Why Earning British Airways Status Makes No Sense (Even for Brits and NYLons)

British Airways has devalued their mileage in a major way. They’ve built a system that rewards paid full fare business and first class passengers who want to redeem their miles for short haul economy. They’ve made status harder to earn. And the truth is that once you earn it, it isn’t very valuable.

Indeed, even a British Airways Gold member who primarily flies BA and lives in London even would likely be better off flying the airline but crediting their trips to American AAdvantage.

There’s a potential argument for British Airways loyalists who fly more than required for Gold status, that the benefits afforded for reaching higher points threshold justify BA loyalty (though it’s quite debatable). But for benefits of standard Gold and Silver tiers, one is better off with comparable American status even largely flying BA.

There will always be a few additional edge cases and exceptions – someone who can’t meet American’s 4 segment minimum flying on their own aircraft, a subset of the case of someone who would qualify for status through BA’s program but not through American’s.

The key to remember here is that once you have American status you pretty much have everything that British Airways would give you.

First a primer on how British Airways status and American status maps (these have equivalent tiers in the oneworld alliance).

  • British Airways Bronze -> American Airlines Gold
  • British Airways Silver -> American Airlines Platinum
  • British Airways Gold -> American Airlines Executive Platinum

British Airways has a video to promote their Gold elite level that does a better job of putting lipstick on a pig than perhaps anything I’ve ever seen.

Let’s take an actual look at British Airways Gold benefits.

  • 100% bonus on flown miles. American offers this to both Platinums and Executive Platinums
  • Additional economy award inventory. If you want to fly coach, this could be helpful, of course American offers it to Executive Platinums on its own flights as well.
  • Double miles awards although you have to book at least 30 days out. American has extra mileage awards, available to its own members, for use on its own metal. There’s no 30 day rule. Although American charges more than double for many awards, it’s off of a lower base, so for premium cabins BA doesn’t offer a pricing advantage.
  • First class lounge access. This is a top tier oneworld benefit, so offered to American Executive Platinums as well.
  • Priority check-in and boarding. This is a top tier oneworld benefit, so offered to American Executive Platinums as well.
  • Free seat selection at booking and free checked bags (excluding ‘hand baggage only’ fares) This is offered to American Executive Platinums as well.
  • Dedicated customer service line. American offers this and can even transfer directly to British Airways.

These benefits are excruciatingly weak. And don’t provide a meaningful advantage for a British Airways flying to credit miles to American. British Airways Gold status doesn’t even come with upgrades of any kind as a published feature of the program (though a Gold member could get plucked for an ‘operational upgrade’ when a cabin is oversold and someone needs to be moved up).

If you earn top tier status with American AAdvantage on the other hand you get:

  • Miles that go farther (a more favorable award chart for long distance and premium cabin awards)
  • Confirmed international upgrades from any fare (8 per year)
  • Unlimited domestic upgrades within the US (and short haul international)
  • Free award cancellation and redeposit (British Airways eliminated this for Golds)
  • Full mileage earning on discount fares)

There are real benefits to British Airways points of course (like redeeming for short haul flights) and upgrades on BA (though those too were largely devalued at the end of April). But to the extent you want British Airways points, get those by transferring in Chase Ultimate Rewards points or American Express points or from a co-brand credit card. There’s no reason to credit flight miles.

As for someone who flies and spends more than needed for Gold status? These are the incremental benefits:

Of course even the legendary Concorde Room at Heathrow is at best ‘meh’.

The British Airways program has become so bad, and its elite levels are so unrewarding, that even the majority of flyers primarily flying British Airways probably shouldn’t use it. And it’s that disparity with American Airlines, BA’s joint venture partner across the Atlantic, which provides an ‘out’ to BA customers … at least in the near-term. The gap is one reason I worry that American may find itself having to make changes and become less generous. But it’s hard to imagine AAdvantage ever being worse than Executive Club even if you live in London.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary ┬╗

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Comments

  1. There is the opportunity for lifetime BAEC Gold status, although for many, including myself, it is a little late to start pursuing that …

  2. AAdvantage program is due for a devaluation as well so it may be better now, but after the devaluation, who knows?

  3. Agree with Gary (that AA is better than BA at all levels) and @Joey (that AAdvantage is due for a big downgrade). While United was busy chasing Delta downward, AA/US were concentrated on integrating their airline and leaving their FF program largely alone. It’s only a matter of time ’til they turn their attention there.

  4. You’re right Gary. Callecting BA Avios is, sadly pretty much a waste of time for great effort (& trust me – I know, having upwards of 1.6 million points). I love flying BA First internationally but you simply cannot ever redeem them online or ever get to speak with anyone on their U.S.-based 800 #.

