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Crediting American Airlines Flights to British Airways

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Today, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen takes a look at the partnership between American Airlines and British Airways, and why you might want to credit the mileage from your AA flights to its partner across the pond.

In recent months, American Airlines has completely overhauled its AAdvantage mileage program. The changes have included switching how you earn miles to a revenue-based system, devaluing its award chart and introducing a new elite tier and spending requirements for elite status.

With all that in mind, many flyers might be looking for alternative programs to which to credit their American Airlines flights. One obvious choice is American’s (much smaller) domestic partner airline, Alaska. I detailed the benefits and disadvantages of such a strategy in this post, though Alaska has since made that option less appealing. Instead, today let’s look at why you might or might not want to pick American’s Oneworld partner British Airways as a replacement.

British Airways might be your best bet as an alternative for American.
British Airways might be your best bet as an alternative for American.

One major reason British Airways’ Executive Club deserves a look is that it’s a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and Starwood Preferred Guest, and, since last October, a 1:0.8 transfer partner from Amex Membership Rewards. So flyers have plenty of options for padding their accounts from the start, even if you have no Avios in there at the moment.

On the negative side, British Airways seems to devalue its mileage program every year or so, though not always by major steps. For instance, it got rid of some popular awards like short-haul 4,500-Avios redemptions in the US earlier this year. The award chart is also distance-based rather than region-based. However, there are still plenty of ways to maximize BA’s Avios program so that crediting your American flights to it might be more than worth it.

Let’s look at both the earning and redeeming sides of the equation.

EARNING

Here’s a breakdown of how you earn award miles from American flights with each of the two programs.

American: Toward the end of 2015, American AAdvantage announced it would be going revenue-based, meaning that instead of earning miles based on the distance flown, members instead earn a certain number of award miles per dollar spent on airfare. Here’s how members of various elite tiers earn miles these days:

Screen-Shot-2016-06-06-at-1.04.37-AM

  • 5 miles per US dollar — Member
  • 7 miles per US dollar — Gold
  • 8 miles per US dollar — Platinum
  • 9 miles per US dollar – Platinum Pro (new level launching in 2017)
  • 11 miles per US dollar – Executive Platinum

Miles expire on the last day of the 18th month after which there was last activity in the account, though they’re very easy to keep active.

Elite Status: In 2016, American also simplified its formula for earning elite status. Instead of elite-qualifying miles, points and segments, the airline streamlined the process into the following scheme based on fare class and mileage flown:

AA eqms

  • Full-fare First/Business F, J: 3 EQMs per mile flown
  • Discount First/Business A, P, D, I, R: 2 EQMs per mile flown
  • Full-fare Economy Y, B, W: 1.5 EQMs per mile flown
  • Discount Economy H, K, M, L, W, V, G, Q, N, O, S: 1 EQM per mile flown

Earlier in June, American also announced it would be adding a fourth tier to its elite status program and implementing revenue requirements for each tier (no word yet on whether these will be waived for co-branded cardholders who meet a certain spending threshold like Delta and United allow).

American's new elite tiers and the requirements for each.
American’s new elite tiers and the requirements for each.

Here’s how many miles, segments and dollars it takes to achieve each tier:

  • Gold: 25,000 miles OR 30 segments AND $3,000
  • Platinum: 50,000 miles OR 60 segments AND $6,000
  • Platinum Pro: 75,000 miles OR 90 segments AND $9,000
  • Executive Platinum: 100,000 miles OR 120 segments AND $12,000

For more details on AAdvantage elite status and the benefits of each tier, check out this post.

British Airways: With BA’s Executive Club, you still earn award miles called Avios based on the fare class of the ticket you purchase and the distance you fly. For American Airlines flights, this is the earnings breakdown for award miles.

BA earning on AA

  • First Class A, F, P: 150% miles flown
  • Business Class C, D, I, J R: 125% miles flown
  • Full-fare Economy Y, B: 100% miles flown
  • Economy H, K, L, M, V, W: 50% miles flown
  • Discount Economy G, N, O, Q, S: 25% miles flown

So as you can see, if you’re just buying cheap economy tickets, your earning may only be a fraction of the mileage flown. But that still might best American in some cases, especially on inexpensive long-haul flights.

