Trying to book an American Airlines award flight with miles or points? Here’s a fun fact: AAdvantage miles are not necessarily required. If you have transferable bank points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, you have more options than you probably realize for booking American Airlines flights.
In some cases, you may not want to use AAdvantage miles even if you have them because you can get a better deal by booking the exact same flight with other types of miles and points.
American Airlines award space is limited and searching for it can be a little confusing. This post will show you how to search for American Airlines award availability when booking with partner miles.
First, here is a quick overview about using partner airline miles to book flights operated by American Airlines:
You do not need AAdvantage miles to book American Airlines flights
American Airlines is in the Oneworld alliance with 13 other airlines. You can redeem miles from any of these programs for award flights operated by American Airlines.
In addition to Oneworld partners, AA also has a non alliance partnership with a few airlines. The most notable for this post is Etihad. Etihad’s program has better redemption pricing than AAdvantage for several routes operated by American Airlines.
You probably aren’t sitting on a pile of British Airways or Etihad miles, but that’s okay. Enter Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.
One of my favorite ways to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards points is for American Airlines flights. You may be surprised to hear that neither transfer to American Airlines AAdvantage. Instead, we can transfer UR or MR points to other airline programs that are partners with American Airlines. Then we can use the partner airline program to book the AA flight.
In total, Chase Ultimate Rewards has 10 airline partners and 3 hotel partners, and American Express has 19 airline partners and 3 hotel partners. There are 2 Chase airline transfer partners that can be used to book American Airlines flights. Amex has 5 airline partners that can be used to book American Airlines flights.
You can transfer points from these bank programs to the listed frequent flyer programs to book flights operated by AA:
There are other types of bank rewards programs such as Capital One Venture miles that also transfer to airline programs that can be used to book AAdvantage miles. The ratio isn’t quite 1:1; it’s 2:1.5 or 2:1, depending on the airline, but it still may be worth looking into if you have Capital One Venture miles. UPDATE: Right after I published this with 2021 updates, Capital One made some improvements to the ratios of some transfer partners. You can now transfer Capital One Venture miles to Etihad at a 1:1 ratio!
Also, some hotel programs transfer to partners that can book AA flights. Actually, some hotel programs even transfer to AAdvantage. The ratios are so bad (like 3:1 and 5:2) that I am not going to go there, but if you’re desperate or just need to top off an airline account, this is something to keep in mind.
This is how it works
To redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points or Amex Membership Rewards points to book AA flights with airline partners, you would need to transfer your points to one of the above programs. Once transferred, your Amex or Chase points become miles in the program to which you transfer. Transfers are permanent and you cannot transfer miles back to Amex or Chase. For that reason, it is best to search for award availability and make certain your dates and route are available before you transfer any Amex or Chase points to an airline program.
Tip: The great thing about transferable points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and Amex Membership Rewards is that if you cannot find an award ticket with American Airlines, there are several other partners you may be able to use to book a flight on a different airline. When you earn miles from an airline co-branded card such as one of the AAdvantage cards, you only earn airline miles with that program. For example, with. an AAdvantage co-branded card, you earn AAdvantage miles. Those miles are not transferable, so you’re limited to the redemptions allowed by the AAdvantage program.
Once you transfer Chase or Amex points to an airline partner, your points become airline miles and they are subject to the policies of the airline program. Also, redemptions are going to be priced according to the partner airline program, not American Airlines.
To be clear, you cannot transfer miles from any of these airline programs to AAdvantage.
This is sometimes called an indirect partnership and you can read more details here.
Partner programs sometimes have better redemption pricing
Sometimes, booking an AA flight with partner miles results in a better redemption price than that of AAdvantage.
For example, I can book a nonstop roundtrip flight between DFW and Mexico operated by AA for 18,000 British Airways Avios (their name for miles). That exact same flight would require 30,000 AAdvantage miles. So even if we have the AAdvantage miles needed, we would still want to transfer our Chase or Amex points to British Airways and then use the program of British Airways to book that flight.
