British Airways Has Started Restricting Partners From Booking Award Tickets

British Airways has offered great award availability, but at a high price in cash in addition to miles. In nearly all cases fuel surcharges are added to awards when redeeming for long haul travel on BA. Some partner programs, like Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, charge less cash for these awards than others like American AAdvantage and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.

Over the past couple of weeks British Airways has seemed to limit partner access to awards. The space available to its own Executive Club members is much greater than that which is offered to those in partner frequent flyer programs. And this has taken both loyalty program members and executives in partner programs by surprise. Discussions are ongoing.

Since I started looking at this, Australian Frequent Flyer has posited the theory that BA award space is only available to partners when there’s more than 8 coach, 2 premium economy, or 4 business class award seats available (with no separate restriction on first class awards).

This mostly matches my experience, though I note that a U.S. point of sale for British Airways Executive Club may show less award space right now than a U.K. point of sale and as a result U.S. Executive Club members can sometimes show fewer award seats than American AAdvantage has access to, even while U.K. members see more than AAdvantage gets.

I’m hoping that this is all a big screw up and miscommunication, but it’s certainly a change where right now just because you see space at doesn’t mean that space is available to American AAdvantage (for award or confirmed upgrade) or Alaska’s Mileage Plan.

Good Availability For Costly Awards

British Airways offers fantastic award space, but it’s too costly for many to book.

  • They have very premium-heavy cabins, so often more business class seats than they can sell
  • And they have a commitment to members to make award space available as soon as their schedule loads 355 days prior to departure (on top of continuing to evaluate loads and potentially making more seats available)
  • However these awards come with hefty fuel surcharges.

A roundtrip business class award from Los Angeles to London and back will incur $1,900 in fuel surcharges, plus $236 departure tax from the U.K. in addition to other taxes in addition to the miles. For advance purchase itineraries it can be a better deal to purchase the tickets outright, especially during a fare sale.

It’s cheaper to book roundtrips that originate in the U.K., both in dollars and in fuel surcharges on awards. As a result booking two one-ways using miles rather than a roundtrip will often save a few hundred dollars. That London-originating one-way flight will have $557 in fuel surcharges instead of $930, netting a $337 savings (about $1000 for a party of three!).

Limiting Award Space Offered To Partners Is Increasingly Common

For years Lufthansa has made more premium cabin award space to its own Miles & More members than it does to partner airlines – even joint venture partners like United where they’re sharing revenue across the Atlantic. If you want to book Lufthansa first class much in advance, that requires using Miles & More. And Lufthansa-owned Swiss only makes first class awards available to Miles & More elites.

Meanwhile Air France KLM’s Flying Blue has pretty good availability for its own members, even those just transferring points from a U.S. bank program, and very little business class space for SkyTeam partners. (Air France first class awards are only available to upper-tier elites, and then only one seat and at extortionate rates.)

The phenomenon of limiting award space to your own members has been spreading. It’s long been the case that ‘extra availability’ is only open to one’s own members, spending more miles for better inventory. Sometimes the pricing might just be 1,000 miles different, but ‘saver’ space offered to partners isn’t available.

We’ve seen airlines like Qantas release premium cabin space for their own members once Australia re-opened from the pandemic. In the past that space would regularly be available to all of its partners, although sometimes wouldn’t show correctly on the American Airlines website.

For over a decade Singapore Airlines has mostly limited long haul first and business class redemptions to its own KrisFlyer members. Oddly over the past few years that has opened up so that Alaska Airlines and Air Canada had access to the space (and sometimes Miles & More) but not other partners like United.

These are just a few examples. Negotiations between airlines over award space can be complicated.

  • Airlines want their own members incentivized to earn miles, so an airline wants their partners to open up space to make it possible for their members to travel the world. They also don’t always want to pay for that space.

  • Before being acquired by Continental, United Airlines would block their agents from seeing availability offered by partners whenever they ran up against the quarterly budget for awards with that partner.

