

by on May 20, 2012 · 59 comments

in British Airways, Sunday Reader Questions

TPG reader Chris writes:
“I am having trouble searching for flights on AA via Avios. I just opened an Avios account this weekend at www.avios.com

When I go to search for flights in the US it only brings me to a “Where can I fly” map with destinations to Europe. I have no Avios points now but was planning on transferring my Amex points to go to Chicago.”

There’s a lot of buzz around British Airways Avios lately because of the current amazing 100,000 Avios Chase BA Visa offer and the 50% American Express transfer bonus to British Airways through May 31, 2012. As a result, on a daily basis I receive numerous emails every day asking how to use British Airways Avios points to book partner airline awards (primarily to avoid the big surcharges), so I thought I’d do an updated post on how to do this since British Airways has changed their website recently and instituted new rules and pricing structures with the Avios changes in November.

Update: The current sign-up bonus offer for the British Airways Visa is 50,000 Avios. 25,000 upon first use, and another 25,000 when you spend $2,500 within 90 days.

First off: check out this post for information on how to avoid excessive fuel surcharges on certain awards. Basically, all flights to Europe and Australia (whether you fly British Airways or a partner) will incur fuel surcharges, except on Aer Lingus. Domestic US flights on American Airlines generally only have $2.50 in fees per segment and flights to/from South America also have very low fees.

If you want to book a flight on American, British Airways or Alaska, I’d recommend using aa.com to search availability for Saaver level awards because it’s quick and allows you to search by month and shows all classes of service. You’ll find out that searching on britishairways.com is tedious and requires week by week search at one class of service at a time.

On the main aa.com, just select the “Redeem AAdvantage miles” box and do a search. You cannot use your Avios on aa.com, but this will be the easiest way to find SAAver level flights, which are generally bookable with Avios.

SAAver level awards are generally the awards AA makes available to partners like British Airways

You can skip AA.com and move directly to BritishAirways.com, but it’s always best to do your research first, because the less thinking you rely britishairways.com, the better off you are. You can also use Expertflyer and Qantas’ site to search Oneworld availability.

Once you identify the flights, then go to britishairways.com and log-in at the top right of the screen. Once logged in go to Spending Avios.

Then select “Book flights with Avios.”
Then enter the flight information. If it’s a route not serviced by British Airways, it’ll prompt you to pull in partner airlines so click on either of the buttons to search partner availability.
Results will then show and if nothing is available, it will let you search +/- 7 days for more flights and once there are options available it will usually say how many seats are available for purchase with Avios, which is a nice feature.

And there you have it.. a partner award ready to be booked

The engine is by no means perfect, but out of all airline websites it’s really not too bad considering how many different partners it can search online (almost all of Oneworld, though most non-Oneworld partners like Alaska and Aer Lingus have to be booked over the phone at 1-800-452-1201). Additionally, the site has issues creating connections, so if you aren’t flying from point A to point B, you will probably have to book it over the phone. In that case, find the partner availability first and write down the exact dates and flight numbers and then book over the phone. If you simply ask them to find flights between Des Moines, Iowa and Mexico City, it will probably show no results, even though a number of connections through Dallas probably exist.

Disclaimer: This content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuer. Opinions expressed here are author.s alone, not those of the credit card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer. This site may be compensated through the credit card issuer Affiliate Program.

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  • Grant

    Great post, I was always confused about booking flights with Avios. It seems so easy now.

  • Docomo153

    So….what’s the point of looking at aa.com first before going directly to the executive club search?

  • Sajer Guy

    BA.com isn’t giving me the option of partner flights from JFK to HKG now. Is that due to Cathay Pacific’s website/software upgrades this weekend?

  • thepointsguy

    AA is easier and quicker and allows you to search by the month for all classes of service. BA.com makes you login and is kind of clunky, so finding the space on AA.com can save you time, but it’s not absolutely necessary

  • Josh

    I’ve been so frustrated since doing to 100k Chase deal last year because it’s been so difficult to redeem these miles on AA. I look at using them for major routes with tremendous flexibility in time and cabin preferences but have found such paltry reward offerings that I feel stuck with these worthless things. I plan on concentrating on other offers and domestic programs and would urge against getting too excited about the BA deal unless you have a very clear and realistic plan for them.

  • Brandon

    When booking domestic flights I always find plenty of SAAver availability on AA.com, but then when I go to BA.com to book the flight I can never find any. Is there a discrepancy between the SAAver seats posted to AA.com and those you can book through BA.com? Thanks Brian.

