Award Travel 101: How Can I Book American Airlines Flights with British Airways Avios?

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Welcome to the Award Travel 101 Beginner Series! Award Travel 101 is the official community of AwardWallet. During this series we'll answer the most common questions we get from award-travel beginners. 

Today's common question goes something like this: “I've read I can book American Airlines flights using British Airways Avios and pay less than if I use American miles. I've searched the British Airways website and cannot see any flights. How do I book American Airlines using Avios?”

Partner Redemptions

One of the easiest (yet underutilized) methods to get great value from your airline miles is to book partner-airline flights. In today's example, this means using the British Airways loyalty currency (called Avios) to book domestic American Airlines flights. Domestic hops with a flight distance of 1,150 miles or less cost only 9,000 Avios each way compared to as much as 12,500 American miles for the same flight. Flights up to 2,000 miles are only 10,000 Avios. There are many domestic routes where it will cost you less Avios to fly economy or first class compared to booking the same American flight with AAdvantage miles. Let's cover the basics of this process and clear up many of the common misconceptions.

Earn Avios

It is relatively easy to earn Avios points, mainly because they are partners with several transferable currencies. You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Marriott Bonvoy points to your British Airways Executive Club account. All transfer ratios are 1:1 with the exception of Marriott, which transfer at 3:1 with a 5,000-Avios bonus for every increment of 60,000 Bonvoy points transferred.

You can also apply for the British Airways Visa Signature® Card which is currently offering up to 100,000 bonus Avios. Earn 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening. Plus earn an additional 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 on your purchases within your first year of account opening. The card carries a $95 annual fee. The final way to earn Avios is to fly paid British Airways or British Airways partner flights and credit the flights to your British Airways Executive Club account.

One of the most common misconceptions for beginners is that you need to transfer airline currencies between each other in order to book these flights. In this case, you are not moving American miles to Avios or Avios to American miles—a process actually not even possible. You are using Avios to book an American Airlines flight through British Airways.

Find Award Seat Availability

This is the step in the Avios/American award booking process that trips up most beginners. Like most airline loyalty programs, American limits the number of seats on each flight available for award bookings, and you have to find a flight that is available and also works with your schedule. Often, airlines limit seats open to partners even more than seats they open to their own members, but in our specific case, American makes it rather easy to know which seats are open to booking with British Airways Avios.

If a flight has MileSAAver availability as shown by the American Airlines award-search engine, it is available for booking with British Airways Avios and should (but doesn't always) display on the British Airways website.  You must find MileSAAver American space in order to be able to book the American flight with Avios.

I find it easier to start on the American website and do an award search for the route I want to fly and see if MileSAAver space is available. American's search results display in a calendar format that quickly gives you a glimpse of when MileSAAver availability exists. If you search with the British Airways website, there is no way to view a full month of availability on a single screen; you'll need to search one day at a time. The British Airway's website is also less accurate. Some flights (that are available to book) are not displayed, so, you're better off starting your search with the American website. In my example, I found plenty of space for Atlanta to Miami flights on American including the first flight on May 29th:

The flight through American would cost 12,500 miles per person in economy, but it would only cost 9,000 Avios. To save 3,500 miles, I head to the British Airways website, log in to my Executive Club account, and head to the Avios award search engine:

I input Atlanta to Miami in the search engine for May 29th and find the same American flight 1177 departing at 6:53AM available for booking with Avios as I saw on the American website:

From there, you simply select the flight you want and then pay the required Avios and taxes and fees of $5.60, and you are booked on an American Airlines domestic flight—a relatively simple process once you are familiar with it.

One of the most common desires for using Avios to book American flights is to get to Hawaii from the west coast. This is because American charges you 22,500 miles each way and Avios will only charge you 13,000 miles each way representing a 9,500-mile saving per person, round trip. The problem is that American makes very few nonstop flights from the west coast to Hawaii available at the SAAver level, meaning almost no American flights to Hawaii are available for booking with Avios. Remember to start with the American website to find (the very few) nonstop SAAver seats from the west coast and then head to the British Airways website to book.

