Using American Airlines miles for partner award flights for huge value

Earning American Airlines miles is a big part of my miles and points strategy. While I have a few paid flights a year, most of the American Airlines miles I’ve earned have come from American Airlines credit card welcome bonuses and spending, including:

Thanks to these cards and others, I’ve accumulated hundreds of thousands of American Airlines miles over the years. But would you believe I almost never use them for American Airlines award flights? Instead, I redeem them for American Airlines partner award flights for much more value.

That’s not to say I never book American Airlines award flights – I do, but I don’t use American Airlines miles (more on that later).  For me, when it comes to redeeming American Airlines miles, partner award flights are the best use of AA miles.

Wait, that’s NOT American Airlines! But this incredible lie-flat business class seat my son enjoyed came courtesy of redeeming American Airlines miles for partner flights. (Photo by Jasmin Baron/Million Mile Secrets)

Redeem American Airlines miles for partner airline flights and avoid frustration

American Airlines can be pretty stingy about offering low-level award seats, particularly in business class. If your travel dates aren’t flexible or you’re traveling at peak times to popular destinations, you might find your options limited for American Airlines award flights.

I’ve had much better luck using American Airlines miles for award flights on partner airlines. Because they’re part of the oneworld alliance, you can use American Airlines miles for flights on airlines like Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Iberia. Or book non-alliance partner flights like Etihad, Alaska Airlines, or Air Tahiti Nui.

It might seem strange to earn AA miles if you don’t plan to use them for American Airlines flights. It actually makes a lot of sense, because you’ve got a ton of options with partner airlines where award seats are sometimes easier to find. You can often get outsized value when you redeem miles this way – especially on international first and business class flights.

For example, in the past few years, I’ve redeemed American Airlines miles for:

  • 4 round-trip business class tickets between Manila and New York (via Tokyo) on Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific – We got flights worth over $18,000 by redeeming American Airlines miles and we even got to spend ~23 hours in Tokyo
  • 2 one-way business class tickets between Toronto and Berlin (via Helsinki) on Finnair and Air Berlin (no longer in existence) – We even squeezed in an overnight layover in Helsinki – such a charming city!
  • 2 one-way business class tickets between Honolulu and the US mainland on Hawaiian Airlines – Unfortunately, it’s no longer possible to book Hawaiian Airlines awards between the continental US and Hawaii with American Airlines miles, but you can still redeem for inter-island flights
  • A round-trip coach ticket between New York and Berlin on Air Berlin (again, RIP) – This was extra cheap because it was during the off-peak season
We crossed the Pacific in Japan Airlines’ amazing business class by redeeming American Airlines miles – and got flights worth thousands of dollars. (Photo by Jasmin Baron/Million Mile Secrets)

All told, we’ve taken flights worth ~$40,000 just by redeeming American Airlines miles on partner flights. That’s why I’ll continue to earn (and redeem) American Airlines miles.

You can use American Airlines miles to fly on any oneworld airline, including:

  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Air Lines
  • LATAM Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7
  • SriLankan Airlines

Other American Airline partner airlines include:

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines / Horizon Air
  • Cape Air
  • China Southern
  • Etihad
  • Fiji Airways
  • Hawaiian Airlines (except flights between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii)
  • Seaborne Airlines

You can book almost every partner airline through the American Airlines website except for China Southern Airlines, Interjet, and Etihad. With those, you must call AA reservations at 800-882-8880. There’s usually a $25 phone booking fee, but you can ask them to waive it since the tickets can’t be booked online.

Here are a few ways to get the most from you American Airlines miles on partners.

Business class to Japan or South Korea

Between the US and China, Japan, or South Korea, you’ll pay 60,000 American Airlines miles each way in business class. This is a real treat when you consider you can book awards with Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines, widely considered to have some of the best business class ever crafted by mankind.

Cathay Pacific business class is a great use of AA miles. (Photo by Zach Honig)

You can also mix partners on the same ticket. I booked an award from Asia back to New York on both Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines and got to experience both airlines.

This is one of my favorite awards with American Airlines miles.

Best business class in the world

The Qatar Airways Qsuite is considered the best business class seat. Each is fully enclosed, while the middle seats can fold down into a double bed. Plus, the barriers between certain sections of the middle seats also can be removed to create a common dinning or leisure area for four seats.

Qatar Airways Qsuite business class seat. (Photo by EQRoy/Shutterstock)

American Airlines charges 70,000 miles each way from the U.S. to Doha in business class. As long as things don’t change Qatar Airways will have a Qsuites equipped plane serving all its U.S. routes by August 2020. These are the U.S. cities where you’ll be able to find Qsuite award to/from Doha:

  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Chicago
  • Dallas
  • Houston
  • Los Angeles
  • Miami (starting August 2020)
  • New York
  • Philadelphia
  • Washington

That’s 12+ hours of the best business class available.

Southeast Asia to Sydney

You can book a full day of first class flights for less than a single credit card welcome bonus. This is on my bucket list when travel opens back up.

Between certain areas of Southeast Asia and Australia, you can spend 50,000 American Airlines miles for top-notch luxury. For example, you can book a one-way flight from Bangkok to Sydney via Hong Kong. You’ll fly from Bangkok to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific business class (one of the best on earth), and then from Hong Kong to Sydney in British Airways first class. Total flight time is about 13 hours — the lion’s share of which is in first class.

British Airways first class seats. (Photo courtesy of British Airways)

American Airlines flights are still a good option

I mentioned I’ve booked award flights on American Airlines with other airline miles. For short-haul flights within North America, I prefer using British Airways Avios points (also a oneworld partner) because of their distance-based award chart. Flights 1,151 miles or less on these routes cost just 7,500 British Airways Avios points one-way in coach.

The AA award chart was recently abolished, so they’ve got fairly loose pricing within the US. You may pay 6,000 miles one-way, you may pay 10,000 miles one-way, you may pay 15,000 miles one-way. British Airways is a reliable way to get a cheap flight.

The great thing about British Airways Avios points is they’re super easy to earn, because British Airways partners with these flexible points currencies:

If I ever need more points, I just transfer them from my Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. Then I can save my American Airlines miles for more partner trips. I’m currently stocking up for (hopefully) another epic trip to Asia in a year or two.

Bottom line

It might sound odd, but I very rarely redeem American Airlines miles for flights on on American Airlines. Instead, I use American Airlines miles to book partner award flights on airlines like Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Finnair for incredible value. And it’s often easier to find seats on partner airlines because American Airlines award flights can be hard to find if you’re not flexible with your travel dates.

All told, I’ve probably gotten amazing flights to Europe, Hawaii, and Asia worth ~$40,000 by booking this way. And when I need a short American Airlines flight within the continental US, I use British Airways Avios points instead. They’re easier to earn from the best Chase cards or the best Amex cards — and many short-haul flights are cheaper compared to booking with American Airlines miles.

You can earn American Airlines miles quickly with cards like:

I’d love to hear your strategy for redeeming American Airlines miles. Do you get more value on partner flights, or have you had luck using them for American Airlines flights?

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