Save Money and Points On Last Minute American Airlines Flights

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I just booked a last minute American Airlines first class seat for less miles/points than what AAdvantage requires for an economy award seat. Plus, I saved $75 in fees.

There are two important takeaways from this post:

  1. Sometimes procrastination pays off, but don’t assume award space will become available at the last minute. We got lucky in this case. There’s no way to predict award availability on American Airlines flights. I always recommend starting your search as soon as you have a trip in mind, then book as soon as you find dates that work for you.
  2. Earn the right credit card points. Having transferable miles and points such as American Express Membership Rewards and/or Chase Ultimate Rewards points will give you lots more options than an airline co-branded credit card. By using the right airline transfer partners, you’ll end up redeeming less miles and points. You may end up saving a lot on fees, too.
AAdvantage

Procrastination for the win!

Backstory: I needed to book a roundtrip ticket from DFW to Charleston. A few months ago, I found saver award availability on a nonstop AA flight from DFW to CHS.

The problem was the return flight. There was plenty of availability from CHS-DFW on the return for almost every date within the month, but of course the date I needed was the one that was not available.

I decided to go ahead and book the DFW-CHS one-way with British Airways Avios. I knew if I needed to cancel or if I found a better option, I could cancel. For a domestic flight, I’d only lose $5.60 and I would get my British Airways points back. To compare, cancelling a flight made with AA miles would cost $150.

As the trip was approaching, I had been searching often to see if any saver award seats became available on the CHS-DFW return. No luck. For a while, the paid one-way ticket was reasonable, so I was going to just pay for it.

I kept putting off purchasing the return flight because I wasn’t noticing any changes in the price (by price I mean paid fare). So I decided to wait it out, and if the price started rising, I would go ahead and purchase. I kept thinking maybe some saver award space will open, so I kept procrastinating.

Finally, the trip was about a week out, so I needed to just go ahead and purchase the ticket. By then, the paid fare had gone up, but I was running out of time and needed to purchase before the price went up even more. Just as I was about to purchase the one-way, I decided to check one last time to see if any milesAAver availability opened up. Nothing opened up for economy, but to my pleasant surprise, first class MilesAAver seats became available.

Normally I would not use miles and points to book a first class seat on a domestic flight, especially one that is short (the DFW-CHS nonstop is less than 3 hours). But in this case, it made sense, because I knew that I could use British Airways Avios to book the ticket for a reasonable amount.

I did not use AAdvantage miles to book the American Airlines flight

Instead, I transferred American Express Membership Rewards points to British Airways. Then I used British Airways to book the AA flight. Click here to learn how you can book American Airlines flights with British Airways Avios.

To make the situation even better, Amex is currently offering a 40% bonus on Membership Rewards points transferred to British Airways, Iberia, or Aer Lingus.

In the end, I used only 12,000 Amex points to book a one-way first class ticket. To compare, AAdvantage would have required 25,000 AAdvantage miles for the exact same one-way flight in first class.

Why not economy? Since no milesAAver seats were available in economy, I would not have been able to book the AA flight in economy with British Airways. But if I wanted to book with AAdvantage miles, I could have booked an economy AAnytime seat for 20,000 AAdvantage miles. Click here for more info about milesAAver vs. AAnytime American Airlines AAdvantage award tickets.

Having Amex Membership Rewards points rather than AAvantage miles in this scenario resulted in a lower redemption cost, plus I booked a better seat. Chase Ultimate Rewards points would also be helpful since they also transfer to British Airways.

Why would I want to use British Airways Avios to book American Airlines flights?

  1. Because I had plenty of Amex Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards points and both of those currencies transfer to British Airways. Neither transfer to American Airlines.
  2. British Airways does not have last-minute booking fees. AAdvantage does.
  3. British Airways has a generous cancellation policy
  4. Most importantly, the amount of avios (BA’s name for miles/points) required by British Airways on this particular route is less than what the AAdvantage program requires

You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio

The two credit card rewards currencies I mostly collect are Chase Ultimate Rewards points and American Express Membership Rewards points.  Both of these transfer to British Airways and Iberia at a 1:1 ratio.

Neither of these transfer to American Airlines. So if I want to book American Airlines flights and I do not have AAdvantage miles, I can transfer my Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards to British Airways or Iberia to book American Airlines flights. Note that Amex has additional partners that can book AA flights.

You can also use British Airways and Iberia Avios to book other Oneworld alliance partners. 

