American Airlines Advantage Miles vs. British Airways Avios Points

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Recently I was looking to go to Beaver Creek for a long weekend ski vacation. Fortunately, from JFK there is a non-stop season stop right into Eagle airport, which means you do not need to make the long trek from Denver. It is a American Airlines operated flight, which means you can use either AAdvantage miles or Avios points.

If you are up to date with the British Airways Avios program you are probably aware that they have a distance based award chart. Since this is a non-stop flight and between 1,152 and 2,000 miles it only requires 20,000 miles roundtrip to redeem for a free flight. With American Airlines it is typically 25,000 miles rountrip as that is standard for any domestic flight.

Of course it is a no brainer to use 20,000 Avios points over 25,000 American miles. However, American Airlines came out with a Citi AAdvantage Reduced Mileage Award chart and for whatever reason Eagle Airport is on the list. If you have the Citi Executive card, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Visa, or a few other cards you get a 7,500 mile discount. Some of the lesser fee cards come with a 5,000 mile discount off a roundtrip flight. This brings the mileage redemption down to 17,500 and 20,000 miles respectively. Also remember, one of the perks of the American Airlines credit card is that you get 10% of your miles back when redeeming for an award flight, up to 10,000 miles per account per year. So now we are down to 15,750 and 18,000 miles (assuming you have’t yet hit your maximum).

Now, the real kicker is that even though American is giving a great discount for flying to and from select airport within the US, they do not allow you to book the flights online. That means you must call to make the reservation and unless you are an American Airlines Executive Platinum member they tack on a $25 phone fee per passenger. I find this beyond ridiculous that they offer a benefit that requires you to pay a fee!

So the real question is, which points should be redeemed? 15,750 American Airline miles + a $25 fee or 20,000 British Airways points.

Now, the obvious answer is probably American Airline miles. You can think of it as “Would you purchase 4,300 miles for $25?” For most people the answer would be yes, absolutely! But there are many factors that come into play.

  1. British Airways points are easier to obtain. You can transfer points from both you Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards accounts to your British Airways Avios points. With American Airlines miles, the only transfer option is Starwood points and those points are extremely valuable that you might not want to transfer
  2. British Airways cancellation policy is better. When redeeming miles, you can typically cancel a British Airways flight and you only lose the amount of taxes paid. For a non-stop domestic flight that comes out to $11.20 per passenger. With American Airlines if you want to cancel a flight and have your miles redeposited, you are paying $150 for the first passenger then $25 for each additional passenger on the reservation. The only way this is waived is if you are an Executive Platinum member. Of course, you can always change your flight for up to a year from making the reservation for no fee. You can then try to change your flight to a day where there might be a weather travel advisory and cancel for no fee.
  3. Your mileage balance. If you have 1 million American Airline miles and only 20,000 British Airways points, you’d of course opt to use your AA miles over Avios points.
  4. How you value your points. If you like to redeem your points for short-haul domestic flights then British Airways points are much more valuable to you. However, if you want to use your points to fly to London, then American Airlines miles are more valuable as Avios points will kill you with fuel surcharges.
  5. The transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards to British Airways Avios. Through January 31, 2015, you can transfer your Membership Reward points to Avios with a 40% bonus. That means you really only need to transfer 15,000 Membership Reward points to get the 20,000 points required for the free flight. If you already have a healthy British Airways points balance though, the transfer bonus is probably not taken into consideration.

For my personal situation, I opted to redeem my British Airways Avios. While I personally would have preferred to use my American miles as I have 4x the amount of miles in this program and I value British Airways Avios points more than American miles, I needed the flexibility in the cancellation policy. That ultimately trumped everything. Since we will be leaving my toddler with the grandparents, there are more people and logistics involved that could potentially cause us to have to change or cancel our trip. We now have five people to consider even though it is just two of us flying!

When it comes to redeeming American Airline miles vs. British Airways Avios points, which program do you pull from?

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  1. I recently cancelled a BA award on an AA flight and was charged $100 ($50×2) to reschedule on a later date. Isn’t this in conflict with your article?

    • @ns – was this on a flight operated by BA? and did you do it online or over the phone? To change a flight you are charged, but if you simply cancel (and then rebook) you should just lose the taxes paid and the points should be redeposited to your account with no fee.

  2. That’s right — BA does charge a re-deposit fee, although much less than US airlines. But I’ve had to pay it several times.

    • @Jeff – For many flights if you simply cancel, you can opt to just lose the taxes paid and the miles redeposit for free. Of course this doesn’t always work, but it should for US domestic flights operated on American.

  3. Separately, the big unmentioned issue in this post is availability. It is usually very difficult to find availability on sought-after AA routes using Avios rather than Aadvantage miles.

    • @Jeff – Availability should be the exact same. If you see availability on AA and not BA, then you can call BA and they should be able to book the flight for you (although they charge a phone fee).

  4. Avios sound like a good plan until you try to book usa flights, or get hozed with flights on BA and their bogus charges.

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