American Airlines 737 MAX PHOTO: Carlos Lugo.

In August 2016, I wrote a short piece on using American Airlines (AA) AAdvantage miles to upgrade on British Airways (BA), one of the marketed perks of the AA-BA relationship.

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On the surface, this looks like a great use of miles.

For example, Johannesburg (JNB) to Dallas (DFW) via London (LHR)—the routing I was after—is just 20,000 miles to upgrade from BA’s Premium Economy (or World Traveller Plus, WTP) to Business Class (BA’s Club World).

As I found out at the time, there is catch in that, if you’re upgrading from WTP to Club World, the fare must be unrestricted—i.e., booked in BA’s W booking code.

For my 2016 trip, the full, unrestricted fare in WTP turned out to be a whopping $9,650 and, quite remarkably, $2,830 more expensive than a confirmed seat in Club World for the entire DFW-JNB-DFW journey!

PHOTO: Michael Slattery.

Suffice it to say, there was no upgrade in my future.

With American now offering a true Premium Economy cabin across the Atlantic, and another trip back to South Africa on the horizon, I thought I’d explore this mileage upgrade option again to see if there had been any change given American’s foray into the Premium Economy market.

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At first, I seemed to be in luck! I checked AA’s website and found a DFW-LHR-JNB return fare in WTP for $3,291, the first three segments of which were on BA with the final leg on American.

This seemed fairly decent value given that it was booked in W across the two carriers and, as confirmed by American over the phone, upgradeable.

The JNB-LHR-DFW inventory was available at the time of booking, and I soon found my ticket showing seats 53A upstairs on the BA A380 and 3J on American’s 777W.

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The outgoing segments had not cleared, so I was put on the upgrade list for both flights with, at worst, lie-flat seats on the return home.

And then came the dreaded phone call from American that, indeed, this ticket had to be – oh the humanity – downgraded back to Premium Economy.

PHOTO: Michael Slattery.

Apparently, I had not booked the unrestricted W fare required by BA but, rather, the restricted American fare which is equivalent to BA’s E or T code, even though it showed quite clearly on my AA ticket (even with BA flight numbers) the fare as W.

The lesson learned is that when it says you have booked in W on the AA website, and your ticket shows that you have, you really haven’t!

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The W fare is coded as the restricted (or lowest) Premium Economy fare on AA; however, on BA, W is designated as the full, unrestricted (and hence, upgradeable) fare. Confused? I certainly was.

To upgrade using AAdvantage miles on BA, then, the fare must be booked as a “flexible ticket” which, on AA.com, turns out to be a P fare and, on BA.com, the W fare.

When I checked what the unrestricted Premium Economy fare on AA.com was for the DFW-LHR-JNB return, it turned out to be $9,065, actually $1,930 more than a ticket in Business Class the whole way. (Incidentally, the restricted and unrestricted Premium Economy fares on BA.com were $3,428 (T) and $9,853 (W), respectively.)

PHOTO: Michael Slattery.

To be fair, the agent on AA’s Executive Platinum desk couldn’t have been nicer or more apologetic about the downgrade, but it certainly is time for someone at AA/BA to either (a) explain the logic behind even advertising this 20,000 mile upgrade award, or (b) simply remove it.

For now, I will shelve my plans for a lie-flat flight and settle in to BA’s perfectly comfortable Premium Economy cabin.

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By day, Mike Slattery is Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies and Professor at Texas Christian University, USA. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Oxford, England. Originally from South Africa, Mike is an internationally-trained geographer and environmental scientist who has written more than 85 scientific articles and a book on a range of environmental issues, from human impacts on rivers systems to the socio-economic impacts of large-scale wind farms. But he is also an AvGeek with a particular interest in (and extensive collection of) airline menus. Mike’s work takes him all over the globe to landscapes as diverse as the cloud forests of Costa Rica to the game reserves of Southern Africa. At last count, he had flown more than 1.4 million miles, equivalent to being in the air 118.5 days or 5.8 x the distance to the moon. “I’ll never understand how an airliner gets off the ground, but I sure love being in them!” He lives with his family in Fort Worth. drmslattery@gmail.com