JAL NRT to DFW with British Airways Avios
You can even use British Airways to book flights to Japan operated by American Airlines or Japan Airlines
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British Airways does not collect an extra fee for last-minute tickets

American Airlines AAdvantage charges $75 per ticket when tickets are booked within 21 days of travel.  This is called a close-in fee. There is no such fee if you use British Airways to book the American Airlines ticket.  So, you will save $75 per ticket by using British Airways rather than American Airlines to book last minute tickets.

British Airways has a generous cancellation policy for award tickets

American Airlines AAdvantage charges $150 to redeposit your miles if you cancel an award ticket.  British Airways will refund your miles and you only lose the taxes and fees.  For domestic tickets, the taxes and fees are only $5.60.  Now remember, the points you get back are going to be British Airways Avios.  And you can’t transfer Avios back to Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards.

For international flights with higher taxes and/or surcharges, you can pay a cancellation fee to get your taxes, fees, and Avios refunded.  The fee is $55, which is still better than American Airlines.

British Airways avios for AA flights

Booking with British Airways requires less points/miles than what AAdvantage requires for this flight

British Airways has a distance based award chart. This can save you lots of points on several routes, especially shorter nonstop routes! Click here for more information about the different types of award ticket pricing.

In the midst of my excitement, it didn’t occur to me to take screenshots of the exact flights I booked. So I found the same flights for different dates, but they are dates that are about 2 weeks out from the date of publishing this post.

AAdvantage vs. British Airways Executive Club

I’m going to show roundtrip flights, but British Airways allows one-way tickets, and a one-way ticket is half the amount shown.

I’ll start with AAdvantage. This is a roundtrip itinerary in first class from DFW to Charleston.

AAdvantage
American Airlines AAdvantage Milesaaver first class

Each way requires 25,000 AAdvantage miles. Your total for the roundtrip ticket would be 50,000 AAdvantage miles. That’s pretty steep considering you can get an off-peak milesAAver roundtrip ticket (in economy, but still) to Europe for less. But that’s not all.

American Airlines last minute ticket fees

On top of the 50,000 AAdvantage miles you need, you will also have to pay the $75 close-in fee that I discussed above because travel begins within 21 days.

British Airways Executive Club

Since these seats are milesAAver seats, they should be bookable by partner programs. This means you can use miles from British Airways, Iberia, or any of AA’s other partner frequent flyer programs to book the ticket. To be clear, you are booking through British Airways. You cannot transfer British Airways avios to AAdvantage. But you wouldn’t want to anyway for this route, because the redemption price is better using British Airways.

British Airways prices award tickets by distance and per segment. Click here for their distance/price table. If the flight isn’t a nonstop, you will have to redeem more avios if you’re using British Airways. (Iberia has a distance based program, but Iberia calculates the distance differently than British Airways. As a result, if you have a connecting flight, Iberia may be a better program. More on that a little later.)

The amount of British Airways avios required for a nonstop DFW-CHS flight operated by American Airlines is 16,500 avios each way in first class. Roundtrip is 33,000 avios. Notice how the $75 last minute fee isn’t there. So, not only do you redeem less by using British Airways, you also save $75.

American Airlines AAdvantage Milesaaver first class, how to book with British Airways Executive Club avios

British Airways already wins here, but until October 1, it gets even better. There is currently a 40% bonus when you transfer Amex Membership Rewars points to British Airways, Iberia, or Aer Lingus. I only needed a one-way flight, so I only needed 16,500 avios. To get 16,500 avios for the one-way, I only had to transfer 12,000 American Express Membership Rewards points to British Airways. To get the 33,000 avios needed for the roundtrip, you would only need to transfer 24,000 American Express Membership Rewards points. Thats less than half of what AAdvantage requires for the exact same ticket!

Actually, it’s less than an economy milesAAver ticket, too! A one-way milesAAver ticket in economy between any two cities in the US booked with AAdvantage miles is 12,500. But remember, milesAAver economy tickets weren’t even available for the date I needed.

American Express Membership Rewards points are more than twice as valuable as AAdvantage miles in this case

I looked up the fare for the exact same flights and it’s $659 for the roundtrip first class ticket from DFW to Charleston.

