American Airlines has two tiers of award tickets
You can read more about it in this post. The point is, you probably only want to book a ticket with AAdvantage miles if there is availability at the lower level (also known as MileSAAver). If you plan to book an American Airlines flight with miles in a partner program, there must be availability at the MileSAAver level to be able to use the partner to book the AA ticket. It is important to know how to look for American Airlines award space at the saver level.
Tip: American Airlines lets you put an award itinerary on hold for 5 days!
If you already have American Airlines AAdvantage miles, don’t worry! Even after the devaluation that happened last year, your miles are not completely worthless. There are still good ways to use your miles. With that said, every single good option to redeem your AAdvantage miles for AA flights is only a good value if you can find MileSAAver space.
If you cannot find saver space, you can look for availability with their partners. If you have luck finding partner availability, you can use your AAdvantage miles to book those flights. Not all of their partners show up in the online search, so you may have to get a little creative to search for availability. You will also have to call to book some partners. For example, you can book Cathay Pacific flights with AAdvantage miles, but the Cathay Pacific flights will not show up on your search on the AA website. There are other ways to check for availability online before calling to book. In the near future, I will post the best ways to check for award space on partner airlines.
Anyway, if there is no saver award space on AA and if you cannot find availability on partner airlines, you’re better off saving your miles than using twice as many for an AAnytime ticket.
Here are a few reasons you may want to use another airline’s loyalty program to book a flight on American Airlines
- American Airlines is not a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards. If you want to book an American Airlines flight with these points, you will need to transfer your UR or MR to OneWorld alliance carriers or other carriers that partner with American Airlines. For example, you can transfer points to British Airways and then use Avios to book an AA flight. You may get a better deal by using Avios anyway! Keep in mind that Amex Membership Rewards transfer to BA at 250:200. Not terrible if those are the only points you have, but transferring Ultimate Rewards is better. Ultimate Rewards transfer to BA at a 1:1 ratio. SPG also transfers to BA at 1:1.
- American Airlines is a partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, but you may be able to use less points by using a partner airline to book. For example, Alaska Airlines is also a transfer partner of Starwood. Alaska Airlines charges 20,000 miles each way for an American Airlines flight to Brazil on off-peak dates. American Airlines charges 30,000 each way if you book with their AAdvantage program. If your travel dates are considered off-peak, you save points by booking with Alaska Airlines instead of American Airlines. You would want to transfer your Starpoints to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan for this flight if AA has it available at the SAAver level.
- If you’re wanting to add a stopover to your itinerary, you can do this for free by booking the AA flight with Alaska Airlines miles. In order to stay on topic, I’ll save the stopover talk for a future post.
You can always refer to the transfer partner and airline partner list if you want to see other partners.
How to search for award ticket availability on American Airlines
I will use DFW to Sao Paulo, Brazil for this example. You can search for round-trip flights but I find it easier to search one-way at a time.
- Type in the departure airport, the destination, select the number of passengers, and select a departure date. Be sure that the Redeem Miles box is checked.
- The date I chose is available at the MileSAAver level Tip: if you click ‘Show Full Calendar’ you can see more dates.
- Once these MileSAAver award tickets get booked, only the AAnytime tickets will be left. Let’s look at the cost55k on that date, and even more for other dates! That’s almost twice the amount of the MileSAAver ticket. Again, I do not suggest booking an AAnytime ticket. I cannot think of any instance when it would be a good value, but you can always calculate the value you’re getting with points as opposed to paying with cash.
As long as the MileSAAver ticket is available for your date, you should now be able to book this ticket on AA’s partner airlines
In other words, you can use British Airways Avios*, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles, or others.
- To book this flight on Alaska Airlines, it costs 20k or 30k Alaska Airlines miles each way. 20k is for dates that are considered off-peak. If your date happens to be off-peak, you’re better off booking with Alaska Airlines miles.
- If using British Airways, it is 25,000 Avios each way. Remember that British airways has a distance-based chart and their award tickets are priced based on the distance of each segment of your flight. The direct flight from DFW to GRU prices at 25,000 Avios each way. While you can still sometimes book a non-direct AA flight with British Airways, it will probably cost more.
- For example, let’s say there is no availability on the direct flight from DFW-GRU but there is a flight that is DFW-MIA-GRU
- If you book with British Airways you would be charged for the DFW-MIA segment plus the MIA-GRU segment.
- This prices at 32,500 Avios per ticket each way in economy
- DFW-MIA is 7,500 Avios and MIA-GRU is 25,000 Avios
- This is still not a terrible option, especially if you have lots of Ultimate Rewards points. Remember that Ultimate Rewards transfer to British Airways at a 1:1 ratio.
*I love when I find a route that makes sense to use British Airways Avios. If you look at the earning side of the equation, this is a great deal with Ultimate Rewards. Remember that if you have a Chase Ultimate Rewards earning card, it is very easy to earn more than one point per dollar with bonus categories and shopping portals.
How to search for direct flights (either for convenience or because you’re trying to book with British Airways):
- To search for direct flights all you have to do is select Non-stop only from the drop down menu on the left side.As you can see, this may narrow your options for dates.
Here is a look at availability in business class
The same rules apply for business class tickets. In order to book American Airlines flights in business class with another airline, there must be MileSAAver availability.
If you cannot find any SAAver space for your dates and/or destination, you still have options if you have transferable points. This is why I highly recommend credit cards that earn American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards, or SPG Starpoints rather than airline miles. For example, you could check to see if United has availability at their saver level. If so, you could transfer points from any of those 3 programs to Singapore Airlines. You could then use Singapore Airlines to book the United flight.
Let me know if you have any questions!