Where Does All the British Airways First Class Award Space Disappear To?

I’ll avoid British Airways award redemptions when there’s another choice available because they’re simply more expensive than they’re worth. In nearly all cases they entail not just spending points but also paying fuel surcharges.

If you do book awards on BA book two one ways, the fuel surcharges from Europe to the US will be lower that way. But you’re still paying around $650 roundtrip on top of taxes which out of Heathrow are high too.

British Airways first class isn’t in the same league as Lufthansa or Air France first class products. I’ll even choose American Airlines first class over BA until the latter carrier offers internet throughout their long haul fleet.

However their first class is better than their business class, so given the option if I’m going to fly BA I’d certain prefer to be up front. And with a very large pool of miles from which to draw I’ll burn the extra points to do it.

Perhaps because of how much BA awards cost they’re also usually pretty available. And they have released space pretty reliably when the flight schedule opens.

For instance, looking for just a single business class award from Washington Dulles to London Heathrow I see:

However switch to first class awards and they’ve disappeared.

They disappear from my home Austin, too.

In fact British Airways first class awards seem to have disappeared from North America to London and back in 2019, period. (HT: Head for Points)

First class awards still appear to be available between London and the Caribbean and also the Mideast but gone from other routes.

It’s not clear why this is the case, and what sort of changes this presages if any at all.

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. I was recently able to book LON-SEA in BA First class for 70k Alaska Miles. It’s a January 2019 date, so was seeing a decent amount of availability on this route (and SEA-LON), but most of it has now disappeared.

  2. I just burned the last of my Alaska miles to book CPH –> LHR –> PHL on BA first. We tagged in an extra PHL to PDX in Alaska first for a summer trip. The taxes were around $250 to fly from CPH. It was an awesome trip and my first time in BA first. I loved everything about it, even though our transfer was short and I didn’t have time to visit the lounge at LHR.

  3. Thanks for this post — I’m planning a return from London in summer 2019 so have been scouring the BA site to understand the availability trends (I’m going to be flying with an infant, and BA’s excellent rules for lap infants on award flights, plus tons of non-stop flights, actually makes them a very attractive option for me).

    FWIW, after combing BA.com, I see exactly the same pattern on their own site — J availability for days, but virtually no F availability.

    They’re still selling F revenue tix, so it’s not like they’re going to remove the cabin or something crazy…

    Anyone have other ideas on what could be happening?

  4. First class availability has disappeared for the rest of 2018 as well. I booked my chase 2 for 1 in Oct 17 for Nov 18 and no first class was ever available.

  5. Gary, you owe it to us to help answer your own question. There are many days that have two or three passengers booked in First, but never any Z class inventory…ever. Other than force us off BA credit cards and onto other carriers, what is the reason for this? Most carriers, in order to get the miles off their books, will release First space before departure when it’s clear that the seats would go out empty. What do you think, Gary? And we fly in F on Wednesday from AUS to LHR in First, booked two out of eight, and there are no Z seats even 48 hours before departure.

  6. @norita I see plenty (relatively speaking) availability in 2018 from several East Coast destinations. Nothing in 2019. Glad I was able to slip in an upgrade to F in early March for early 2019 before this.

  7. Maybe there is a glitch in the system. If there is no first available the tab at the top of the AA website should be greyed out. I was bored yesterday and was searching random routes for first on BA and saw lots of space available for 2 people. Seems to be gone today (did a few searches using AS website).

  8. I have a comment and also a question that I hope you can answer Gary.

    My comment is that I have been noticing this trend and although in past years found it relatively easy to book FC award tickets from SAN-LHR I had a heck of a time finding availability for our Spring 2018 and Fall 2018 trips. We ended up flying out of Houston and Seattle. I have a 2-4-1 Companion fare that expires in October 2019 that I was totally planning on using for LHR (even if we had to fly out of an alternative US city) I’m really bummed to hear this and hope it is a temporary situation and not a harbinger of things to come.

    My question has to do with FC upgrades. Does this inventory apply if you purchase a Business ticket and use Avios to upgrade?

  9. @Wendy yes upgrading a paid cash Club World ticket to First requires their be award availability in First (exception if you are very high elite within BAEC and have a “joker”). I just did such an upgrade in early March on a cheapish Club World ticket.

  10. I have flown BA First many times and always enjoyed it, I did not like paying the high fees but felt the trade-off – great availability was worth it. Amazingly, my business partner and his wife are flying with my wife and I at the end of the month – four seats in First on one flight.

    Now? High fees and lousy availability. One outstanding companion ticket that expires in 13 months. And it this rate, it might expired without being used. I consider BA Club to be atrocious and still remember the first time I stepped into that cabin. All I could think of was “sardines.” On so many planned trips, seems that the only choice is Ethiopian Airlines. 15 years of amazing travel around the world for a song. Glad I did it when the getting was good.

  11. We are seeing reports in the BAEC Gold/GGL FB Group, that the availability (for BA First redemptions in 2019) has REAPPEARED as of today. I have yet to check personally.

  12. I have been checking the BA website daily since Oct of 2017 for 1 or 2 FC seats PHX-LHR in Sept of this year with no luck. Really, 355 days ahead of time and no seat availability? The fuel charges are obscene.
    If only Lufthansa would come back to PHX and give us a choice. Cant understand why they left PHX in the first place.

  13. I just check for F award availability using the BA website. Checked JFK-LHR and SEA-LHR for outbound in February and return mid-March and found a lot of F availability. Perhaps they haven’t released their award seats to AA yet.

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