American AAdvantage Access to British Airways Award Space Across the Atlantic Really is a Game Changer

British Airways began offering full mileage-earning to their Executive Club members, even on discounted fares. That’s huge. No more 25% mileage-earning and never quite reaching an award. A monster step forward for a European program, and one that has Flying Blue scrambling and shaking their heads.

Every European discount fare traveler with a choice, not wedded to a non-stop (or not able to access one from their home airport) and not striving for elite status in a competing program really should consider British Airways Executive Club.

With bmi’s Diamond Club slated to go away, BA Executive Club became in one fell swoop arguably the best frequent flyer program in Europe. Sure, there are arguments to be made for Miles & More. But their award chart is expensive and has gotten more so. This really was a major change.

What BA’s members didn’t really get was a whole lot meaningful in terms of increased award availability. Sure, they get access to American Airlines transatlantic award space but the American premium cabin product isn’t all that and BA availability is far better to begin with. So while a nice feature, it’s not huge.

On the other hand, American Airlines AAdvantage members really got the brass ring.

American members can now use their miles for premium cabin awards from the US to Europe pretty much every single day of the year.

Before the change, American Airlines members couldn’t redeem for British Airways seats between the US and London. Now they can. And BA availability really is just that good, and they have that many flights to the US.

Can’t find Los Angeles – London non-stop? You’ll almost certainly find Los Angeles – Las Vegas – London or Los Angeles – Phoenix – London or Los Angeles – Houston – London. Can’t find Chicago non-stop? That Philadelphia flight is awfully darned available, and of course American’s domestic award availability is really, really good to manage connections.

Alright, a couple of caveats.

  • Fuel surcharges. American didn’t used to add these to British Airways awards on those flights which members could redeem for — e.g. from Canada or the Caribbean to London, or London to the Middle East, Asia, Africa. Now all British Airways redemptions come with fuel surcharges, which transatlantic roundtrip can run $450. A US to Africa roundtrip can be double that. (Plus if you depart London rather than just connecting, you’ve’ got the UK’s premium cabin departure taxes, too.)

  • American’s domestic award availability isn’t perfect, I mean right now if you look at the days leading up to Christmas there’s not a lot out there. Those dates have just been loaded into the schedule and I was struck that American wasn’t offering anything DC – Chicago for December 21-24 when I checked on Saturday morning.

But these are minor complaints, to me. I realize others feel differently, they believe that a free ticket should be a free ticket. Still, I believe that the fuel surcharges are a small price to pay for (1) an excellent true lie-flat business class product, which few carriers offer universally across the Atlantic, and (2) the outstanding award availability of British Airways, I know of no other airline which offers as many seats for redemption as they do.

If you want to take your family of six in the same cabin on the same flight, who else will offer that many redemption seats so often? Very occasionally Lufthansa will. But BA uniformly does on some flights, such as their Houston flights.

It’s absolutely true that fuel surcharges are a real cost. And they make economy redemptions a very poor value, since much of the ticket price is still being charged even though you’re spending your miles.

Still, the ability to use your miles for premium class travel almost every single day is a tradeoff I’m willing to accept.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Good post Gary and very interesting.

    For me being able to redeem multiple seats is the single most important aspect of any program. I NEVER redeem for one, I SELDOM redeem for two and usually am trying to get all four of us. BA is without doubt the best in this respect as there are many routes where I can get all four of us in business or first. This summer we are going to the Maldives and from LGW all four of us are going in biz round trip – I mentioned this in your other post as interestingly it seems BA had opened this one up (at time of booking we had many choices of dates… but seems to have closed up again now). To get London we are taking the fun-looking baby A319 from JFK and coming back we will use BA’s excellent F product.

    BUT those fees are high. On our summer trip we are $4,500 in fees between the four of us. Now I agree that is an ok price to pay to shift a family of four in luxury around the globe, especially given the coach fare out of pocket would likely be more than twice that amount. But where it gets interesting is when you start comparing to other programs… yes here is where I start defending Delta again. One of the trips on our planning sheet is South Africa, really want to take the kids on safari, and our options are either AA miles on BA via LHR or DL miles via the flight from ATL. Well I can see a good bit of availability on DL at their “medium” award level which is 240k round trip each. On AA it would be 150k each so 60% more miles if you like. But with AA we’d be paying at least $1k each in taxes. And last year I was able to accumulate DL miles much faster than AA ones… certainly 1.6 times the accrual rate is not a bad estimate. So frankly this is one route where it’s likely we will go with DL (not to mention that it’s a better connection as to get via LHR you arrive in AM and can’t leave until evening). And don’t get me started on *A, great redemption if it’s one maybe two people but *A is extremely hard to get four of us. So anyway on surface DL looks a lot but when you dive the depth I think it’s very competitive. I look at the total cost – cash, miles and cost of accumulating those miles. And we can get all FOUR of us taken care of!

    I will add that CX is another pretty good carrier for getting 4 J seats. Given small cabins 4 F seats is a tall order, though not impossible out of YYZ at short notice.

  2. When it’s costing $475 for fuel surcharge and taxes one way for BA first class LHR-JFK, the value proposition for the “free” flight is questionable.

    Granted, they do have good availability, but is that good enough of a tradeoff?