  • http://twitter.com/adamchesterton Adam Chesterton

    Great article – I’ve started using AA.com to search for availability since reading here on TPG. However the Original question referred to http://www.avios.com (ex-airmiles UK) which has terrible partner availability online – even flights I can find on AA.com with plenty of availability and even on BA.com I get nothing when searching on http://www.avios.com. I think the advice here is to use AA.com to find the availability then call them up to book over the phone, or set up a BAEC account and transfer from http://www.avios.com -> BA.com then you can do it online most of the time.

    One added note: http://www.avois.com has terrible rules related to award bookings especially when canceling the ticket the taxes aren’t refundable. Also they dont do BA Reward Saver so short flights in Europe or UK Domestic on BA are much cheaper on ba.com for the same amount of miles. For a recent booking I saved about 60GBP on a UK domestic flight booking on ba.com with avios rather than booking the same flight with avios via http://www.avios.com.

  • Dbennett

    I also check AA.com and they have tons of available flights/days for the route I want but when I go to BA.com to book, they show nothing available. Is there a way around this? Can you call and get BA to book the flights?

  • thepointsguy

    BA.com is terrible with connections, so if the flight you are trying to book isn’t a simple point A to B you will probably have to call

  • tom

    JUST DO PRICELINE or expedia or kayak whichever you want, if priceline is bit more expensive, for example your priceline cost is $1500 and AA shows 15k points. tell priceline to match point per cent and book. it is easy, priceline as more options and more flights. if you are just worried about the $15k spend req on your 3 new cards, just buy several refundable international air ticket. get the points and after a month of getting points/miles. after that use or transfers those miles and cancel the flight and get your $15k spend req. VERY EASY

  • Jwsky

    AA shows Denver/chicago/pittsburgh no problem, lots of flights. BA shows nothing. So, i have to call? Will that cost me $25?

  • Carlos

    ‘I’m CDN and tried this the other day to get from YVR to SFO via Alaska or AA. No luck on the BA website. It wasn’t BA route and I kept getting an error message at the top of where the flight calendar would have been.

    Not sure if it’s hit and miss but I had to call the booking line and they had the same result in the website.

    If I had booked my flights though, I think I was quoted only $25 per person for the return flights home. Not bad.

  • Mikedlk

    very unethical too!

  • B2y2f

    how to ask pricelince to match point per cent? do they have this kind of policy? any link? thanks

  • B2y2f

    are you saying as long as AA has MileSAAver availability, BA should honor it? I called BA asking this but was told AA does not always release MileSAAver seats to them so they refused to book for me.. thx

  • BobChi

    There’s another point to be aware of in booking American domestic flights with Avios. BA does not charge a fee for close-in bookings, unlike AA, so if you’re booking close to departure and you can choose between booking with AA or BA programs, consider the $75 late booking charge on AA. Due to a death in the family, I suddenly needed to book a flight not too long ago. Cash fares were outrageous. I checked American and found reward availability for the next day for 25,000 miles plus a $75 fee. I then went to the BA website and got the same flight on American for 9,000 Avios round-trip, and only a $5 fee. I was one who was initially upset when BA changed its program last year, but have increasingly come to understand that the Avios program does indeed have some very positive features.

  • Shane

    Can you use avios to purchase Business/First Milesaaver? I found a flight on AA.com but BA.com doesn’t show any for the dates I found on AA. Do I have to call BA? I have some amex MR points to burn and I like the 50% bonus.

  • Andrew Kniffin

    I tried to sign up for an account on Avios.com, but was told that I “need an address in the UK, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands.”

    Do all the users in this forum have a UK address? If not, how are you obtaining a Avios account?

  • PJ

    NYC-ORD is cheaper than greyhound bus via Avios
    PMC-SCL 4.5 K one way with token fees and taxes ; cash buy would be around $300 plus ; great way to use avios for South American In land flights ; Lan even let me moved up the flight on the same day NO CHARGE

  • Chaney Kourouniotis

    I have never yet been able to book an AA award flight using any of my BA miles; every time I find reward seat availability on aa.com, BA fails to show it. Calling never improves the situation; the agents always tell me that AA hasn’t released award seats on those flights to BA. My Avios points have been collecting dust for the last couple of years due to this problem.

  • Nam

    I think you were probably on their UK website?

