Save Your American Airlines Miles – Use Flexible Points Instead (And Often Pay Much Less!) for AA Flights
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It’s easy for many folks to collect flexible points these days. Thanks to bonus categories, welcome deals, and retention offers for the 3 main transferable points programs, you can do better using them instead of valuable American Airlines miles.
While many airlines allow transfers from bank partners, American Airlines is a notable holdout. And with Citi’s application rules (and Barclays so conservative), you might want to hold onto your American Airlines miles for a fancy award seat, like a long-haul flight in a premium class.
For American Airlines flights, you can use:
- All the ways to earn AMEX Membership Rewards points – Transfer to British Airways Avios points
- All the ways to earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points – Transfer to British Airways Avios points
- Citi ThankYou points earned with cards like Citi Prestige and Citi Premier® Card transferred to Qantas
And many times, it’s a better deal to do this anyway. Because you can get the same flights for fewer points!
I’ll show you how!
Save Miles & Money on American Airlines Award Flights With Flexible Points
While we’d love to see American Airlines allow transfers from a bank points program (the obvious candidate is Citi ThankYou), we’re not holding our breath.
And luckily, there are workarounds. The good news is they’re often preferable because American Airlines miles can be harder to earn. I like to save my American Airlines miles for Business or First Class tickets to somewhere amazing, like Fiji or Tokyo, on Fiji Airways and Japan Air Lines, for example.
But for other flights, I wouldn’t even consider touching my American Airlines miles. Instead, I’d use flexible rewards because:
- American Airlines charges $75 if you book award flights within 21 days of departure, other programs don’t
- It’s easier for me to earn flexible points because of bonus categories, like airfare, dining, and rotating offers with other programs
- Citi’s application rules prevent me from opening new American Airlines cards for the next couple of years
- I can earn bonus points through spending offers, referrals, and other promotions with other cards
- Flights are sometimes cheaper paying with points through a bank portal than transferring to an airline program, and I’ll still earn elite qualifying miles
Here’s how I do it, by using the magic of airline partnerships.
1. AMEX Membership Rewards Points
The best transfer partner for American Airlines flights with AMEX Membership Rewards points is British Airways. That’s because you’ll pay 7,500 British Airways Avios points for American Airlines flights up to 1,151 miles in distance.
With American Airlines, you’d pay:
- 7,500 miles for flights under 700 miles
- 12,500 miles for all other flights within the mainland US and Canada
The cool thing about British Airways Avios points is you’ll pay the same price, even for flights to Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central America from the US – as long as they’re 1,151 miles or less. American Airlines would charge you 15,000 American Airlines miles for these flights.
Plus, you’ll pay a $75 close-in booking fee when you book an award flights within 21 days of departure with your American Airlines miles. British Airways does NOT charge this – you can even book a flight the same day without extra fees!
You can transfer AMEX Membership Rewards points instantly and at a 1:1 ratio to British Airways. And you can earn them with these cards:
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2. Chase Ultimate Rewards Points
Chase Ultimate Rewards points also transfer instantly at a 1:1 ratio to British Airways. So you can use the same method as above to save on American Airlines flights.
You can earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points with these cards:
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I’ve noted in the table above which cards allow points transfers to partners. Here’s a video guide on how to combine all your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to one place.
Keith used 20,000 British Airways Avios points to book a Business Class seat from Los Angeles to Nashville. American Airlines would charge 25,000 miles for the same flight, plus fees if you’re within 21 days of departure.
It’s always worth pricing out your flights to see if you can save with other programs. Be aware though, British Airways charges per flight segment. So you’ll get the best deal on non-stop flights.
3. Citi ThankYou Points
If your flight has connections, turn to Citi ThankYou points. Or use them if they’re the easiest for you to earn. I know they are for me!
You can use 8,000 Citi ThankYou points transferred to Qantas to book one-way coach flights under 600 miles on American Airlines. And flights with connections cost the same number of miles, as long as the destinations are under 600 miles from one another. This is an easy way to get around British Airways’ pricing per segment.
The only hitch is it can take ~2 days for the miles to show up in your Qantas account. But Qantas doesn’t charge close-in booking fees.
Even still, I have to connect in Dallas to fly to Oklahoma City or Memphis from Austin. Whereas British Airways would charge me for 2 separate flights, Qantas lets me book award flights at the lowest price, even with the connection.
This is another easy way to save your American Airlines miles! And it works on Qantas flights too, in case you ever find yourself in Australia. 🦘
But Which Program Is the Best?
The beauty of miles & points is how customizable they are to your personal travel plans. So there’s no right or wrong answer here.
The best program for you is the one in which points are the easiest to replenish.
For me, I’m loving the new 5X categories of airfare and dining with Citi Prestige – so all of a sudden, Citi ThankYou points are the easiest for me to earn.
But for you, that might mean 5X categories with a card like the Ink Business Cash Credit Card or 3X categories with the Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, which both earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points.
Or maybe you get 4X points at restaurants, and US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 in purchases per calendar year, then 1X) with the American Express® Gold Card and are flush with AMEX Membership Rewards points.
Simply put, dip into the points you use most. And save your American Airlines miles for when it makes more sense!
If American Airlines miles are challenging for you to earn, save them and use flexible points instead! This is especially true for short coach flights.
You have access to American Airlines flights with each of the 3 main transferable points programs, including:
- AMEX Membership Rewards points transferred to British Airways Avios points
- Chase Ultimate Rewards points transferred to British Airways Avios points
- Citi ThankYou points transferred to Qantas
The one that’s best for you depends on where you want to go, and which points are easiest for you to earn. Often, you can pay fewer points and save cash for last-minute flights.
Let us know in the comments which points program you like the best! How do you get award flights on American Airlines?
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Either $5 or 5% of the amount of each transfer, whichever is greater.
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)