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TPG reader Jody asks:
“I’m sure you have a ton of clients that took advantage of both the British Airways 100K sign up bonus and the 150K American Airlines sign up bonuses recently. Can we take those 250K miles and use them together somehow within the OneWorld Alliance system to fly an entire family of four to Asia/South America/Africa, etc.? “
This is a great question, because many of you did get in on the 100,000 British Airways Visa deal in April/May and are currently raking in the American miles from their 75,000 mile secret Citi cards. Can you physically combine AA and British Airways miles? No. Can you use them in tandem to plan a great Oneworld award trip? Yes.
However, you need to understand both programs have completely different rules. The key differences are:
1) Stopovers: British Airways allows unlimited en-route stopovers (which means for South American trips you can travel to Buenos Aires, but stop in Lima and Santiago along the way). For their cheapest awards, American only allows a stopover at the international gateway city, which is generally their US hub where you leave the US. If you fly Boston-JFK-Buenos Aires, you could stop at JFK only on either the outbound or return segment- or both. American allows unlimited stopovers on Oneworld awards, but be prepared to pay a mileage premium.
2) Partner awards: British Airways has 4 award charts and the most generous is the one-partner airline chart. This means to get the best value, you can only fly on one Oneworld carrier. So if you live in a city only serviced by American (like Albuquerque, New Mexico), your only option to get the lowest awards is to fly American airlines, since you can’t switch carriers once you are abroad and American only flies from the US to other countries (for example, you could fly JFK-Paris on American but go no further, since you’d have to mix in another Oneworld carrier to get past London). Either that, or you could buy a ticket to a Oneworld gateway city, like Los Angeles, and then fly that partner only on your trip. Any American MileSAAver award should be bookable using BA miles, but you often have to call to book awards because britishairways.com can’t price complex or multi-city awards.
American has three award charts: AA awards, partner awards and then oneworld awards. The first two do not allow stopovers (besides the gateway city), but Oneworld awards do – but you will pay a mileage premium and the annoying thing is that you must use two Oneworld partners – whereas on BA’s best award chart, you can only use one. This makes maximizing both BA and AA miles for the same trip a little bit difficult. Generally any award that shows on Britishairways.com should be bookable with AA miles.
3) Fees. British airways generally has higher fuel surcharges on awards (think $500+ for a European roundtrip, but $160-$450 on South America/Asia/Australia). American’s fees are usually in the $50-$200 range, though they also charge $400+ for awards that include British Airways travel. However, BA doesn’t have last minute award fees and only charges $90 to change/cancel an award vs. $100 last minute fee and $150 change/cancel award fees on American.
So basically, to use BA and AA miles, your best value is to avoid European trips (high fees) and also stick to one Oneworld carrier for the whole trip.You also need to understand you can’t overload an American award with stopovers, like you can with British Airways miles, so you need to make a relatively simple itinerary and fill in the extra stops that you did get on the British Airways award with one-ways or paid flights.
So let’s take South America for example. If you wanted to book a simple Los Angeles to Lima roundtrip, you could book some of your tickets using BA miles and some using AA. American will put an award on hold, so I recommend putting the American awards on hold, booking the BA awards (since they generally don’t allow award holds) and then booking the AA awards once the BA awards are finalized.
If you wanted to take advantage of British Airways generous stopovers and book something like Los Angeles- Lima (stop)- Santiago (stop)- Easter Island (stop)- Santiago- Lima-Los Angeles you could book that award on all Lan for 40,000 miles in coach and 80,000 miles in business class with BA. However, if you used AA miles for that same trip, you could only book something like Los Angeles-Lima on one award for 17,500/30,000 miles one way in coach/business. Then book three additional one ways: Lima-Santiago, Santiago- Easter Island for 15,000/30,000 miles each in coach/business and then a one way back Easter Island to Los Angeles for 30,000/50,000 miles. All in for business class you are looking at 160,000 miles for a Lan award or 130,000 for a Oneworld award if you were able to mix in another Oneworld partner (like flying American Los Angeles-Dallas-Lima on the first leg), however mixing in an AA segment would make the BA award a multi Oneworld award, and bump the price of the award up to an eye-popping 100,000/200,000 miles for coach/business.
So to sum it up, in my opinion BA awards are best used on multi-stopover trips on a single Oneworld partner to anywhere but Europe and AA awards are best used on simple roundtrips that can include any number of Oneworld partners (see my post on maximizing AA awards here).
Also check out my series on BA miles:
General tips, Post 1 – Booking BA Awards, Post 2 – Booking Partner Awards, Post 3 – Oneworld Alliance, Post 4 – Taxes and Fees, Post 5 – Household Accounts, Post 6 – Companion Ticket, Post 7 – Using ExpertFlyer for Partner Award Availability, Post 8 – The Art of the Stopover, Post 9 – Leveraging Miles and Cash Redemptions, and Post 10 – Using Qantas.com to Find Oneworld Award Availability
I know this can get confusing so feel free to comment below with questions!