Book this, not that: Oneworld award flights

Nov 29, 2021

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

While American Airlines AAdvantage used to be one of the most valuable and useful frequent-flyer program out there, a large-scale devaluation a few years back and a dwindling amount of saver-level award space have made it less appealing lately.

Whether you’re looking to fly on American Airlines or one of its Oneworld partners like Alaska, you can often get a much better deal by booking through a different loyalty program instead of AAdvantage.

Today we’ll continue our “book this, not that” series and turn our attention to the Oneworld alliance to discover which airline programs are the best for booking which types of award flights.

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In This Post

Premium cabin flights to Asia

Cathay Pacific A350
(Photo by JIMMOYHT/Shutterstock)

One of the best things about airline alliances is that you can use your miles from one airline to fly in premium cabins on top-notch partners. Oneworld is home to two of my favorite airlines of all time: Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. Let’s start by looking at what American Airlines would charge you for business- or first-class flights from the U.S. to Asia:

Routing Business First
U.S. to Asia 1 (Japan and Korea) 60,000 miles 80,000 miles
U.S. to Asia 2 70,000 miles 110,000 miles

Although using AAdvantage miles to book premium cabin space on Cathay or JAL can be a good deal, it’s possible to do better. For the exact same flights, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan only charges 50,000 miles for Cathay Pacific business class and just 70,000 miles for the carrier’s excellent first class product. Plus, Alaska lets you enjoy a free stopover in Hong Kong (HKG), so you can see city (when it repopens) before continuing on to another destination in Asia — essentially a two-cities-for-one deal.

Alaska Cathay Pacific Award Chart
(Screenshot courtesy of alaskaair.com)

With these flights normally selling for around $20,000 each way, this is a surefire way to get an unbeatable redemption value.

Cathay Pacific first class cash prices
(Screenshot courtesy of google.com/flights)

Japan Airlines has a slightly smaller U.S. route network and higher prices, but it can still be a great deal. Note the difference in pricing between Asia and Southeast Asia, though you’ll also be able to build in a free stopover in Tokyo.

Alaska JAL award chart
(Screenshot courtesy of alaskaair.com)

If you can’t decide between the two carriers in first class, check out our guide on this very topic, and note that Alaska’s website does show Japan Airlines award inventory but does not show Cathay Pacific flights. To find that availability, use another Oneworld site and then call Alaska to book.

Earning Alaska miles: The easiest way to earn Alaska miles is by signing up for the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® credit card, which is currently offering 40,000 bonus miles plus Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare; from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from $22) when you make purchases of $2,000 or more within the first 90 days of opening your account.

You can also pick up Alaska miles at relatively affordable rates during one of Alaska’s frequent sales or transfer them from Marriott Bonvoy at a 3:1 transfer ratio, plus a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer. This means 60,000 Marriott points transfers to 25,000 Alaska miles.

Related: The best first-class seats between the US and Asia

Short-Haul domestic flights

Generally speaking, American Airlines requires 12,500 AAdvantage miles for most saver-level domestic awards, though there are some exceptions. Nonstop flights under 500 miles in distance are just 7,500 miles. And of course, the carrier’s shift toward more dynamic pricing through its Web Specials program can yield cheaper short-haul flights from time to time.

Meanwhile, Alaska typically charges anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 miles each way for domestic, Alaska-operated flights in economy and 15,000 to 40,000 miles in first class. Alaska charges a flat 12,500 miles in economy or 25,000 miles in business class for domestic American-operated flights.

Related: The latest on Alaska’s Oneworld partnership

Given how much the award prices can fluctuate, there are many times when it makes more sense to book American or Alaska-operated award flights with British Airways Avios. This is all thanks to British Airways’ distance-based award chart. If you’re booking a nonstop flight that covers shorter distances, you may be able to score some serious savings.

