How to save reward points on American Airlines flights

Reaping your Rewards: Try using British Airways miles to book on American

How to save reward points on American flights

People who know a lot about miles and points have a lot of tricks up their sleeves that are not always evident to those who are new to the hobby. 

They use advanced strategies for earning reward points, and they also employ sophisticated techniques for spending them. The one we are going to address today sounds on its face to be a little silly – but it can wind up saving you lots of points. 

The technique has to do with using points to fly on American Airlines, the largest U.S.-based airline. Most people probably know that you can use American Airlines frequent flyer miles on American, and that credit cards from Citi and Barclaycard have sign-up bonuses that can earn you a lot of those miles. 

But what you might not know is that if you’re inclined to fly American, you often can do so for fewer points by booking your reward flight through British Airways. 

British Airways? Yes, British Airways. You don’t actually have to set foot on a British Airways plane. All you have to do is have British Airways frequent flyer miles, which you can transfer from major credit card reward programs such as Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards. Often, you will find that you will use fewer of those points than if you had redeemed American Airlines frequent flyer miles. 

For example, let’s say you want to fly from Dallas to Las Vegas using points and miles. You could use American miles, and if you found nonstop flights available at the “saver” level, you would use 25,000 American Airlines miles for a round-trip ticket. But those exact same flights would cost you just 15,000 British Airways miles, known as Avios. You are stretching your rewards and saving 10,000 miles every time you redeem – and those savings add up to more flights you can take.

Here is how you can use British Airways miles to book American Airlines flights:

1. Sign up for a British Airways frequent flyer account.

2. Search for the flights you want on the British Airways Executive Club website. Generally, if flights are available at the “saver” level on American Airlines, they will be available at a low level on British Airways.

3. Transfer the points from Chase or American Express to British Airways, from your card issuer’s website.

4. Buy the tickets using points. You will probably have to pay $5-10 in airport fees. 

This trick works because British Airways uses a wholly different award chart than American does. British Airways calculates the number of miles needed for a flight based on the flight’s distance, so the best value is on short-distance flights that cost a lot of money. Also, they are priced by flight segment, so nonstop flights are less than flights with connections.

In practice, this means you tend to have good deals to and from American’s hubs: Charlotte, North Carolina, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York-LaGuardia and JFK, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington-Reagan National. You can find good deals not just within the continental U.S., but also to Hawaii (especially from the West Coast) and to the Caribbean (especially from the East Coast). 

If you find that you can use these awards a lot, you might look into the Chase British Airways Visa card (annual fee: $95). It comes with 50,000 British Airways Avios points after spending $3,000 in the first three months; and 25,000 more after spending $10,000 in a year (or 50,000 additional miles to a total of 100,000 if you spend $20,000 in the first year).

Using British Airways Avios won’t work for everybody all the time, but it can be a handy option to save precious reward points.

See related: Reaping your rewards: The direct route to a Southwest companion pass


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Updated: 11-18-2017