  • Nam

    Although it costs very little avios to book domestic AA award flights through BA.com, very few AA award flights available on BA.com’s award partner search. After all it is still a pain to make the most out of those avios. However, avios can be a good for, let say, business class awards.

  • Raffles

    No-one should be doing anything at http://www.avios.com. This site relates to a totally separate scheme run by BA in the UK, basically the equivalent of Air Miles in Canada. You can transfer freely between avios.com and BAEC, but for a non-UK resident you should forget avios.com exists unless you want to book Eurostar tickets, UK theme park tickets etc with your avios points. (And, to get your avios into avios.com to book such redemptions, you would first need to transfer them to BAEC and them do ‘Combine my Avios’ to move them to avios.com)

  • LR

    I guess a couple of the readers benefited from this post, but this post is proof that this blog has dropped tremendously in value. “How to book BA tickets”?? Really? I mean you have 133 posts with BA tag, and now you just write a filler post? My 2 cents.

  • Jfadds

    after all this discussion, the major point that flights shown on AA do not translate into flights on BA has not been addressed. several times i have called with flights i want to book after finding them on AA and BA says they do not have those in their system.
    why bother searching AA if this has NO relationship to what you can book at BA ?

  • thepointsguy

    BA.com is broken in a lot of ways and can’t build complicated itineraries, so you’ll have to call. In general SAAver seats are bookable with BA Avios, but there are discrepancies between the systems from time to time that won’t allow BA to book some SAAver level seats.

  • thepointsguy

    Yes you have to call and it will cost you 25. You can ask for the fee to be waived since the website doesn’t have the capability to book it

  • thepointsguy

    Reps are told to say that, because people confused MileSAAver and AAnytime frequently.

    I’ve found that giving the BA phone rep exact flights and dates when SAAver level awards exist will dramatically increase your chance of them being able to book the flight.

  • thepointsguy

    There is a relationship- SAAver level awards are what is released to Oneworld partners. You may have experienced lazy phone reps, but if you call with exact flight numbers and dates that SAAver level awards exist, they should be able to book. That being said, the systems aren’t perfectly synched and there can be a difference in what AA shows and what BA is able to book, but generally SAAVer awards are bookable with Avios.

  • thepointsguy

    Thanks for the feedback- not every post will be interesting to every single reader, but I do my best based on the influx of emails I get. If you have a topic you’d like me to cover, please feel free to email or comment.

  • thepointsguy

    That is odd- if you call with exact flight numbers and dates, they should be able to book. If you have an example where this is happening, feel free to share and I’ll look into it

  • thepointsguy

    Sign up for an Executive Club account here http://www.britishairways.com/travel/execenrol/public/en_us

  • thepointsguy

    Yes- call BA is the flights don’t show online and make sure you have the date/ flight numbers

  • thepointsguy

    Seems like a technical error. If you follow the steps in this post, it’ll always ask to pull in partner flights. If not, I’d try using a different browser and logging out/ back in

  • thepointsguy

    Don’t use Avios.com- thats a whole separate program. Just use britishairways.com

  • thepointsguy

    Have you called BA to book the flights? If you are trying to build a multi-city or trip with connections, you may have to do it over the phone

  • thepointsguy

    It should be- I was able to pull up Cathay Pacific flight options without a problem

  • ORD_TGU

    I agree that saaver availability on ba.com is broken, as an example, ORD-DEN, there is plenty of SAAVER on AA, but minimal on BA.
    On the flip side, I have been able to book a number of long weekend trips, short hauls, ORD-YUL and ORD-YYZ, plenty of availability, everyday, at multiple hours. Also ORD-LGA. I am combining a purchased ticket on AA from ORD-MIA, and then using avios for short hauls to Caribbean. To Mexico is also a good deal.
    I find that avios are very easy to earn, I have taken advantage of AMEX MR 50% bonus, and Chase UR transfer.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gxmitchell Gary Mitchell

    Do you know what the fee is on BA for USA to/from Mexico award (via partner Alaska air for example)?

  • Jason

    When re-deeming Avios for American Airlines flights within North America, are we allowed a stopover or open-jaw return flight? For example, could we fly JFK to Toronto, then flight Montreal back to JFK?

  • Andrew Kniffin

    Thanks, PointsGuy!

