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

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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.

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