Three Ways to Get Business Class to Canada, the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico on American—for Less Than the Price of Coach (or Just a Bit More)

Award charts come in two flavors: zone and flight-distance. The former divides the world into regions (the 48 contiguous states and Canada, for example), with every destination within the zone costing the same number of miles. A flight-distance chart simply charges based on the distance flown.

No Miles? No Problem!
Anyone can get in the free-upgrade game overnight, even if you don’t have any British Airways Avios, simply buying them directly from the airline, starting as low as 2.8₵ each—up to 35,000 per year.

Example Savings: Take Dallas to Cozumel, which costs $1,048 round-trip through if you pay cash. Through the Avios & Money option, it costs $266 and 16,000 points; which costs $465 if you buy points directly—a cash savings of $317 (30%).

Opportunity knocks when one airline’s alliance partner uses a zone chart (today, American is the focus) and a partner (British Airways, in this case) with a flight distance chart because they can be played against each other.

Business Class To/From Canada For Less Than Coach

You can use the difference in AA and BA award charts to your advantage. Take Charlotte-Toronto, which on AA costs 60,000 miles round-trip in Business Class, but on BA only 30,000 miles (the cost of an AA economy award). So book the flight on AA with BA’s loyalty program points, Avios, and you’re getting a free upgrade.

Add in the current 50% transfer deal to BA with Amex Rewards points and the rate drops to 25,000, a savings of 58%, and an upgrade for “less than free”.

Playing British Airways Off American Airlines—to Fly Business Class for Less than Coach on Short-haul Routes to Canada

U.S. CitiesCanadian CitiesAmerican Miles Round-tripBritish Airways Miles Round-tripAmex Rewards to BA with 50% Transfer BonusSavings
To/From DallasCalgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver60,00040,00033,50044%
To/From MiamiMontreal, Toronto
To/From PhoenixVancouver
To/From CharlotteToronto30,00025,00058%
To/From Los AngelesVancouver

Free Business Class Upgrades To/From the Caribbean, Central America, and Mexico

This one is an easy AA vs. BA play: On Los Angeles-San Jose del Cabo and Miami-St. Thomas, BA charges only 30,000 miles round-trip in Business Class—20,000 (40%) fewer miles than AA charges (50,000 miles).

But add in the current 50% transfer deal with Amex Rewards and the rate drops to 25,000, which is what AA charges for an economy award. It’s a free upgrade. See chart below for more sample savings.

Playing Off BA vs. AA to Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean

U.S. CitiesInternational CitiesAmerican Miles Round-tripBritish Airways Miles Round-tripAmex Rewards to BA with 50% Transfer BonusSavings
To/From CharlotteCancun, Nassau, Montego Bay50,00030,00025,00050%
To/From MiamiCancun, Grand Cayman, Montego Bay (and Kingston), Nassau, Providenciales (Turks and Caicos)
To/From DallasCancun, Cozumel, Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, San Jose del Cabo
To/From MiamiAruba, Belize City, Guatemala, Port-au-Prince, Puerto Plata, Punta Cana, San Juan, San Jose (CR), Santo Domingo, St. Thomas
To/From Los AngelesSan Jose del Cabo
To/From ChicagoCancun, Mexico City, Montego Bay40,00033,50033%
To/From DallasGuatemala, San Jose (CR)
To/From MiamiAntigua, Barbados, Curacao, Grenada, Guadaloupe, Mexico City, Trinidad, St. Kitts, St. Lucia, St. Maarten
To/From New YorkCancun, Guadeloupe, San Juan

It Gets Better: Use Cash and Miles to Multiply Opportunities

BA’s Avios & Money option can be a great deal if you’re willing to pay more cash and use fewer miles. On Dallas-Cancun in Business Class, BA wants 30,000 Avios points plus $73 in taxes, while the Avios & Money option requires 16,000 miles and $263 in cash. Here’s the translation: BA is selling you the miles at 1.4¢ each (with no limit), more than a penny a mile less than the usual cost! It’s a great way to conserve miles, or get in the game with fewer miles. Look at Avios & Money before buying Amex Rewards points at 2.5¢ (500,000-mile annual limit).

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How Anyone Can Get Two-for-Ones

British Airways Credit Card Transfer Partners: BA transfer partners include Amex Rewards—go here for BA’s current 50% transfer bonus (valid through Oct. 10), Chase Ultimate Rewards, and Starwood.

Transfer time from Amex Rewards and Chase to BA is often instantly, while Starwood generally takes two to six days.

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