There’s Been A Robbery–and British Airways is the Thief

I’ve foiled robberies before, and wrote about it here on Milenomics.  Today I wasn’t so lucky.  By the time I arrived on scene the crime had already been committed, and I was only able to take down statements after the fact.  I’ll explain the robbery blow by blow, and then I’ll use it as an example why we need to educate ourselves about the ins and outs of Frequent Flyer Miles.

Today’s Thief: British Airways

As I’ve mentioned, my wife and I are in the Seattle Area this coming weekend. It turns out a friend of mine was going to be in Seattle this weekend as well. He mentioned he hadn’t bought a ticket home yet, and wanted help using Miles to do so.  Never having used miles before he asked me for help booking a return with some of his BA Avios.  I did a quick search for him on and found a great flight coming back:

SEA-SNA 1111
This flight is still available as of posting this story. Sadly at least one British Airway Phone Agent does not think that to be true. And even more unfortunately, a friend of mine believed them.

A situation like this is perfect for Avios–no close in booking fees, 7,500 avios per person instead of the 12,500 it would cost for most other programs.  A Slam dunk use of British Airways miles.

Never Underestimate the Incompetence of Phone Agents

I informed my friend to call British airways, giving him their 800 number.  I said for him to tell the agent he wanted to book a flight with his Avios on Alaska Airlines.  Say “I would like to book a flight on your partner Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air.” be sure to say “AS Flight 5-1-8 leaving SEA arriving SNA.”

This was Tuesday.  I got busy with the blog, packing, getting things done at work and then checked in with my friend today.

I asked him if he had handled the booking yet, and his response brought with it a terrible, sick-to-my stomach feeling:

Phil:  I called and they said they didn’t have avios seats available
Phil:  I used aa miles instead and booked it online


The seats were very much available. As of writing this they’re still available. By BA telling Phil there weren’t any “Avios seats” available (whatever that means) Phil did the only thing he knew to do–he logged into his AA account instead and booked a flight there. Because of this action two things happened:

1. Phil paid 25,000 AA miles instead of 15,000 BA miles for his two one way tickets.

2. Because the flight is this weekend AA charged Phil $75 per person for each award ticket.  BA would have charged $5 per person.

By Calling BA, being fed misinformation, and believing it, $150 of Phil’s hard earned money and 10,000 extra (and more valuable AA) miles were stolen from him.

Shame on the Airlines for Bad Phone Agents

It is only natural to assume the information you receive from a phone agent at a company is truthful, after all they’re the “professionals.” That’s what Phil did, he believed what he was told. My ability to know right from wrong when I talk to a phone agent has come from years of experience. But most people who are very new to miles will probably assume the agent knows best. Rest assured–almost always the airlines’ phone agents do not know best.

In addition, this is Phil’s very first experience with his miles. Congratulations British Airways–you’ve probably just turned him off from ever using miles again. I’ve talked about how hard miles are to use, but in that talk I neglected the fact that not every phone agent is a competent employee.  Today’s lesson, when in doubt Hang up, call back. 

Lessons for All of Us

Phil has agreed to let me share his story, in the hopes that someone else will be saved from the type of robbery he was a victim of. This is also why we need to spend the time and learn about the programs we’re using.  Using miles the right way represent significant savings–once you get over the steep learning curve.

That’s what Milenomics is here for–the mistake Phil made today is the kind of trap a lot of rookie Milenomics might fall for as well.  My rule is: When an agent tells me something I approach it as them being wrong until they show me proof otherwise. Most of the time when I get a really bad phone agent (like one who swears Alaska isn’t an airline that BA Avios can book with) I just hang up.  Make sure you do the same if you’re confronted with misinformation, no matter the airline.

I’m still getting over the sting of this one, and it wasn’t even my booking. The loss of those extra miles and extra money are exactly why Milenoimcs exists.  Our Goal is always to use the least miles and the least money.  As you can see from today’s example–the Airlines are happy to misinform us, and take more than their fair share.  Together lets make sure they don’t.

About the author

- Written by Sam Simon. All ideas are my own, but I encourage you to see my point of view and I promise I'll try to do the same. Connect with me on Twitter @Milenomics.


  1. Hey, I have something similar, yet I didn’t book because of people like MileValue and MilMileSecrets have told me not to, but Lufthansa. I found on United’s site first class home from Maui, and when I call Miles and More to book it, they say they don’t have the availability. I’ve called 3 times and gotten that response each time. Anything I can do?

    1. Jon: Are you 100% sure this is a saver level United award? United will show both saver and non saver. Also if you hold a United CC (or are an elite) you’ll have access to “XN” United award space. This XN saver award space is for United only–partners cannot see it. If you’re indeed elite/hold a CC doing a search on United while not logged in will show you just the flights a partner should be able to see.

      1. Ahhhhhhhhh I am a CC holder from the 50k signup. I did the search though while not logged in and it still showed it. Plus idk if it matters but it’s US Air award space that is viewable and at the saver level. But if US Air awards are viewable for United, shouldn’t Lufthansa see it too?

        1. Jon: If it is a US Airways flight it is unaffected by what I wrote about “XN” space. Should be fine to book. Maybe ask an LH agent to do a “long sell” sometimes LH calls that “wait-listing.” I believe that doing so would be against LH policy–so they may tell you no to your request. Only other ideas I have is that it is an IT glitch and in a few days it’ll clear itself. If it has been a while already that is likely not the case.

          What has LH told you?

          1. They have told me just that it’s not available. Then the lady lastnight said that it’s very to book partner awards through them when it’s around 7-8 months from the trip, which would be January for me. I’ll try your long sell tonight, but yeah, I was just confused on how United has access to the partner award but not lufthansa. Know what I mean?

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