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British Airways and American Airlines are two of the largest airlines in the world — and that dominance is pronounced on flights between the United States and Europe. But which airline should you consider for your next flight across the Atlantic? Let's look at British Airways versus American Airlines to see which airline you should choose.
Where they’re based and where they fly
Winner: American Airlines
For U.S.-based travelers, American is the clear choice when comparing route maps. While British Airways can be an excellent option if you're flying to London from one of the many cities that British Airways serves, American Airlines provides a broad reach throughout the U.S. and flies directly to plenty of international destinations.
London-based British Airways currently flies to over 200 destinations across the globe. There's just one catch: when flying internationally, you'll usually need to connect in London to get where you want to go.
British Airways currently serves 26 airports across the U.S. — ranging from Atlanta to Washington D.C. But, you'll need to start at one of these airports to fly solely on British Airways. If you don't live in one of these cities, you can likely connect to a British Airways flight on American Airlines. But that will add yet another stop on the way to your destination.
American Airlines currently serves around 350 destinations in 50 countries. Although American is based in Dallas-Fort Worth, American hubs stretch across the U.S.:
American Airlines only flies directly to London from 11 U.S. airports, lagging behind British Airways. However, American serves a total of 14 European destinations nonstop. That means you can potentially eliminate the need to connect to get where you want to go. Even if you need to connect, domestic U.S. connections on American are easier than transiting through London.
Travel credit card availability
Winner: American Airlines
Not surprisingly, U.S.-based American Airlines wins this category. British Airways offers just one credit card option. Meanwhile, American Airlines offers a wide range of personal and small business cards — several of which make NerdWallet's list of the top airline credit cards on the market.
Americans only have access to one British Airways credit card, but at least it's a good one. The British Airways Visa Signature® Card offers a 10% discount on British Airways flights originating in the U.S. when booked through the website provided in the welcome materials, statement credits for reward flights and the ability to spend toward a Travel Together Ticket.
Best of all is the sign-up bonus for eligible new British Airways Visa Signature® Card holders: Earn 100,000 Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening.
Travelers have a plethora of American Airlines AAdvantage credit cards from which to choose. These range from a no annual fee card to a $450 annual fee card that includes an Admirals Club lounge membership. Here are some of the credit card options, along with their annual fees and sign-up bonus offers:
American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card ($0 annual fee). Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® ($0 intro for the first year, then $99). Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® ($450 annual fee). Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® ($0 intro for the first year, then $99). Earn 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening.
AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® ($99 annual fee). Earn 60,000 AAdvantage® bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days.
» Learn more: The best travel credit cards right now
Airline loyalty programs
Winner: American Airlines
First, American continues to publish an award chart while British Airways hid its award chart years ago. The AAdvantage award chart prices flights by region, while British Airways award pricing is a sum of the Avios needed for each flight segment. Perhaps most importantly, American Airlines AAdvantage miles are much more valuable than British Airways Avios, according to NerdWallet analysis.
British Airways Executive Club awards Avios — its mileage currency — based on the distance of the flight and the cabin in which you booked. Under this system, your earnings are the same no matter how much you paid for the flight. That’s a score for fans of cheap flights.
NerdWallet estimates British Airways Avios to be worth just 0.8 cent per Avios in economy and 1.9 cents per Avios in business class. That puts British Airways on the lower end of the spectrum compared to the other airline loyalty programs that we tested.
However, taking advantage of Executive Club sweet spots can potentially get a much higher value. British Airways' sweet spots include:
American Airlines utilizes a revenue-based loyalty program. Members earn 5 miles per dollar spent on tickets (before taxes and fees), with AAdvantage elite members earning a bonus on top of that. However, flying is far from the only way to earn AAdvantage miles. We've found a whopping 34 ways to earn AAdvantage miles.
American’s award chart is filled with plenty of value, both on American Airlines and its long list of Oneworld alliance and non-alliance partners.
NerdWallet's analysis found that American Airlines AAdvantage miles are worth 1.2 cents per mile for economy redemptions and 1 cent per mile for business class redemptions. These values put American in the average range of all airlines that we analyzed, but represent a significant premium over the value of British Airways Avios.
» Learn more: Travel loyalty program reviews
Winner: American Airlines
British Airways add-on fees can quickly increase your travel costs. Even on standard economy fares, you'll need to pay to choose a seat up until 24 hours before departure. In addition, British Airways is the only airline in the Oneworld alliance that doesn't honor Oneworld elite checked baggage allowance on all tickets. And British Airways is only waiving change fees through September 2022.
Comparatively, American Airlines' policies seem downright generous.
Checked bag fees: To find your checked bag allowance and fees, you need to use British Airways' baggage allowance calculator. Transatlantic fares generally include a free checked bag — except on basic economy fares where you'll need to pay up to $75. Even Oneworld top-tier elites don't get a complimentary checked bag on basic economy fares.
Seat assignment fees: British Airways frustratingly charges passengers for selecting a seat up until 24 hours before departure. The only exceptions are for passengers with elite status, who booked flexible fares or who booked first class.
Change fees: British Airways is waiving change fees for flights through Sept. 30, 2022, through its flexible booking policy. So you can change your dates or routes as many times as needed and only pay the fare difference.
Checked bag fees: American publishes a chart of checked bag fees by region. You'll pay $30 for the first checked bag on domestic flights. The first checked bag is free on standard economy fares for flights across the Atlantic, but you'll have to pay $75 if you’re flying basic economy.
Seat assignment fees: American Airlines passengers can select a standard seat for no charge, except when booking basic economy fares. If you want to sit together, basic economy passengers can choose a seat at booking for a fee. This fee is waived for elite members.
Change fees: When originating in North or South America, American Airlines flights are freely changeable for all domestic and short-haul international flights and particular long-haul international flights, as long as you don't book basic economy fares.
» Learn more: How to avoid common airline fees
Winner: British Airways
American swept every category so far. But, if you're solely focused on the in-flight experience, British Airways is the clear winner. From friendly and professional staff to free booze in economy, you may enjoy your flight more when flying on British Airways.
On its long-haul international fleet, British Airways has taken strides over the past few years to install new economy, premium economy and business class seats — each with larger in-flight entertainment screens and better onboard amenities. Even in economy, British Airways serves excellent food and an extensive menu of non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks. So yes, you can even get a gin and tonic in economy.
With that said, British Airways operates an entirely different model for intra-Europe flights. As British Airways competes with low-cost carriers on these routes, legroom is tight, and amenities are non-existent, while free drinks are limited to water.
American Airlines also invested in its "hard product" — installing new premium economy seats and excellent lie-flat seats in Flagship First and Flagship Business. However, that's where the investment stalled. As a result, American still struggles to provide consistently good onboard service and quality meals.
The bottom line
In the competition between British Airways versus American Airlines, there’s a clear winner: American Airlines. American Airlines provides a much more extensive route for U.S.-based flyers, additional credit card options, more valuable miles and lower fees. The only bright spot for British Airways is its superior in-flight experience — but only on long-haul flights.
The information related to CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® has been collected by NerdWallet and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer or provider of this product or service.
How to maximize your rewards
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