How to avoid British Airways fees when using American AAdvantage miles (illustrated)

by on Mon April 7, 2014 • 13 Comments
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British Airways fees

American AAdvantage miles can be incredibly useful for international travel, but by far the most frustrating thing about them are the fees of hundreds of dollars you pay when you use your AAdvantage miles to fly on a British Airways flight across the Atlantic to Europe, the Middle East, India, or Africa. With US Airways now part of OneWorld Dividend Miles members are about to discover this nasty surprise.

The euphemism for them are British Airways fuel surcharges, but they have little to do with the current price of fuel and are really just fees British Airways is trying to extract from people booking an award. American passes on these fees to you the AAdvantage member when you book awards on British Airways flights that cross the Atlantic.

British Airways surcharge fee

No one wants to pay 60,000 miles plus $700 for a coach ticket to Europe

Most people just do a basic search on AA.com, see that the only available flights to Europe are on British Airways, then get mad, give up, and cancel their AAdvantage credit cards when they see it will cost 60,000 miles plus $700 for a coach ticket. It happens a lot because British Airways has the most flights to Europe from the United States.

The only way to avoid these fees is to stay away from British Airways flights across the Atlantic, and unfortunately American’s website isn’t as helpful as it could be in letting you see all options.

But there are many ways to see all of your options and this guide will help you cover all of your bases before resigning to pay the fuel surcharge or giving up on your miles altogether.

You’re going to want to familiarize yourself with these tools and policies that can help you get where you want to go without having to fly on a British Airways flight across the Atlantic:

  • Our list of flights that don’t have surcharges
  • The OneWorld Interactive Route Map
  • The British Airways website
  • The Etihad Airways website
  • ExpertFlyer.com
  • American’s free award flight change policy

1. Look at other AA and partner gateway cities

AA.com is a good award search tool, displaying most partners to Europe with the glaring exception of Iberia Airlines, but it can miss options if you’re willing to fly out of a different city.

We’ve compiled a list of all the flights from the U.S. to Europe and the Middle East that don’t involve British Airways, but can be booked with your American or US Airways miles.

Alternatively, try using the OneWorld Interactive Route Map to get some ideas.

It clearly labels OneWorld hubs, and flying through any hub that’s not in England will help you avoid the British Airways fuel surcharge.

Below is a map showing all the flights on American from its hub in Chicago. You’ll want to try checking these routes individually to see if you missed any alternatives in your first search.

For example entering ‘ORD-DUB’ will get you the flight from Chicago to Dublin. Then you can check flights beyond Dublin separately and those to Chicago separately to see what’s available. Using British Airways for these short flights in Europe won’t be a fuel surcharge problem so it’s fine to add those to your trip. It’s British Airways on the long TransAtlantic sector that jacks up the price.

American Flights Chicago

2. Check availability on Iberia for flights to Europe using British Airways’ website

Iberia’s fees are much lower than British Airways. It flies to Boston, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami from Madrid and Barcelona, but none of its flights show up when you search on AA.com.

So you’ll want to check those flights on the phone or by logging into BA.com (British Airways’ site) to see if there is space available.

If there is, you’ll avoid the huge British Airways surcharges in the process. Then, you can piece together flights from the gateway city to your home airport on American or US Airways. You’ll have to call AAdvantage directly to book these flights.

AAdvantage agents are patient about looking up Iberia availability for you, but if you want to do it yourself online just set up an account with British Airways.

It’s free, and you can go to this link to search for awards. When you enter your credentials it will take you straight to the award search page, which is usually hard to find if you go straight to the BA.com homepage and login.

Below, we searched for flights from Madrid to New York on BA.com and found seats available on Iberia, which can help you avoid using British Airways to cross the Atlantic.

You can ignore the mile prices and fees quoted on the British Airways site as they only apply to awards booked using British Airways Avios points, not American AAdvantage miles. If a flight shows ‘Available’ on the British Airways website you can book it with your AAdvantage miles over the phone.

Just note that the British Airways site only shows options with one connection. So if an option has two connections, like Madrid to London to New York to Minneapolis you won’t get results. It’s best to confine your search on BA.com to searches from one TransAtlantic gateway city to another, which in this example would be Madrid to New York.

Iberia AAdvantage flights

Finding these seats isn’t just useful for traveling to and from Spain. They are useful for getting to most places in Europe because Iberia has a hub in Spain with good availability of award seats to many popular destinations in Europe like Rome, Paris, Zurich, and even London. Once you have this TransAtlantic portion of the trip locked up you’ve finished up the hard part.