Consider Everything About Using Avios

There are a few other things to know about utilizing Avios to book American Airlines flights:

  • There is no close-in booking fee when using Avios instead of American miles to fly a domestic itinerary. If you are within 21 days of departure and have no American Airlines status, you'll be charged $75 per person to use your American miles. When using Avios, there is no $75 fee, giving Avios a huge edge over AAdvantage for bookings made close to departure.
  • British Airways prices award tickets on a per-segment-flown basis. This means if you have to fly a connecting domestic itinerary, it will probably cost you fewer AAdvantage miles than Avios. A Charlotte–Atlanta–Miami itinerary would be 18,000 Avios (9,00 per segment) but only 12,500 American miles. If your flights include connections, American miles may be a better value.
  • The cancellation fee to get your Avios back for an American operated, domestic flight will be the forfeiture of the $5.60 in taxes and fees you paid when booking. If you use AAdvantage miles and want to cancel and get your miles back, there is a hefty $150 fee, making Avios even more attractive for booking American flights.
  • The $150 cancellation fee (when using American miles) doesn't apply to changing dates—as long as your departure and destination airports stay the same.
  • Getting a bit on the complex side, American does something tricky called married-segment logic to hide SAAver availability on many convenient nonstop flights. If you want to fly New York to Las Vegas there may be no SAAver availability, but if you fly Boston–New York–Las Vegas there will be SAAver availability on the exact same New York–Las Vegas flight that doesn't show when you're just searching New York to Vegas. It is frustrating and ultimately means you may not use Avios in this situation to book New York to Vegas unless you start in Boston. Because you are charged on a per-segment basis with Avios, this means using British Airways to book Boston–New York–Las Vegas is probably a losing proposition.
  • The British Airways website can be finicky, and there are on-again, off-again periods where American flights that should display do not (or no American flights at all display) and you have to call British Airways to book the flight. As a rule of thumb, if American's website shows the flights with MileSAAver availability, British Airways Avios can book the flight. If the flight isn't showing on BA.com, the call-center agents should be able to book the flight manually.

Bottom Line

There are two basic things to understand when it comes time to book American Airlines flight with Avios: First, you cannot transfer American miles to British Airways; you must earn Avios either by transferring your bank or Marriott currencies to British Airways, using the British Airways Visa Signature® Card, or flying British Airways and/or their partner flights and crediting the flights to your Executive Club account.  Second, you need to find MileSAAver availability on the American Airlines website in order for that flight to be eligible to book with Avios. Once you've found SAAver availability and have Avios in your Executive Club account, head to the British Airways website and book your domestic American flight for as little as 9,000 Avios and $5.60.

Award Travel 101: How Can I Book American Airlines Flights with British Airways Avios?
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Comments

  • used it several times, easy.

  • Love this option to book AA flights. The no close in fee is amazing! I miss the 4500 avios award band though – crazy good value back in the day for expensive short hops.

  • If only AA released more saver-level award seats…sigh…

  • Michaelj1 says:

    Thank you for the heads up about saver flights appearing on the AA website but not on the BA website. I feel foolish having started out on the BA website in the past. Thanks again!

  • If you book via Avios. Would the fuel surcharge be higher ?

    • BA tends to charge slightly more in taxes and fees than AA on award tickets, but the difference is usually quite small. The fuel surcharge (hundreds of dollars) depends on the airline operating your flight. If it’s an AA flight, costs will be far lower with either Avios or AAdvantage miles than if it’s a BA flight.

    • There are no fuel surcharges if you are using AA airplanes even if you book with BA avios. However, if you use avios to book a flight on BA metal then the fuel surcharges are enormous and makes the booking almost prohibitive. I did not know that using avios, you do not need to pay the 21 day AA surcharge.

      • Yeah, I’ve seen tickets where the cash price was straight up lower than just the fuel charges on an award booking. So instead of getting about 1.4 cents/mile, you were paying BA about 0.4 cents/mile to redeem your miles. Asinine.

  • I thought there was a 7,500 Avios reward for flights less than 650 miles distance…

  • I am definitely interested in using Avios to get to Hawaii from the west coast – thanks for the warning regarding limited flights/availability! I will have to be careful when transferring points to make this booking.

  • You also can take advantage of the 30% extra Avios promo when transferring Chase UR until June 16 (5 days left).

  • For single segments, at least, Avios is clearly better…

  • BA Avios have lots of good quirks like this and are generally good for domestic flights in countries where the taxes and fees are low. Very handy to have some in your FF mile collection.

  • Only if AA is not the worst of the big 3 legacy….

  • It is a great benefit for those that live in DFW, ORD and MIA.