  • tom

    Miles savier AA flight on BA was only 7500 points, one way , non stop, PRICELINE’s price was $150 one way and $300 roundtrip, called and told about only 7500 BA avios and got my priced reduced to only $150 round trip.
    Just explain and they will match it.

  • avios

    i now know why the Brits are cheap! they hate tipping and their AVIOS works so good within USA but not outside due to fullpriced ticket cost like fuel surcharges. They hate you outside the US

  • Chum

    When I check AA site for SFO to OGG, it does give me SAAver availability. When I go to the “How many avios points do i need?” website, it says that my route is not available using Avios. Can I still book the flight using Avios points?

  • Jwsky

    Thanks for this artical and your reply. Have you or anyone here had luck with them waving this fee.?

  • jen

    I consistently run into this problem. Here’s an example: PHL to MSP, 12/21/2012. AA shows business class Saaver awards for 25k with transfer in ORD for flight combinations 3877/3886; 3804/3743 and 3729/3731. However, none of these show up on ba.com–only economy awards ever seem to appear online. When I called the rep and gave her exact dates and flights, only first class was available for 36k.

  • EL

    The Avios booking engine sucks and is useless. I refuse to move my Amex points to BA and into this unknown black box.

  • Karen Runge

    I was able to book 3 RT tickets from Chicago to Hawaii next spring using my Avios, but not without a lot of work. I tried using the AA site to find milesaaver availability, but found there was no correlation between that and available flights using my Avios. What finally worked was going on the BA site and searching availability directly for each segment of all the different flight segments available to get me to Hawaii. It was a huge pain, and I have a total of 6 segments to deal with, but it only cost me about $100 in fees for all 3 flights.

  • pilot

    LR, people like you make life miserable, no one asked for your 2 cents which are worth nothing, being rude and with poor manners will not get you anywhere, did any one hit you on the hand to read this free blog .

  • Markoncarp

    The answer that BA give is that they only see a subset of the available seats and that American dont release all of the availability to them.

    This means that if you want to fly on specific times or dates, then you might as well just kiss the Avios points goodbye.

    I’ve now been trying to spend the 430k Avios points I have accrued for over 3 years (they were of course BA miles before the Avios change) and have never been able to find the dates/times that I want, WHATEVER the AA or Aer Lingus or Alaskan website has been showing.

    Now compare that to Virgin Atlantic miles or many other Airline systems (including AA) and you can quite clearly see just how bloody awful the Avios program is.

    I now fly Delta and Southwest in the US and Virgin across the Atlantic. I’ll never touch BA again.

  • apple

    I’m a Canadian and was wondering where I can transfer my Avios points to. Trying to spend my Avios points via BA or on BA Partner airlines is such a hassle that I just want to now transfer my Avios points away and close the account. Any pointers is much appreciated. Thanks.

  • Cory

    I was able to direct the BA agent to the saaver itinerary I found independently. It included 2 connections outbound and 1 connection inbound; however, the BA agent charged me as if each leg was a one-way ticket (meaning she charged 12.5K miles per segment (RIC-ORD-DFW-SCL) Is this normal?

  • thepointsguy

    Correct- BA prices all awards segment by segment

  • Charlie

    BA has the option to book with cash and upgrade with points. Assuming I find Business Milesaaver flights on aa.com, should I be able to upgrade into these seats with using Avios?

    I must say I am very rarely seeing correllation between aa.com and ba.com reward flight results, so it sounds like calling BA with specific itineraries is the way to go, correct? Are there any useful tactics for getting round booking agents that cannot or will not find the reward availability?

  • bbb

    I have 206k avios points that are going to expire in less than a year. Is there anything else I can do with them since this ba.com to aa.com with avios points is such a pita. I do appreciate your help pointsguy, I just don’t I’m ever going to find the flight I need.

  • Jason

    Hi there, I’m trying to book a flight thru BA on AA from SAN to MGA and nothing is showing up on BA.com? I am able to see availability on AA.com for their SAAver rewards, but maybe I’m missing something here?? Pardon me in advance for being a total dummy / points n00b!

  • kai

    why is it that the award inventory via ba site is different than what’s available on aa’s site?

  • http://www.cheaptrickstotravel.com/ CheapTricksToTravel

    British Airways is telling me that they only get 7 seats per flight so even though American has availability, BA can’t book those seats. This seems completely opposite of what I’m reading here.

  • SunnyGX

    Keep trying everyday to book a trip with avios, and the more I tried, the more I feel like this is useless program.

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