Reader Question: Moved to the UK, Stick With American or Try British Airways?

Reader Cristian sent me the following email:

I have 150k miles with American Airlines, but have recently moved to the UK, and am thus considering joining British Airways’ Executive Club. I fly regularly from the UK to California, and from the UK to Europe – almost always on British Airways.

Do you think there is any advantage to keeping my American Airlines frequent flyer program going? And assuming you recommend a fresh start with British Airways, do you know if there is a way to transfer my American Airlines miles to my British Airways account (as they are both part of the oneworld alliance)?

First, I would absolutely open an Executive Club account with British Airways. I’ll get to my reasoning for that in a moment. But to answer your question whether to keep your AAdvantage account going or switch to Executive Club collecting Avios depends on how you want to redeem your miles. And if achieving elite status is important to you, it might take longer to reap better benefits if you post exclusively to British Airways versus American.

As to mileage redemption, one of American’s advantages is reduced North America to Europe off-peak coach award levels at 40,000 miles. The lowest rate for using British Airways Avios at any time is 50,000 for the same award (except for NYC/BOS/WAS, which is 40k as John777 notes in the comments). That said, you could use fewer Avios on flights if you’re willing to add in a co-pay (think cash+points). Another advantage with American is for N.A.-UK/Europe first class award redemptions. You’d only need 125,000 miles on American for a first class award versus 150,000 Avios on British Airways. And as other readers mention below, beware of the fuel surcharges on British Airways awards.

British Airways Avois have advantages, too. Besides the aforementioned cash+points scheme, you’d only need 9,000 Avios for a roundtrip coach flight from London to Frankfurt versus 20,000 American Airlines miles. London to Rome would be 15,000 Avios versus 20,000 American miles. And both programs currently earn 1 Avios (BA) or mile (AA) per mile flown on the cheapest coach tickets.

If elite status is important to you, flying British Airways and posting to American on the cheapest coach tickets will get you oneworld Sapphire status faster. American’s program requires 50,000 miles to hit that level versus 600 tier points with British Airways. To break that down, it would only take 4.58 LHR-LAX roundtrips to hit Sapphire in American’s program versus 8.57 roundtrips posted to British Airways. Sapphire status grants you priority check-in, boarding, lounge access and other perks when traveling internationally.

Finally, the reason I mentioned that you should open up an Executive Club account is simply to take advantage of bonus Avios opportunities. British Airways recently brought back its credit card for U.S. residents that offers large bonus Avios. If you can still maintain a mailing address in the U.S., consider applying for this card.

And sadly, no… you can’t transfer your AAdvantage miles to a British Airways account.

Readers: Any other advice you’d provide to Cristian?

Comments

  1. BA charges fuel surcharges on most award tickets (I’ve seen simple TATL with $800 fuel surcharge), I don’t think American does, but I’m not a oneworld guy, so I’m not positive.

  2. American doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on transatlantic flights, whereas BA does .. you’re correct. Those can be massive (around $1300 for business from London to West Coast).

    Unfortunately, if you’re flying from UK to US, and vice-versa, then you can only book BA flights with BA, and AA flights with AA if they both fly the same route, so consider which routes you’d be flying. Personally I prefer the quality of service in BA cabins, but that fuel surcharge makes me think twice about booking them. AA generally gives a better return if you’re not concerned about quality of service.

    That being said, if you get the companion pass (after spending $30k with the BA Chase Visa) and book first class you get pretty excellent value despite the surcharges.

    Finally, although BA is expensive in terms of points and miles for transatlantic flights, it typically is much better value than AA for direct short-to-medium haul, either in the US or within Europe, and charges minimal fees in these cases. That, and there’s many more opportunities to earn avios in the UK than AA miles.

    In short, personally I’d use both, but credit paid flights to AA, and make sure to use credit card spend to top those points up. Also note that the Chase BA card, if you can get it, is foreign transaction fee free, which can help with maintaining accounts in 2 countries.

  3. I am a little confused by the post above as far as I know transatlantic aa and ba are now effectively the same airline as it is a jv. Not only can you book ba flights with aa miles and vice versa, you can also have a mixed itinerary aa out ba back. With aa miles you can even switch previously booked tickets between the airlines if you want to retime them and this is free for elites.

  4. Karl is incorrect, BA can book AA and vice versa. AA site can even search BA award availability. But there are fairly high fees to fly BA whether booked with Avios or AAdvantage miles. AAdvantage miles can be used for other partners (or AA) for lower fees.

    Def get the no-fee CC’s before moving, because CC offers are far better in US.

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