Should You Redeem AAdvantage Miles or Book with Another Partner?

Should You Redeem AAdvantage Miles or Book with Another Partner?

Once American Airlines devalues their award chart on March 22 you’ll find that the cost of many tickets becomes less than affordable. First class awards, for example, are increasing between 20% and 63% on flights originating in the United States. Is this going to be your last chance to experience some of the best premium cabin products in the sky on American? Not necessarily.

Most airline loyalty programs are part of alliances or other partnerships that enable you to redeem miles for travel on other carriers. This doesn’t just mean that you can use your American AAdvantage miles to travel on British Airways, Alaska Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and other great carriers in the oneworld alliance. You can also use miles from those programs to travel on American Airlines and those other partners as well. If the price of an award goes up when you try to book through American, you might be able to get a better price when booking through someone else. Usually the same award space is available to every airline.

Be aware of three important caveats to this approach. First, you can’t transfer miles between airlines. If you already have miles in the American AAdvantage program, they’re stuck there. What this article suggests is that you might have miles with another program and you can still book the same award flight using a different stash of miles. Don’t have any miles with another partner? Some points programs transfer to airline programs. You could transfer Membership Rewards or Ultimate Rewards points to British Airways, Membership Rewards points to Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, and SPG Starpoints to over 30 different airlines.

Second, you must play by the rules of the program used to redeem the miles. If you’re used to the American AAdvantage rules and prices, those don’t apply when redeeming miles or points stored in a different loyalty program. This can be a good thing. For example, Alaska Airlines allows a free stopover in each direction, and British Airways allows as many stopovers as you want. Other things are not so good: British Airways collects carrier surcharges on all award tickets.

American AAdvantage miles
You can use your American AAdvantage miles to travel on a variety of airlineas

The final lesson is that not all airlines are part of the same networks. American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, JAL, and others are part of the oneworld Alliance. These alliance members all work together, but they also have non-alliance partners that may not be common. For example, Alaska Airlines is a non-alliance partner of American Airlines, British Airways, and Cathay Pacific — but not with Finnair or JAL. Etihad only partners with American Airlines.

In other words, certain award tickets are easiest to book with American Airlines miles, and you’ll want to focus your efforts on this particular awards before the coming devaluation in late March. Other partners are a lower priority. You’ll continue to have access to award space when using miles in a different frequent flyer program. Here is a list of priorities to consider when booking award tickets now at the current low prices.

Awards to Book with American Airlines Miles

Cathay Pacific will suffer the most from this devaluation, especially for business and first class awards to Asia and the South Pacific. Ordinarily we would recommend booking through Alaska Airlines as a substitute. However, Alaska Airlines is not a partner with Dragonair, Cathay Pacific’s regional subsidiary. Dragonair is the exclusive carrier to some smaller airports. Depending on your destination, you may need to book a separate connecting ticket or plan on using American Airlines miles for this award.

Etihad Airways is another key partner to book award travel on using American Airlines miles. Etihad offers some excellent first and business class service through Abu Dhabi to other destinations in the Middle East, India, and Africa. As one of Etihad’s few airline partners, most travelers will have no reasonable alternatives to the American Airlines award chart.

Travel to the South Pacific on Fiji Airways, Air Tahiti Nui, and Hawaiian Airlines are also key awards to book now. They are a lower priority since Hawaiian Airlines flights to the mainland are not available as awards, and Fiji Airways is also a partner of Alaska Airlines. However, American is more generous than Alaska in allowing you to mix multiple partners on the same award ticket. In a region where award space is tough to come by, that additional flexibility is important.

Awards to Book with Alaska Airlines Miles

Most international travel can still be booked through Alaska Airlines at reasonable award levels even after the American Airlines devaluation. This is because Alaska is partners with Cathay Pacific and British Airways, which between them cover many destinations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the South Pacific with reasonably good award space.

American-Airlines_Alaska2

Travel on British Airways carries some hefty fees, and the best Cathay Pacific award space will be found in the last few weeks before departure. However, this is true whether you book through American or Alaska. Qantas is also a partner of both programs, although they are historically more restrictive when releasing award space.

Awards to Book with British Airways Avios

Non-stop flights in coach or business class, especially flights within a single geographic region (intra-Europe, intra-U.S., etc.) or between the U.S. and Asia (which have lower fees than flights between the U.S. and other continents)

Although Alaska Airlines is a great substitute when booking most international award tickets to or from the United States, they only offer a small number of awards for flights in other parts of the world. For example, you cannot use Alaska Airlines miles to book intra-European flights on British Airways. There are more generous rules for travel on Cathay Pacific but not many routes to choose from.

This is where British Airways can shine. Shorter, non-stop flights are among the best way to redeem Avios. Even though British Airways does collect carrier-imposed surcharges on all tickets, regional flights within a single country or continent usually do not have these fees in the first place, or they are much lower. You could find yourself calling Alaska Airlines to arrange a ticket from the U.S. to Asia, for example, and then connecting onward with an award ticket booked through British Airways.

British Airways, American Airlines
British Airways, American Airlines, Finnair and Iberia have teamed up across the Atlantic to make global travel experience easier and more rewarding

Summary

What should you take away from this article? American Airlines miles can be used to book award travel on Etihad, JAL, Finnair, and a few other carriers that Alaska doesn’t have access to. However, American and Alaska can each be used to book award travel on Cathay Pacific and British Airways. British Airways shares a larger number of partners with American Airlines, but the high fees that they collect mean they are a better choice if you’re looking for shorter flights (e.g., under 4,000 miles).

Those who are worried about the devaluation at American Airlines might consider focusing on redeeming their miles for travel on Etihad, connecting travel on Cathay Pacific and Dragonair, and a few carriers that operate in the South Pacific. These award prices will increase the most, and they represent situations where American is the best or only option.

The caveat to this post is that some miles are easier to accumulate than others. Alaska Airlines is not a transfer partner with any major bank rewards program such as Membership Rewards, ThankYou Rewards, or Ultimate Rewards. However, they are transfer partners with many hotel loyalty programs. British Airways and a few other oneworld Alliance members do have transfer partnerships with several bank rewards programs.