4. Consider Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, Etihad to India / The Middle East

These airlines won’t help you get to Europe or Africa, as AAdvantage won’t let you track through their Middle East hubs along the way without charging you for two separate awards.

But if you’re trying to get to the Middle East or India they can be really useful as AAdvantage considers India and the Middle East the same award zone. You can also get to Africa using the Middle East hubs as a connection point.

These airlines are aggressively expanding and offer some great award availability options on some otherwise very expensive flights.

You can check Royal Jordanian and Qatar Airways availability on BA.com just like the Iberia example above.

Royal Jordanian’s hub is in Amman, Jordan and it flies to Chicago, Detroit, and New York.

Qatar flies to Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Miami, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. from its hub in Doha.

Etihad flies to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Washington D.C., and in late 2014 Dallas from its Abu Dhabi hub.

You can check Etihad availability on its own website using this link. If a flight shows it has ‘GuestSeat’ availability you can book it with your AAdvantage miles. ‘OpenSeat’ availability is not bookable with AAdvantage miles.

If you’re interested in Business or First Class travel, these airlines are incredibly useful with luxurious products you’ll enjoy, and you can see all of their business class seats and how to book them in this guide.

Etihad availability

You want flights that show availability in the ‘GuestSeat’ column, which are bookable with your AAdvantage miles by calling AAdvantage

5. Take advantage of free date / flight changes

Finally, if you can’t find an award seat on any non-British Airways flight across the Atlantic you’re not entirely out of luck.

AAdvantage is generous when it comes to changing your award flights around.

They will let you change the dates / times of your flights, and even the airlines that you use for free up to 21 days before departure.

So you can just book a British Airways flight on the day you want to travel and suck up the fuel surcharge fees as a worst case backup.

Then, if a flight on American, Iberia, Air Berlin, or any other OneWorld partner opens up you can switch to it free of charge.

You can’t change the city your are flying to and from, but you can change your airline, date and the city you connect in for free as long as it’s all 21 days or more before the flight.

So keep checking AA.com and BA.com to see if the flight you want opens up and if you’re in luck call up AAdvantage and they’ll make the change for you free.

A more hassle free way to leverage this benefit is to set up an alert on a site called ExpertFlyer.com that tells you if an award seat opens up on an American Airlines operated flight.

ExpertFlyer is a site that has access to the actual award seat inventory of many airlines, including American.  For example if you are traveling from Chicago to London you can have ExpertFlyer email you if a MileSAAver award seat opens up on the American flight. Then if a seat does open up you can call AAdvantage and switch to that flight and avoid the British Airways fees altogether.

ExpertFlyer Alert

You’ll need to pay for a $9.95 a month ‘Pro’ ExpertFlyer subscription to have access to this feature, but if it’s the difference between saving $500 or more on British Airways fees it can be worth it, especially if you do a lot of award booking.

Just note that if you’re using US Airways Dividend Miles to book flights you won’t be able to take advantage of the free change benefit as US Airways charges for any change to award tickets.

Final words

Until American improves its website and shows availability for all of its OneWorld partners online, you’ll have to go through several other websites or use the phone to see if there are ways to avoid the dreaded British Airways fees on flights across the Atlantic.

Or you can consider an award booking service – there are several online and they will book your award for a fee of about $100, leveraging these tools and more to find the cheapest possible award. MileCards.com also offers free help with award searches, though we do not do the actual booking or phone searches that paid services do.

 

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13 thoughts on How to avoid British Airways fees when using American AAdvantage miles (illustrated)

  1. Sheila

    OMG, I just spent 2 hours “trying” to plan a trip from DFW to LON to PAR to EDI and back to DFW, 260,000 miles PLUS $2300. Then I just found this site and am really excited. Is there anyway you can help me? I’m looking at middle of May 2015, flexible on dates on flying and I don’t care if we go to Paris first or Scotland, I just know most flights seem to always route you back to London. Any help would be wonderful.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Sheila – A PHL – EDI flight on US Airways starts around May 24, so you may have some luck on those flights with connections from DFW – PHL. There is also some availability on US Airways from PHL – LHR on May 10 with a DFW – PHL connection available. Returning not a lot of options yet. But remember with AA you can change dates up to 21 days in advance free of charge as long as the origin and destination cities remain the same. You can also book the flights as separate one-ways, so perhaps book the DFW – EDI trip first. Then book something backup with fuel surcharges for the return from Paris. If you find a no-surcharge flight you can get the fees refunded if you do it more than 21 days before your trip.

