How I Ended Up In British Airways First Class On My Beijing Mistake Fare

Filed Under: American, British Airways

As I explained earlier, I’m traveling on a few of the American business class mistake fares we saw a while back, for travel between Washington and Beijing on American.

My trip departing on Sunday was especially exciting, as my flight from Washington to Dallas took over nine hours.

Three quarters of the first class cabin on that flight consisted of people headed to Beijing, and they were driving the crew bonkers about their connection. Understandably they wanted to get to Beijing, but our departure time and the feasibility of the connection was 100% out of the crew’s hands. A few complained really loudly, one explained how he was a travel agent, etc.

Yet none of them actually seemed to bother calling the airline, pulling up flight availability information, etc.

So my friend and I looked at availability, knowing we’d probably miss our Dallas to Beijing flight. While sitting on the plane in Houston on an indefinite ground hold, we looked at flight availability.

Chicago to Beijing later that day was sold out.

Chicago to Beijing the next day was sold out.

Dallas to Beijing the next day was sold out.

Dallas to Hong Kong that day was sold out.

Dallas to Hong Kong the next day was sold out.

It quickly became apparent that we’d have to be a bit more creative.

DFW was an absolute mess, as virtually everything into the airport was delayed, and as a result, virtually everything was sold out. I was looking at flight availability in real time, and noticed how space was constantly fluctuating, presumably due to the speed at which people were being rebooked.


After not seeing a single American transpacific flight with any seats that day or the next, it was time to get more creative.

American had some first & business class space from Dallas to London, and British Airways had some first & business class space from London to Beijing.

So I phoned up the Executive Platinum desk and explained the situation. The agent looked at availability for a minute and said “wow, this is a mess, I see nothing.” So I said “I know it’s not an especially direct routing, but for what it’s worth the only space I could find is from Dallas to London on American, and then from London to Beijing on British Airways.”



“That’s a long way, you’re sure you want to fly it?”

“Well, I don’t really see any other options at this point.”

“Okay, no problem. Let me grab those seats. I’m going to put you on hold while I reissue.”

Five minutes later she came back, and we were confirmed in first class for both segments.

Bottom line

This mileage run went from awesome to even awesomer. My intent with the change wasn’t even to get “creative,” but it was genuinely the only option I saw available.

I was actually expecting to be rebooked in business class, but I learned after the fact that apparently it’s oneworld policy to try and protect the upgraded class of service in the case of irrops. So since I had used systemwide upgrades to confirm an upgrade to first class, that new class of service was protected even on another carrier.

Go figure the friend I’m traveling with is crediting this trip to Alaska Mileage Plan, and they recently changed their earnings rates for British Airways first class to 300%. Suffice to say he’s happy as could be.


I’d say that’s probably the second luckiest delay I’ve ever had, after the one a few years back where I was rebooked in Emirates first class.

  1. Dude, wtf. When my flights get canceled, I get a night layover in Guadalajara. When yours get screwed up you get a suite. Guess I need status?

  2. No wonder you nicknamed yourself ‘Lucky’ for you certainly are! This turn of events is simply awesome! Kudos to U.

  3. It would be super helpful if when you make blog posts like this, you include how you researched this miracle. How were you seeing flight availability in real time? Is there a specific app? Expert flyer?

  4. Ah this is almost exactly what happened to me, but in J. I’m curious about your friend earning 300% though- weren’t they on a paid J class ticket on AA? So won’t he accrue miles as a J passenger if an upgrade was used? Or will it count as full BA paid first if it was in fact a discounted AA business ticket plus an upgrade?

    Alaska gives different miles to different types of paid BA fares, so when a partner routes you on BA, how does Alaska classify it? Specifically I was on a paid business class AA fare “I” class (Beijing mistake) and rerouted in BA business class. Will Alaska classify this as R or I class (50% bonus), or J, C, or D (150% miles). I’m assuming the letters don’t perfectly match up from AA to BA. My BA boarding pass said “j” but I thought it may just be shorthand for business.

    I’m partially curious for my specific case, but I’m also curious in general. Does one always get credit for the top fare bucket in their class of travel when traveling on a rerouted partner as Lucky suggests? If so, it may be worth it to “try” for partner rerouted more systematically. Thoughts? Thanks.

  5. It’s all about knowing your options for flights before you even call the help desk. I was on a a canceled flight out of Ft. McMurray, AB to Denver on a Air Canada Codeshare UA flight in a discount J seat. I was able to get them to route me in first to Montreal then to Denver because I fed them confirmed availability seat/flight info.

  6. Lucky –

    My favorite part of this post was that rather than impotently raging at innocent flight attendants, you went looking for solutions in a positive way. Inspiring lesson for travel…and life. Thanks!

  7. Ok, it wasn’t all luck. You suggested it to the agent. Who knows what would’ve happened if you didn’t have a solution to recommend? If it were me, I would’ve ended up rebooked on a container ship off the coast of Somalia.

  8. #winning

    Also I read your blog via a RSS reader and your FF info is still cached. Not sure if you can do anything about that but FYI.