You earn elite status with British Airways by accruing what are called Tier Points. BA does not publish a Tier-Point earning chart, but it’s generally based on the distance flown, the carrier flown and the fare class of the ticket purchased. The longer the flight and the higher the fare class, the more Tier Points you’ll earn. Fares in K, L, M, N, S and V codes usually earn 50% of the standard Tier Points, and those in Q, O and G earn 25%. You can check potential earning using BA’s flight calculator.

BA has four elite Tiers.
BA has four elite Tiers.

British Airways has four elite tiers, and this is how many points you’ll need to accumulate to achieve each:

  • Blue: 0
  • Bronze: 300 and fly BA at least twice, or take a total of 25 BA flights
  • Silver: 600 and fly BA at least four times or take a total of 50 BA flights
  • Gold: 1,500 and fly BA at least four times.

Bronze members get a 25% mileage bonus, Silvers get 50% and Golds get 100%. You can check out the rest of the Tier benefits on this page.

EARNING COMPARISON

Let’s just take a look at a couple quick examples to see how your earning would stack up if crediting flights to AAdvantage versus BA Executive Club.

Short-haul economy: Here’s an example itinerary from Los Angeles (LAX) to San Francisco (SFO) in July:

LAX SFO

The airfare is $100 plus $37 in taxes and fees, and is in O class, so here is how many miles you would earn with American AAdvantage.

  • AAdvantage: 500 award miles, 674 elite miles
  • Gold: 700 award miles, 1,000 elite miles
  • Platinum: 800 award miles, 1,000 elite miles
  • Platinum Pro: 900 award miles, 1,000 elite miles
  • Executive Platinum: 1,100 award miles, 1,000 elite miles

Here’s how many miles you would earn crediting those flights to British Airways.

  • Blue: 168 Avios, 10 Tier Points
  • Bronze: 500 Avios, 10 Tier Points
  • Silver: 750 Avios, 10 Tier Points
  • Gold: 1,250 Avios, 10 Tier Points

For the most part, you earn more AAdvantage miles than Avios on this fare because of the short distance involved and the discount fare class, but let’s take a more mid-range example.

Transcontinental economy: Here’s a sample round-trip itinerary from Los Angeles (LAX) to New York (JFK) in July:

AA LAX JFK

The airfare is $485 plus $65 in taxes/fees. The outbound fare class is G and the return is S.

Here’s how many miles you would earn with American:

  • AAdvantage: 2,425 award miles, 4,950 elite miles
  • Gold: 3,395 award miles, 4,950 elite miles
  • Platinum: 3,880 award miles, 4,950 elite miles
  • Platinum Pro: 4,365 award miles, 4,950 elite miles
  • Executive Platinum: 5,335 award miles, 4,950 elite miles

And here’s how many you would earn on BA:

  • Member: 1,238 Avios, 40 Tier Points
  • Bronze: 2,476 Avios, 40 Tier Points
  • Silver: 3,714 Avios, 40 Tier Points
  • Gold: 6,190 Avios, 40 Tier Points

So despite the discount fare class, given the longer distance BA members are earning about the same or more than AAdvantage members in the higher elite echelons, and getting about the same increment of elite status credit.

Transcontinental business class: Let’s look at the same exact itinerary, but in business class instead. There, the fare is $1,339 plus $130 in taxes and fees, and the fare books into I class:

AA LAX JFK bus

Here’s how many miles you would earn with American:

  • AAdvantage: 6,695 award miles, 9,900 elite miles
  • Gold: 9,373 award miles, 9,900 elite miles
  • Platinum: 10,712 award miles, 9,900 elite miles
  • Platinum Pro: 12,051 award miles, 9,900 elite miles
  • Executive Platinum: 14,729 award miles, 9,900 elite miles

And here’s how many you would earn on BA.

