Bet You Didn’t Know: What to do when British Airways doesn’t show partner availability

By Julian, author of Devil’s Advocate

 

Greg has written before about the incredible value in British Airways awards, including them as one of his Big Wins. If you’re redeeming for short, direct flights, there aren’t too many better values than using British Airways Avios thanks to their distance-based redemption chart.

An added benefit of using Avios is the ability to book a number of oneworld partner awards online, including flights on American Airlines. If you’re like me, it’s a major perk to be able to avoid dealing with any sort of airline customer service agents, and British Airways agents in particular don’t have the best of reputations.

But on occasion, ba.com poses a bit of a challenge when trying to search for availability. Namely, it tends to only show the first 5-10 results. This can be a huge problem when you see availability exists on your partner airline but can’t get to it on ba.com.

An example

Let’s say I’m looking for an evening flight from New York to Miami on American. That’s a route that would cost 12,500 miles one way using American miles but only 7,500 Avios. So we’d like to use Avios if at all possible.

First we search aa.com to see what flights have Saver availability. This is the key. If it has Saver availability on American, it’s bookable using Avios, regardless of what ba.com tells us.

british airways avios

That 7:30pm flight from Newark is perfect for our needs, so we head on over to ba.com to perform the same search. But lo and behold…

british airways avios

British Airways shows the same early inventory we saw on aa.com but nothing beyond the 1:55pm departure, and there’s no second page to these results. It capped out after roughly 10 flights. Booooo.

But here’s the good news. There’s two ways to solve this problem.

Solution #1 — Get specific about your airports

In this example, we started by searching for flights from New York to Miami and got results from all three New York airports. While that’s helpful in finding availability on aa.com, it causes trouble on ba.com because there are too many flights for the website to handle.

But now that we know we’re looking for a flight from Newark, we can cut down on these results by specifying Newark as our departing airport instead of New York generally.

british airways avios

By eliminating the flights from Kennedy and LaGuardia, we refine our results, and voila!

british airways avios

There it is. The 7:30pm flight (noted as 19:30 on ba.com) is available and costs exactly 7,500 Avios, just as we’re expecting. From here we can ticket as usual. #winning!

Undoubtedly you can already see this first solution is a bit limited. There are times we still won’t get all the results even when we restrict our airports, and in many cities there’s only one airport in the first place. So in those cases, it’s time for…

Solution #2 — Run the phone agent gauntlet

The phone agents can see all the available American space. But it means you’ll have to call in and face “The Beast.” That’s right, it’s time to… (grimace)… call British Airways.

Before you undertake this harrowing journey, you’ll need to prepare. Set aside at least 60 minutes worth of water and provisions. Put your affairs in order. Kiss your loved ones goodbye and remind them that while the going will be dangerous, the rewards at the end will be great.

Then call (800) 452-1201 between 7:30am and 10pm Eastern time and be prepared to wait. A lot. Your best bet is to put the call on speakerphone and proceed to some other task that is appropriately accompanied by endless hold music. Dancing is not recommended as overexhaustion is highly probable.

british airways avios

Don’t try to be a hero, anyone.

When a British Airways agent finally answers, stay polite even in the likely event that they are not. Explain that you are attempting to book a partner flight with Avios and give them the exact flight info, including flight numbers. If they ask you why you have flight numbers, you can tell them that you previously asked about this particular flight and wrote down the info. They should be able to find the space and book it for you.

Note that there is technically a $25 phone fee for booking the flight this way. However, in my experience I have had success in getting the agents to waive it by honestly telling them I attempted to book it online but could not get the flight. That may or may not work, but if you don’t want to run the phone gauntlet again, you’ll probably have to go with whatever decision the agent comes up with.

So if you’re booking partner flights with Avios and don’t see the flight you want online, don’t give up hope. Try one of these two solutions instead and get ready for the quest of a lifetime (or perhaps one that takes a lifetime).

Did you know how to get partner flights that don't automatically appear on ba.com?

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About Devils Advocate

The Devil's Advocate learned the ins and outs of travel loyalty programs while flying more than 200,000 miles a year as a TV producer and director for World Wrestling Entertainment (and yes, of course it’s all real). He now splits his time between New York and Los Angeles and loathes New York winters only slightly less than Los Angeles traffic.

More articles by Devils Advocate »

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  1. […] Bet You Didn’t Know: What to do when British Airways doesn’t show partner availability  –  Devil’s Advocate at Frequent Miler    Good information to know and very funny writing. Like calling British Airways: “ Before you undertake this harrowing journey, you’ll need to prepare. Set aside at least 60 minutes worth of water and provisions. Put your affairs in order. Kiss your loved ones goodbye and remind them that while the going will be dangerous, the rewards at the end will be great. Then call (800) 452-1201 between 7:30am and 10pm Eastern time and be prepared to wait. A lot. Your best bet is to put the call on speakerphone and proceed to some other task that is appropriately accompanied by endless hold music. Dancing is not recommended as overexhaustion is highly probable.”  Things that make TBB laugh are very cool! […]

Comments

  1. I had a good experience calling their UK reservation number. No waiting, competent and polite agent. I recall it was a late evening (US) / early morning their time.

    • I agree that early morning London time seems to be the best time to catch them, though that means super early here (or extremely late at night on the West Coast).