American Airlines AAdvantage Milesaaver first class, how to book with British Airways Executive Club avios

AAdvantage miles: 1.3 cents per point

  • 659/50,000=0.013
  • 0.013 X 100=1.3

British Airways avios: 2 cents per point

  • 659/33,000=0.02
  • 0.02 X 100=2

American Express Membership Rewards points transferred to British Airways (until October 1, 2019): 2.7 cents per point

  • 659/24,000=0.0274
  • 0.0274 X 100=2.7

On paper, an Amex point is worth twice as much as an AAdvantage mile for this flight. Amex points would be valued at 2.7 cents per point after factoring in the current transfer bonus promo. AAdvantage miles would be about 1.3 cents per point.

An Amex point is also more valuable than an AAdvantage mile because you have more options. With Amex points, if an AA flight wasn’t available, there are several other airline partners you can check. On the other hand, AAdvantage miles aren’t transferable. You are limited to AA flights. And AA partners, but to my knowledge no AA partner flies to Charleston.

Here are your options for this roundtrip flight:

  • Pay $659 (or redeem using a cash-back type currency/method such as redeeming Ulitmate Rewards points through Chase’s booking portal)
  • Redeem AAdvantage miles: 50,000 AAdvantage miles plus $86.20
  • Redeem British Airways Executive Club avios: 33,000 avios plus $11.20
  • Transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to British Airways: 24,000 American Express Membership Rewards points plus $11.20

Even if you are reading this after the Amex transfer bonus has passed, using British Airways to book this last minute itinerary (total: 33,000 + $11) is a much better deal than if you were to book with AAdvantage (total: 50,000 + $86).

Economy is also a great value with British Airways (or Amex Membership Rewards points/Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to British Airways)

Economy wasn’t available for the return flight, but I wanted to show the value of an economy ticket. So I found other dates that are in the very near future. This is a roundtrip economy ticket that’s about 2 weeks from now.

AAdvantage

AAdvantage would require 12,500 miles each way, or 25,000 roundtrip for a milesAAver economy ticket. Since the travel date is within 21 days, you’ll also have to pay the $75 fee.

How to avoid AA last minute award ticket fee
British Airways Executive Club

Since this is a milesAAver ticket, it is also bookable with British Airways Executive Club. British Airways requires 9,000 Avios each way in economy for a nonstop flight from DFW to CHS operated by American Airlines.

American Airlines AAdvantage Milesaaver first class, how to book with British Airways Executive Club avios

Again, the $75 fee isn’t charged by British Airways.

You can transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points and American Express Membership Rewards points to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio. So you would only need 18,000 points in either of those programs to transfer to British Airways to book the ticket.

With the current Amex bonus transfer deal, it’s even better. You would only need to transfer 13,000 Amex points to BA to get 18,000 Avios.

An economy award ticket is an even better value for this route

This itinerary is $378 roundtrip in economy.

American Airlines AAdvantage Milesaaver first class, how to book with British Airways Executive Club avios

AAdvantage miles: 1.5 cents per point

  • 378/25,000=0.015
  • 0.015 X 100=1.5

British Airways avios: 2.1 cents per point

  • 378/18,000=0.021
  • 0.021 X 100=2.1

American Express Membership Rewards points transferred to BA (until October 1, 2019): 2.9 cents per point

  • 378/13,000=0.029
  • 0.029 X 100=2.9

Here are your options for this roundtrip flight:

  • Pay $378 (or redeem using a cash-back type currency/method such as redeeming Ulitmate Rewards points through Chase’s booking portal)
  • Redeem AAdvantage miles: 25,000 AAdvantage miles plus $86.20
  • Redeem British Airways Executive Club avios: 18,000 avios plus $11.20
  • Transfer American Express Membership Rewards points to British Airways: 13,000 American Express Membership Rewards points plus $11.20

Iberia may be a better way to book American Airlines flights if your itinerary requires a connecting flight

Even though British Airways and Iberia both have distance based programs, each program has different ways of calculating the cost.  Iberia’s program is often favorable to those who live in cities that require connecting flights.

British Airways and Iberia calculate distances differently 

British Airways calculates the price based on distance per segment, not total distance.  So any flight that has even one connection automatically adds to the cost.

Any AA flight segment within the US under 650 miles in distance is 7500 Avios.  At the minimum of 7,500 for US flights, if your flight has 2 segments (1 connection), that is at least 15,000 Avios each way.  

If any segment’s distance is greater than 650 miles in distance, the cost will be even higher.  For example, any segment between 651 and 1150 miles is 9,000 Avios each way. For that reason, British Airways may not be the ideal program for booking American Airlines flights if you’re in a city that requires multiple segments and/or longer distances.