  3. Yeah, the YQ is a huge dealbreaker for me. If it were $100, I could live with it, but not $475 for a one way. Factor in the prohibitive UK APD, and you’re looking at close to, if not over, $1000 in YQ + fees. Valuing the miles for an intl. C or F redemption at another $1000, I’m looking at a $2k ticket. In all honesty, I can’t afford to and won’t pay for a $2k C ticket out of my pocket, but that’s what I’d end up paying in such a case even if I use miles (the miles are NOT free as we all know). So, thanks but no thanks, BA. You’ve basically made these awards non-usable, which I fear was your intention all along.

    I think of the ATI is a net loss for us – not only do BA/AA now get to to collude and legally price-fix, but ALL BA awards worldwide come with YQ now. I’ve redeemed tickets on BA from DEL-LHR in C for 60k AA miles without any YQ. Can’t do that anymore. 🙁 Have to stick with 9W on that route, which I guess is not too bad. 🙂

  4. It seems like most frequent flyers value int’l upgrades a lot more than me. That said, the idea of paying 1000 bucks IN ADDITION TO THE MILES to sit up front strikes me as a particularly bad value proposition. The flights just aren’t that long, folks. Use that $1000 and buy a coach ticket. Use the miles to upgrade a long Asian itinerary, and avoid fuel surcharges entirely.

  5. What’s the best way for Aadvantage members to book BA flights?

    I don’t see the BA flights come up when I search AA award availability on

    Should we search for the availability on and then call AA? I think booking the AA award by phone incurs an extra fee right?

  6. I cannot justify the $1000 in YQ + fees. Sorry, I disagree that it is a MINOR Complaint. I think it was a mistake to grant AA/BA TALT antitrust immunity.

  7. Compared to a $10k ticket price, I view the fuel surcharge as a small price to pay. At 150k miles for an award, that is a value of circa 7 cents per mile…back out a co-pay, and it’s still a great value per mile.

    If your hung up on flying without any cash outlay (beyond sept 11 fees), this isn’t for you.

    Ive used my BA miles for a short notice f trip JFK-lhr without issue… Even had a choice of departure time for same week travel…When AA, UA or DL didn’t have low miles awards available at all.

    Maybe it’s the fee that keeps the award seats open.

    Perhaps you should view it as miles for a 90% off fare?

  8. @Phil – Have you considered the Alaska partner award on Cathay to South Africa? Good first and business availability and only 140,000 each in first with a free stopover in Hong Kong. I just recently booked for me and my dad in F and it also included the gateway flights on Alaska. Taxes/fees were a combined $270 and very easy to book on the phone with Alaska. HKG-JNB service is seasonal in F, but year-round in J.

  9. @gavinmac11 yes you have to call and most members then pay the fee to do so. Partner awards aren’t available at

    @iahphx London from the West Coast is pretty darned far, even farther than say NRT-LAX…

  10. @Carl – I am aware of this option but doesn’t work for me for a number of reasons. First off hard to find four awards in F without leaving to very last minute (could do in J) Second I don’t know how to accumulate 140k x 4 on Alaska. Third this is the longest possible way, even in premium just not as attractive as a short hop to ATL then direct from there.

    @iahphx – what’s difference between paying coach fare and upgrading and using miles and paying the fees? And the flights ARE that long. Our MLE trip is total of around 18-20 hours flying time each way. Hey if you want to do that in coach more power to you.

  11. I can see the premium cabin options being potential choices for some, even with the YQ. My near term personal usage is focused on taking the 3 of us places, which means Y usually in order to stretch the miles as far as possible. Different strokes for different folks.

    What worries me more, though, isn’t the specific BA situation but that AA and/or other USA domestic carriers will get similar ideas about levying fuel surcharges on their OWN redemptions. Hopefully that won’t come to pass.

  12. Personally I don’t have an issue with paying the YQ and taxes on a redemption award.

    It’s a flight I would be making anyway (all for leisure) and frankly it’s a still cheaper than paying the Y fare but I have the luxury of travelling in F or J.

  13. We booked 2 BA biz IAH-CDG & costs $1250 all-in. It’s extremely high, but given the 100k BA cards we did + getting the companion cert for $30k spend… Burning 100k miles & spending $1250 for 2 intl biz class tix is worth not sitting in coach for 11+hrs ea way IMHO.

  14. Yeah, I’m definitely thinking about the distance across the Pond from the East Coast. It’s obviously a long flight from the West Coast.

    Still, this is a lot of “money” to pay for an upgrade. I mean, let’s be realistic here. If you fly on AA itself, for most months of the year, it’s only 40,000 miles roundtrip from anywhere in the USA to anywhere in Europe. And total taxes are going to be less than $100.

    So by any conservative accounting standard, it’s 5x more expensive to redeem miles for biz class. That’s a ludicrous value proposition (unless you have an unlimited number of ff miles and nothing to do with them). I know we all like to feel special and pampered, but it’s really not that nice up front. Nor is it that horrible in coach (my favorite quote is from the Online Travel Review, where Jared says that “ambien is his business class”). I think anyone thinking of this rationally would say it’s nuts to pay 5x more for the upgrade.

  15. Taxes and fees can be high. I’m flying to CDG J later this month. On a *A — combination of NZ and LH — I’m paying about $250. BA wanted $600+ for basically the same itinerary.

  16. I would also note that, today, UA has launched a summer business class fare sale to Europe. Most one-way fares are about $1000 + tax.

    Which further suggests that paying the BA fuel surcharge is not prudent.

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