Using Both AAdvantage and Avios
It’s been about 10 months since British Airways announced that they were “reinventing” their award chart, and it’s been about 8 months since those changes were implemented. Before last year, their award chart was region-based and allowed for unlimited stopovers as long as you stuck to one airline. It’s how I was able to fly New York JFK-Lima-Easter Island-Santiago one-way in LAN business class, with stopovers at each point, for 40K British Airways miles. Sadly, with Avios, that route would cost 90K miles now.
AAdvantage is primarily a region-based award chart. LAX-JFK-Lima is the same mileage price as Miami-Guatemala, despite the latter being much much shorter. The only stopover you can make is at the North American gateway, which is good for putting two trips into one with some advance planning.
British Airways Avios is a distance-based program, where you pay for each segment based on on how far the segment is. The program is great for short expensive flights, where 4500 Avios can replaced hundreds of dollars.
There are two situations where having both types of miles can be incredibly helpful:
1) Using Avios for short flights that cross between different AA regions.
2) Using Avios to get to the North American gateway to take advantage of a future AA award stopover.
Since American Airlines and British Airways are both in the oneworld Alliance, they share many of the same partners, and it’s possible to extend or amplify a trip by using both types of miles and their respective advantages.
For the sake of these examples, I’m valuing 1 AAdvantage mile over 1 British Airways Avios point, mostly because it’s easier to attain higher levels of Avios. For example, the Citi AAdvantage Visa gives 1 AA miles/$, while the Chase BA card gives 1.25 Avios/$. In addition, Avios is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards, the latter giving transfer bonuses periodically. Neither program transfers to AAdvantage.
American Airlines charges 17.5K one-way in coach + 30K one-way in business for North America to Central America/South America Zone 1 (Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Venezuela). For South America Zone 2 (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile (excluding Easter Island), Paraguay, Uruguay), they charge 20K one-way off-peak coach, 30K coach, 50K business, and 62.5K in first.
Let’s say you want to go to Peru to see Machu Picchu and Easter Island to see the famous moai statues.
For 17.5K AA miles one-way in coach or 30K AA miles one-way in business, you can fly LAN business from North America to Lima, then connect from Lima to Cuzco. Because these are AA miles, you can build in a stopover at your North America gateway, and put 2 trips into one.
AA and LAN serve Lima from Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Thus, you can build in stopovers at any of those cities, so long as the main routing doesn’t exceed the Maximum Permitted Mileage by over 25% (MPM + 25%). You can potentially route Honolulu to Cuzco with a stopover in New York, since HNL-LAX-JFK-LIM-CUZ fits within MPM + 25%. If you’re in business, that’s domestic first class from HNL-LAX, transcontinental business class LAX-JFK, and LAN business class JFK-LIM.
Once you climb Huayna Picchu, it’s back to Cuzco for the flight back to Lima. Avios are well set up for this route, as it costs a mere 4500 points for that route.
In Lima, get some ceviche in Miraflores before continuing your trip. LAN flies Lima-Easter Island twice a week on a 4h45m overnight flight. Since AA considers Easter Island as part of the South Pacific region, it’s best to use Avios for this route: 12.5K in coach or 25K in business one-way. While you do have to plan your trip around the two flights per week (currently Saturday night and Tuesday night), this routing saves many foreigners the reciprocity fee, since the Chilean government doesn’t collect the fee at Easter Island. For U.S. citizens, this is $141/person saved. If you fly Easter Island to Santiago later, you won’t have to pay the fee at Santiago since you’d land as a domestic flight there.
From Easter Island, you can fly back to Lima or continue onward to Santiago. Both flights are roughly the same distance and will cost 12.5K in coach or 25K in business. If you go onward to Santiago and want to return to North America from there, there are several options. AA charges 20K one-way in coach from southern South America to North America during the off-peak season. While it’s a long flight in coach, it’s an absolute steal.
If you’re flying during the peak season, it would be 30K in coach or 50K in business back to North America. If you’re running low on AAdvantage miles, or want to add another destination, considering spending 10K Avios to fly back to another spot in Peru that has direct service to SCL (for example, Iquique). You can stop there and then use the South America Zone 1 ->; North America rate of 17.5K in coach/30K in business to head back to North America.
Given the heavy fuel surcharges that British Airways charges for flights to Europe, it’s best to use AAdvantage miles to fly AA flights to avoid such fuel surcharges. However, availability isn’t always the best here.