      Reply
  2. Paul

    Hi
    I’m trying to get 4 one-way flights from Europe back to LAX in July 2015. Although we’re starting in the UK, we can be fairly flexible on where we fly out of (London, Dusseldorf, Madrid etc), how many connections and on which date. But when I look on AA.com or BA.com, there appears to be no availability at all. Do these flights not get released until later in the year?
    Want to try and get our flights sorted early but don’t want to pay over the odds!
    Thanks for your help

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Paul- On July 3 and 9 flights from Madrid to Chicago on Iberia have 4 seats each. Unfortunately getting from Chicago to LAX is challenging unless you want to overnight or connect in other cities along the way. You can check on AA.com.

      The direct Madrid to LAX flight so far has little to show for itself in July. Just one seat on July 1.

      Reply
  3. Diana Fuller

    Great Info…but still confused. Can’t figure out how I can use my AA miles to go from Las Vegas, NV (LAS) to Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) without using BA. Can anyone help me. Traveling next June 2015

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Diana – Your best bet will be to fly Etihad which flies from LAX. Get to LAX on American (or buy a ticket there), and fly LAX – Abu Dhabi, then Abu Dhabi to Johannesburg. It’s easy to check if individual flights are open using the Etihad Guest site mentioned above. Just make sure you don’t try looking for LAS – JNB as that will choke up their system. Instead search LAX – JNB and you should have good luck. It’s early to book for next July as schedules are only open for the first few days, but they’ll be ready by the end of this month.

      Reply
  4. rnp

    checking JFK – MAD (on AirBerlin) on aa.com, 60K points + $410 surcharge. Which airline and website to book tickets to Europe using AA points and avoid big fuel charge?
    Thank you

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @rnp What dates? And are you sure all flights are on AirBerlin or AA? Am seeing it price out correctly on our end for less than $100.

      Reply
  5. Toni

    Glad someone finally pointed out this issue with BA. It is also true with Virgin. Does the same strategy work for using BA Avios?

    Thanks.

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Toni-

      For Avios you can avoid surcharges when you fly AirBerlin, but not American Airlines flights. Those have fuel surcharges when using Avios.

      You can get the smaller Iberia surcharges if you transfer your Avios from BA Avios to Iberia Avios. It’s a little cumbersome – you have to set up the Iberia account first and it has to be open for 90 days before you can transfer points in. But once that’s set you can send BA Avios there to book Iberia flights with the more favorable surcharges.

      For Virgin Flying Club the way to avoid surcharges is to book Delta flights. 60,000 points roundtrip in Economy with no fuel surcharges.

      Reply
      1. Toni

        Thanks.

        When pricing an Avios reward flight from NY to Tel Aviv on the BA site I also noticed that the surcharges are much lower when using Royal Jordanian to Amman and connecting there to Tel Aviv. But they only offer that option when there are no reward flights available on BA.

        Reply
        1. MileCards

          @Toni – Yes they are not quite as much as BA. Air Berlin is the true no surcharge way to get to Israel with Avios. You can use AA.com to check Royal Jordanian and Air Berlin flights if BA.com is defaulting to BA flights.

          Reply
          1. Toni

            Thanks so much. I’m glad I stumbled on this site; I’ve now added it to my news reader.

  6. Richard B

    Brilliant! I just looked for MSP >> DUB and I can avoid a BA flight all together! Total cost….. $73 vs. $907!! Question for you though. If I book a flight from MSP to DUB, and then a separate flight from DUB to LHR (my final destination) do I have to go grab my bag at the carousel, then go back through security AGAIN? Or would I just call up AAdvantage and all the flights would be linked together to transfer my bags? I feel like this is just asking for my bags to be lost…. ;-(

    Reply
    1. MileCards

      @Richard B – Good work. You can book the DUB-LHR on the same ticket, using BA for that flight. That way your bags will be tagged through the whole way. Don’t think you need to pick up bags in Dublin – Europe usually has separate transfer security. Either way, your bags will be tagged for the system to get them to London.

      Any connection is more risk for bags but at least Dublin has lots of flights to London to get your bag there. And if you allow 90 min – 3 hours for the connection you should be golden.

      Reply
  7. sheila

    It is a very educational article. But for rookie like me, it is still quite complicated. So just glad to know that you guys help reader to do reward search.
    Really appreciate your hard work here.

    Reply

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