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British Airways Enhances Online Award Search Tool

by on August 7, 2013 · 30 comments

in British Airways

British Airways Avios can be extremely valuable, except that many awards have historically been difficult to book online due to their quirky online search engine. Luckily, this week British Airways rolled out some enhancements that make it easier to get the award you want.

This is great news for a several reasons: 1- you won’t have to call the oft surly agents at the British Airways phone line and wait on hold during the times the phone line is actually staffed, which allows you to avoid telephone booking fees and 2 – finally, you can book partner awards that previously would not have been shown when British Airways options were available.

Take for example a trip from New York to Berlin in February. The old system would only show the British Airways options, which in this case would cost 49,000 Avios and a whopping $484 in taxes and fees for the one way flight in business class.
Avios JFK TXL BA
However, now the engine shows oneworld partner Air Berlin…

BA search results now include partners, even when BA options are available. A welcome change!

BA search results now include partners, even when BA options are available. A welcome change!

…which not only provides a more convenient non-stop flight that avoids Heathrow, but only costs 40,000 Avios and $2.50 for the one-way flight!

Flying Air Berlin will save you hundreds of dollars crossing the pond with Avios

Flying Air Berlin will save you hundreds of dollars crossing the pond with Avios

Along with the three available cabins now being visibly displayed when booking award travel, there is also new Reward Flight Saver signposting and a new icon to show the difference from standard redemptions. Other new functional improvements include the ‘back’ and ‘change flights’ buttons that are now more user friendly and easier to navigate.

Chi

Chicago-Tokyo was offered in all three classes.

For example, when searching for flights from Chicago to Tokyo with oneworld partner JAL, I was given the option of economy, premium economy or business class all in one search. Other options listed are with American Airlines from O’Hare to Heathrow and then on JAL from Heathrow to Narita, again on all three classes (although only premium economy was available).

Miami to Santiago on American Airlines booked through British Airways.

Miami to Santiago on American Airlines booked through British Airways.

Searching for Miami to Santiago, Chile I was easily able to pull up an economy one-way option on American for only 25,000 Avios and $2.50. Before, it used to return an error saying that no British Airways flights were available and it would ask you to pull in partner airlines. Now the partner flight shows up automatically.
BA AA MIA SCL Economy
Los Angeles to Hong Kong pulls up Cathay Pacific and a bunch of other American/JAL/Cathay mixed routing options. I try to avoid JAL trans-Pacific because the fees are high, so I was able to find a business class one-way award on Cathay for 70,000 Avios and $134. Not bad for a $3,900 flight!
AVios LAX HKG CX
An Improvement, But Not Perfect By Any Means

You still can’t book many non-alliance partners, like Aer Lingus (another cheap option to cross the Atlantic without huge fees and Boston-Dublin is only 25,000 Avios roundtrip in economy or 50,000 Avios in business!) and Alaska.

However, it does appear to have gotten a little bit better at piecing together connecting partner award itineraries. For example, Alaska Airlines is a partner, so you should be able to book First class saver awards found on ExpertFlyer, using your Avios.

Lets take San Jose, California to Honolulu on November 4th. ExpertFlyer shows two saver first award seats available and AA.com (another partner of Alaska) also shows the award availability.

ExpertFlyer Saver Award availability means that the inventory should be available to Alaskan Airlines partners like British Airways

ExpertFlyer Saver Award availability means that the inventory should be available to Alaskan Airlines partners like British Airways

However, BritishAirways.com shows no non-stop options available, yet it did cobble together an economy itinerary on American via Los Angeles. An improvement from showing “Nothing available” at all, but could still be better.

Alaskan Airlines availability does not show online

Alaskan Airlines availability does not show online

However, don’t assume BritishAirways.com will show you as many flexible connection itineraries as AA.com. For example, say you want to go Atlanta to Cancun on November 3. AA.com will show options that require an overnight, which some people might be okay with, like this one through Chicago.
Avios ATL CUN AAYet searching ATL-CUN November 3 on BritishAirways.com leads to this sad “No Availability” message. For this itinerary you’d need to call or book ATL-Chicago and Chicago-Cancun separately. Avios awards are priced by segment anyway, but splitting itineraries can be problematic if there are weather cancellations on one leg, you will not automatically get protected on the second.