I’m not really going to cover redemption pricing here because that isn’t really the focus of this post, but there are several posts that discuss this, as well as more details about using other programs to book AA flights throughout the site. Here are a few:
- How to book AA flights with British Airways Avios
- How to book AA flights with Etihad miles (or Amex Membership Rewards)
- How to redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for American Airlines flights
Here’s the catch
American Airlines (and most airlines) limit the amount of award tickets on any given flight. Even if a paid seat is available, you may not be able to book an award seat. Furthermore, award availability is usually even more limited when you’re trying to use a partner program to book.
When you search for award tickets on AA.com, you’re searching what is available to book with AAdvantage miles. This may not match what is available to book with partner airline miles.
This is not unique to AA; this is just how award travel works. That is why it is important to learn how to search for partner award availability. But first, I think understanding the basics of AAdvantage award tickets is helpful.
AA has a few different types of award tickets that you can book with AAdvantage miles and I think that is where it gets a little confusing. There are MilesAAver tickets, AAnytime tickets, and most recently they’ve added Web Specials.
American Airlines AAdvantage has 3 categories of award tickets
Web specials are exclusive to AAdvantage. You can only use AAdvantage miles to book these tickets at the web special rate. Sometimes a web special ticket is also available to book as a MilesAAver ticket and if that is the case, you can use a partner program such as British Airways Executive Club to book the ticket.
MilesAAver tickets are limited and these are the tickets that are going to be made available to partner programs.
AAnytime tickets are not available to book with partner programs. These are the tickets that AA will allow AAdvantage members to book with miles, but redemption pricing is so high that I would rarely suggest doing this even if you do have AAdvantage miles.
This is a topic I get questions about all the time:
Someone searches AA.com and finds an award ticket. When they go to British Airways to try to book that ticket with British Airways Avios (miles), the flight is not available. British Airways can be glitchy sometimes when trying to book online, but I would estimate that 95% of the time, this scenario happens because the flight the person found on AA.com was an AAnytime ticket. AAnytime tickets are not available to book with partner airline programs.
The bottom line is, you have to find MilesAAver availability if you want to use other airline programs to book award flights operated by American Airlines. In the past, I suggested using AA.com to find the award space no matter which program you planned to use to book.
Earn your first 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points
The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card welcome bonus of 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three month is worth at least $1000. But you can potentially get even more value out of those points by using transfer partners such as British Airways to book American Airlines flights. This card also earns 2 points per dollar on travel and dining spend. Also, earn $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases. The annual fee is very reasonable at $95. Here are 36 great ways to redeem the bonus, some of which are examples of using the points to book AA flights.
If you have transferable points such as American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards points (or if you have miles in an airline program that is an AA partner) these are the steps to book:
- Search for availability
- Figure out which airline partner results in the lowest redemption cost (remember, Chase UR has 2 partners that can book AA and Amex MR has 5 partners that can be used to book AA)
- Transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards or Amex Membership Rewards points to the airline program
- Use the airline program to book the ticket
How to search for American Airlines tickets that are available to book with partner airline miles
Up until sometime last year, AA.com had a nice setup for searching for award space and it was easy to distinguish MilesAAver tickets from web specials and AAnytime tickets. They have since updated their search tools and now it can get confusing, especially if you don’t know exactly what to look for. For that reason, I’m now recommending a different way to search for American Airlines flights that are available to book with partner airline miles.
I’m going to show the partners of Amex and Chase that you can use to book AA flights again for reference:
You can book flights operated by American Airlines online if you’re using the programs of British Airways, Iberia, or Qantas. Cathay Pacific and Etihad will require a phone call.
While you can book with British Airways and Iberia online, it’s sometimes easier to use a different program to search for the award space, especially if your dates are flexible. Then once you find dates that work for you, you can sign into your BA or IB account to confirm availability then book.
When you call Cathay Pacific or Etihad to book, their agents can search for the space, but it’s much easier to do your own search before you call, and then all you have to do is feed the exact flight info and dates.
If you have an Expert Flyer subscription, you can search for AA MilesAAver ticket availability there. But the best way to search for free is by searching Qantas.
No matter which partner you want to use to book an AA award flight, Qantas is now my favorite way to search
If you find an AA seat that you can book with Qantas miles, you should be able to book that same seat with British Airways, Etihad, or any of the other airline programs that are redemption partners of American Airlines.
