Using British Airways Avios To Book Domestic First Class Flights

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – British Airways Visa Signature Card

I recently had to book a last-minute ticket from Miami to Los Angeles and not surprisingly, fares were astronomical at over $519 for the one-way flight. Booking a roundtrip could have brought the price down some, but either way I looked at it, I’d be hit pretty hard for the non-stop flights I needed.
So I decided to check out the options using miles. While I generally redeem for international premium awards, I also love using miles when they’ll save me real, hard cash on domestic flights. Even though you don’t earn elite miles on award tickets and I value my airline elite status greatly, there’s something extremely satisfying about booking an expensive domestic flight and only paying $2.50 in fees, which is what most carriers charge per segment on domestic US flights (plus any ticketing fees).

I pulled up AA.com and lo and behold, there were two MilesAAver options for first class (on a three-class 777) for 32,500 miles and $2.50 for the one-way flight. Unfortunately no business or economy saver seats were available, but I was just glad I had options – and using 32,500 miles for a $2,188 ticket is still a pretty good deal!
I was about to pull the trigger, but then I thought to check out options using my British Airways Avios, since I have way more of them than AAdvantage miles and I value my AA miles much higher than BA Avios for several reasons: primarily the lower fees and mileage amounts needed for most awards (especially those with multiple connections) and because AA miles are generally harder to accrue vs. British Airways, which is an instant 1:1 transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards (often with up to 50% bonuses) and Chase Ultimate Rewards.

However, the problem with using Avios is that britishairways.com is terribly buggy and requires some finessing to be able to book awards, like first class on three-cabin planes, which they often run on transcontinental routes. In fact, when you search for a domestic ticket on britishairways.com -> Book flights with Avios, it only gives the option to search for Economy or Business/Club, not first.
But don’t worry, there’s a workaround: select either Economy or Business, because it will automatically bring you to a page that tells you that British Airways does not service the route (duh) and asks whether to pull in partner airlines. Before you click “Include Partners,” scroll to the bottom left where it says “Change your search” and then you’ll be able to pull down First class from the drop down box. Once you have that selected, then click “Include Partners” in the red box.
The seat should show up as long as there is MilesAAver availability, though sometimes there are disconnects in inventory between aa.com and britishairways.com. However, I generally find it to match pretty reliably.
Pros and Cons
British Airways prices first class at 3x the price of economy, so I decided to use 37,500 Avios (economy is 12,500 Avios for this route) and $2.50 for this one-way flight vs. 32,500 AA and $2.50 because as I mentioned, I value my AA miles much more than Avios. However, one important thing to note for last-minute award bookers, British Airways doesn’t charge last-minute ticketing fees, whereas American charges non-elite members $75 for awards booked within 21 days of travel.

Besides the fact that britishairways.com is buggy and annoying to use, I’m more annoyed that British Airways classifies almost all domestic American first on two-cabin planes as First class, so you still need to use 3x the miles and finagle the search to have the results pulled in (I think this is one of the major reasons why people complain britishairways.com never pulls in the flights they are able to see on aa.com). So for example, on Miami to Los Angeles, if you want to book an award on a 757 that only offers economy and first class with old recliner-style seats, you’ll use more miles (37,500) than if you booked business class on the 3-class 777 with angled lie-flat beds (25,000).

I recently wrote a series on maximizing Avios, but I never specifically covered this issue, so I thought I’d clarify it for those trying to use Avios for first class flights on American.

For those of you interested in reading my Maximizing British Airways Avios series, the posts are: Master FAQ Post on British Airways 100,000 Mile OfferSpotlight on Taxes and Fees,  Travel Together Companion TicketHousehold AccountsUsing Avios to Upgrade Paid TicketsThe Avios and Cash OptionSave Money on Fuel Surcharges by Transferring British Airways Avios to IberiaUsing Avios For Non-Flight Redemptions.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
N/A
Annual Fee
$550
Balance Transfer Fee
See Terms
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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.