  • Member: 6,188 Avios, 280 Tier Points
  • Bronze: 7,426 Avios, 280 Tier Points
  • Silver: 8,664 Avios, 280 Tier Points
  • Gold: 11,138 Avios, 280 Tier Points

Your mileage earning is higher with American on this premium fare. But if you look at that Tier Point earning, it’s a quarter of the way toward BA’s top tier just for a single round-trip fare, compared to the 10% of the way toward Executive Platinum you’d be with American.

Long-haul economy: Now let’s take a look at one of AA’s longest routes, Dallas (DFW) to Hong Kong (HKG). Here’s a sample itinerary in September:

AA DFW HKG

The taxes and fees are $78 and the fare itself is $1,106 and books into the N code.

Here’s how many miles AAdvantage members would earn:

  • AAdvantage: 5,530 award miles, 16,222 elite miles
  • Gold: 7,742 award miles, 16,222 elite miles
  • Platinum: 8,848 award miles, 16,222 elite miles
  • Platinum Pro: 9,954 award miles, 16,222 elite miles
  • Executive Platinum: 12,166 award miles, 16,222 elite miles

And here’s how many you would earn on BA:

  • Member: 4,056 Avios, 40 Tier Points
  • Bronze: 9,112 Avios, 40 Tier Points
  • Silver: 12,168 Avios, 40 Tier Points
  • Gold: 20,280 Avios, 40 Tier Points

Though regular members are not making out so well with BA, if you have just a little bit of elite status, your mileage earning pulls ahead thanks to the distance of this flight.

Long-haul business: Let’s take one final example by looking at these same flights in business class:

AA DFW HKG bus

That fare would be $5,614 plus $78 in taxes and fees and books into the I code.

Here’s how many miles you’d earn with American.

  • AAdvantage: 28,070 award miles, 32,444 elite miles
  • Gold: 39,298 award miles, 32,444 elite miles
  • Platinum: 44,912 award miles, 32,444 elite miles
  • Platinum Pro: 50,526 award miles, 32,444 elite miles
  • Executive Platinum: 61,754 award miles, 32,444 elite miles

Versus earning on BA:

  • Member: 20,278 Avios, 320 Tier Points
  • Bronze: 24,334 Avios, 320 Tier Points
  • Silver: 28,390 Avios, 320 Tier Points
  • Gold: 36,500 Avios, 320 Tier Points

So in this case, American beats British Airways handily on the award miles thanks to that high fare, but BA retains the edge in terms of elite-qualifying headway.

The earning equation here is not clean cut. You have to pay attention to the fare class of your ticket, the distance flown and the mysterious Tier Point calculations to figure out just which program is best for you. That said, if you’re the kind of flyer who buys cheap tickets on long hauls and you want to rack up elite status quickly, British Airways might be a better choice for you.

REDEEMING

There are some big differences on the redemption side as well.

Both airlines are members of Oneworld.
Both airlines are members of Oneworld.

Airline partners: Both airlines are members of Oneworld, including the following partners.

  • airberlin
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines (JAL)
  • LAN/TAM
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

Each has its own individual partners as well, though. American’s are…

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska
  • Cape Air
  • Etihad
  • Fiji Airways
  • Gulf Air
  • Hawaiian Airlines (not to/from Mainland)
  • Interjet
  • Jet Airways
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • WestJet

BA’s include…

  • Alaska (also)
  • Aer Lingus
  • Meridiana

There are a few things to consider there. If you want to use your miles to get to Tahiti or Fiji, you might still want to accrue AAdvantage miles, whereas folks looking to get to Ireland or transit through might want to maximize that Aer Lingus partnership. Etihad is also another great partner that AAdvantage miles can be redeemed on but BA Avios cannot.

Fees: Beyond that, it’s worth noting the airlines’ award fees. American charges $75 for close-in bookings within 21 days of departure (which is waived for elites), whereas British Airways does not (for anyone). American also charges $150 to cancel an award, but British Airways will charge you $55 or the taxes/fees on your ticket, whichever is less, to cancel an award ticket.