  5. @Joey – obviously there’s much more they could do, but AAnytime awards were horrifically massacred. I priced out trips to Europe in J at 180k this summer – used to be just 100k. ­čÖü

  6. Each to their own. What your review lacks is an assessment of the Gold Guest List tier. AAdvantage domestic upgrades will be of limited use to a London-based member (and are, in any event, an indictment of the lamentable state of the legacy airlines in the US). BA unlike AA, expects its pax to pay for premium cabins. Your description of the Concorde Room as ‘meh’ interests me. I don’t necessarily disagree, but what is the comparative offering from AA? I think ‘meh’ aptly describes the FlAAgship Lounges, and the offerings in the AAdmirals Clubs are something of a running joke, although the staff are usually excellent. I’m all for constructive criticism of the BAEC, but I find your review somewhat one-sided.

  7. I genuinely believe BA have got their revised tier point reward structure wrong – it is going to force people like me who have for years chosen to fly the ‘often slightly more expensive’ BA option, on the grounds of qualifying for the silver card, to just fly the other cheaper options. This new structure I will never qualify for silver because I fly economically, even though it is probably more frequent than the lucky few who do a few long haul business class flights.

    Does BA really believe I can say to my boss “yes I specifically selected a more expensive economy seat for no other benefit than to qualify for the full tier points”.

  8. If you think BAEC is bad, have a look at Qantas Frequent Flyer. It’s the ugly cousin of BAEC.

  9. I actually credit to BA over AA (I’m based in PHX, and fly to Europe a lot, with BA being my only nonstop choice). Why do I do this?

    1. My company pays for business or first class on flights over 2.5 hours. So I don’t really need the occasional upgrade.
    2. I can reach OW emerald status with 4 flights on BA ( 1 round trip flight somewhere in Europe connecting via London in CW), plus two RT first class tickets on AA where the segments are over 2000 miles. Roughly of course, but we’re talking about 25,000 miles of flying for OWE.
    3. This provides access to almost all OW lounges worldwide, including admirals clubs and flagship lounges when flying domestic.
    4. If I fly a lot in a year, I’ll reach Gold Guest List on BA, which gives the benefit of a joker which is an actually useful benefit. As noted the CCR access is meh, but better than the other LHR T5 lounges.
    5. If I don’t fly a lot in a year, then I’ll at least have emerald status given my flying pattern, and get lounge access whenever I fly.

    Yes, AA offers better perks, but in my case I think it still makes more sense to credit to BA, in spite of their awful enhancements.

    I keep expecting BA to offer something to their own elites to make the program more worthwhile (eg limiting premium cabin awards to their own status members, etc.), but so far they’ve not done much to make up for the rounds of cuts.

  10. @Matthew you are missing the point. I am not arguing that AA lounges are great. With AA status you still get into BA lounges. Just not the Concorde Room but you aren’t missing much. And I explicitly said Gold Guest List status is a different analysis beyond the scope of this post.

  11. BAEC silver status is much easier to get for the non-frequent flyer. Take one business class trip to Asia on Qatar and you’re almost there (560 TPs out of the 600 needed). Then fly cheap BA fares in Europe and get lounge access, priority boarding, free seat selection and extra baggage allowance. Sure you can get the same with AA platinum but one long-haul J trip and a few shorthauls in Europe do not take you to 50k EQMs.

  12. “Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel”

    Well you could have fooled me.

    I am GGL with BAEC, but if I credited my flights to AAdv I would not even make ExPlat some years.
    I very rarely travel to the US, so could potentially struggle to get 4 AA metal flights some years. On the rare occasions I do though, I get lounge access on domestics, which I wouldn’t if I only had AA status.

    I don’t doubt for a minute that crediting to AAdv would be the best choice for SOME people – particularly if they fly solely in economy (indeed I’ve sometimes considered crediting any economy flights to AAdv once I have met my status requirements in BAEC), but this blanket claim just makes the author look ridiculous.

  13. This article makes the ridiculous assumption that every Brit flies to the US every year. Without that assumption it’s all a waste. Aside from the issue with the 4 segment minimum, what is the benefit of a SWU to someone who wasn’t going to fly AA in the first place?

  14. An interesting article as I begin the year towards my first year of BA Gold. Are the AA upgrades only on American metal?

  15. I mostly agree with this article post 26th April. I am currently a BA Gold cardholder, and would much prefer being AA ExPlat (currently also Plat). However, there are three reasons from stopping me jump ship:
    – For J flights, BA status is a lot easier to attain (making it easier to maintain top tier in several alliances)
    – BA cardholders are welcome in all lounges, unlike AA cardholders (US lounges)
    – SWUs are not as valuable, if you a) are based in Europe b) fly mostly eastward

    Having said all this, I’m still thinking of my strategy for next year.

