BA.com Isn’t As Good At Finding Connections as AA.com

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British Airways has a unique, distance-based award chart that can provide fantastic value for short-haul flights.

Both Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards transfer 1:1 to British Airways Avios.

imagesBritish Airways has access to all American Airlines “MileSAAver” award space. Furthermore, on some routes British Airways actually charges fewer miles for the same flight than American Airlines.

Unfortunately, using ba.com is not as straightforward as using aa.com. BA.com is perfect for searching direct flights, but it often misses connecting itineraries, even simple ones with only one layover.

The other day, a reader emailed me saying that he had found MileSAAver award space from New York to Lima on American Airlines, but ba.com wouldn’t find it,. I looked into the problem and found a classic case of ba.com missing an obvious connecting itinerary.

  • What is the simple trick to finding award space on ba.com?
  • How can you book American Airlines flights using British Airways Avios?
  • When should you use British Airways Avios instead of American Airlines miles?
  • How can you fly a one way award flight for only 4,500 miles?

The Problem

A frequent question posed to our award booking service goes something like this:

Q: “I want to fly from New York to Lima, Peru using British Airways Avios. I have found saver award availability on aa.com, but when I log in to ba.com I can’t find the same flights. Please help!”

This frequent flyer is experiencing problems because British Airways’ computers are terrible at finding connections on award itineraries. When he searched for his award on AA.com he found this:

AA JFK LIM

When he searched BA.com, he found this:

BA JFK LIM

This illustrates a fundamental point of award booking: The ba.com search engine is no reliable when searching for award itineraries with connections.  

The Solution

To use the ba.com search engine, you must break up an award trip into its component flights. Searching separately for New York to Miami and then Miami to Lima yields the following results:

BA JKF MIA

BA MIA LIM

We have now confirmed availability of an award trip from New York to Lima using British Airways Avios. To book this itinerary, our traveler will need to call British Airways at 1-800-AIRWAYS (1-800-247-9297).

He should give the phone agent each flight segment’s flight number, date, and cabin. The phone agent may try to charge our traveler a phone fee, but he should protest as this itinerary is not bookable on ba.com.

Occasionally, searching segment by segment on ba.com will still not show award space that can be found on Aacom.  The two most common reasons for this are discussed here.

If you have gone through all of the above and still cannot find the same award space on ba.com that is available on aa.com, then you may be encountering a technical glitch. Sometimes, if there are multiple open award flights available on the same day, ba.com will only list the flights leaving earlier in the day. If your desired flight departs in the evening, you may need to call British Airways and give an agent the flight information that you found on aa.com. Again, don’t pay the phone fee if the award was not bookable online.

AA or BA miles?

This Trip

Our friend in the above example now has a choice to make: should he use American Airlines miles or British Airways Avios? For this route, New York to Lima via Miami, American Airlines charges 15,000 miles + $20.  British Airways charges 20,000 Avios + $35 for the same route.

If you have unlimited miles of all types, use American Airlines miles to book your trip from New York to Lima, since the award uses fewer miles. However British Airways miles are easier to obtain than American Airlines miles since British Airways is a transfer partner of both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. Thus, the decision on which type of mile to use may come down to which mile you can afford to use.

Domestic Trips

American Airlines charges 12,500 miles for any one way award within the continental United States. British Airways charges 4,500 to 12,500 miles for each segment within the United States, depending on the distance flown. In the past I have created lists of possible Avios awards and their costs, leaving Los Angeles, Dallas, and New York City. Many award routes are available from each location for as few as 4,500 Avios each way!

In addition to flying within the United States, British Airways Avios provide good value on the following (note that all of these routes involve relatively short distances):

  • to the Caribbean (flying American)
  • within South America (flying LAN)
  • to Central America (flying American)
  • within Australia (flying Qantas)
  • within South Africa (flying Comair)

Sometimes, British Airways will give an option to pay for part of an award flight with cash and part with Avios. An analysis how to take advantage of this offer can be found here and here.

Recap

BA.com can be used to search for award space bookable with British Airways Avios. To match award space seen on AA.com, award itineraries often must be broken down segment-by-segment. After you have verified availability, you should call British Airways at 1-800-AIRWAYS (1-800-247-9297) to book the award itinerary. Don’t pay the phone fee if the itinerary was not bookable online.

If you have American Airlines miles and British Airways Avios, deciding which one to use depends on how far you are flying and which miles you have more of.

If you decide to book a flight using British Airways Avios and you are offered the chance to pay for part of your award with cash, consult this free spreadsheet.

If you can’t find your desired award space, the MileValue Award Booking Service is open 24/7/365.


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3 COMMENTS

  1. I am getting ready to book a simple SAN-ORD-SAN for a weekend in October. I want to fly nonstop so was looking at AA and UA. I think my best bet is to use Avios – 10,000 for each segment. 40,000 for the two of us.

    My question is this… Is there anything I am leaving on the table – a free one way or anything? Any way to add on a SAN-SFO or a SAN-ANYWHERE?

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