A few days ago, I posted an initial reaction to the transfer of British Airways Avios to Iberia Avios and the impact on award bookings. In short, a major weakness of BA Avios has been using them on awards to Europe due to fuel surcharges. As that post showed, redeeming via a transfer to Iberia Avios reduced the fees substantially. In this post, I’m going to compare BA Avios, Iberia Avios, and American Airlines AAdvantage miles for European award bookings.
I’ll review bookings from Chicago to Rome since all 3 airlines publish this route and it should price the same in Avios whether we go through Madrid or London. Chicago also has the benefit of being mid-continent. At the end, I’ll discuss the impact for those that are in spoke cities (e.g. Minneapolis) and/or coasts. I also compare some Chicago to London scenarios to illustrate the high airport fees and fuel surcharges as well as test a few award options.
Let’s dive in.
Availability, Award Classes, and Partner Access
Be careful not to draw too many conclusions about availability in general as I did not take a broad look. Availability could be a lot better from Miami or Los Angeles for example or perhaps change in a few weeks.
AA offers reduced mileage off-peak economy awards to Europe from Oct 15 to May 15 at 33% off. These are a terrific value as you’ll see. They also offer milesAAver (aka low) awards at 60k (peak) economy, 100k business, and 125k first. Capacity controls are lifted (and costs increased substantially) on their AAnytime awards (aka high) which are not covered here.
Chicago MilesAAver seats to Rome are nearly non existent and appear not be loaded for the off-peak times currently. Business availability is a bit better. Availability to London is limited but exists. AA also offers a first class cabin to London but not Rome. They don’t operate a route to Madrid though they codeshare the Iberia flight.
AA can book Iberia Blue (which is equivalent to MilesAAver) and Business classes. AA can also access all BA award seats.
BA offers 4 classes of services. Economy (aka World Traveller), Premium Economy (aka World Traveller Plus), Business (aka Club), and First. I’ve skipped the Premium Economy in this post. The bad news is that there are seats or there aren’t (all flights are capacity controlled). The good news is that they have pretty good availability!
BA can access AA MilesAAver, business, and first availability. I didn’t see Iberia offered on the web site but, naturally, you can transfer BA Avios to IB and book anything at the IB rates which should be very similar (and possibly lower fee).
Iberia’s Blue (low economy) is quite difficult to find but exists. Iberia’s Economy (similar to AAnytime) is quite good as is business.
IB can access AA MilesAAver, business, and first availability. Of course, IB Avios can transfer to BA Avios so you have access to all of BA’s award inventory.
I didn’t investigate mixing carriers on itineraries (e.g. ORD-LHR on BA, LHR-MAD on IB) but I’m pretty certain that can be done via the web sites and, if not, a phone call.
Answers in the Data
You may want to open the table in a separate window by clicking the graphic. It might be time for me to work on my HTML table skills. The highlighted cells are the options I find most interesting. Notice that none of the highlighted cells use BA’s program.
London Fees are high. For example, AA miles for ORD-FCO-ORD in AA business (Row 2) is $42.60 while it’s $274.70 for ORD-LHR-ORD (Row 6). That gives us a sense that going to/from Heathrow is adding somewhere around $200 to any ticket.
BA has fuel surcharges on awards. Take a look at Row 3 – the fees on ORD-LHR-ORD on BA are $1,090.64 round-trip. And the results are the same if you use BA miles on an AA flight on the same route (Row 4).
It’s clear that awards on AA to London are far better than BA, availability aside. If you wanted to fly to London in business class and have BA Avios but not AA miles, there might be some value in using Iberia Avios to fly AA (Row 5). Time permitting, flying Iberia using Iberia Avios might be a fall back as shown in Line 7. Let’s break down how much the Iberia options could save us versus BA.
Baseline (Row 3): BA Avios for BA business from ORD-LHR-ORD is 80k + $1090.64.
Case 1 (Row 5): IB Avios for AA business from ORD-LHR-ORD is 94.5k + $717.24. The additional 14.5k Avios saves $.026/Avios which is definitely worthwhile.
Case 2 (Row 7): IB Avios for IB business from ORD-MAD-LHR-MAD-ORD is 110k + $400.71. The additional 30k saves $.023/Avios which is also definitely worthwhile.
So, for London, AA is still best but IB opens up some slightly better options but don’t expect great availability.