You will need to create a free Qantas Frequent Flyer account to search for award availability. You can sign up here.
Go to Qantas.com
Type in the departure airport, the destination, select the number of passengers, and select a departure date. Be sure that the Use Points button is selected. If your dates are flexible, you can select “Flexible with dates”
You can also search one way at a time. This is helpful for finding availability when you have flexible points. If an AA flight is only available for your outbound flight but not your return flight (or vice versa), you could book one way on an AA flight, then you could see if a different airline has availability for the other way.
Click “search flights”
If you chose Flexible dates, the next screen shows available dates.
The dates I chose are available, but what I like about Qantas is this calendar view. Some programs will only show you one date at a time so searching can be frustrating if your dates are flexible.
You’ll see available dates for available dates for +/- 14 days of the dates you chose. You can also sort by cabin if you want (check or uncheck the boxes at the top).
The return date I selected is available as well, but again they show +/- 14 days
To see all available flights for any given date, select your date(s) and click “continue”
The next screen shows all available flights to book with miles from AA partners
Any AA flight that shows up here as available to book with Qantas miles should also be available to book with other AA partner programs.
Note that since Qantas is in the Oneworld alliance, you may also have options from other Oneworld alliance carriers such as British Airways or Iberia when you search. But if you’re using Etihad miles, keep in mind that Etihad is not in the Oneworld alliance; instead there is a non alliance partnership with American Airlines. The bottom line is, you cannot redeem Etihad miles for flights operated by BA or Iberia. So if you’re looking to use Etihad miles (or Amex points-click here for more info), you’ll need to make sure the itinerary you find is operated solely by American Airlines.
Once you find flights that work for your dates, you can write down the flight numbers and dates, and you’re done with the search. The next step would be to confirm availability and pricing with whichever partner you want to use by either going to that website (if online booking is available) or calling.
If you have Amex points (remember, they transfer to Qantas), you can select the flights to get a price with Qantas, but I already know for this particular route that Qantas isn’t the best partner. Qantas has distance based pricing and this particular itinerary prices out at 24,000 Qantas miles. Not bad at all, but we can do better.
This particular route (nonstop DFW to Cabo roundtrip) would require 24,000 Qantas miles. You could transfer 24k Amex points to Qantas to book, but British Airways would be even lower. British Airways also has distance based pricing, but their distance bands and pricing are different and would require 18,000 for this roundtrip itinerary.
Important reminder about redemption pricing
The program with which you book determines the redemption pricing. If you book with British Airways Avios, BA determines the redemption price, not American Airlines. Or Qantas. So even though we’re using Qantas to find availability, do not pay attention to their redemption pricing if you’re using British Airways, Iberia, or another partner.
Each airline program has a different way of pricing award flights, so if you have Amex or Chase points, I suggest checking redemption pricing with each partner to determine the best way to book. The best partner is going to vary for any given redemption. One partner may be great for certain routes but terrible for others. For example, British Airways is great for nonstop AA short haul routes. For some longer haul routes, it may be better to use a different program.
Tip: Iberia is usually the better partner if a connection is involved. For more info about British Airways vs. Iberia to book AA, read this post.
Learning how to search for partner award availability will save time and prevent frustration when you’re trying to redeem your miles and points.
Transferable bank points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards give you several redemption options, including a few different ways to book American Airlines award flights.
Earn your first 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points
The Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card welcome bonus of 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 in the first three month is worth at least $1000. But you can potentially get even more value out of those points by using transfer partners such as British Airways and Iberia. 80,000 Ultimate Rewards points can be converted to 80,000 airline miles in 10 different airline programs. This card also earns 2 points per dollar on travel and dining spend. Also, earn $50 in statement credits towards grocery store purchases.
The great thing is, earning transferable points also gives you the option to book with several other airlines.
When you use an airline co-branded credit card, you only earn miles for that airline program. For example, if you only use an American Airlines AAdvantage co-branded card, you only earn AAdvantage miles. Airline miles generally do not transfer to other airlines; you cannot transfer AAdvantage miles to other airlines. Your redemption options are limited to that of the AAdvantage program.
Airline co-branded cards are great for welcome bonuses and for benefits, but for everyday spending, it usually makes more sense to accumulate transferable points such as Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards points.
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