We all know that there are three global airline alliances (their common abbreviation): Star (*A), Skyteam (ST) and oneworld (OW). The US-based, sponsor airlines for each are United for Star, Delta for Skyteam, and American for oneworld… which are coincidentally the three programs I bank miles in (see my post on Strategic Shopping Guidelines).
While this post will be on American’s AAdvantage program and related oneworld alliance info, I still recommend everyone to diversify their portfolio of miles and consider collecting miles in each of the alliances.
AA miles are among the most valuable travel currencies out there. Boardinarea.com’s One Mile At A Time’s analysis is a good reference (LINK), valuing AA miles at 1.8 cents per mile (cpm). However, I would use this as more a rule-of-thumb to gauge how much time and effort you’d be willing to spend on acquiring the miles than how much they are worth, because you can easily get 4 cpm or more in value out of them. Some great resources here:
- Travelsort.com: Maximizing Awards Using American AAdvantage Miles
- The Points Guy: Maximizing Stopovers, Transfers and Open Jaw Ticketing on American Airlines Awards
Even if AA doesn’t serve the route you need, you can use AA miles on any of the oneworld Alliance airline partners (AA’s oneworld award chart). For example, a round-trip N.America-Hong Kong Business Class award ticket on top tier Cathay Pacific (CX) costs 110k AA miles. That same ticket can cost $5500, making the redemption value of those AA miles 5.5 cpm. Yes, please.
Not all frequent flyer programs are created equal. The expert travel info posts above do an excellent job introducing the intricacies of the AAdvantage program. But I’d especially like to point out the parts where it shines:
- One-way awards for half the price of round-trip. I can’t stress how valuable this feature is to a travel currency. Other programs, like Delta’s SkyMiles, do not offer this… which means an one-way award costs as many miles as a round-trip award. While the value in this may not be obvious with one-destination r/t trips, it can be uber-valuable for multi-stop vacations or piecing together round-the-world (transpacific + transatlantic) trips. United also does one-way awards this way.
- No award processing fees. AA does NOT charge for award bookings made online. United and Delta also do not. US Airways, however, does impose a “$25/$50 award processing fee” for all award flights… regardless of online or phone booking.
- Generous award availability. I cannot provide concrete evidence on this, but it is the general consensus of the frequent flyer community that AA and oneworld has an overall generous award availability.
A powerful combination: BA Avios & AA miles. Firstly, both AA and BA allow for one-way awards for half the price of round-trip awards… already a hugely positive aspect of both programs. Here are a few notable differences between BA and AA:
- BA is a distance-based program (Award Chart). Unlike traditional zone/country/region-based programs (e.g. United, Delta, US Airways, etc.), BA’s program is based on the distance traveled. Note that this is distance traveled, not distance between origin-destination… so a connection through an indirect city may bump you to a higher award tier. However, there can be GREAT value with this program, especially for short-medium haul flights.
- BA Avios is an AMEX Membership Rewards Program transfer partner. MR points transfer to BA Avios miles at a 1:1 ratio (in increments of 1000). Needless to say, this is a HUGE plus. In addition, AMEX and BA often run transfer promotions like the 50% bonus in May 2012 and the 40% bonus in September 2012.
With the right situation and if used in conjunction, you can piece together some spectacular awards with the BA-AA combo. Just for kicks, let’s say we’re looking to put together the following trip: depart from LAX, spend a few days in SFO, onward to Singapore, then return directly to LAX… basically LAX-SFO-SIN-LAX.
- AA only. Since AA doesn’t allow domestic stopovers, the trip would effectively cost you one (1) one-way domestic 12,500 award and a US-Asia Zone 2 r/t 70,000 AA miles award = 82,500 AA miles total.
- BA only. BA’s Avios program is terrible value with long-haul flights. While the LAX-SFO portion is cheaper at only 4500 BA miles, SFO-SIN r/t would cost a whopping 100k BA miles due to the distance = 104,500 BA miles total.
- BA-AA combo. LAX-SFO for 4500 BA + SFO-SIN r/t for 70,000 AA. The best of both worlds.
Another notable example for the advantage of going distance-based: the widely popular Los Angeles-Hawaii route. Per AA’s award chart, LAX-HNL would cost 17,500 AA miles… or only 12,500 BA miles.
Some great resources on British Airways’ (BA) Avios program:
- Flyertalk.com: Guide to Spending Avios… a must read.
- The Points Guy: Maximizing British Airways Avios Series: Distance-Based Awards