How to Save up to 50% of Your Miles (or Get 2 Award Tickets for the Price of 1)

Cabo san lucas arch los cabos mexico

The famous arch in Cabo. Keep reading to see how you can get here for less!

Save big when redeeming by earning transferable points

One of the major tips I try to give is to diversify your points as much as possible.  My three favorite programs are Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards, and Starwood Preferred Guest.  Each of these programs and the associated credit cards earn points that are transferable to several different airlines and hotels.  I highly suggest starting with one (or more) of these if you’re new.

Make your points go further with indirect transfer partners

If you’re new to this, I will give an example of why it is important to have transferable points.  For now I will use American Airlines and British Airways.  Here is a list of airline and bank partners.

Now onto my favorite part, redeeming! Here is an example of how using transfer partners works.  A few notes before we get started:

American Airlines
  • American Airlines points can be earned through their AAdvantage program several ways including spend from their credit cards and shopping portals
  • AA miles can also be transferred from the Starwood Preferred Guest program
  • Or you can earn them the old fashioned way which is actually flying on a paid ticket (also known as butt-in-seat miles)
  • AA is not a direct transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards BUT you can still book AA flights indirectly and I’ll show you how. Bonus: you may get better value from booking using British Airways Avios.
  • AA has a fixed award chart, meaning a set number of miles for different travel zones, depending on ticket type. This means that you will be charged the same amount of miles for a ticket from Seattle to Mexico as a flight from DFW to Mexico even though the DFW to Mexico flight is a much shorter distance.  AA offers “sAAver” awards and “AAnytime” awards in economy, business, and first (on 3 cabin planes) class award tickets. The AAnytime awards are almost always available to book on any given route, but as you will see below, it could cost a ridiculous amount of miles.
British Airways

The currency of the British Airways loyalty program (also known as BA Executive Club) is Avios, so you will probably see me referring to their miles as Avios

  • Like AA, BA also has a shopping portal where you can earn bonus miles, you can earn by flying on paid tickets, or you can earn with credit card spend.
  • Chase actually issues a BA credit card that periodically offers good sign up bonuses (I’ve seen current offers for 100,000 Avios), however, I would not apply for this card until you’ve applied for a few others first which brings me to my next point*
  • BA Avios can be transferred from the main 3 loyalty programs I talk about.  You can transfer SPG points to BA at a 1:1 ratio. Also, Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer at a 1:1 ratio. AMEX Membership Rewards also transfer, but at a 250:200 ratio. So for every 250 AMEX points you get 200 BA Avios. Not great, but could be worth it if you’re needing to book a reward ticket and you’re short some Avios.
    • *The reason I would not apply for the Chase BA card first is because when you’re first starting out, it makes much more sense to get the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve, the AMEX SPG, or an AMEX that earns membership rewards.  As always, there are exceptions to this.  If you have plans to use a large amount of Avios in the near future, this card may be a good option.
  • British Airways has a distance-based award chart. This can save you lots of points on certain tickets, especially shorter routes that are typically expensive!
  • It’s generally not a good program for longer distance flights such as US to Europe or Asia because longer distances mean more points.  There are some routes from the east coast that can get you to Europe at a good value.  There are also routes from the west coast to Asia for a good value.  I will discuss some of these routes soon.

British Airways and American Airlines are partners

This means that even though AA is not an Ultimate Rewards partner or an Amex MR partner, you can transfer points to BA and use Avios to book AA flights (or any airline in the Oneworld alliance).  You will need to sign up for a BA account, but it’s free.

The bolded statement above is a very important statement so I’ll repeat it. You can use British Airways Avios to book on American Airlines planes/flights.  You will need to book these flights through your BA account, NOT AA. 

American Airlines and British Airways are both SPG transfer partners.  As you will see below, you would want to use British Airways to book these flights even though AA is also an SPG partner.

Save points on flights to Mexico by using British Airways Avios

You can get some great deals on flights that are normally more expensive in cash and in miles.  I’m going to use DFW to Cabo for this example.

cabo san lucas, british airways avios,

I’m going to be completely honest here. This trip to Cabo happened before I educated myself on miles and points. I would love to go back now that I know how to get there for almost nothing!

You can go here  to calculate the amount of Avios needed based on your departure airport and destination, but DFW to Cabo is 1025 miles, and a flight with a distance of up to 1150 miles is going to be 7,500 Avios each way in economy or 15,000 Avios each way for business/first class.

Here is the American Airlines award Chart:

american airlines aadvantage award chart economyamerican airlines advantage award chart first class

If you’re booking through American Airlines with AAdvantage miles, at the sAAver level from DFW to Mexico it’s going to cost 12,000-15,000 miles each way in economy. In business/first it costs 25,000 each way.  It’s even more for an AAnytime award ticket.

Below is the exact same flight, one on the AA website and one on the BA website.
dallas to cabo american airlines aadvantage

American Airlines miles needed each way: 15,000

dallas to cabo british airways avios

British Airways Avios needed each way: 7,500

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the same flight but in business class:
dallas to cabo aadvantage first class

One way first class from US to Mexico is 25k AA miles

British airways avios first class dallas to cabo

One way first class from US to Mexico on AA but booked through BA is 15,000 Avios

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In summary:

You can sometimes book award tickets even when the airline you’re trying to book is not a direct partner of Ultimate Rewards, SPG, or Membership Rewards if you learn to utilize transfer partners and airline alliances when booking award tickets.  What makes this deal even better is that you may be able to use even less miles and/or points!

  • A roundtrip economy ticket to Cabo will cost me 30,000 AA miles (15,000 each way) or
  • the exact same economy ticket to Cabo will cost me 15,000 BA Avios (7,500 each way)
  • Assuming 2 award seats are available, which they are as you can see on the BA screenshot above, that means if you use British Airways Avios to book these tickets, you can get 2 roundtrip tickets for the same amount that you would have to redeem for 1 roundtrip ticket if you use AAdvantage miles to book.
  • or you could get one roundtrip first class ticket by using Avios for the same cost of a roundtrip economy ticket if booked through AAdvantage

Even though I can transfer SPG points to AA, I get a better value by transferring points to BA.

Even though Amex MR and Chase UR do not transfer to AA, it does not matter because they do transfer to BA and that is a better deal!

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