  9. @ Lucky — out of curiosity, if there were no options out of Dallas and you were still on the ground in Houston, would it have been possible for you to deplane and take, say, IAH-LHR-PEK on BA? We have a direct IAH-PEK route but it’s on Air China and leaves around midnight so wouldn’t have been a great option, I suppose.

  10. Andrew B!!! — well said.

    I also had IRROPS on my recent China Mistake Fares: First flight was canceled due to a mechanical and I proactively suggested that I’d be willing to fly Cathay in F and they agreed! My return also had a mechanical so I got Cathay once again. (And if you have ever flown Cathay in F, you know how spectacular they are.)

    The bottom line: have good solutions available to harried agents, use your status effectively and always ALWAYS be kind and appreciative.

  11. Back in July, my AA flight from DFW to HKG was cancelled to due to mechanical issues. I had used my miles + $350 copay to upgrade to business class. I ended up getting rerouted to DFW-LAX-HKG. The LAX – HKG leg was Cathay and the AA CSR confirmed that my seat was still in biz class. When I checked in at LAX the Cathay agent took my ticket and handed me a new one which had a coach seat. She said that AA did not have the authorization to book me in biz as my original fare was for economy. At the time, I had spent over 15 hours at DFW and was just ready to go to HK, but looking back at it now it seems as though I definitely got the shaft.

  12. was it really an oneworld policy ? Because JL put me back in Y when i had an irrops while i was upgraded to J via SWU. The agent at NRT claimed my original ticket was in coach. I had to fight with them and finally they caved in and gave me a Premium Econ since no more J seats available. Guess I should have called EXP line and tell them to put me on SQ J a380, haha

  13. Similar thing happened to me once … Weather diversion caused me to miss connecting long haul flight (AA Redemption ticket) .. AA Customer service was incredibly helpful getting me the last seat on Cathay First Class flight out of SFO. It credited as full fare First, earning quite a lot of AA miles in the process!

    The cabin crew on the plane asked me what I do for a living, being so young on a full-fare ticket. :p

  14. Firstly, it is not OW policy to protect the upgraded class of service in irrops. This was without a doubt influenced by your status. Very misleading information.

    Secondly, good luck to those of you trying to find out how to access real-time flight availability. This is available – but only through select systems and only to a handful of people outside of those who have official access to it.

  15. I think it’s really just dependent on the agent you get, regardless of alliance. My dad (a lowly *S) was booked on UA ORD-HKG in Economy and the flight was cancelled. He was proactive and asked the agent if ORD-SFO-HKG was available but they said SFO-HKG was only available in First Class with SQ. A little bit of sweet talk and she opened it up for him and SQ didn’t have an issue with him at SFO. Just luck of the draw I think

  16. Great story. I’m not sure why it’s written like a how-to though. Most travelers would never receive FC on BA from a mistake fare just because they kept calm and spoke softly. Nor would most travelers have access to real time data or top tier reservation numbers. Which makes the whole article seem a bit silly and disingenuous. I guess if you travel hundreds of thousands of miles per year and run a travel blog then this post applies to you. Otherwise not so much.

  17. @ Robbie — ExpertFlyer is pretty darn accurate when it comes to real time availability.

  18. @ Luis — Hah, that was actually the toughest part. Virtually all domestic flights were zeroed out and not operating as scheduled, so the top priority was to get on a longhaul flight out of Dallas.

  19. @ Ivan Y — Yep, that’s actually an option I was looking at, though it was sold out, so couldn’t have worked. I’m sure I could have gotten them to book that as well.

  20. @ Danie — It was rebooked as an “A” fare, which is paid first class on British Airways and what it would credit as. That’s because you can’t use systemwide upgrades on British Airways and what it was rebooked in, regardless of the original fare class.

    The miles you’d earn would entirely be based on the fare class you’re rebooked in. The fare class should show on your boarding pass. Sometimes it’s the top fare bucket, sometimes it isn’t. All depends on the agent and what’s available.

  21. @Lucky awesome news! Looks loke 250% bonus for me! A little surprising that it’s at the whim of the agent though!

  22. Lucky you really are lucky to get on the BA flight! I had a similar situation and my flight from iad to dfw on Sunday evening was cancelled, ended up taking that 5:30am from Dulles to DFW for connection to Beijing flight at 11:20. Glad the weather is nice in Beijing now, enjoy catching up with my best friends here.

  23. Good on you Lucky for making lemons into lemonade, instead of just turning sour (although if it hadn’t happened, this post would be different in tone, but at least you looked at what you could do first before rushing to impotent rage like some of your fellow pax).

  24. What prevented the crew from phoning AA’s dedicated number for irregular operations? That way the gate agents could have handed the new boarding passes to pax as they deplaned. Blaming customers is not a winning business strategy. No restaurant or hotel would stay open long if they closed their doors to people that vent frustration.

  25. Nicely done, Ben! My best similar story was on an LH F redemption EDI-LHR-FRA-JFK – ended up that FRA was snowbound but managed to get rebooted into BA F from LHR – entered the eticket number and received F TPs /Avios 🙂

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *