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As part of my 2017 USA holiday, I need to book the short Los Angeles – Las Vegas flight. It’s likely I’ll buy the ticket, but it’s worth investigating the redemption options.
LAX-LAS is about an 80 minute flight, and at the end of the day we could just pay in cash. But I always like to check-out the redemption possibilities to make sure I’m not missing a trick.
I have good miles balances in both AA and BA programmes, so time to do a comparison.
My dates aren’t actually open yet for booking, as AA only allows booking 330 days out. But it’s always best to explore your options ahead of time. So, I’ve been doing a bit of playing. On a semi-random date of the 18th of March, AA is offering several economy LAX-LAS cash fares for £79. The following screen cap shows 2 flights, but another 2 are also available. (AA screen colours are pretty faint, click to enlarge if necessary)
Unsurprisingly, the £79 flights are also the ones that are available for the cheapest 7.5K miles redemption on AA.com:-
Note that only the 9.05pm flight is available for the standard 15K biz redemption rate. The taxes and fees are just £4.50, for both economy and business.
BA also charges 7.5K/15K avios for these economy/biz flights, and also £4.50 for fees. So you might think it makes no difference whether you book using Avios or AA miles. But you’d be wrong.
What happens if you cancel ?
It’s all about what happens if you cancel. Cancel an AA redemption flight and you’ll lose your AA miles unless you have AA executive platinum status. You can pay a reinstatement fee, but as its $150 for the first person ($25 per person thereafter), you are hardly going to pay $150 to get back 7,500 miles.
On BA however, the cancellation fee is a maximum of either £35 or whatever the taxes and fees are. In this case the fees are £4.50, so that’s what it will cost you. So two people flying on an AA redemption lose 15K AA miles on cancellation, but just £9 on a BA redemption. It looks even worse on business redemptions. Again it’ll just £9 to cancel two people on a BA redemption, but on AA you’ll lose the 30K AA miles unless you are prepared to pay $175.
And not only that….
AA charges a $75 fee if you are booking your redemption within 21 days of departure. Granted, it’s less likely that UK flyers will be booking in that short of notice. But should you find yourself in that position, it makes no sense to do an AA redemption.
If you have both AA miles and Avios, it’ll generally be advantageous to book short hops within the USA using Avios instead of AA. The ability to cancel with only a nominal cost is a big differentiator. Redemption are hard to come by. This means that we generally have to book such flights many months ahead of time The possibility of cancellation should always be taken into account.
Although I didn’t cover it above, I have seen several examples of flights being available to book using Avios, that do not show as available on AA. I can’t explain why that is, BA should have access to a subset of AA’s inventory, not the other way wrong. I have seen some thoughts that this is phantom availabilty. However I have personal first hand experience to the contrary. So there may be occasions where Avios is the only option.
Remember not to get too blinkered in your thinking. Some LAX-LAS economy flights can be had for just £51. 7.5K AA/Avios isn’t great value at those prices. Sometimes it just makes sense to buy the ticket, even if you’re like me and prefer to spend miles where possible. Although remember that’s a non-refundable ticket, whereas if you book with BA avios, you can cancel for just £4.50.