No availability, even when there is with flexible routing.

No availability, even when there is with flexible routing.

Overall, these are consumer friendly improvements and I hope other airlines continue to improve their sites.

And a quick reminder on British Airways partner airlines:

Bookable online

  • AirBerlin
  • American Airlines
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • LAN
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas Airlines
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • Openskies

Bookable by phone at 1-800-247-9297: Aer Lingus, Alaska Airlines

Also remember that right now, the British Airways Visa is being offered with the first year’s $95 annual fee waived and a sign-up bonus of 50,000 Avios when you spend $2,000 in 3 months. While it’s not as high as the historically big bonus of 100,000 Avios, that one required you to spend $20,000 in a calendar year, so this spending requirement might be easier to meet for some, and as you can see from the examples above, 50,000 Avios is enough to get you from the East Coast to Europe in business class, so this could be a good way to rack up the points for some free travel.

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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  • Blake

    TPG -

    Have you noticed that the cost of BA awards on partner airlines has gone up? I live in Nashville and my wife and I frequently used BA points to fly AA from BNA to LGA at 15000 pts round trip. About 3 months ago, the price jumped to 45000 pts round trip. Why the sudden increase?

  • Pam Delaney

    I still seem to have a lot of issues coming up with partner flights, especially from my home airport of Rochester, NY (ROC). We have plenty of American flights on a daily basis but the Avios booking tool still tells me that many of the routes I put in aren’t routes that they currently fly. For example, I tried ROC to BKK, which Japan Airlines and American fly, but the BA website tells me that BA and its partners do not fly this route. But I can easily pull up the flights for the same days on Kayak using the OneWorld filter.

  • thepointsguy

    BA.com is only good at one connection if you’re lucky and ROC-BKK requires multiple. You’ll have to call in to book those

  • Dave

    Have noticed that the 10% off discount offer when using the British Airways Visa card no longer seems to be working. Wonder if that has to do with the new updates to their website.

  • Pam Delaney

    Ah, that makes sense, thank you!

  • Steven

    You could always book Air Berlin. I’ve been doing that search for months.

  • Matt B

    Most likely culprit would be that only first class was available at the discounted (AA Saaver) rates, as these would price at 3x the base economy level.

  • thepointsguy

    What Matt said- it was just first class that was available. There have been no changes in Avios distance award rates (to my knowledge) in the last 18+ months

  • thepointsguy

    The point was that if a British Airways option was available, often partner flights would not show and definitely not all classes available.

  • John

    “I was able to find a perfect business class one-way award on Cathay for 70,000 Avios and $134. Not bad for a $3,900 flight!”

    But in reality you really would not have spent $3,900 on that flight so it is not an accurate comparison. For comparison I use the price I would have been willing to pay if I had not been using miles, not some theoretically high fare that only corporate business travelers might pay (if that!).

  • carol

    Sorry for my ignorance, but is ExpertFlyer the only option to check Aer Lingus availability?
    Thanks

  • thepointsguy

    I never said the value of the award was $3,900.. just simply that 70k Avios will get you a $3,900 flight. Whether you like that price and would pay it is irrelevant

  • thepointsguy

    United.com used to.. but I don’t believe it does anymore

  • trey

    if you’re searching for availability on BA site, I would do ORD-BKK, or JFK-BKK. if nothing comes up, go by segment; i.e. jfk-nrt, nrt-bkk.

  • Federico

    It has been like that for the last couple of weeks (I think over 2 months).

    But, since they roll out the new search system, they pull out a lot of airports from the system from LAN like MDZ, FTE, IGR, SLA, BRC (Argentina), CUZ from Peru and even GPS!!!. The system will not recognize any of those airports.

