British Airways Is Conspiring to Keep Me Out of First Class

I have a redemption booking coming up, a oneworld award using American Airlines miles.  It’s a first class award, and I booked it with (4) Cathay Pacific first class segments and a final segment on British Airways from London to Toronto in First Class.

One of the great frustrations of the American-British Airways partnership is that you cannot use American miles to book BA flights between the US and London, and vice versa.  There really isn’t much lost for BA members, why would they want to redeem transatlantic flights on American?  Award availability tends to be much better on BA, and BA offers a better inflight product.

But for AA members it’s a big hole in the alliance partnership.

The ‘workaround’ is to fly to London via Canada (Vancouver, Toronto) or elsewhere in North America.  Perhaps it’s an extra flight, but award availability is often good.

I had planned to try British Airways First Class for the first time.  I’ve flown BA business, and I do like the seat, they were legions ahead of the curve in going fully flat in business. I know that BA’s first class offering is a bit behind the times, but I stil thought checking out the Concorde Room at Heathrow followed by a nice hop across the Atlantic in the “good” seats seemed like a wonderful idea.  It’s unlikely to compare to my (4) Cathay first flights on the same trip, but I was looking forward to it.

First, British Airways changed their winter schedule and pulled first class out of the Toronto market.  It turns out that first class was scheduled to go away until the day after I was supposed to fly.  So naturally, I changed my plans!  Got myself back on a British Airways first class redemption — on the 747.  (I wanted the earlier departure on the 777, but it wasn’t available.)

So I checked my itinerary this afternoon and would you believe, British Airways has once again pulled first class from the London-Toronto market!  My 747 has now become a 767.  And the earlier 777 doesn’t offer first class any longer.

I’ve extended my trip by a day.  And I can’t even change it back if I wanted to, no award availability.  So I’m going to keep things as they are, and unless BA has a change of heart in the very near future (highly unlikely) I will still have BA First Class on my to do list.

Yes, this is a minor worry in the scheme of things.  But BA has changed this up on me twice since booking, I made changes to accomodate, and in the end I’m winding up without what I was after.  I wouldn’t have booked the award this way in all likelihood, I’d have gone for American Airlines first class and gotten my second non-AA carrier (as required by the award) with JFK-Toronto on LAN, perhaps.  But no routing changes to a oneworld award after ticketing, so it is what it is.  And now my beautiful award, with all segments in first class, no longer has that perfect symmetry to it…

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. I know what you mean about BA having excellent availability between UK and Canada. I often monitor the non-stop London – Calgary flight and it’s almost always available, any day of the week, for months out at a time. I flew it recently (my first BA long haul experience) and was immensely pleased at the comfort and value for my AA miles. Now, I live in Canada so this isn’t a big deal for me, but even if I were American, I’d be going out of my way to use BA using the Canada transit option you’ve suggested.

  2. The lack of antitrust immunity for BA and AA in the US-UK market (and with IB, to create a US-Europe immunity zone) was supposed to be revisited and is supposedly due any day now (of course, that was also rumored 3 months ago too).

    The inability to codeshare and coordinate schedules, share revenue, etc has been a problem for BA and AA, benefiting the other alliances. But you have to assume it will end soon.

    On the other hand, the lack of ATI probably saved AA’s AAdvantage program a lot of money since BA metal was so restricted. When the ATI is granted, AA miles will suddenly become worth more, and AAdvantage will probably take a financial hit, at least for a while, with the wave of BA redemptions.

  3. Have you tried speaking to BA’s YouFirst? They’re normally very good – especially when a First passenger has been inconvenienced. Tell them you specifically would like to try First – you never know they may make an exception (or forget the rules) and put you on a US routing.

    Depending on your final destination you could try being re-routed through somewhere like Barbados or Mexico. Even if there’s no award buckets open they may at least try to request some.

  4. AFAIK, YouFirst is only for customers who already hold a BA First booking.

    Also, Gary’s stated that he is trying to book this itinerary with AA miles. SO he is working with the AAdvantage partner desk, not with any BA entity.

    Part of the problem is that BA does withhold some of its availability to top-tier oneWorld flyers. One example: when I was booking the YYZ-LHR routing in 2008, there was no F availability showing on for the date that I wanted (I have no BA elite status).

    But when I called the ExPlat desk, lo and behold, seats were available and I booked immediately before they changed their minds.

    The only consolation is that, by waiting, you may get to try the new First product (whenever BA gets around to actually introducing it).

  5. Great post, found it looking up a flight review for British Airways CW LHR-YYC as I am travelling on this route next week, wish F was available but then again I probably couldnt afford it as there are 4 of us travelling.

    happy holidays

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