  16. @Travelista – remember that AA offers not just mileage qualification but also points (which are miles adjusted by fare) and has a bonus points promotion for the year too so really incentivizes those J flights. It’s true that AA elites do not get free US lounge access when flying domestically. (They do get F lounge access when flying internationally same-day)

  17. I have a lot of AMEX points and want to use them on my next flight from NY to Sydney using American Airlines or Etihad (love their service). Are there any ways to transfer AMEX points to Etihad or AA? Maybe even by transferring them to British Airways and then transferring again to AA? Would love your thoughts on that.

    Best,
    Martin

  18. Gary, I am facing the same dilema. Whether to credit economy class BA flights to BA or AA. With AA I earn more miles, easier to redeem etc. But on the other hand, I believe AA Exec Platinum does not grant me lounge access when I’m on BA metal (in LHR for example). Is that correct?

  19. I am BA Exec gold tier member. Recent changes for gold benefits, such as, avios booked flights have to pay to tee book flights and far fewer flights made available unlike in the past. BA avios, sack your leader who can’t think better how to reward loyal customers.

  20. Concorde room card and gold guest list card holder here, and yes I couldn’t agree more with the article. Points are almost impossible to redeem anyway (not mentioning the numerous upgrades vouchers that I see expire regularly).
    As for personalized, attentive service, they left me behind in a hotel in Abuja earlier this year. We were parked in a hotel for a day after fumes were detected in our tired jumbo and we had to do an emergency landing in Nigeria. Had to grab a cab by myself to make it to the plane in time, alone in a notoriously dangerous country and without my passport (held by BA as we were not supposed to be here). When I called BA, the answer was “rush so the plane doesn’t go without you”. And I was traveling first class. Imagine the same thing with an older person, 100 miles from Boko Haram land.
    Brilliant.
    Needless to say they never accepted responsibility for anything.
    I make my best to avoid them at any cost. They’re not just a serious airline.

  21. In light of the change of AA award chart, and cutting the number of SWUs from 8 to 4. Is your opinion still the same?

    It is hard to decide. I am AA exec plat, and my mom and dad are BA gold (they couldnt qualify for AA exec plat as they qualify BA gold with many medium to long haul J fare.)

  22. I totally agree, but come from a slightly different perspective. I consider myself a frequent business traveller, but my flights are within Europe ( as a European), so the new tier point structure makes it virtually impossible to hit even 600. As sometimes a “tired business traveler” the whole lounge/early boarding perks really made BA flying worthwhile.

    The tier point reward structure is so silly now, and biased towards full business tickets or businesses that can afford to pay full economy ( who in their right mind would pay some of the full fairs ), that even trying to capture the tier points seems a waste of time.

    BA need to be very careful because whilst I get the “Vampire Squid” bankers pay more money for their tickers, they are also totally price insensitive ! However, the vast majority of business travelers are like me, and have to consider the sense of staying loyal to BA to get the Exec privileges. Normally businesses will take their business away to the other perfectly good carriers.

    I understand that there were some issues with too many Bronze/Silver/Gold members, but BA seem to have designed a reward system that doesn’t acknowledge frequent travelers who actually really benefit from the lounges.

  23. Would be great to see an analysis of AA vs. BA for using points on long haul. BA adds a ridiculous “surcharge” that often makes it more expensive with points than simply booking directly on a discounted fare. In addition, even as a Gold BA member, I rarely find the dates I need.

  24. So I have been BA Gold Guest List/Concorde Room for 3 years but will not make Concorde Room this time around. BA’s poor attitude to passengers makes me look to book as many non-BA OneWorld alternatives as possible in the future (LHR-JFK, LHR-LAX with AA mainly). The question is whether to “throw the baby out with the bath water” and shift to AA’s Advantage Awards or just fly AA and credit my BAEC?

  25. i am aa exec plat but my 3 years old niece and my 70s year old parent are both ba gold with 2500 tier points a year.

    why? ba tier points is much easier to earn and they wouldnt make oneworld emerald if they credit to aa.

    they travel for leisure and they dont mileage running like me. ba is the only choice for them to make emerald.
    none of them care too much about rewards flight, but redeeming 15000 avois for hkg bkk return in economy with access to CX F lounge makes my dad a happy camper.

    my dad makes a point that he cares more about accessing to first lounge (cx in hk) then trying to maximize the mileage rewards (like crediting to alaska)

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