    Another bad thing is that you have to check day by day

    Similar problem I found on the “New Qantas Search tool”

  • pacifico

    but there still many cities cannot be found in ba.com system even OneWorld partners are fly, like HAN, KCH..etc

  • Matt C.

    Thanks for this post. I was just looking at Cathay Pacific availability last night, and like you said the new BA tool is still far from perfect. SFO-HKG showed one reward seat available, with an alternate route of AA SFO-LAX and Cathay LAX-HKG with seven reward seats remaining. Thinking to buy a connecting, I looked at LAX-HKG the same day and saw… nothing. Suddenly the seven reward seats had disappeared.

    Also, it may just be me, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how to get “book with cash and upgrade with avios” to work on partner airlines, if it’s even possible.

  • Jon

    Any chance the 100k may come back in the future?

  • Adam

    unfortunately ROC only connects to ORD directly from OneWorld. You can search them separately, since BA prices the tickets separately anyways.

  • hdwag

    I tried searching up the same nyc to berlin flight and keep getting taxes of $100. Any way to make a list of lost cost airports and ones with minimal taxes?

  • Jonatas Silva

    Great post Brian. BA Avios have been the easiest points/miles for me to accumulate thanks to the hefty credit card sign up bonuses and generous Amex transfer bonuses, but as you aforementioned, historically they were only convenient if connecting through Heathrow or in the Continental US. I would usually get to London by some other means and then use my Avios to connect in Europe. Hopefully this will allow us to better use our Avios in transatlantic travel.

  • Liz

    I agree with Federico. I am based in South America and I used to be able to pull tickets for internal flights in Peru and Argentina on LAN (which are very pricey, especially for one ways) and those are no longer in the system–not even if you call–agent couldn’t find them. This is a new thing because for a trip to Peru in April, I was able to book one ways LIM-CUZ and JUL-LIM. Can we no longer use our Avios on these flights?

  • Shannon

    I think this “improvement” shows less domestic availability. Searching for a family member CVG-LAX, expert flyer shows several economy low level awards on AA with connections through DAL, but BA.com showed none. For months! Only when I called BA were they able to piece the itinerary together. Never had that problem before. I’ll take un-enchanced please.

  • Federico

    Yes you can but you have to insists. Tell them to do a Long Sell. They have to check on 4M (Lan Argentina), XL (Lan Ecuador or LP (Lan Peru) flights, not LA XXX.

    Check on AwardNexus with QF, but I can tell you that I have been unable to find any single award on 4M, XL and LP in the last few months, at least with BA/QF, the only option is call and check date by date with them.

    http://www.britishairways.com/travel/collect-avios-oneworld/public/en_us

  • Stephan

    The site still sucks and is still very buggy. And BA has really cut back on availability from many N American stations for F and less so for J. Avios are less and less valuable for TATL.

  • MachuPicchu

    I recently (2 days ago) was able to find ba.com award availability on LIM-CUZ and CUZ-LIM for a trip in the first week of September. The trick is to search using the unlisted airport as the Origin (i.e. look for CUZ->LIM in my case) with the date you want. Doing this requires you to search twice to get the whole trip. Unfortunately, you see availability, but you still need to call to book. Lucky over at One Mile at a Time has a good write up on this very topic.

  • Robert

    Brian- Any idea as to when Amex and British Airways will have another great transfer bonus? Those things are one of the best things to happen to frequent flyers- ever.

  • Yogi mogi

    Qantas website is also able to check AerLingus availability

  • shonuffharlem

    Their system is weird. 1) I couldn’t find Air Berlin flights if I selected round trip. But if I searched one way, they would appear. So I guess always search one way? 2) If there is no reward availability on a date – it says NO RESULTS instead of find flights but say in each option (Economy, Business, First) NO AVAILABILITY. That makes it really weird to use.

  • Zaid -Travpacker.com

    I’m still struggling to find the partner airline search option on the BA site. I’m looking for Buenos Aires to Ushuaia and El Calafate to Buenos Aires flights – but the search does not pick up all the airports

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