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Op-Ed: The Folly of Using AAdvantage Miles to Upgrade on British Airways

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Op-Ed: The Folly of Using AAdvantage Miles to Upgrade on British Airways

Op-Ed: The Folly of Using AAdvantage Miles to Upgrade on British Airways
August 19
06:00 2016

I am a loyal American Airlines traveler with Lifetime Platinum status. I am also South African and I fly home about twice a year, both on business and pleasure. I therefore spend a considerable amount of time online figuring out ways to get back to Cape Town, the most beautiful city in the world!

On business, I generally buy revenue coach on American and use miles to upgrade across the pond, and then look for good fare sales out of Europe to break the journey which, of late, have been on Qatar through Doha. When I fly with my family, however, it becomes a game of hunting for AAdvantage miles inventory across the oneworld system.

I think most of our readers who have attempted to travel to Africa using AAdvantage miles are aware of the exorbitant surcharges British Airways (BA) imposes on award tickets through London. For example, a 150k mile award in Business Class from a U.S. gateway to, say, Johannesburg comes with an additional $1,706.86 tacked on, almost the price of a coach fare! (Similarly, a 115k award DFW-LHR comes with$1,228.46 in additional charges versus DFW-MAD with just $52.06 in taxes).

And so I thought, why not just buy a coach ticket to South Africa, earn the miles for the trip, and then use some of my AAdvantage miles to upgrade on BA for the entire journey. American Airlines (AA) advertises as one of the major perks of the AA-BA relationship.


Now, not many people realize that you can actually use AAdvantage miles to upgrade on BA – even the AA representative on the phone didn’t know this. Reading through the “Upgrades” section on makes it sound like a great use of miles: From North America to Europe it’s just 20,000 miles from Economy to Premium Economy (BA’s World Traveller Plus, or WTP) and 20,000 miles from WTP to Business (BA’s Club World). I thought – what a bargain, especially given that the miles can include three segments on both the outbound and inbound legs. Well, was I wrong!

The catch is you can use AAdvantage miles to upgrade but the Economy fare has to be full fare (either booked in Y or B) or, if upgrading from WTP to Club World, then the fare must be booked in W, again BA’s full fare WTP. So I did a little digging online and spent quite some time on the phone with both BA and AA to verify what I had found. Here is what upgrading with AAdvantage miles on BA really looks like using flexible dates throughout June 2017:

For my routing I used DFW-LHR-JNB. The regular economy fare was $1,652.39 sold in O inventory, and I used that as a frame-of-reference for deciding whether or not it would be worth it to use my AAdvantage miles to upgrade my journey.


The full fare Economy on BA turned out to be $4,790.39 booked in B, and I’d then use 40,000 miles return to upgrade to WTP, which didn’t seem like a good deal at all given that I’d still be sitting upright for the entire journey, albeit with a little more legroom and an upgraded meal.

aa-ba-slide-3The full fare in WTP on the same flights turned out to be a head-turning, wallet-burning $9,650.39 booked in W which the BA rep assured me was upgradeable to Club World using my AAdvantage miles! “Gee, thanks very much,” I replied, and hung up the phone astounded that anyone would do this (Parenthetically, the regular WTP fare turned out to be $2,893.39, which I would certainly have bought and used the 40,000 miles to upgrade to Club World, had I been allowed to).

aa-ba-slide-4I then checked into what a Club World fare would be on the very same flights – “just” $6,820.39 but still almost $3,000 less than the full WTP fare, and I’d be earning 1.5 EQMs per mile flown plus a 25% cabin bonus. I mean, why not go the whole hog and buy First, which turned out to be $10,320.39, just $700 over the full WTP fare!


My point is simply this: Why does American have these mileage awards when, clearly, no one in their right mind would ever use such an award unless they had to buy a same-day ticket and simply had no choice but to pay these full fares? With the redesign of the AAdvantage program (i.e., less mileage-earning capacity unless you are a Business or First Class revenue passenger) and more expensive redemption levels and less mileage inventory overall across most of the AA system, loyal AAers like myself are beginning to question the value of sticking with one airline.

Thankfully, Qatar is a oneworld member, so I think I’ll just buy a Business Class ticket DFW-DOH-JNB, enjoy their superlative service, and save more than $5,000 over the BA Premium Economy experience.


About Author

Michael Slattery

Michael Slattery

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.

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  1. Kevin W
    Kevin W August 23, 08:57

    Hello! Thanks for this examination of the pointless AAdvantage (or Avios) upgrade awards on BA. I blame BA, but certainly American is happy to play along. Please provide as much coverage of the abomination of “carrier charges” on BA that you can muster. It’s ridiculous.

  2. Greg bammel
    Greg bammel August 25, 00:00

    These kind of ridiculous deals show how ancient and out of touch airlines can be.

    Pre 2008 ungodly fares seemed to abound more so then now.

    Another one I like is a short haul trip say SO-Cal to LAS and a fare of say $150 with a change fee of $200? No thank you I’ll just buy a new ticket.

    Sometimes there is no common sense. Such has the amount of taxes that LHR charges to fly through it. I wonder is this a part of the Rise of the M3 airlines?

  3. SteveF
    SteveF November 02, 17:42

    Whats ridiculous now is that BA is selling BOS-LHR-BOS for < $500 for at least thru next June. And WTP for only $100 more. An award ticket in coach will cost 40000 AA miles, AND $790. Somehow the "carrier imposed fees" are larger for award flights. Its also pathetic that Virgin plays the same stupid game.
    Sadly AA have ended their BOS-LHR service. So no way to usefully use AA miles to the UK now from Boston.

  4. Rick
    Rick November 04, 14:03

    …just read this article after spending two days on the phone with both BA and AA figuring all this out. Same ridiculous results. I just find it strange that they are “Partner” airlines? Why be a partner but not have a better way for your “loyal” customer to share benefits.

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