In an interesting move, and one which is beneficial to most of our readers, British Airways has restricted the ability of some frequent flyer programmes to book redemption seats.
Put very simply, it means more seats for you – if you are a British Airways Executive Club member or a member of another Avios scheme – and fewer for everyone one.
Sorry Qantas Frequent Flyer and American Airlines AAdvantage members!
Before I get into how this works, you need to remember that British Airways makes a guaranteed minimum number of Avios seats available on its flights.
For mainline services, this means:
- four Business Class seats
- two Premium Economy seats (long haul only)
- eight Economy seats
These seats are made available for booking on the dot of midnight (GMT) 355 days before departure.
Slightly different minimums apply to BA Cityflyer from London City Airport. Technically BA Euroflyer from Gatwick could also opt out of the guarantee as it is not ‘mainline’, but has not done so to date.
On most flights, a lot of additional availability will come up closer to departure. This may include seats in long haul First Class which are not guaranteed at all.
What is the new situation with other frequent flyer schemes?
What I am about to describe was first spotted by Australian Frequent Flyer. I have confirmed the accuracy with British Airways and have been able to add some more details.
There are lots of frequent flyer programmes which are able to book reward seats on British Airways. BA is a member of the oneworld airline alliance, and all oneworld frequent flyer members have access to BA seats. This includes the huge programme run by American Airlines and several mid-size programmes such as those run by Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Japan Air Lines and Alaska Airlines.
British Airways has created two groups of frequent flyer programmes
British Airways has divided these partner programmes into two groups.
One group contains programmes which issue Avios. This means BA itself, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Vueling, Qatar Airways and – from February 2024 – Finnair.
The other group contains programmes which do NOT issue Avios but use their own currency. This includes, amongst others, American Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Cathay Pacific, Japan Air Lines, Alaska Airlines, Royal Air Maroc, Royal Jordanian, SriLankan Airlines, Fiji Airways and – from 2024 – Oman Air.
Only the first group can access the ‘guaranteed’ BA seats
Under the new system, which kicked in recently, the ONLY people who can book the ‘guaranteed’ British Airways reward seats are those in the first group.
This means only members of frequent flyer schemes which issue Avios.
If you are a member of any other oneworld frequent flyer scheme, the only British Airways seats you can book are those made available on top of the ‘guaranteed’ 12 to 14 seats.
Here’s a worked example
Let’s look at flights from Heathrow to Miami on 3rd October 2024.
Via the Qantas Frequent Flyer website, only Economy seat are bookable:
…. but via ba.com, I can also book Premium Economy and Business Class seats which are presumably part of the ‘guaranteed’ availability:
This may not make as much difference as you think
As a British Airways Executive Club member, you have always had some protection from ‘seat nabbing’ by members of competing programmes.
The biggest frequent flyer programme in oneworld is, by a long way, the American Airlines scheme. AA members had three disadvantages when it came to booking BA reward flights:
- whilst BA Executive Club opens up booking at 355 days before departure, the AA scheme only lets you book from 330 days before departure. This gave BA members a 25 days head-start on the ‘guaranteed’ seats.
- BA adds substantially higher surcharges on transatlantic flights departing from the US compared to those departing from the UK, making them less attractive to AA members
- AA does not add any surcharges to its own transatlantic flights, which makes the BA ones even less attractive – but AA opens up virtually no premium cabin availability …..
What I don’t know is whether other Avios airlines are doing the same. It seemed, when Finnair opened up huge amounts of seats last week, that people were struggling to book them with Alaska or American Airlines miles. It is possible Finnair is restricting access to its guaranteed seats to ‘Avios programmes’ only.
That said, I have spoken to Qatar Airways and it has confirmed that it is NOT restricting which airlines can book its ‘guaranteed’ availability seats. Qatar Airways does use other tools to manage reward booking, however, including ‘married segment availability’.
BA has been restricting seats to its OWN members for years
The other point to remember is that restricting seats to specific groups is nothing new:
- Gold members of British Airways Executive Club get access to far wider BA Economy availability than Blue, Bronze and Silver members
- Gold members of British Airways Executive Club can force open ANY seat on a mainline BA flight for Avios as long as they pay double Avios and book at least 30 days before departure
- holders of a British Airways American Express Premium Plus 2-4-1 companion voucher get access to SUBSTANTIALLY better Club World Avios availability
- members of the British Airways On Business loyalty programme for small businesses get access to far better reward availability in all cabins than standard Executive Club members
If you are reading this as a British Airways Executive Club member then your ability to book British Airways reward seats is now better than it was.
You will no longer be competing with members of the American Airlines and other oneworld programmes for a large percentage of available reward seats.
Don’t assume that this is necessarily a one-way street though. We could easily see those other frequent flyer schemes making fewer seats available to Executive Club members in return.
How to earn Avios from UK credit cards (December 2023)
As a reminder, there are various ways of earning Avios points from UK credit cards. Many cards also have generous sign-up bonuses!
In February 2022, Barclaycard launched two exciting new Barclaycard Avios Mastercard cards with a bonus of up to 25,000 Avios. You can apply here.
You qualify for the bonus on these cards even if you have a British Airways American Express card:
There are two official British Airways American Express cards with attractive sign-up bonuses:
You can also get generous sign-up bonuses by applying for American Express cards which earn Membership Rewards points. These points convert at 1:1 into Avios.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive 30,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 30,000 Avios) with American Express Preferred Rewards Gold. You receive 25,000 points if you spend £3,000 in three months and a further 5,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.
SPECIAL OFFER: Until 9th January 2024, you will receive a huge 100,000 Membership Rewards points (convertible to 100,000 Avios) with The Platinum Card. You receive 75,000 points if you spend £10,000 in six months and a further 25,000 points if you hold the card for 15 months. You can apply here.
American Express Preferred Rewards Gold
Your best beginner’s card – 30,000 points (TO 9th JANUARY), FREE for a year & four airport ….. Read our full review
The Platinum Card from American Express
Crazy 100,000 points (TO 9th JANUARY) and a huge range of valuable benefits – for a fee Read our full review
Run your own business?
We recommend Capital On Tap for limited companies. You earn 1 Avios per £1 which is impressive for a Visa card, along with a sign-up bonus worth 10,500 Avios.
You should also consider the British Airways Accelerating Business credit card. This is open to sole traders as well as limited companies and has a 30,000 Avios sign-up bonus.
There are also generous bonuses on the two American Express Business cards, with the points converting at 1:1 into Avios. These cards are open to sole traders as well as limited companies.
Click here to read our detailed summary of all UK credit cards which earn Avios. This includes both personal and small business cards.