  • Maybe a bit off topic, but I may be redeeming miles in the opposite way – redeeming AA miles for a British Airways flight. I’m concerned about possible fuel surcharges with BA. How do I know if that will happen?

    • You can absolutely redeem AA miles for BA flights. That’s often a better value on biz class tickets or itineraries with multiple connections. However, you can’t avoid the fuel surcharges. If the flight is operated by BA, you’ll pay the fuel surcharges when using AA (or any other) miles. The ideal option is to book an AA operated flight across the Atlantic. If you do book with a BA operated flight, you can watch for an AA flight to open up later and make the change for free as long as your origin and destination don’t change. If you do change the itinerary from BA-operated to AA-operated flights, you’ll get a refund on the fuel surcharges.

    • Agree, redeeming AA points with BA especially to the UK is going to cost more in fees. On the AA web site do a dummy booking using points as though you are flying with BA or AA into London and see if there is any difference in cost. Unless it is a BA A380, I much prefer the AA 777W fly to Lhr but that is route dependant.

  • I think that I would have to be more committed to my date of travel to book AA through Avios. I see why a person would do it but if I’d have to travel and know that I would have to change it, then it’s not a guarantee that I’d be able to when booking through Avios. At least with AA I could use more miles, if I had to, and book another flight.

    I see the big benefit to use Avios close in. I never knew that and that would be a great benefit to it.

  • As well as the obvious mileage savings, I think the cancellation fee here is one of the real benefits. You forfeit your taxes, and that’s it. Bargain

  • Yes, there are great possibilities of redemption with BA avios (especiall with American as said in the article).
    Moreover, you can move BA avios them to Iberia avios if there is a more favourable redemption with Iberia.

  • bulstrode says:

    Thank you, pretty useful information. I like BA because of their Household account – it makes things simpler to collect enough miles for award

  • Great information; thanks!

  • Just remember that Avios bookings cannot be changed within 24 hours, you will forfeit your miles and taxes paid.

  • For some smaller airports, BA’s website doesn’t always show AA routes. For example, Last year I wanted to use Avios to book DCA-ACK. AA’s website showed availability, but BA’s website didn’t show Nantucket as an airport BA’s partners flew to. However, when I called a BA agent, she confirmed that the route existed and had award space, and said that some smaller airports don’t always show properly on the Avios website, so I booked the ticket over the phone.

    • Alice Springs is in this bucket and can’t be searched on BA for paid fares but if you search for award fares, it allows ASP as a freetext entry instead of requiring selection of a prepopulated airport.

  • Since AA miles are getting to be useless maybe AVIOS will do the trick

  • Really enjoy these “101” type posts. Even for those of us who travel often, many of us still don’t know it all. So any additional basic info is always beneficial. Thank you.

    • Ditto. Maximizing points and miles is now common knowledge but using them most effectively is where the actual value becomes known.

  • RoseMarie says:

    Nice article. If you have a short flight this is a great way to save on miles.

  • these got devalued recently I believe

  • Great post for the “Beginner Series.” And, it’s on a truly valuable subject, as this method can lead to truly meaningful savings. If AA miles are worth 1.4 cents, when you save 9,500 miles, you’re saving $133.

  • SO EASY!!!! Thanks for the tutorial! The benefits to cancel an AVIOS flight are awesome! $5.60! can’t beat that.

  • We got great value using British Airways Avios to book American Airline flights in the Caribbean islands!

  • B1BomberVB says:

    AA flights booked using BA of <650 miles each still cost only 7500, not 9000.

  • Needed a flight from LAX to Lihue for my son this August and managed to find one of the unicorns. Great points bargain booking it through BA. Thanks for the tips.

  • Liu Sheng says:

    British Airways Avios are devaluing after June 1.

    • It is after June 1st though. And if I’m not mistaken, that was only for redeeming BA miles on BA and by airline standards, it was a fairly insignificant change.

  • Avios is where its at

  • ron_vaughn@hotmail.com says:

    Maybe you should include the timing involved in getting Avios miles via partner travels. This would help those with close in flight requirements while avoiding the AA $75 fee.

  • Definitely right about finding seats being the trickiest part! 😀

  • “If a flight has MileSAAver availability as shown by the American Airlines award-search engine, it is available for booking with British Airways Avios and should (but doesn’t always) display on the British Airways website. ”

    This is a big understatement. I am banging my head against the wall this week trying to book NYC-RDU in November. Absolutely WIDE open availability on AA and nothing showing on BA.