  • Meanwhile airlines may want to be paid by partners for the award seats they don’t expect to sell, but have a competing desire to make sure that the space is available to their own members to keep those members on the earn treadmill.

While alliances have been fraying generally, in favor of joint business ventures that are almost akin to mergers (without dealing with pesky foreign ownership restrictions), those joint ventures haven’t usually manifested in better award availability. It’s notable that partners like Alaska Airlines and Qantas are facing the same limits on British Airways availability that American Airlines has at the moment.

Complicated Negotiations Between Airlines

oneworld partner awards are negotiated bilaterally, which makes them cumbersome to change. That may be the biggest reason we haven’t seen a devaluation of partner awards at American AAdvantage (with the last change 7 years ago). So while AAdvantage miles are generally worth so much less for redemption on American Airlines flights, they’ve retained their value when spent on Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways flights and others.

It’s unclear whether the American Airlines – British Airways agreement on award availability specifies prices and availability buckets or has more detailed terms, but I’m hearing that British Airways award “inventory should be the same” for AAdvantage members and Executive Club members and I understand that American is in contact with British Airways over this issue. Since I don’t know the language of their agreement, I don’t know what the outcome will be.

I should add that accommodations can be made outside of the formal agreement as well. When US Airways joined oneworld, Dividend Miles redemption pricing was a fairly manual process and they weren’t programmed to add fuel surcharges to redemptions. They made an agreement with British Airways that this wouldn’t be a priority, since Dividend Miles was going to be folded into AAdvantage anyway. However when a certain big blog highlighted BA redemptions without fuel surcharges through Dividend Miles, volume increased enough that they had to make the change.

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. Thank you Gary, now it makes sense why a couple of weeks ago all the BA availability for a certain city pair completely disappeared, even though before that there was availability every single day. Hopefully it will go back to what it was before (there is still value when the flight originate from Europe other than the UK).

  2. I often can’t find award availability in Business on BA’s own website, leet alone on AA or AS…

  3. Note booking two one ways still works for partners but not BAEC. The introduction of RFS introduced the change where surcharges are now based on your address in BAEC and not based on origin of flight. That is if your BAEC address is US then booking a one way from say LHR to US will be charged at the ex-US rate even though the flight isn’t ex-US. I have not tested all origins so there may be some variability. One thing I have learned with surcharges over the years is test various scenarios to see what results in a lower cost.

  4. I wonder how AA’s new dynamic pricing has impacted award availability for partner members to book awards on AA. I believe even websaver awards are not bookable and does not always mean saver award is available even if it’s priced higher than the websaver award.

    As much as having less options available as an AA customer sucks I can’t fault other airlines for reciprocating. AA barely makes premium awards available why should others offer good availability to AA customers?

  5. Since I hate BA’s high YQ and BS fee charges on awards I hope this improves AA award searches in the short term. Euro or Middle East award searches on AA are always polluted with crappy and expensive BA flights. This might help with Alasks award searching as well.

  6. Gary, do all members of the Avios group have the same surcharges and miles? Or does it make sense to use Iberia or Qatar or Aer Lingus to book instead of BA?

    For that matter, is it cheaper to book on AA thsn BA ? If the two one-way trip doesn’t work anymore on BA then it would, at least in one direction. Can you confirm the BA one way based on address (if booked through BA)?

  7. Also time for you to revalue AA miles given almost no JAL and now BA. Please Value it as your readers would use them, not how a super-super user would.

  8. I was going to ride along post but golfingboy nailed it.

    They’re reciprocating because American award availability to BA’s members is almost zero now due to dynamic pricing.

    As I’ve said before the award hobby is just about over. Upgrades are non-existent. First class sells out. 2 miles per dollar on Capital One is about as good as it will ever be.

  9. A month (or so) later and I’m still not seeing similar inventory on AA website. Any idea what’s going on?

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