Oneworld Alliance Award Sweet Spots and Transfers Partners

Some of these redemptions will save you thousands of miles if you use the right partner airline's miles.

Sally FrenchOctober 27, 2020
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Oneworld: Sweet Spots and Transfers between Partners

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Hoping to fly to the Olympics on Japan Airlines, but the only miles to your name are with American Airlines? Itching to fly Qantas to Australia, but all you’ve got are British Airways miles?

Airline alliances can solve that problem by taking many separate airlines — each with their own award charts, routing rules and transfer partners — and combining them into one supergroup. With such a supergroup, you can use frequent flyer miles from one airline to book flights operated by the others.

But since frequent flyer miles are essentially made-up currencies (and each airline assigns their own value to such currencies), partner award booking can sometimes result in bad deals — though they can also result in pretty eye-popping values if you play your cards right. Here's what you need to know about making these transfers and booking in the sweet spot with the Oneworld alliance.

Oneworld alliance member airlines

The Oneworld alliance currently has 13 full airline members including major U.S. carrier American Airlines, and Alaska Airlines will join the club in 2021 to make that number 14.

For now, the 13 members in the Oneworld alliance are:

  • British Airways.

  • Cathay Pacific.

  • Finnair.

  • Iberia.

  • Japan Airlines.

  • Malaysia Airlines.

  • Qantas.

  • Qatar Airways.

  • Royal Air Maroc.

  • Royal Jordanian.

  • S7 Airlines.

  • SriLankan Airlines.

If you’re looking to score the best deals for booking airfare, certain Oneworld alliance award sweet spots can help you get there. For example, rather than book, say, an American Airlines flight between San Francisco and San Diego directly with American, you might find it more cost-effective to book the same exact flight via the British Airways site using British Airways’ currency, called Avios.

How to rack up miles for Oneworld alliance member airlines

The most straightforward way to earn miles is to accrue them by flying with that airline. But since many of the alliance members are international carriers, you’re likely not flying enough on them to accrue a meaningful number of miles to book future flights.

If you’re still eyeing miles for an international carrier, you might then think it prudent to apply for a credit card specific to that airline. While that’s not a bad idea, in many cases, people seeking miles that can be accepted by multiple airline programs (and thus enable you to book many of the sweet spots below,) might find that general travel credit cards shape up to be the most powerful of them all.

Credit cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express, the Chase Sapphire Reserve® and the Citi Prestige® Card all allow you to convert your credit card points into miles.

In the San Diego to San Francisco example, you could convert either American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards® points into Avios to book the flight. That way, you’re not an American holding a credit card for a British airline that you may never fly again — and you also get the benefit of booking a flight at a better rate than if you had instead held an American Airlines credit card and used those miles to book your flight.

Transfer with American Express Membership Rewards?

Transfer with Chase Ultimate Rewards®?

Transfer with Citi ThankYou Rewards?

American Airlines

British Airways

Yes, 1:1 ratio

Yes, 1:1 ratio

Cathay Pacific

Yes, 1:1 ratio

Finnair

Iberia

Yes, 1:1 ratio

Yes, 1:1 ratio

Japan Airlines

Malaysia Airlines

Yes, 1:1 ratio

Qantas

Yes, 1:1 ratio

Yes, 1:1 ratio

Qatar

Yes, 1:1 ratio

Royal Air Maroc

Royal Jordanian

S7

Sri Lankan

It is important to note that you typically can’t transfer miles between programs; rather, you can book awards on other airlines with partner airline miles. So you can’t just transfer your British Airways Avios to American Airlines if you want a better deal, even if you would rather use your Avios points to book an American Airlines flight as a partner award. There are a few exceptions to this, such as transferring between British Airways and Iberia (they both use Avios).

Oneworld award flight sweet spots

Now that you know how to earn miles in the Oneworld program — even if you’ve never even flown on a specific airline before — here are some of the best Oneworld award flight sweet spots to be aware of while booking:

Sweet spot No. 1: Short-distance international flights with British Airways

If you’re flying short distances, the British Airways mileage program, called Avios, can come in handy. That’s because the number of British Airways Avios required depends on distance, as well as various price factors like Reward Flight Saver and peak and off-peak travel dates.

For international flights that don’t actually cover long distances, you’ll often find it smarter to book with British Airways — especially if the airline you intend to fly with has a set award chart where reward flights are based on region rather than distance.

Take an example flight operated by American Airlines between Los Angeles and Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, for April 2021. Since it’s only about 900 miles as the crow flies, British Airways proves its worth for booking short-distance international flights.

Here’s how much it costs to book in the main cabin on British Airways vs. directly with American Airlines, both using miles:

  • British Airways: 9,000 Avios + $ 32.21 in taxes and fees.

  • American Airlines: 15,000 miles + $32.21 in taxes and fees.

We value American Airlines miles at 1 cent, so that flight would be worth $150 plus taxes and fees if booked on American Airlines miles. But say you had The Platinum Card® from American Express, where points are worth 1 cent when booking flights through American Express Travel. You could instead transfer your points to British Airways and book the flight at a value of just $90 plus taxes and fees.

That’s a 40% discount by using British Airways Avios versus booking that American Airlines flight using actual American Airlines miles.

Sweet spot No. 2: Long distance flights on American Airlines within the same region

In contrast to the first sweet spot, American Airlines proves especially worthy for flights within the same region that span a large distance.

The American Airlines award chart assigns point values based primarily on the region of your arrival and departure, rather than the exact city.

While it might be logical to assume that a short flight between St. Louis and Chicago should cost significantly less than a lengthy flight from San Francisco to New York, that’s not necessarily the case when using American Airlines miles to book flights.

Take an example flight operated by American Airlines between San Francisco and New York in April 2021 — nearly 2,600 miles. While British Airways tends to win out in short-distance international flights, American Airlines wins for long-distance domestic flights.

Here’s how much it costs to book in the main cabin on British Airways versus directly with American Airlines, both using miles:

  • British Airways: 13,000 Avios + $5.60 in taxes and fees.

  • American Airlines: 10,000 miles + $5.60 in taxes and fees.

The difference is even starker when you look at the same flights in business class rather than the main cabin:

  • British Airways: 38,750 Avios + $5.60 in taxes and fees.

  • American Airlines: 20,000 miles + $5.60 in taxes and fees.

That’s a 23% savings in the main cabin or a 48% savings in business class just for opting to book with American Airlines over British Airways.

Sweet spot No. 3: Transferring miles between Iberia, Aer Lingus and British Airways

In most cases, you cannot transfer miles between airline mileage programs, even if they’re part of the same alliance. But the Iberia, Aer Lingus and British Airways mileage programs aren't most cases.

Nerd tip: Note that Aer Lingus is not a Oneworld Alliance member, while Iberia and British Airways are. This means you cannot use Aer Lingus Avios on Oneworld alliance flights, but you could transfer Aer Lingus Avios to either Iberia or British Airways and then do so. Aer Lingus does have some partner relationships with other airlines.

Those airlines are a part of a program called Avios, for its namesake (made-up) currency. The Avios program allows you to transfer your points at a 1:1 ratio to any airline's currency. But even though points transfer across those mileage programs at the same rate, the cost to book the exact same flight is often not the same, depending on which specific airline’s Avios currency you use.

Before booking a flight on one of those airlines, check to see if it’s a better deal in another program’s version of Avios.

Take an example flight operated by British Airways between London’s Heathrow Airport and Ibiza, Spain. Here’s how much it costs to book in the main cabin on British Airways compared with Iberia, both using Avios:

  • British Airways: 12,000 British Airways Avios + $43.07 in taxes and fees.

  • Iberia: 7,500 Iberia Avios + $43.89 in taxes and fees.

In this case, had you taken that extra step and transferred your British Airways Avios to Iberia, you’d be able to save 4,500 Avios in the bank.

It’s fairly simple to transfer between airlines participating in the Avios program. Simply link your Aer Lingus, British Airways or Iberia accounts in the general Avios website. From there, select "Manage My Account" and click on "Combine My Avios." You’ll be taken to a page that allows you to transfer between accounts.

Sweet spot No. 4: Use American Airlines or British Airways to avoid poor Qantas awards

If you’re jaunting around Australia, you might be inclined to fly on Qantas, as it’s largely considered one of the best Australian airlines. The trade-off: Qantas can offer some of the worst mileage redemptions.

But there's good news: You can still fly on Qantas in Australia without using Qantas miles. In one example flight between Sydney and Cairns in April 2021, here’s how much it costs to book in the main cabin on Qantas using Qantas miles versus American Airlines miles.

  • Qantas: 18,000 miles + about $33 in taxes and fees.

  • American Airlines: 10,000 miles + $19.90 in taxes and fees.

We value American Airlines miles at 1 cent, so that flight would cost you about $100 of value in points plus taxes and fees if booked on American Airlines miles as opposed to the $180 cost if you had to use 18,000 American Express points and transfer them to Qantas.

The bottom line

These four cases illustrate how the Oneworld alliance can allow you to redeem flights at better values by booking with frequent flyer miles that often aren’t the same as the airline you actually intend to fly with.

British Airways Avios can be especially valuable in booking relatively short flights across different countries because the program is largely based on distance. On the other hand, American Airlines has a set award chart based on region and season, so those miles tend to be more valuable when booking the longest-distance flight still within the same region (for example, Los Angeles to Miami, instead of a shorter distance like Los Angeles to Las Vegas).

To have the flexibility to actually book sweet redemptions, it’s typically a good idea to choose a general travel credit card that lets you transfer your points to a variety of airline mileage programs, as opposed to an airline-specific credit card. While an American Airlines credit card might tempt you with perks like free checked bags or Admirals Club access, you might find yourself getting a better value booking American flights with British Airways Avios you collect from an American Express or Chase Ultimate Rewards® transfer, which can outweigh the value of those other benefits.

While there’s no "best" Oneworld mileage currency, it’s tough to argue with that fact that often the best currency is the most flexible one.

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