Save Your American Airlines Miles – Use Flexible Points Instead (And Often Pay Much Less!) for AA Flights

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Save Your American Airlines Miles – Use Flexible Points Instead (And Often Pay Much Less!) for AA Flights

Harlan VaughnSave Your American Airlines Miles – Use Flexible Points Instead (And Often Pay Much Less!) for AA FlightsMillion Mile Secrets Team

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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:

And many times, it’s a better deal to do this anyway.  Because you can get the same flights for fewer points!

You May Not Think of Using AMEX, Chase, or Citi Points for American Airlines Flights. But You Can – And You’ll Often Save This Way!

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
I’ll Continue to Fly American Airlines, but I Won’t Pay Cash or Use My Stash of AA Miles!

Here’s how I do it, by using the magic of airline partnerships.

1.   AMEX Membership Rewards Points

Link:   All the Ways to Earn AMEX Membership Rewards Points in 2019!

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.

I Used British Airways Avios Points to Get Cheap Flights From Dallas to Puerto Vallarta. Twice! It’s an Amazing Way to Save & Get Views Like This

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:

2.   Chase Ultimate Rewards Points

Link:   All the Ways to Earn Chase Ultimate Rewards Points in 2019!

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:

Chase Ultimate Rewards CardDo Points Transfer to Travel Partners?
Chase FreedomNo
Chase Freedom UnlimitedNo
Chase Sapphire (no longer available)No
Chase Sapphire PreferredYes
Chase Sapphire ReserveYes
Chase Ink Business Cash Credit CardNo
Chase Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit CardNo
Chase Ink Bold (no longer available)Yes
Chase Ink Plus (no longer available to new applicants)Yes
Chase Ink Business Preferred CardYes

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.

You’ll Often Pay Fewer Miles and Save Money by Using British Airways Avios Points for American Airlines Flights. This One Would Cost 25,000 American Airlines Miles, but Only 20,000 British Airways Avios Points for Business Class!

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.

For Me, Memphis Is Home – And Usually Requires a Connection. So Qantas Miles Are Incredibly Useful for American Airlines Flights to See My Mom and Gramma!

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 US restaurants, and US supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per 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!

Bottom Line

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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Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred named "Best Credit Card for Flexible Travel Redemption" - Kiplinger's Personal Finance, June 2018
  • 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • No blackout dates or travel restrictions - as long as there's a seat on the flight, you can book it through Chase Ultimate Rewards

More Info

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! :)

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I have plenty of Avios points, but whenever I try to book AA flight through BA, I am told it is not available, whereas the same flight is available through AA miles. It is going on since last couple of years. Avois points are kind of a waste for me at this time.

Author

Hey Ashok! I have seen this a time or two on popular routes. AA only releases Saver award seats to partners. If you see it’s open on the AA site as a Saver seat, a partner *should* be able to book it.

You may need to call, but remind them because you couldn’t book it online, to waive the fee (if there is one).

Otherwise, I’ve found the BA site is pretty accurate with what’s on the AA site. Sometimes a quick call is worth it to save the miles. Hope that helps. Thank you for reading and commenting!

This happens to me more often than not. I almost always check it a route on BA first but the award doesn’t show up even though its on AA. It has worked for me twice in the past 5 years so it’s worth checking.

Author

Definitely! I’ve seen this on city pairs where there are lots of routes open for award tickets on a certain day. Sometimes BA won’t pull them all up.

It’s worth checking – and if you really want to book, a call to BA might be in order. I’ve found the phone agents are easy to talk with.

Thanks for sharing your experience – I will have to investigate this a bit more!

Using Avios instead of AA is mostly a good deal on the short routes, however, be aware that you will not receive a free bag (my experience when traveling from the Caribbean) and won’t be able to pick your seat most of the time. Other than that, it’s still worth it IMO

One more question 🙂
How long does in take for Citi Thank You points to transfer to Qantas?

Author

In my experience, about 2 business days. I found the Qantas site and booking process was super easy to navigate. To be on the safe side, I’d give it 3 days. Any time, Doc! 🙂

Again, thank you so very much. Just booked round trip DFW to Cancun in December for 15K Avios + $75 PP. The only surprise they snuck up on me is that the tickets are Basic Economy (only carry on but you can pick a seat ahead of time?) Still, a good deal if you ask me. The fares for the flights we wanted were almost $400 RT.

Author

Yes! I’ve booked that exact same award – it’s SUCH a good deal.

I believe the seats are regular economy. I booked AA flights via Qantas last month and was able to select a seat and bring a bag on board. Just looked on the BA website and they like regular economy there, too. You should see the flight in your AA account and it will show the fare type.

You’re right though – good deal either way! One of my favorite awards to book.

Always enjoy hearing from you. Hope you’re doing well! 🙂

Thank you for the summary Harlan.

I have a variety of flexible points, but often just use AAdvantage miles out of habit when booking AA flights. This post reminds me that I can save by booking strategically.

Author

Thank you, Miles! And absolutely – I try to save my AA miles for a big award. And often, I find better prices with other strategies anyway.

Glad you found it useful. Really appreciate your kind note.

Yes, hope to see you soon…. Love the pearls you share, thank you for making our travels affordable. I was literally going to buy the ticket this morning, and… Talk about karma!

Excellent, as always, Harlan!
Love the summarized “use of” links.

Author

And thanks as always for everything, Doc! I’ll be back in Dallas in a few weeks – will keep you posted!

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