Can I Transfer Miles Between British Airways and American Airlines?
Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.
Transferable points are a somewhat simple concept to understand in theory, but things get much more complicated in practice, as you have to navigate a web of different transfer options and remember that the program with which you're booking your ticket might not belong to the airline operating your flight. TPG reader Lisa wants to know if she can combine points between her British Airways and American Airlines accounts ...
[pullquote source="TPG READER LISA"]I have a large number of British Airways Avios, and every time I try to search for American Airlines flights it says none available. Can I move these points to my AAdvantage account and book with American Airlines directly?[/pullquote]
British Airways has been in the news a lot in the last few months, between a minor devaluation of its partner award chart, taking delivery of its first stunning A350 aircraft and an excellent 40% transfer bonus from American Express Membership Rewards. Furthermore, Lisa is spot on that some of the best uses of Avios are for partner awards, especially short-haul domestic flights on American Airlines.
American Airlines and British Airways are both members of the Oneworld alliance, and the two carriers cooperate quite closely through a transatlantic joint venture. American Airlines AAdvantage members can earn and redeem miles on British Airways flights, while BA members can do the same on flights operated by American. However, you can't transfer miles between your AAdvantage account and your British Airways Executive Club account.
As an analogy, think of transferable points as stem cells, with the potential to turn into almost any type of cell (or mile) they want. The degree of flexibility depends on the program: American Express has 22 airline and hotel transfer partners, while Marriott has over 40 airlines to which you can transfer your Bonvoy points. However, once you earn points or miles in a specific airline's program — be it through transfers or normal earning activity — you usually can't transfer them laterally to a different airline. Similarly, once a stem cell differentiates into one type of cell, it can't just change its mind and morph into another type. While there are some airlines that allow this, the rates are so atrocious that you're better off not even knowing that this option exists.
So is Lisa entirely out of luck? Not at all. It's certainly still possible to book American Airlines awards using British Airways Avios, but it's important to address Lisa's frustrations. American Airlines is inching closer to dynamic pricing, and it can be challenging to find nonstop, saver-level award space. Only flights that have MileSAAver awards will be bookable through British Airways — or any American partner. And while the British Airways website can be a powerful tool for searching Oneworld award availability, it has had problems displaying American flights in the past. As a result, Lisa might want to start by using the full calendar view on the American Airlines website to find days/flights with saver award availability before heading over to British Airways to book.
If she finds a flight with a MileSAAver award available, it should absolutely be bookable using British Airways Avios. If it doesn't appear online, she should call Executive Club customer service at 1-800-452-1201 (open daily from 7:30am to 8pm Eastern Time) — and should ask that any phone booking fee to be waived if the flight isn't bookable online.
Even though British Airways and American Airlines have a close relationship, you can't transfer miles directly between the two airlines. This is true with most carriers across all alliances. Just because United and Lufthansa work closely together or Delta and Air France-KLM are expanding their joint venture doesn't mean you can transfer miles between them. Make sure to keep this in mind when you're deciding which loyalty program to credit your miles to for any upcoming flights.
Thanks for the question, Lisa, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at email@example.com.