  • Thomas Hanrahan says:

    AA domestics are a great use of avios compared to long haul due to the crazy charges BA levy expecially ex-US

    • This is very useful advice given the taxes and charges on transatlantic flights.

    • What you said isn’t wrong but I feel for most people, this is about redeeming miles on AA within the credit card world. Ie with CSR, I can’t transfer points to AA but I can transfer them to BA to still have access to AA flights.

  • Glad the partner devaluation wasn’t that dire.

  • Thank you. I am looking forward to more of the “Award Travel 101 Beginner Series.”

    • Same. Earning points is very straightforward but using them is where the value is at and requires the work and research to achieve good value. I also appreciate articles like this greatly.

  • I do this at least once a year for domestic nonstop flights to Florida. The best part is no close in booking fee!

  • Stacy Y Liu says:

    Great to know you can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards to British Avios!! Going to look into these for future flights.

  • Thanks, I didn’t know about the avoidance of close-in booking fees, which is an even bigger benefit than the mileage savings.

  • Using AA miles to book BA flights from the US to anywhere in EU is a joke! The fuel and tax surcharges are more than the total cost of a RT trip on a low budget carrier. Is there any work around this?

    • Yes! Book flights operated by American. The taxes and fees are typically under $100 round trip. You can use BA miles to book AA flights and avoid the surcharges.

      It’s a tricky system, but the fuel surcharges in this case actually depend on the airline operating your flight (the paint on the plane). It doesn’t matter if you use BA miles, Alaska Miles or American Miles; if BA is operating the flight, the taxes & surcharges are going to be huge.

      • Unfortunately, the routes I need to fly from PDX to CDG, AMS, or FCO are only flown by BA. I guess a positioning flight to SEA, SFO, or LAX would be my only option but at a cost of more miles or cash out of pocket.

        • Do you have transferrable points like Amex / Chase? If you’re already sitting on a stash of Avios, a positioning flight might be the only option.
          I find FlightsFrom.com to be a great tool for looking at options to/from specific cities.

    • Yeah, don’t fly on BA. Use AA and BA miles to actually fly on AA.

  • This is great, I know most people think this is easy, but it felt overwhelming to me for some reason. You broke it own into edible bites, thanks!

  • Often very frustrating trying to find AA Flights with BA.

  • Thanks for the information, I will use my avios.

  • Can BA see same pool of award tix for AA flights ?
    I thought there are some difference.

    • There shouldn’t be a difference. When there is one, it’s a website error on the BA side. If you can see it as a SAAver Award on AA.com, you can book by calling BA (even if you can’t find the flight on the BA website)

  • I know a lot of this information specifically regarding BA and AA (since I am a member of the Chase ecosystem) but please post more articles like this. Earning miles is becoming common knowledge and is easy to do but using them most wisely is complicated. Thanks for this.

  • gonna use it soon!

  • Thanks for this, very informative.

  • No First availability ever on Transcon AA is sad. Not that it is good value anymore.

  • Avios is definitely turning out to be one of the better point currencies

  • rodrigo camino says:

    useful to compare! sometimes we just go with what is available but being flexible has perks

  • I’m finding it difficult to find direct routes on my preferred routes so it is hard to find a deal with Avios.

  • I think this is a good way to use Avios. The taxes and fees are a lot lower than using Avios to book flights European flights, so you end up having to pay very little cash wise. Another good way is to use Avios for hotel bookings.

  • This is THE best way to use RBC rewards points, especially with the biannual 30% transfer bonus!

  • The_Bouncer says:

    A good guide. Avios are still a decent deal in the US, despite the recent devaluation.

  • Years ago I got 100k Avios and my wife also got 100k from bonus offers. Used it for AA flights and then for hotels. Great deal!

  • I used this method a couple of years ago and it worked out for me. It’s a little bit wonky and stressful as I was trying to book the same flights on separate sites using a combination of miles from different airlines.

    In the end, it all worked out though and we were able to fly a family of 3 round-trip to Hawaii using only miles. This was done using AA miles, BA Avios, and Hawaiian Airlines miles. Can’t wait for the possibility to come up to do this again in the future!

    • Wow! That’s quite a feat and I’m glad it worked out for you. I don’t think I’d have enough faith to try doing that.

  • Taylor Shimkus says:

    Thank you for the information! I’ve been holding off on redeeming my Chase Ultimate Rewards because I can’t transfer them to American. I didn’t realize I could transfer them to British Airways then use the the Avios points to book and American flight!

