American Airlines and British Airways launch reciprocal

American Airlines and British Airways have long been close airline partners — and this week, the relationship got even closer.

American Airlines frequent flyers can now cash in systemwide upgrade certificates for better seats on British Airways flights. And British Airways flyers can do the same on American Airlines flights. This is an exciting development, but there are some big restrictions you need to know.

Here’s what you need to know about using systemwide upgrades between American Airlines and British Airways.

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How to use American Airlines upgrades on British Airways

You can use American systemwide upgrades to upgrade some British Airways flights. NICKY KELVIN/THE POINTS GUY

How it works: You can obtain American Airlines systemwide upgrades after achieving American Airlines elite status. Systemwide upgrades allow you to move up one class of service when flying with British Airways on a ticket issued by American Airlines:

  • You can upgrade most business-class fares to first class (“Z” fare code).
  • You can upgrade premium economy fares to business class (“U” fare code).
  • You can upgrade economy fares to premium economy (“P” fare code).

Each certificate can be redeemed for one-way travel with up to three segments. There are a handful of scenarios in which you cannot use systemwide upgrades on British Airways:

  • Award flights (all cash fares are eligible).
  • Flights that aren’t transatlantic or intra-Europe.
  • Any flight not operated by British Airways.

Also, note that your itinerary must include both American Airlines and British Airways flights to qualify. For example, you can book New York to London with American and London to Prague with British Airways in economy and use a systemwide upgrade to upgrade the itinerary to business class.

How to do it: To use your AA systemwide upgrades, you’ll still have to book through the American Airlines website. You’ll just log in to your account and find the British Airways itinerary that suits you. You can then call American Airlines and ask them to redeem your upgrade. If no upgrades are available at the time, you can call back frequently to recheck.

Unfortunately, no waitlist exists for American Airlines systemwide upgrades on British Airways.

Related: How to use American Airlines systemwide upgrades

How to use British Airways upgrades on American Airlines

British Airways Gold elite members can now upgrade some American flights. ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

How it works: British Airways Gold members have received two upgrade vouchers that can be used on select American Airlines flights ticketed by British Airways. You can upgrade seats from:

  • Business class to first class (“A” fare class).
  • Premium economy to business class (“C” fare class).
  • Economy to business when the aircraft is not equipped with premium economy.

There are a few other restrictions to keep in mind:

  • Award flights are not eligible.
  • Only transatlantic and U.S. domestic flights are eligible.
  • Economy seats can’t be upgraded to premium economy.

It’s worth noting that there doesn’t appear to be a rule that your itinerary must include British Airways and American Airlines. In theory, you can use an upgrade voucher for any transatlantic American flight so long as you booked it through British Airways and there is open award space.

How to do it: As your ticket must be issued by British Airways, you’ll begin the booking process on the British Airways website. You’ll need to call British Airways to use your upgrade.

Again, there is no waitlist if you can’t find available upgrades. You will have to keep calling British Airways to check.

Bottom line

If you are paying to shuttle across the Atlantic on either American Airlines or British Airways and have elite status, this new reciprocal upgrade certificate acknowledgment should interest you.

However, many of us rarely pay for this airfare anyway because we know the best ways to get to Europe with points and miles — and pay practically nothing. Since these upgrade certificates can only be attached to paid fares, this policy change won’t affect as many as it might seem.

Budget Travel