  2. So, you’re saying that nothing happens when you click the grey triangle that’s under the list of flights? Isn’t that the button that takes you to the next page? If not, it really looks like it should and it’s very misleading of them to end their list with a useless grey triangle. 🙂

  3. In my experience, when typing in a specific airport into the BA website, it pulls flights from all airports in the city (eg. If you type in BWI, you get all Washington airports), but I guess this is a YMMV

  4. I have spoken to British airways avios agents several times and have always found them to be very polite. Wait times have been reasonable too, with the longest wait time about 15 minutes. In my experience, not the most competent agents, but the wait times have been comparable to US airline agents and they have been more polite and equally incompetent. In contrast, I found Aeroplan agents remarkably competent, friendly and polite, and and wait times were nominal.

  5. “This is the key. If it has Saver availability on American, it’s bookable using Avios, regardless of what ba.com tells us.”

    That’s incorrect. BA does not have access to all AA saver space, even when you call.

    • I’ve never not been able to get AA Saver space on BA, unless AA itself was showing phantom space — that was happening a while back when they were still integrating US Airways flights but seems to have settled down now. Can you give an example of when you weren’t able to get AA Saver space? Did you try hanging up and calling back?

      • I experienced the same thing as HasGolden. BA Agent said that they don’t have access to all of AA Saver Space. He claimed they only get access to a certain number of seats. I think I called at least two times, and I got the same story.

        I was unable to get an agent to waive the phone booking fee since I could book the flights online. My main concern was I have two flights with separate record locators. I wanted the agent to put them on the same record locator, but he wouldn’t do it.

      • My experience was the same as Michael’s. Space was showing on AA.com and it wasn’t on BA.com. I called BA to book and they couldn’t see the space and couldn’t book it. I ended up booking it with AA miles instead, so it wasn’t phantom space either.

        • Very interesting. There’s certainly always exceptions to the rule, but even the searches I did for this post show that the first 10 or so flights that came up on ba.com lined up exactly with what was available in AA Saver space. While it’s theoretically possible that BA is blocking evening space on purpose or that AA is only releasing early flights to BA, the fact that the later Newark flight popped up immediately on my other search — again matching AA saver space — along with nearly all the reports I’ve seen in the last two years regarding calling in, and my own experience booking more than a few AA awards via Avios all seem to demonstrate that AA Saver space is the key. I’m not doubting your experiences in any way, but I don’t believe there’s a specific subset of AA Saver space that’s released to BA. Rather, I think unavailable Saver flights are a case of IT issues and agent misinformation.

  6. This is one of the worst articles I have read on Frequent Miler. How many cities have multiple airports where this method works?

    • Hmmmm, I’m pretty sure I offered another solution for cities without multiple airports, but I’ll go back and read my post again to be sure. 😉

  7. DA and FM, this is a fun new series and I have found the information useful–even when I already knew some of the information. Keep up the good work!

  8. I’m a night owl and I’ve had really good luck calling the Singapore call center. usually very little wait time, competent agents, excellent English, and no issues waving the phone booking fee.

  9. I haven’t had luck getting the agent to waive the $25 fee. They’ve claimed that if they can see the flight on their screen, I should be able to see it on mine and wouldn’t believe me that I couldn’t.

  10. Never waited more than 10 minutes when calling the US # between 9-10am EST. Have gotten a polite and mostly competent agent every time, which is more than I can say for any other airline.

  11. I got a great agent when I called who spent about 30 minutes with me trying to find all sorts of weird things I was asking for. I was willing to give up but she insisted we press on.

  12. I always get India call center. I wait forever with that annoying music. Then they take forever to verify me. Then I ask for what I want. Then they say it’s not available. Then I reiterate exactly which flights I want with the exact flight numbers. Then they run through all the info slowly. Then they ask if I want my middle name in there. For some reason it’s not on my BA profile. Then they tell me to send in a copy of my passport. I say ok I will someday. Then they go through everything again. Then the payment card stuff. Then all the disclaimers. Then they take their time actually making the booking. Then I ask for fee waiver. Then they put me on hold while they ask permission or fake like they are. But then I get good flights for good price!

    So the key steps are:

    – A well charged phone
    – Speakerphone
    – Flights ready
    – Deep breathing exercises
    – 20-40 minutes hold time
    – 20-40 minutes booking time
    – Resist the urge to scream on the phone. Remember, they are trying to help you, sort of
    – Get the operating airline confirmation number

  13. Does Saver availability tend to open up as time goes on? I need to book a flight almost 4 months away. There is award availability on aa.com but it’s not Saver. There’s also award availability on usairways.com but that is not available on aa.com either. I would prefer the USAirways flight because it’s direct but this flight is not showing up on ba.com either.

      • Thanks for the heads up on that site. I think I may just bite the bullet and book the outbound with Starpoints and book just the return with Avios. That brings up another issue. I’ve found two flights that will get me back home by way of UVF-MIA-PHL. The issue is the UVF-MIA segment only has coach availability and the MIA-PHL has coach and first available. Is it possible to call BA and book one ticket with the UVF-MIA segment in coach and the MIA-PHL segment in first? Can you split fare classes across a ticket like that when you’re making a connecting flight? They are two different flight numbers if that makes any difference. I’m hoping we can avoid having to collect our bags and re-check-in for the second segment.

        • If you’re booking with Avios, you might as well book each segment separately anyway (you can do this online). Yes, you should be able to check bags all the way through

  14. Info sharing – Just called the Japan call center via Skype shortly after they opened at 4pm PT (81+03-3298-5209). No hold whatsover. Had to try again as the first person was way too quiet. The second one was a very nice man with good English. Took about 20 minutes, confirmed everything, easily waived the phone fee and net was 9K avios & $11 for a RT flight from SEA-GEG. Love Avios for domestic travel.

    I did this call today on one of the biggest travel days of the year, so take note!

  15. Does specifying a single airport method still work? Saw plenty of flights from LGA at AA.com but BA.com still shows other airports.

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