Miles and points currency: What you need to know about airline alliances and travel partners

Signing up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

We love getting questions from our readers and educating our them about the currency of points and miles. Although queries frequently revolve around how to use the miles and points you’ve earned from flying or spending with top credit cards for travel, many readers ask whether or not you can transfer miles from one airline rewards program to another.

The straight answer is no, you can’t transfer airline miles to another airline. But you can book award flights on other airlines if they’re travel partners.

We’ll explain how it works.

It isn’t possible to transfer airline miles to another airline but you can use your miles to book award flights on partner airlines. (Photo by Patrick Daxenbichler/Shutterstock)

Airline alliances and travel partners

Most major airlines belong to one of three alliances:

You can usually credit paid flights from all the airlines in an alliance to any other airline in the same alliance.

For example, you can credit your flights on Finnair or Qantas to American Airlines. That’s because they’re all in the Oneworld alliance. This allows you to pool the miles you earn into one account (American Airlines).

And, you can use miles from one airline to book flights on another partner airline. For example, you can use your Lufthansa miles to book flights on United Airlines, or vice versa.

Travel rewards are like currency

Think of the rewards you earn with each airline like a country’s currency.

Let’s say American Airlines AAdvantage miles are like U.S. dollars and British Airways Avios points are like British pounds. You can’t combine your American Airlines dollars with your British Airways pounds.However, you can use the currency you have in British Airways Avios points to buy an American Airlines flight. And you’ll pay the rate that’s charged in British Airways “pounds” instead of the rate charged in American Airlines “dollars.”

You can check the “exchange rate” buy looking at the airline award charts.

Comparing rewards programs is never apples to apples but once you understand the alliances, it’s easier to put award trips together. (Photo by paulaphoto/Shutterstock)

In this example, your British Airways “pounds” have a terrific exchange rate when you use them to buy short flights within the United States on American Airlines.

Not every airline accepts every kind of miles and points “currency.” It depends on the alliance and partnerships.

For example, Lufthansa (a German airline that’s part of the Star Alliance) will accept your United Airlines miles but not your American Airlines miles. That’s because United Airlines is in the Star Alliance with Lufthansa; American Airlines isn’t.

There’s no need to memorize all of the alliances — although you probably will once you’ve been in the hobby for a while. In the meantime, here are a few easy-to-read lists below:

Oneworld

Oneworld‘s member in the U.S. is American Airlines. Here’s the complete list of its 13 global member airlines:

  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • LATAM
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines
If you want to experience Cathay Pacific business class, you can use American Airlines miles to book an award ticket. (Photo by Zach Honig)

One of the best ways to get great value for your American Airlines miles is to book business-class and first-class seats on Cathay Pacific because these seats cost thousands of dollars if you pay out of pocket.

To find a flight’s award price, use the chart of the miles you’ll be using, not the airline you’ll actually be flying.

That means if you want to use American Airlines miles for flights on British Airways or Cathay Pacific, use the American Airlines award chart.

SkyTeam  

SkyTeam is the alliance that includes Delta Air Lines in North America, as well as these airlines internationally:

  • Aeroflot
  • Aerolíneas Argentinas
  • Aeroméxico
  • Air Europa
  • Air France
  • Alitalia
  • China Airlines
  • China Eastern
  • Czech Airlines
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Kenya Airways
  • KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
  • Korean Air
  • Middle East Airlines (MEA)
  • Saudia
  • Tarom
  • Vietnam Airlines
  • XiamenAir

You can use Delta miles to fly on SkyTeam airline partners to Europe or to book a business-class award seat on SkyTeam member Korean Air.

Fly on SkyTeam partner Korean Airlines using Delta miles for a business-class seat. (Photo by Zach Honig)

Star Alliance

Star Alliance has the most member airlines, and it includes United Airlines which you may remember is a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner:

  • Aegean
  • Air Canada
  • Air China
  • Air India
  • Air New Zealand
  • ANA
  • Asiana Airlines
  • Austrian Airlines
  • Avianca
  • brussels airlines
  • Copa Airlines
  • Croatia Airlines
  • EgyptAir
  • Ethiopian
  • Eva Air
  • LOT Polish Airlines
  • Lufthansa
  • SAS
  • Shenzhen Airlines
  • Singapore Airlines
  • South African Airways
  • Swiss Air Lines
  • TAP Portugal
  • Thai Airways
  • Turkish Airlines
  • United Airlines

Check out all the ways to redeem United Airlines to fly all over the world. Redeem United Airlines miles (or Lufthansa miles, Air Canada miles, or other Star Alliance partner airlines miles) for a business-class award seat on Singapore Airlines.

You can fly Singapore Airlines in business class with United Airlines miles. (Photo by Christian Kramer)

Partner airlines

If an airline is not in an alliance, it usually has partner airlines (there are a few exceptions). Though you can’t transfer miles between airline partners either.

As an example, you can credit paid flights on airlines such as EmiratesLATAM or Qantas to Alaska Airlines because they are partners even though Alaska Airlines isn’t in any alliance. Then use Alaska Airlines miles for free travel.

Before you fly on an unfamiliar airline, check its airline partners (usually on the airline’s website) and credit the miles to your favorite partner. Then you can use the miles to fly on other partners. For example, you can credit a British Airways flight to Alaska Airlines. And then use the Alaska Airlines miles you’ll earn to book an award seat on Emirates.

Partnerships can be just as useful as alliances when it comes to redeeming your miles.

Bottom line

You can’t transfer airline miles from one airline to another. It’s also impossible to combine two different types of miles into one account.

However, you can use an airline’s miles to book an award seat on another airline within the same alliance. Oneworld (includes American Airlines), SkyTeam (includes Delta), and Star Alliance (includes United Airlines) are the three major alliances.

Once you understand airline alliances and airline partners, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an award booking expert.

  For more airlines and travel news, deals and analysis sign-up for our newsletter here.

Meghan Hunter is a contributor to Million Mile Secrets, she covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel.

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! :)

Join the Discussion!

Subscribe
Notify of
24 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments