How to Save on American Airlines Flights by Redeeming a Different Airline’s Miles

Sometimes American Airlines' partners will let you to book the same flights for less miles.

Andy ShumanApr 15, 2021
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If you usually fly American Airlines, you probably don’t pay much attention to other airlines’ loyalty programs, instead putting all your efforts into earning American AAdvantage miles and redeeming them for flights on American.

But sometimes you can get better value by booking American flights through other airline loyalty programs. If you collect miles or points with an American Airlines partner — for example, a Oneworld alliance airline like British Airways — you can redeem that airline’s points on their website or reservation line for a flight on American.

What you need to know

Award chart variance

Airlines typically require different numbers of points to book a flight. Those differences sometimes mean you can find award seats at much better rates than you’d get booking with American AAdvantage miles.

To see if the American flight you want is available through a partner airline, start by searching for your itinerary on American’s website. If you see MileSAAver seats available through American, you will probably find award availability for those same seats booked through the other airline. Take note of how many American AAdvantage miles your flight costs. You’ll want that information to compare with the partner booking.

Transfer partner airlines

Most of the airlines American partners with let you use points from their loyalty program to fly American. This includes airlines in the Oneworld alliance, plus airlines that partner individually with American.

Oneworld partners:

  • Alaska Airlines.

  • British Airways.

  • Cathay Pacific.

  • Finnair.

  • Iberia.

  • Japan Airlines.

  • Malaysia Airlines.

  • Qantas.

  • Qatar Airways.

  • Royal Air Maroc.

  • Royal Jordanian Airlines.

  • Sri Lankan Airlines.

Other partner airlines:

  • Air Tahiti Nui.

  • Cape Air.

  • China Southern Airlines.

  • Etihad Airways.

  • Fiji Airways.

  • GOL Airlines.

  • Hawaiian Airlines.

  • Interjet.

  • Seaborne Virgin Islands.

Non-airline transfer partners

To earn points in other airlines’ programs, you don’t necessarily have to fly that airline. You can transfer points from a program like Chase Ultimate Rewards®, American Express Membership Rewards, Citi ThankYou or Marriott Bonvoy into certain programs that partner with American Airlines. Or you can get a co-branded credit card for the airline and earn miles by making charges to the card.

3 Savings examples

Just because you can book an American flight with, say, British Airways Avios doesn’t mean it’s a better deal. You need to know which programs and routes offer redemptions at a greater value than you’d get at aa.com.

Here’s a look at three partners — British Airways, Iberia and Etihad — to show you where and how to find deals booking American flights through partner loyalty programs.

British Airways Avios

There are two scenarios in which booking an American flight with British Airways (BA) Avios can save you a lot of miles.

Use Avios for short (but not too short) nonstop flights

British Airways usually offers better values than American on redemptions for short nonstop flights — but not too short: American charges just 7,500 AAdvantage miles for flights up to 500 miles in distance, so there’s no need to look elsewhere if you’re traveling less than 500 miles.

British Airways prices award seats per segment, so a connecting flight will almost always cost more. The sweetest spot for an American flight booked with BA Avios is a nonstop between 501 and 650 miles in distance. Some longer nonstop trips will also save you miles compared to booking through American. Here are some rates we found recently for one-way economy flights on American Airlines booked with BA Avios.

  • Up to 650 miles: 7,500 BA Avios.

  • 651 to 1,150 miles: 9,000 BA Avios.

  • 1,151 to 2,000 miles: 11,000 BA Avios.

  • 2,001 to 3,000 miles: 13,000 BA Avios.

Officially, the lowest AAdvantage redemption rate for domestic U.S. flights more than 500 miles in distance starts at 12,500 AAdvantage miles. But American now has an even lower redemption tier called Web Specials. Sometimes a short-haul award booked with British Airways Avios can beat Web Specials, but you can’t be sure until you search both. Here is a flight between New York and Charlotte — a distance of 541 miles. Booked with AAdvantage it would cost you just 10,000 miles on a Web Special fare.

But the same American Airlines flight on the same day and at the same time would only cost you 7,500 BA Avios — 25% less. And when the AAdvantage Web Special is not available, your savings would be even greater: 5,000 miles.

For flights of distances over 2,000 miles, you’d pay around 13,000 BA Avios, so using them for longer U.S. domestic flights wouldn’t make a lot of sense.

Use Avios for flights from the West Coast to Hawaii

American flies from Los Angeles to Honolulu, Kahului, Kailua-Kona and Lihue. A one-way economy ticket to Hawaii booked through American would run you at least 20,000 AAdvantage miles for MileSAAver off peak rate (or 22,500 for peak time travel). That same American Airlines flight costs just 13,000 Avios booked through British Airways, making West Coast-to-Hawaii flights among the best uses for British Airways Avios.

How to book award flights with British Airways Avios

  1. Log on to your British Airways account, then scroll down until you see this section.

2. Click “Book flights or upgrade with Avios,” then enter your flight search and click “Get flights.”

3. Pick your flight and the class of service, and proceed to the payment page.

Iberia Plus Avios

The Spanish flagship airline Iberia also uses Avios as its loyalty currency, as both Iberia and British Airways are members of the same group. Iberia has a separate award chart for American Airlines flights (click “See redemption table”).

USE IBERIA PLUS AVIOS FOR RELATIVELY SHORT ROUND-TRIP FLIGHTS

The number of Avios you need to book an American flight through Iberia is based on distance, like British Airways, but Iberia’s chart works a bit differently. For one thing, you can’t redeem Iberia Avios on American for one-way flights. But if it’s the round trip you’re after, the savings can be yummy. Here are the best values for round-trip flights in economy.

  • Up to 600 miles: 11,000 Iberia Avios.

  • 601 to 1,000 miles: 12,000 Iberia Avios.

  • 1,001 to 2,000 miles: 17,000 Iberia Avios.

  • 2,001 to 4,000 miles: 23,000 Iberia Avios.

Compare those Iberia rates to the same round-trip flights booked with British Airways Avios:

  • Up to 650 miles: 15,000 British Avios.

  • 651 to 1,150 miles: 18,000 British Avios.

  • 1,151 to 2,000 miles: 22,000 British Avios.

  • 2,001 to 3,000 miles: 26,000 British Avios.

So for relatively short round-trip flights, using Iberia Avios is even better than using British Airways Avios.

How to book award flights with Iberia Avios

  1. Log on to your Iberia account, then enter your flight information, check “Pay with Avios” and click “Search.” If you encounter the page below, log on again.

2. Next page will list available outbound and inbound flights. You’ll need to click “View” twice after you make your choice.

3. The Iberia award search engine is notoriously buggy. It may not show flights even if they’re available at the American Airlines MileSAAver rate. In that case, call Iberia at 800-772-4642 to book your award.

How to collect British Airways and Iberia Avios with credit card programs

You can earn British Airways Avios or Iberia Avios by flying those airlines, or with their co-branded credit cards, issued through Chase.

You can also convert points from the following rewards programs into British Airways Avios or Iberia Avios.

Nerdy tip: If you can’t find a nonstop flight to your destination, you’re probably better off booking through American rather than Iberia or British Airways.

Etihad Guest Miles

Etihad publishes a chart showing exactly how many Etihad Guest Miles you’ll need for a flight on American Airlines, but Etihad redemption rates are not always better than American’s. Be sure to search for the flight on aa.com first so you can compare.

Here is where you might get a better deal using Etihad miles instead of American AAdvantage miles.

USE ETIHAD MILES WHEN FLYING economy CLASS INTERNATIONALLY

Etihad Guest offers better values than AAdvantage on some international itineraries due to the better off-peak rates and much better off-peak date intervals. Here are some examples.

U.S. to:

American miles

Etihad miles

South America 2

30,000 (no off-peak)

20,000 (March 1 to May 31 and Aug. 16 to Nov. 30)

Europe

22,500 miles (Jan. 10 to March 14 and Nov. 1 to Dec. 14)

20,000 miles (Oct. 15 to May 15)

Japan and Korea

32,500 (Jan. 1 to April 30 and July 1 to Nov. 30)

25,000 (Oct. 1 to April 30)

USE ETIHAD MILES WHEN FLYING business or first class INTERNATIONALLY

Etihad miles can get you a lot of value on long-haul international flights in American front cabins compared to American’s own AAdvantage rates. Here are some examples from the American and Etihad charts.

American AAdvantage

U.S. to:

Business/first

First

South America 2

57,500 miles

85,000 miles

Europe

57,500 miles

85,000 miles

Asia 1

60,000 miles

80,000 miles

Asia 2

70,000 miles

110,000 miles

South Pacific

80,000 miles

110,000 miles

Etihad

U.S. to:

Business/first

First

South America 2

50,000 miles

62,500 miles

Europe

50,000 miles

62,500 miles

Asia 1

50,000 miles

62,500 miles

Asia 2

55,000 miles

67,500 miles

South Pacific

62,500 miles

72,500 miles

As you can see, the savings can be significant.

How to book award flights with Etihad miles

Unfortunately, you can’t redeem an American award on the Etihad website. Instead, you will need to call Etihad’s U.S. phone number, 877-690-0767, to make an award booking on an American flight.

How to collect Etihad miles with credit card programs

There are no U.S.-based Etihad credit cards, but you can easily transfer points from several rewards programs.

The bottom line

It's not uncommon to get a better deal by booking your American Airlines award flight with other airline programs, such as British Airways Executive Club, Iberia Plus or Etihad Guest.

Cross checking award flights between American Airlines’ and partner airlines won't take long, and the savings could be worth the extra effort.

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