This British Airways Executive Club chart is not officially published by British Airways, but this is thought to be the distance/avios table:

British Airways redemption table for American Airlines flights

It is important to note that zone 1 pricing on flights within the US are 7500 instead of 6000.

British Airways partner award chart 2019

There are no nonstop flights between Austin and Charleston that are operated by American Airlines.

For this example, I’ll use an itinerary that connects in DFW*.

  • Austin-DFW (190 miles): 7500 Avios
  • DFW-Charleston (987 miles): 9000 Avios
  • Charleston-DFW: 9000 Avios
  • DFW-Austin: 7500 Avios

*You would ideally connect in DFW since it’s the shortest distance. But if DFW isn’t available, you may connect in a further city such as Miami. In that case, the amount of Avios required would be even higher since the distance is more than 650 miles.

Again, British Airways calculates the total by adding the sum of each segment. So your total for the roundtrip ticket would be 7500 + 9000 + 9000 + 7500, which is 33,000 Avios.

American Airlines AAdvantage Milesaaver first class, how to book with British Airways Executive Club avios

To compare, AAdvantage only requires 25,000 miles for this itinerary. AA has a zone-based chart, and connecting flights do not add to the redemption cost. So AUS-DFW-CHS is the same as DFW-CHS when you are redeeming AAdvantage miles.

American Airlines AAdvantage Milesaaver last minute fees
I just want to take this opportunity to remind you not to apply for that AAdvantage card above. There are better deals that should take priority.

With the Amex transfer bonus, you would only need to transfer 24,000 Amex points to British Airways to get 33,000. But Iberia will be a better deal than American Airlines for this itinerary regardless of the Amex transfer bonus.

What makes Iberia different than British Airways?

First of all, Iberia has a different chart with different distance ranges than British Airways.  What makes Iberia favorable in some situations is the way Iberia calculates the distance.  Iberia calculates the redemption price based on the total distance, not per segment like British Airways.  This can make a huge difference.

Another difference is that American Airlines flights booked with Iberia Avios must be booked roundtrip.  British Airways flights can be booked one way*.

*I like the flexibility of being able to book one way because like my Charleston example, I was able to go ahead and book the flight to Charleston that was available months ago even though no return flight was available at the time. With Iberia, I would not have been able to book just one way. But it is important to note that if both ways were available as nonstop DFW-CHS milesAAver economy tickets, the Iberia price would have actually been less than British Airways. Iberia would be 17,000 whereas BA is 18,000 roundtrip. It’s not a huge difference, but I just wanted to point out that you should check your exact distances even on nonstop flights!

Iberia redemption table for American Airlines flights

These redemption costs are for roundtrip award tickets.

American Airlines AAdvantage Milesaaver first class, how to book with Iberia avios

For the AUS-DFW-CHS itinerary above, here are the distances:

  • Austin-DFW (190 miles)
  • DFW-Charleston (987 miles)
  • Charleston-DFW (987 miles)
  • DFW-Austin (190 miles)

So to get the total, you add 190 + 987 + 987 + 190. The total distance is 2354. According to the table, an itinerary totaling 2354 miles requires 23,000 Iberia Avios in economy.

American Airlines AAdvantage Milesaaver first class, how to book with Iberia avios

There isn’t a $75 last minute fee like American Airlines, but Iberia does have some small carrier fees. Still, I’d rather redeem 23,000 points and pay $29 than redeem 25,000 AAdvantage miles and pay $86.

So to sum it up, the options here are:

  • Pay for the ticket or use cash-back type points
  • Redeem 25,000 AAdvantage miles and pay $86 in fees
  • Redeem 33,000 British Airways Avios and pay $11 in fees
  • Use Iberia instead of British Airways, which would be 23,000 Avios plus $29 in fees.

Remember, if you have Amex Membership Rewards points, you can transfer to Iberia or British Airways and receive a 40% bonus until October 1, 2019. To get 23,000 Iberia avios, you would only need to transfer 17,000 Amex points to Iberia!

Final thoughts

The current Amex Membership Rewards transfer bonus to avios made a great deal even better! Even if you’re reading this after that promo has expired, British Airways and Iberia are often a great way to book AA flights. Both of my favorite award currencies, Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards transfer to both airlines at a 1:1 ratio.

Open a Chase Sapphire Preferred or an Amex Membership Rewards earning card if you haven’t already!

Advertiser disclosure: The Miles Genie has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products.  The Miles Genie and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers.

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