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

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.

Update 2019: Starwood and Marriott have merged and SPG no longer exists.

Cabo san lucas arch los cabos mexico
The famous arch in Cabo. Keep reading to see how you can get here for less!

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.

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
  • 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 is required 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 welcome bonuses (I’ve seen current offers for 100,000 Avios), however, I would not apply for this card until you’ve applied for a Chase Ultimate Rewards earning card such as a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve. A list of our favorite credit card offers is updated monthly.
  • BA Avios can be transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards or AMEX Membership Rewards at a 1:1 ratio.
  • 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!

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.

Save points on flights to Mexico by using British Airways Avios

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

cabo san lucas, british airways avios,
This trip to Cabo happened before I educated myself on miles and points.

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.

Update May 2019: BA has slightly increased the redemption prices. This route would now be 9,000 Avios each way, which is still much lower than that of AAdvantage! You can find BA’s newest redemption prices here.

Here is the American Airlines award Chart:
american airlines aadvantage award chart economy
american 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 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!

cabo san lucas pueblo bonito pacifica

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