First Hand Experience Using Avios for American Airlines Flights
Until this week, it had been a little while since I personally flew on an American Airlines flight that was booked using British Airways Avios. I have heard plenty of anecdotal and second-hand information about how the process worked (and have booked plenty for family members), but none of that is exactly the same as doing it yourself. If you are brand new to the concept of booking flights on British Airways' partner American Airlines using Avios, then I recommend starting with this post for the basics.
I racked up a ton of Avios on previous transfer bonuses from Amex Membership Rewards to British Airways and from getting co-branded British Airways card from Chase. I got it when the sign-up bonus was 100k (which is no longer available). Hopefully we will see transfer bonuses and/or the 100k offer again one day, but if you want some Avios now the easiest way is to apply for the British Airways Visa Signature® Card. Right now there is a $0 introductory annual fee the first year ($95 thereafter), and most importantly it awards 50,000 bonus Avios after you make $2,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. I could book 6 one-way trips from Houston to Chicago for 50k points and still have a few points leftover.
Searching for AA availability using Avios:
In case you don't have time for reading the linked post above on actually using Avios, the short version is that British Airways Avios availability for American flights should match up with the MileSAAver availability that American displays on their own website. This does not mean that all options on AA can be booked on BA since, for example, Hawaiian partners with AA but not BA. The British Airways computer system is not always 100% cooperative, so the easiest way to check for Avios availability for an American Airlines flight is via the American Airlines website. Search for a reward flight there just as you would if you were planning to use American Airlines miles. Once you find American operated flights at the MilesSAAver level you can head to the British Airways site and theoretically book using Avios. There are some glitches sometimes in the process, so read the above linked post for tips. In my case the availability lined up perfectly with what American was displaying.
Since I booked my flight they have also improved the functionality of the BA site to display both economy and first class seats at the same time. A first class seat would cost 3x what a coach seat costs, so I didn't want that option, but it is handy to have it all displayed on one screen.
Booking my ticket on Avios:
I followed the process outlined above and found availability on an American Airlines flight that was operating non-stop from Houston to Chicago. The tickets were selling for something crazy like $400+ each, but they were just 7,500 Avios each. It was basically a killer summer-time travel deal. Even though I wasn't 100% sure of my plans when I booked, I wasn't stressed since one of the "hidden" potential perks of bookings using Avios is virtually free cancellations. I would have just lost the $2.50 in taxes for each ticket if I had to cancel and redeposit the miles more than 24 hours before the flight. You can read about that and other hidden benefits here.
Adding Your AAdvantage Number to the Booking to Use AA Benefits:
I don't have any status with American, so didn't bother with this step, but if you have some elite status or other benefits with American, you will want to do as Points Summary recommends and erase your BA number and add your AA number at the time of booking. It can be done later, but it will take an agent's help to get it done after the booking is made.
Selecting my American Airlines seats:
Once you book your ticket, I highly recommend being proactive to select your American Airlines seats, and this is exactly what we did. After I booked, I went to checkmytrip.com to get my AA confirmation number using my BA confirmation number that was provided when I finished the booking process. I then took my AA confirmation number to American's website and selected two seats together without an additional charge. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to be proactive about this step if you want seats together with your traveling companion(s)!
Enjoy Priority AAccess:
Another "hidden" perk of using Avios to fly American is that you get to enjoy Priority AAccess on your American flights. This means that you get to use the Priority/Elite security screening lane and you get early boarding. The elite security line can save you a massive amount of time at some airports and early boarding can help ensure you find a spot to place your carry-on bag. It may also help you wiggle your way to a better seat at the airport, as it did for Milevalue.
Our tickets indeed gave us Priority AAccess as it was printed on our boarding passes. This meant we breezed through the security line and were able to board pretty early on in the boarding process...all just for booking with Avios!
The process of booking with British Airways for an American flight was really pretty simple, as was the process of actually flying the ticket. I don't fly on American very often, but the service was just fine. The plane was a regional jet, so pretty tight quarters, but we made it with just a slight delay and at a heck of a bargain considering the going cost of airfare for my dates of travel.
Avios aren't great for all situations, but they can be insanely useful when redeemed for short flights on partners Alaska or American Airlines, and my experience was certainly positive enough that I would do it again!
What have your recent experiences been like when redeeming Avios for American flights?