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While American Airlines’ AAdvantage program used to be one of the most valuable out there, a large-scale devaluation a few years back and a dwindling amount of saver-level award space have made it much less appealing these days. Whether you’re looking to fly on American Airlines or one of its Oneworld partners, 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.

In This Post

Premium Cabin Flights to Asia

One of the best things about airline alliances it that you can use your miles to fly in premium cabins on top-notch foreign carriers. 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 to Asia:

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

If the only miles you have at your disposal are AAdvantage miles and you find premium cabin space on Cathay or JAL, I’d say go ahead and book the flight. However, it’s possible to do much better. For the exact same flights, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan would only charge you 50,000 miles for Cathay Pacific business class and just 70,000 miles for the carrier’s venerated first class. The program also allows you to enjoy a free stopover in Hong Kong (HKG), enabling you to see the city before continuing on to another destination in Asia — essentially a two-cities-for-one deal.

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

Japan Airlines has a slightly smaller US 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.

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 a sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles plus Alaska’s Famous Companion Fare from $121 ($99 fare plus taxes and fees from just $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 rate plus a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer. Finally, consider crediting paid flights from the carrier’s list of partners to boost your Mileage Plan account balance.

Short-Haul Domestic Flights

Generally speaking, American has always required 12,500 AAdvantage miles for most domestic flights, though there are some exceptions. Nonstop flights under 500 miles in distance are just 7,500 miles, while the carrier’s reduced mileage awards to or from rotating cities are just 8,750 miles each way for eligible credit cardholders. And of course, the carrier’s pending shift toward more dynamic pricing — an extension of its Economy Web Specials program — has also complicated the award pricing game with American.

That being said, there are still many times when it makes sense to book American-operated award flights with British Airways Avios. This is all thanks to British Airways’ distance-based award chart. While it did recently update award rates for most partner airlines, if you’re booking a nonstop flight that covers shorter distances, you may be able to score some serious savings.

Now it’s worth noting that the shortest flights to, from or within North America booked using Avios don’t exactly correspond to the updated chart. Nonstop flights that cover 650 miles or fewer in distance will be 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 are 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), which would require just 7,500 Avios:

Alternatively, you could book any of these cities out of Chicago-O’Hare for just 9,000 Avios each way:

Earning British Airways Avios: You can transfer points from Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio, though Amex frequently runs transfer bonuses, and Chase is in the midst of a 30% transfer bonus right now. You can also transfer from Marriott at a 3:1 ratio, with a 5,000-Avios bonus for every 60,000 points transferred, or you could credit Oneworld flights to British Airways. Finally, consider applying for the British Airways Visa Signature Card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of up to 100,000 Avios. You’ll earn 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening and an additional 50,000 bonus Avios after you spend $20,000 total on purchases within your first year

West Coast to Hawaii

While some frequent flyer programs consider Hawaii to be in the same region as the continental US, 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, even after the May partner award chart adjustment.

Nearly every flight from the West Coast to Hawaii — whether you fly on American Airlines or BA’s non-alliance partner 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 new partner award chart. American Airlines serves a number of Hawaiian destinations from its hubs in Los Angeles (LAX) and Phoenix (PHX), and in addition to LAX, Alaska also flies nonstop to Hawaii from San Diego (SAN), Oakland (OAK), San Francisco (SFO), Seattle (SEA) and Portland (PDX), among others.

Note that Alaska award space doesn’t appear on ba.com, so you’ll need to search Alaska’s own website to find availability and then call BA to book it with Avios.

Earning British Airways Avios: Transfer points from Chase (with a 30% bonus through June 16), Amex or Marriott, or open the British Airways Visa Signature Card.–>

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 all of its 777 and 787 aircraft (which make up the overwhelming majority of its long-haul fleet).

The business-class cabin on AA
The business-class cabin on AA’s 787-9.

While Etihad is not a member of one of the major alliances, it does have 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 devaluation, making this an attractive booking option.

While saver-level award space is somewhat hard to find, the ability to fly to Europe in business class for only 50,000 miles (vs. the 57,500 AA charges) is a great deal. So is business class to Australia for only 62,500 miles as well as Asia for 50,000-55,000 miles. American is also the last of the US 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 or Citi ThankYou points to Etihad at a 1:1 ratio. The program is also a transfer partner of Capital One, allowing you to convert miles earned on cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card into Etihad Guest miles at a 2:1.5 ratio.

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 and have confirmed that there’s award space, 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 followed our advice and focused your earning strategy on transferable points like Chase and Amex, you probably have access to most of these partner programs, even if you didn’t realize it. Hopefully this has helped identify how to make the most of your upcoming award flights on Oneworld carriers.

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

Featured photo by Anna Zvereva/Wikipedia

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