British Airways First Class Awards Have All But Disappeared From North America Routes

This summer British Airways doubled its award availability commitment. Each airline opens award space on flights on its own schedule, if they open awards at all. British Airways is unique in promising to make awards available on every flight when the schedule loads.

They even promise 4 seats in business class on all flights. The basic commitment stems from a promise the airline announced a decade ago when devaluing the Executive Club program, to make the changes go down a bit more easily for members.

However while there’s promised availability for coach, premium economy, and business class there’s no such commitment to make award seats available in first class. However first class awards are one of the best use cases for British Airways redemption when traveling long haul. That’s because with to the moon fuel surcharges, you can make the case that a first class award is worthwhile – in effect a discounted premium ticket that doesn’t earn miles, along with a confirmed mileage upgrade. It’s usually a better value than business class.

Right now though there’s pretty much zero availability for first class awards across most routes, even though British Airways has been quite good about making first class redemptions available in the past. I checked the following from today through end of schedule:

  • There’s nothing to London from Austin, Miami, New York, Los Angeles
  • There’s 1 day in October where there’s a first class award seat San Francisco – London, but that’s it through end of schedule
  • There are a handful of days available for Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago O’Hare to London for the entire schedule

American does make awards on its own flights available New York JFK – London Heathrow for 72,000 – 78,000 miles (but not generally as saver awards at 80,000, so not bookable with partner miles). British Airways doesn’t.

They’re not making seats available when schedules open, and they’re not making unsold first class seats available close to departure. Whether this is a new philosophy that sticks, or a temporary phenomenon as travel restarts, I cannot say.

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. Oh the horrors. How can civilization survive when we have to slum in business class instead of first. Surely there are more important things to write about. SMH!!

  2. @AC and yet you take the time to read the post and comment, so clearly it is of some interest to you.

  3. @Gary – unfortunately, this is the case . I also haven’t been able to find QR space in F with the re-introduction of A380 service .

  4. The fees via LHR just kill me on BA awards. Why not just pay for business rather than pay those fees? It generally deters me from flying BA or AA for that matter.

  5. Keen Avios collector but recently the surcharges make it so cost-prohibitive, sometimes cheaper to book a discounted normal fare than to actually use a REWARD?

  6. Gary, in your rush to criticize BA, you neglected to mention that BA has significantly upgraded its Business Class, while downsizing its First Class cabin on most flights to only eight seats. In that context, the lack of First Class award space is quite defensible.

  7. I’m with @Nick. The heartburn-inducing YQ makes buying the occasional business class ticket a much better idea than paying gobs of money on an award ticket.

  8. @Fred, BA in and out of San Francisco is not offering equipment with the new business class seat, nor are there any first class award seats offered.

    If you’re going to defend Brit. Air tell me how much you love flying the business class coffin seat while you climb over your neighbor to get to the lav.

  9. Gary, thanks for publicizing what many of us have experienced: zero inventory on all routes. We’ve had two Chase BA cards for the purpose of two for one Avios tickets, and have therefore given BA some paying business as well. If there are zero First seats on all flights using Avios, there will be thousands of customers like me who will toss those cards and vote with our feet. You are absolutely right to point this out to all of us, including BA itself.

  10. Gary, I’m with you. In retirement, I want to fly first class. I have a boat-load of BA points and see no first class award availability on the trans-Atlantic routes. Prior to COVID, the JFK to LHR route would have gobs of availability. Even this route has none.

    I just flew BA first class from LHR to LAX the day before yesterday — cash ticket. There was an open seat . . . but, it was not even opened up as an award seat prior to the flight.

    This seems to be a cash-imperative business decision as opposed to BA stiffing its customers. My sense is that by mid-2022, the cash imperative will be behind us and award seat availability will return.

  11. The only reason we have flown BA is because we get a companion award ticket with my Chase BA credit card. We have used these for years to fly BA in F class. There is a HUGE difference in both seats and service between first and business classes on transatlantic flights. After we use the two remaining companion vouchers we have, we’re done with BA and the Chase BA credit card if they will not make F award seats available. I doubt they are actually selling all 8 F class seats so they should make 2 available on most every flight. Instead, we’ll fly AA in first to LHR. I have a ton of FF miles with AA.

  12. Quite likely, BA is preparing for the upcoming end of the 747 service and doesn’t want to be stuck with numerous passengers holding 1st Class awards on planes with reduced or NO first class. This is not an apology for their stinginess. Perhaps when schedules for the next year are firmer, they will realize that many of us who actually value their F product and loathe their (alleged) Business Class simply aren’t traveling with them— . I haven’t been in BA Club World in about 8 years.

  13. SST: “I haven’t been in BA Club World in about 8 years.”

    A very strange comment, criticizing BA Club World, from someone who hasn’t seen it in eight years. As if BA hasn’t rolled out a completely new Club World.

  14. All your problems with availability in First out of LAX and other airports are nothing compared to what we endure here at PHX. BA has cut back to three flights a week and no First so also no access to the Concorde Lounge at LHR. We just flew through LHR twice in August & October and the biz lounge was jammed with no seats available. The food on board was mediocre at best and in the lounges terrible. The new 1-2-1 biz class on the 777-300 is infinitely better than the old 2-4-2 but getting seats in and out of PHX is almost impossible.. and yes the fees are outrageous. We too would like to drop the Chase Platinum Reserve but Amex Platinum is much, much worse.

  15. I walked from the Oneworld “ridiculous fuel surcharge, zero award availability, worst premium product” dumpster fire over 10 years ago. Why is this news surprising?

  16. Totally agree, I have got a shed load of Avios and haven’t been able to find a first class seat for months

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