  • Some people hate avios, i have learned to love them!

  • Each year I have to fly from an event in Philadelphia to Grand Rapids for another event.

    Only American has a non stop which they charge a huge premium for over other flight options with a stopover.

    I always set an Expert Flyer alert for the flight and for last three years have always been able to make this short American flight using Avios thanks to their distance based award chart

  • Thanks a lot for information. A good way to spend avios.

  • Nan Pollard says:

    I recently booked award seats on American Airlines RT Atl-Mia thru British Airways using CUR. Finding the seats was easy–transfer and booking the seats not so much. It took MANY phone calls to both British and Chase to do it because my name on my Chase accounts (first, middle initial, last) didn’t match my name on BA account (first, middle, last – just like passport). Eventually, Chase rep changed my name on my account to match BA, transferred points, and then changed it back to original. Any shortcuts to this? Most FF accounts ask for names to match passports or IDs (which for me includes full middle name) but CC don’t have fields to accommodate middle names. Thanks!

    • Hey Nan, I’ve dealt with the same situation. And it took several Chase agents before I found someone who could do the double name change.
      My solution was to make my name on all my FF accounts match my credit cards exactly. Then, I added a traveler on my BA account that matched my passport.

      In other words, you book an award ticket in your passport name (just like if you were booking a ticket for a friend or family member).

      So if your Chase account says John Smith, and your passport says John Michael Smith, you have your BA account profile set to John Smith and you book tickets for a traveler who “isn’t” the account holder named John Michael Smith.

  • This is a great guide for those learning to use points. Thanks!

  • ron_vaughn@hotmail.com says:

    Howie, have you seen the new reward sale option on AAdvantage? Lots of 12k rt domestic flights!

    • Hey Ron, it does seem that AA has been experimenting more than before with reduced cost tickets to select destinations. Thanks for pointing it out. Any favorite routes?

  • Things like this are gold and showcase just why MR and UR points are so much more valuable than any single airline card. Learning the alliances of airlines and at times even having different options within that alliance are priceless.

  • Avios great for short haul travel lousy for long haul travel

  • Can I do the opposite? Book BA with AA miles?

    • Yes you can. Just be aware that biz / first class awards will have high out-of-pocket costs from fuel surcharges. (Esp. transatlantic flights)

      BA levies the charges, and AAdvantage program will pass the costs directly through to you.

    • Be careful doing that as there are flights that are straight up cheaper with cash than the fees and taxes alone on an award booking AND you’re burning miles (think $200 for a cash ticket or 30,000 miles plus $250 in fuel surcharges).

  • Have had no luck getting AA flights to show up on BA. Will end up having to call in.

  • Does anybodyy know from past experience??

    Does AA saver open up closer to the day of flight. I have been searching for the last few months for YYZ to LGA no availability.

    I have many Avios points and I can’t redeem

    Any suggestions….

    • Hey Isaac, they do a decent job of opening up additional seats closer to departure. You might consider subscribing to Expert Flyer to set up an alert for the AA flights you want so you can get an email notification if something opens up. Expert Flyer is $9.99 per month, but it could be worth it depending on how much time you spend checking flights.

  • Very useful !! Pity why AA.com cant show those

  • Often tricky to find good deals with Avios given all the fees, thanks for the tips.

  • We have a bunch of Avios in a Household account that we’ve been unable to use on AA for domestic flights since the BA site seems to never show inventory. Hopefully this will allow us to get award seats by calling BA.

    Especially thrilled to learn that no close in booking fees will be charged!

    Now to figure out how to use the Korean Family Plan miles 🙂

  • Alberto Vera Perejon says:

    From British Airways it is not possible to book American Airlines flights to Cuba using avios.

  • Several flights on the AA site show as MileSAAver but are not showing on the BA Avios site. Maybe because I need the late departures that arrive the next day? I called the BA executive club line and was told that they could not be booked using Avios. They only offered the same early flight I could see available on the BA site. She told me that availability was different between AA and BA, and there was nothing they could do. Any other suggestions?

    • Hey Brandi, I’ve run into this before as well. There does occasionally seem to be a discrepancy. If you also see the space on Qantas’ website, it should be bookable by BA. It can be quite frustrating. You might try calling again, or calling an international call center using Skype (like BA Hong Kong +352 30021208 or BA UK +44 1914907901

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