Can’t book domestic first class tickets on American using British Airways Avios points online

British Airways structures their Avios award chart such that business class costs twice as many points as coach, while first class costs three times as many points as coach.

What’s frustrating about this is that they determine the cabin based on how the airline markets their product, and not whether it’s actually a two cabin or three cabin aircraft. This means that business class on American’s Flagship Service between New York and Los Angeles only costs double as many miles as coach, while first class on a two cabin aircraft costs triple as many miles. That’s despite the fact that business class on a three cabin aircraft is almost always better than first class on a two cabin product, and American charges the same mileage for both.

Even more confusing is that the same first class seat on the same 737 sometimes costs double points and sometimes costs triple points. American markets the forward cabin on international flights as “business class.” So if you fly Dallas to Toronto you pay double miles for “business” class, while if you fly Dallas to New York (on the same plane) you pay triple miles for the same seat. You’ve gotta love the logic…

But that’s not really the point of this post. As of a couple of weeks ago I’ve noticed a change on the British Airways website which is rather frustrating. At first I thought it was a glitch, but I’m starting to think they have an ulterior motive. As a default, the British Airways award search tool looks like this:

But as soon as you enter a route only served by domestic, two cabin aircraft, the drop down menu looks like this:

So what does this mean? You can’t book domestic first class American flights online anymore, at least for routes only operated by two cabin aircraft. That means you have to call to book an American Airlines domestic first class award, which incurs a $25 ticketing fee.

Why is this happening?

Trusting Lucky says: “Relax guys, it’s an IT glitch and the kind folks at British Airways will fix it in the next decade soon.”

Cynical Lucky says: “These phonies, this change didn’t occur as a result of inaction, but rather as a result of action, so someone schemed this. American domestic first class is readily available and people actually redeem Avios points for it, and it’s costing British Airways money. By not displaying first class award space online they’re convincing 90% of people that it’s not available, and the other 10% have to pay $25 to redeem for an award. No soup clotted cream and scones for you!”

What say you, wise friends?

Update: Iain points out that after you do the initial search (just select economy or business class), the next page will let you redo the search at the bottom left and specify first class. I’m still not convinced it’s a glitch, though.


  1. I say you be right. I tried to book a trip online a couple of weeks back and came across the same problem. It is definitely an “enhancement”. I guess they figure with the phone booking it’s at least a $25 co-pay (along with the triple miles)

  2. It’s an IT glitch. If you go through the initial booking as economy, when it gets to the next page it will show a calendar and the ability to use airline partners. On the left side of the screen there is an option to redo the search, and first class is available there. And it works fine if there is first class MileSAAver availability.

  3. @ Iain — Nice catch. Still seems strange that after several weeks they haven’t fixed it if it is indeed a glitch.

  4. First of all, Happy Birthday!!!!!!!!!!

    Secondly, Cynical Lucky is probably right… I redeemed 90,000 Avios last month for 2 round trip first class tickets IAD-MIA on American for travel in late July. And at that time, the options on the drop down menu were Economy, Business, and First.

    What is strange when I made the booking, I received the initial e-mail confirmation… Then a few weeks out, I received an e-mail itinerary that was all in type-write font o_O

  5. @Iain – you’re right! 😉 Guess it is an IT glitch — but I swear that a few weeks ago “first” was also an option on the original booking page ;D

  6. Lucky: you win some and then you lose some. US Air allows for US-EU-Asia First class travel that makes no sense wise (you win) and then you encounter situations like these were you lose…

  7. @ Patrick — Thanks! Indeed it used to list first class, which is what the issue is. BA seems to send out the new typed out confirmations only monthly when there’s even the most minor schedule change, so it’s nothing to worry about.

    @ Matrix — I agree that you win some and you lose some, though is allowing one to travel from the US to Asia via Europe really irrational? JFK-FRA-SIN is about 1,000 miles shorter than JFK-LAX-NRT-SIN, so it makes sense to allow one to take the more direct routing in my opinion (though yes, some of us take full advantage of that). 😀

  8. I stumbled on a way to get around this a few weeks ago. If you just use the airport code in the search field, instead of clicking on the full name it offers, you are able to select first class. I did this last week when I needed to go from CLT-LGA and there weren’t any economy seats avaiable.

  9. you are very smart by “using” the US loophole if we can call it that, but then you have to realize that by living in the US the whole miles and points game is FAR easier for you than for others in the rest of the world. Heck, there are people that fly/spend way more than you and still end up with a fraction of your miles.

  10. The BA website has recently been showing much less AA MileSAAver flight availability than the AA website, even at the economy level.

    Earlier this week, I had to book a last-minute flight from NYC to LAX and while AA showed plenty of availability of 12.5k MileSAAver flights (both nonstop and layover), BA showed none.

    My current predicament: Trying to book round-trip business class flights from LGA-MIA for May 4 – May 7. The AA site shows plenty of availability (12+ nonstops on both days), but the BA site shows nothing. Even using all of the suggestions in this posting, I can’t get any non-economy flights to even show up in the search results.

    Any suggestions? Should I just call and try to get them to waive the $25 phone fee?

  11. Iain was correct, there was an way to book first class on the next page. This has also now disappeared! Now there is NO way to book an AA first class seat on the British Airways site. I’ve talked to several BA agents about this and even wrote an email to the BA customer service, and they all treat me like I’m crazy. I’m glad to know I’m not the only one experiencing problems. The last two times times I’ve called to book a first class seat, they didn’t charged me the $25 fee…it’s weird that they didn’t even mention it. They just charge the $5 taxes.

  12. So if ATL – MIA only has AA First class availability will it still cost triple points instead of double with Avios to book it? Even if I call the contact center?

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