One workaround is to sign up for an Iberia Plus account, since once you’re a member of both BA’s and Iberia’s programs for 3 months, you can transfer your Avios from British Airways to Iberia for free. Iberia doesn’t charge fuel surcharges for their flights, and an East Coast to Europe flight in business class will cost a mere 40K Avios + <;$90 taxes.
Another workaround is to fly Aer Lingus to Dublin, where you'll have a jumping off point for Europe. Boston to Dublin is 25K Avios round trip in coach or 50K in business. There's also service from Chicago and Orlando, which'll set you back 40K round trip in coach, 80K for business.
Keep in mind that, once in Europe, you can use either Avios or AAdvantage to jaunt around. Avios' distance-based awards can be used on British Airways, airberlin, Iberia, and LAN’s Madrid-Frankfurt flight (on a widebody A340 at that!).
If your trip is under 4,000 miles and can utilize more than one airline, you can also use an AAdvantage Explorer Award in coach for 35K miles total in coach. Since intra-Europe business class is just coach without a middle seat, business isn’t worth it. In fact, if you have Sapphire or Emerald status with OneWorld, your coach ticket gets you most of the benefits of a business class ticket (like lounge access and priority boarding).
One award that has my eye is Cathay Pacific First from Hong Kong to the US. I have the AAdvantage miles, now I’m just looking for the excuse.
The best availability is to/from San Francisco. Since I live in LA, I could fly HKG-SFO-LAX.
However, I really like New York City, and love making trips out there to see my friends. American Airlines runs transcontinental service to JFK from LAX and SFO.
A possible routing to take advantage of this would be HKG-SFO-JFK with a long stopover at SFO. I could then use 9000 Avios to fly SFO-LAX round trip. 9000 Avios to get AA Flagship First Class! If I were to book a business class ticket, I could still fly to JFK in AA Transcontinental Business.
What makes this better is that AA protects you if you’re on 2 separate tickets on OneWorld –
AA to/from AA or a oneworld® Carrier
If a customer is holding separate tickets on AA or another oneworld carrier, customers holding separate tickets where travel is on oneworld airlines should be treated as through ticketed passengers. In the event of a disruption on the originating ticket, the carrier responsible for the disruption will be required to reroute the customer to their final destination. The ticket stock of the second ticket must be of a oneworld carrier, eligible under the Endorsement Waiver Agreement. You may contact AA Reservations 1-800-433-7300 (U.S. and Canada) or outside the U.S. and Canada, reference Worldwide Reservations Numbers for additional information if the separate ticket is for travel on a oneworld carrier.
So if one flight is late or canceled, you don’t have to worry about the onward journey on a separate ticket.
Indian Ocean/India (in the future …)
Both of my readers will know that one part of the AAdvantage program I really don’t like is that awards from North America to India must go via the Atlantic. This means that flying from LAX to Mumbai on Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong will take 2 awards and cost more miles, even though it’s 25 fewer miles flown than the likely connection via London. My idea is that if it costs 67.5K to fly First class to Asia Zone 2 via the Pacific, 90K for India via Asia 2 should be doable.
What makes the policy even more absurd is that India’s neighbor to the south, Sri Lanka, is in Asia Zone 2 in the American Airlines chart. It makes sense logistically, as not many European airlines fly to Sri Lanka, and more connections go to Asia, but geographically, it boggles my mind.
An AA award from North America to Colombo, Sri Lanka costs the same as one to Hong Kong — 55K in Business, 67.5K in First. On Cathay Pacific, you can route North America-HKG-BKK/SIN-CMB. What makes this routing even better is that because of the amount of distance required for the trip, the MPM +25% limit is quite generous. You can fly YVR-JFK-HKG-BKK/SIN-CMB all on Cathay Pacific, with a stopover in New York, even if your JFK-HKG flight is on CX flight 889 which goes back through Vancouver. First is available all the way to BKK or SIN on most flights, with a connection to Colombo from either airport depending on the day.
There was an announcement last month that SriLankan Airlines is in the process of joining the oneworld alliance. Once they become an alliance partner, you should be able to use British Airways Avios points for redemptions. From CMB, the Maldives are a short 483 mile flight, which should cost only 4500 Avios in economy, 9000 in Business. Mumbai is just under 1000 miles, meaning it should cost 7500/15000 Avios in coach/business.
I hope this post shows why diversifying mileage, even within the same alliance, can really help strengthen how you use them.