If you’re trying to build American Airlines miles, or fly where that airline goes, you have more options than you may think
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Dear Cashing In,
I’m looking to keep accumulating American Airlines miles. I’ve got both the Citi and the Barclays AA cards. I know you can transfer Starwood points 1:1 into AA miles. The Starwood card from American Express is currently offering a 25,000-point sign-up bonus. I don’t recall that there are many other options out there on cards that will allow 1:1 transfers to AA. Anything else I should look into before getting the Starwood card? — Shawn
You are right that Starwood points are valuable, since they can transfer directly to more than 30 airlines, including the three biggest U.S. airlines, American, United and Delta.
The problem, though, is that there’s just one card that allows you to earn Starwood points, the Starwood Preferred Guest card from American Express (annual fee: $95, waived first year). Otherwise, you’d have to stay at a Starwood hotel, such as a Sheraton or Westin, to earn Starwood points.
You’re correct that the current sign-up bonus on the Starwood card is 25,000 points, which you receive after making $3,000 in purchases in the first three months.
That might be a sensible card to apply for, if you are looking to accumulate American Airlines AAdvantage miles. But a lot of people probably don’t realize that they also have other options, using reward programs of airlines that don’t fly anywhere near their home airport.
Miles you collect in other airlines’ reward programs aren’t American miles. But they can allow you to take flights on American — sometimes using fewer miles than the same award using American miles.
For instance, look at British Airways. It doesn’t fly directly to many U.S. airports. But if you accumulate its frequent flier miles, called Avios, you can fly on American flights because of a partnership between the two airlines. Chase’s British Airways Visa Signature card (annual fee: $95) offers 50,000 Avios when you spend $2,000 in three months, and 50,000 more if you spend a total of $20,000 in the first year.
The number of Avios you need for an American flight depends on the distance of the flight. Because of the way the Avios reward program works, Avios can make a lot of sense if you live near an American hub or fly nonstop frequently on American.
For example, a round-trip, nonstop coach flight in the winter (peak season) from Charlotte, North Carolina (an AA hub) to Montego Bay, Jamaica, is 20,000 Avios. The exact same flight booked with American miles starts at 35,000 miles (or 30,000, after March 22, 2016, because of changes to American’s award chart).
Avios might not be best for big international trips or for trips with multiple segments, but the British Airways program is one to investigate if you like flying on American.
Another option: Alaska Airlines. Its website allows you to redeem Alaska miles on airlines including American and Delta. Bank of America offers an Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card (annual fee: $75), which gives you 25,000 Alaska miles when you are approved for the card.
One other thought: If you like American miles and already have American Airlines cards, it probably makes sense to call every now and then and see if any retention offers are available. Sometimes, banks will give you miles for meeting certain spending thresholds if they think you might cancel your card.
Depending on your situation, these other cards might not be superior to the Starwood card, which has the virtue of giving you actual American miles. But if you like flying on American, you should know about these other options, consider them, then make the right choice.