AA looks pretty good here, with as little as 40k + $42.60 for a nonstop off-peak economy ticket. Nothing beats that but I couldn’t find it! During peak times, it’s 60k+$42.60 for economy and 100k+$42.60k for business.
Rows 8-10 show the various options through London. It’s a minimum of $380 extra and no fewer miles. The only reason one might want to go this way is for a stopover in London or to fly BA in international first. Personally, I’d probably stick with business class or economy. This isn’t of much interest to me.
We’re here to look at Iberia though. Take a look at Row 12 which is ORD-MAD-FCO-MAD-ORD and 110k + $180.82 round-trip in business. It’s an extra connection over AA’s nonstop but AA’s availability is so poor that this is a welcome option that costs few additional miles and not much more money.
For what it’s worth, this create an interesting comparison. Let’s take a moment to compare the value difference mathematically as I’m curious if it mirrors my valuations of $.016/AA and $.012/BA. Assuming AA and IB products are comparable and accepting that AAdvantage miles are worth $.016, we can solve that BA in this comparison is worth $.0133. Pretty close.
Last minute booking fees – AA charges $75/ticket for a last-minute booking (for non-elites). Not enough to swing me on these international tickets. BA does not and I suspect IB doesn’t either but haven’t confirmed.
Stopovers – Avios allows stopovers anywhere on the route but remember that each segment is priced separately so there’s no free stopover per se. AA only allows stopovers in your US gateway city which doesn’t apply in this case. If you were flying Minneapolis to Chicago to Rome, you could stop over in Chicago.
One-Ways – AA and BA offer one-ways while Iberia does though it effectively charges a 50% premium for one which makes that pretty useless.
BA Companion Pass – Chase issues a BA companion pass on spending $30k in a year. It must be used on BA operated and marketed flights. That said, this can be a tremendous value if you have a LOT of BA miles and have some cash to pay BA fees.
Cabin quality – This could be a factor and merits some reading before booking but it’s a complex enough topic that I’ll just leave it at that.
And if I’m not in Chicago
AA awards will be the same costs as above regardless of your location within North America if you can find the availability.
Avios though is priced based on each segment’s distance so LAX-MAD-FCO will cost more than ORD-MAD-FCO which will cost more than MIA-MAD-FCO.
The case for AA will become stronger if you’re on the west coast than the east cost.
If you’re departing from a spoke city (e.g. Minneapolis), you’ll need an extra segment (e.g. MSP-ORD) which won’t add any cost in AA but will in Avios awards.
In short, the further west you live and if you don’t live in a OneWorld hub, the more things tilt in favor of AA over BA.
Economy is tough… I love the off-peak awards from AA and would gladly take economy for those prices. The problem is that BA economy requires a trip through London which is tough to swallow. AA availability was relatively scarce (in my limited sample) as was Iberia’s. As soon as I consider moving to a high (e.g. AAnytime) fare, there’s no doubt that I’d also be looking at milesAAver business.
Once I’m looking at business, availability seemed a bit better and I’d probably try to stick with AA or IB avoiding London. If my destination was London or I needed to pass through, I’d look at AA miles first and even consider a stopover in Madrid on the way there. As an aside, if I needed to go to London, I’d also consider options not discussed in this post such as Delta and United.
If found myself using AA miles to or through London, I’d probably try to step up to first at that point as it’s only 25% more than low business, even on BA metal. One last case…review row 10 and tell me if it seems odd to you too that the fees drop from $659.40 to $434.40 by upgrading from business to first. That makes redeeming AA awards in BA first class look great, especially if you were comparing AA AAnytime economy awards to Europe at 120k round-trip.
A definite exception to this is if you were utilizing a BA companion pass. That’s a special case where I’d argue it’s best to use a LOT of Avios, fly in a premium cabin (esp. first class), and pass through Europe (China? Africa?), stopping in London long enough to enjoy the Concorde Room and perhaps a bit longer.
The ability to transfer BA Avios to IB Avios clearly opens new options. If your sole destination was Europe, I’d previously have suggested against collecting Avios but this creates enough openings for reasonable (preferably non-UK) awards that I’m coming around. It’s too bad that I’ve depleted all our household’s Avios though they were some pretty great trips. The transfer promotions from Amex have been pretty regular and Chase UR remains a 1:1 option as well (though I’ll probably stick with United for those). Finally, there’s a 100k BA card for those of you that haven’t had it. I’m not sure how I’ll build those balances back up right now but I’ll be keeping an eye out again.