Award charts: Here’s a link to American’s award chart for its own flights, and its chart for Oneworld partner flights. British Airways does not publish an award chart, but here is a table from a previous post showing the various levels:

Zone

(Distance)

Economy

Premium Economy

Business

First

Off Peak

Peak

Off Peak

Peak

Off Peak

Peak

Off Peak

Peak

Zone 1

(1-650 miles)

4,000

4,500**

5,750

6,750

7,750

9,000

15,500

18,000

Zone 2

(651-1,151 miles)

6,500

7,500

9,500

11,250

12,750

15,000

25,500

30,000

Zone 3

(1,152-2,000 miles)

8,500

10,000

12,750

15,000

17,000

20,000

34,000

40,000

Zone 4

(2,001-3,000 miles)

10,000

12,500

20,000

25,000

31,250

37,500

42,500

50,000

Zone 5

(3,001-4,000 miles)

13,000

20,000

26,000

40,000

50,000

60,000

68,000

80,000

Zone 6

(4,001-5,500 miles)

16,250

25,000

32,500

50,000

62,500

75,000

85,000

100,000

Zone 7

(5,501-6,500 miles)

19,500

30,000

39,000

60,000

75,000

90,000

102,000

120,000

Zone 8

(6,501-7,000 miles)

22,750

35,000

45,500

70,000

87,500

105,000

119,000

140,000

Zone 9

(7,001-100,000 miles)

32,500

50,000

65,000

100,000

125,000

150,000

170,000

200,000

** These 4,500-Avios awards are no longer available for flights within North America.

Here are a couple of awards you might want to consider where British Airways has the advantage:

1. Short-Hauls: Though BA eliminated its lowest-tier 4,500-Avios awards within North America last year, there are still plenty of opportunities to book them abroad, including this flight from Sydney-Melbourne on Qantas.

Qantas award

American would charge you 10,000 miles for the same award. On this LAN award from Santiago to Buenos Aires, you’d only need 7,500 Avios, but 10,000 AA miles:

LAN award

Finally, even though that 4,500-Avios level is gone in North America, some flights are still a steal. This flight from Miami to Grand Cayman on American would cost 7,500 Avios.

BA MIA GCM

But American would charge you double – 15,000 miles!

AA MIA GCM

2. West Coast to Hawaii: One of the sweet spots in BA’s award chart is that the West Coast to Hawaii falls within the distance band requiring just 12,500 miles each way for an economy award on partners American and Alaska. So not only do you have plenty of choices like this itinerary from Los Angeles to Maui…

BA LAX OGG

But remember that BA is also partners with Alaska, so you can use Avios to book awards on its extensive Hawaiian route network as well.

3. Asia Awards: Thanks to Cathay Pacific’s phenomenal route network, and American’s award chart region changes, there are some bargains to be had in Asia as well. One of the best is flying between Hong Kong and New Delhi. Whereas American will now charge you 25,000/40,000 for economy/business on Cathay on this route, British Airways will require just 12,500/37,500 each way. A huge discount in economy, but a nice little savings in business as well.

BA Cathay HKG DEL

4. Boston to Dublin: Aer Lingus’ route between Boston-Dublin falls just under the 3,000-mile mark, so you can get there for just 12,500 miles each way in economy or 37,500 in business class on Aer Lingus using Avios instead of the 30,000/57,500 miles (plus huge fuel surcharges and taxes!) American would require since you’d likely have to fly BA through London using AA miles.

Want to upgrade on BA? Redeeming Avios could be your best bet to do so.
Want to upgrade on BA? Redeeming Avios could be your best bet to do so.

5. Upgrades: One of the potential ways to get a lot of value from Avios is to use them to upgrade from one cabin to another. The process is a bit complicated because you have to buy fares within upgradeable fare codes and then determine the amount of Avios you’ll need by subtracting the Avios required for an award in your purchased cabin from the cabin you want to upgrade to… but if you’re going to be purchasing tickets anyway and you can spend a little bit more to make sure the ticket is in an upgradeable fare class, then using Avios to skip from premium economy to business or business to first can be a great idea.

Do the recent American Airlines changes have you considering alternatives for crediting your AA flights? Share your thoughts and strategies in the comments below!

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