Nonstop flights that cover 650 miles or fewer in distance cost 7,500 Avios in economy or 15,000 Avios in first class, while flights between 651 and 1,151 miles are just 9,000 or 16,500 Avios in economy or first class, respectively. There is a wide variety of city pairs within the US that fall within these ranges, like these within 650 miles of American’s hub in Miami (MIA):

MIA sample routes
(Screenshot courtesy of gcmap.com)

Or any of these cities out of Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) for just 9,000 Avios each way:

ORD sample routes
(Screenshot courtesy of gcmap.com)

Earning British Airways Avios: You can transfer points from American Express Membership Rewards, Capital One and Chase Ultimate Rewards to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio, though all of the programs offer relatively frequent transfer bonuses. Like Alaska, you can also transfer from Marriott at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000-Avios bonus for every 60,000 points transferred.

If you’re looking to earn Capital One miles, the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card is offering 100,000 bonus miles once you spend $10,000 on purchases within the first six months from account opening. This is enough for more than 13 domestic flights of 650 miles or less on American or Alaska.

Or, consider applying for the British Airways Visa Signature Card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 100,000 bonus Avios after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening.

Related: 6 award chart ‘sweet spots’ that will save you money on domestic flights

West Coast to Hawaii

Alaska Airlines Oneworld alliance
(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

While some frequent-flyer programs consider Hawaii to be in the same region as the continental U.S., AAdvantage doesn’t. Flights from the lower 48 to Hawaii cost 22,500 miles for a MileSAAver ticket (or 20,000 for off-peak awards), but again, we can do better. British Airways has long been one of the best programs for booking flights from the West Coast to Hawaii, and this remains the case today.

Nearly every flight from the West Coast to Hawaii — whether you fly on American Airlines or Alaska — will cover a distance between 2,000 and 3,000 miles. This means you can book these awards for only 13,000 Avios each way under the partner award chart. American Airlines serves a number of Hawaiian destinations from its hubs in Los Angeles (LAX) and Phoenix (PHX). In addition to LAX, Alaska also flies nonstop to Hawaii from San Diego (SAN), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA) and Portland (PDX), among others.

Earning British Airways Avios: Transfer points from Amex, Capital One, Chase or Marriott, or open the British Airways Visa Signature Card.

Related: Book this, not that: Hawaii resorts edition

Etihad Guest to the rescue

While American Airlines doesn’t have a snazzy and unique business class product like United’s Polaris or Delta’s new Delta One Suites, American offers a more consistent experience with lie-flat, reverse herringbone seats on its entire long-haul fleet.

The business-class cabin on AA's 787-9.
The business-class cabin on AA’s 787-9. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

While Etihad is not a Oneworld member, it has a partnership with AA for reciprocal mileage earning and redemptions. Etihad’s prices for flights on AA metal are nearly identical to what AA used to charge before its 2016 devaluation, making this an attractive booking option.

Etihad AA award chart
(Screenshot courtesy of etihadguest.com)

While saver-level award space can be hard to find, a one-way business class ticket to Europe for only 50,000 miles (vs. the 57,500 miles AA charges) is a great deal. So is business class to Australia for 62,500 miles and Asia for 50,000 to 55,000 miles, depending on where you fly.

American is also the last of the U.S. airlines to operate a true international first-class product, available exclusively on its fleet of 777-300ERs. You’ll find these planes flying from the carrier’s hubs in Miami (MIA), New York-JFK and Los Angeles (LAX) to destinations in Europe, Asia and South America. For only 62,500 miles you could book LAX to London-Heathrow (LHR) in first class and enjoy AA’s flagship first dining experience on the ground.

Earning Etihad Guest miles: You can transfer Amex, Capital One or Citi ThankYou points to Etihad at a 1:1 ratio.

Related: Etihad Guest miles continue to fly under the radar

Bottom line

Searching for and booking award flights can be a complicated endeavor, but if you’re truly looking to maximize your redemptions, it’s critical to consider all of your available options.

Once you’ve found the flight you want to book, you can save thousands of your hard-earned points and miles by booking that flight through the right program. While many airlines continue to devalue their miles and change their loyalty programs, a number of carriers retain high-value options and useful partnerships.

If you’ve focused your earning strategy on transferable points/miles from Amex, Chase and Capital One, you probably have access to most of these partner programs — even if you didn’t realize it.

For more information on Oneworld redemptions, check out the following guides:

Additional reporting by Benji Stawski.

Featured photo by Anna Zvereva/Wikipedia

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