The Coronavirus pandemic has plunged the world into a state of uncertainty. Travel within the United States is more appealing and logistically more feasible than international travel, at least to the majority and for the time being. Today we are kicking off a new series of posts that examine some of the cheapest U.S. domestic award options in each major airline alliance, including:

  • Oneworld – British Airways, Iberia, and American Airlines
  • Star Alliance – Avianca, Turkish Airlines, and United
  • SkyTeam – Air France/KLM and Delta

When the words “domestic travel” come up, the big three U.S. airlines spring to mind: American, Delta, and United. It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes the cheapest domestic award tickets can be had by booking through partner airlines rather than directly through the airline you’ll be flying on.

We’ll unlock a key principal of award travel in that booking through foreign partners can yield better value. As we’ll see in this article, we can use British Airways and Iberia to book U.S. domestic travel on their oneworld partner, American Airlines.

Let’s move about the domestic cabin and take a look.

British Airways

British Airway’s mileage program is called Executive Club and they refer to points or miles as Avios. You can transfer credit card points from American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards at a ratio of 1:1, as well as Marriott Bonvoy at a ratio of 3:1.

Transfer Amex MR to British Airways

Key points

When looking for domestic sweet spots using British Airways Avios, there are two things to keep in mind.

  1. British Airways uses a distance-based award chart – that means shorter flights are cheaper as opposed to transcontinental or long flights.
  2. Each segment is priced as a separate award. Book direct flights for the cheapest cost.

As we described in our article, “Four Invaluable Tools for Booking Flights With Miles & Cash,” use a tool like FlightConnections to determine direct routes. You can filter by airline and click on cities to see the direct routes.

You’ll need to sign up for a free account with British Airways’ Executive Club to search for award flights. As with any award search, award space may not be available every day. Award space is also fluid, so check back to see if seats have opened up or try other dates.

K2 Top Tip: Note that the British Airway’s award search tool does will not always show all possible available connections. Searching for individual segments–if you are ever searching for an itinerary with a connection using Avios–is wiser in order to find accurate results.

Sweet Spot: Direct Domestic Flights

The possibilities are pretty much endless as American Airlines has hundreds of direct flights around the country. As one example, AA has a direct flight from Dallas to Jackson Hole, Wyoming – an incredible ski destination or base camp for explorations into Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.

While American Airlines charges a minimum 11,000 miles in economy and 21,000 miles in business class (and up from there) each way, you can book this same exact flight using British Airways Avios for 9,000 miles in economy or 16,500 miles in business class.

Price in economy using British Airways Avios
Price in business class using British Airways Avios

Routes which are shorter require even less miles. Take this example flying between Burlington, Vermont and Philadelphia. Economy costs just 7,500 British Airways Avios each way.

Direct flights in economy for as low as 7,500 British Airways Avios

Sweet Spot: Hawaii

Photo by Troy Squillaci from Pexels

British Airways Avios can be utilized to fly to Hawaii for cheap. As British Airways bases the mileage cost on the distance flown, the cheapest redemptions will be from the West Coast. Los Angeles and Phoenix are the direct flight options in this case.

If you were to book using American Airlines miles, economy starts at 20,000 miles and business at 45,000 miles each way. But using British Airways Avios, it can be yours for 13,000 miles in economy or 38,750 miles in business each way. Our recent search revealed plenty of availability across a number of dates in November, for example.

Aloha, cheap award availability, and mahalo!

These prices are good between Los Angeles or Phoenix and the following Hawaiian cities:

  • Lihue, Kauai
  • Honolulu, Oahu
  • Kahului, Maui
  • Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Island (the Big Island)

Next time you are thinking about a direct domestic flight or looking for Hawaii on the cheap, be sure to search British Airways Executive Club. Transfers from American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards are immediate so you can snag availability quickly.

Important note: Hawaii has a mandatory 14 day quarantine for all arriving visitors, in place through July 31. So if you choose to travel to Hawaii you must self-isolate for the first two weeks.

BONUS: Use BA Avios on Alaska flights to Hawaii

Alaska is not a part of an alliance at the moment*, but as we are discussing using British Airways Avios to get to Hawaii, it can’t go without mentioning that there are a plethora of direct routes to/from the west coast that cost just 13,000 Avios one way. You can get from Anchorage, Bellingham, Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and San Diego to the four major Hawaiian islands for that 13k one way price tag.

*Alaska and British Airways are just partners for now, but Alaska announced earlier this year that they would be joining oneworld alliance in the summer of 2021.

Cards That Earn & Grant Access to BA Avios

Chase issues a co-branded card called the British Airways Visa Signature that earns Avios. You’ll get 50,000 Avios for spending $3,000 within three months of opening it, and the annual fee is $95. There’s a second tier bonus as well: spend $20,000 within the first year of holding the card and you’ll get an additional 50k Avios for a total of 100k bonus Avios.

And as mentioned above, any card that earns Ultimate Rewards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, or Membership Rewards, like the Amex Gold, grants access to Avios as British Airways is a transfer partner of both programs.

Iberia

Travelers can also look to Iberia in order to book cheap domestic award tickets on American Airlines flights. Iberia’s mileage program is called Iberia Plus and they refer to points or miles as Avios.

Our eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that both British Airways and Iberia refer to miles as Avios. Do be careful not to confuse the two programs as they are two separate entities and they each have their own set of rules and policies.

Iberia Plus is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards at a ratio of 1:1, as well as Marriott Bonvoy at a ratio of 3:1.

Transfer Amex MR or Chase UR to Iberia Plus at a ratio of 1:1

Key points

A couple things to keep in mind to find the sweet spots with Iberia Avios:

  1. Iberia prices their awards based on total distance flown, and not per segment like British Airways. That means if you are looking at a short trip but it requires a connection, booking via Iberia will be cheaper.
  2. One-ways cannot be booked with Iberia Avios for American Airlines flights. But have no fear as some prices using Iberia Avios are cheaper than using British Airways Avios or American Airlines miles. The following chart shows the round trip award cost using Iberia Avios for AA flights.

K2 Top Tip: Use Great Circle Mapper to calculate the distance between airports.

You can search for award space and book Iberia Avios awards on iberia.com. Just like British Airways, you’ll need to create an Iberia Plus account before you can search.

Sweet Spot – Short Flights That Require a Connection

Take the following example which speaks to both key points: Flying from Albuquerque to San Francisco is fairly short in total distance and requires a connection as there is no direct flight on American Airlines.

Outbound ABQ to SFO
Return SFO to ABQ

If we were to book this using British Airways Avios, it would cost 33,000 Avios in economy or a staggering 63,000 Avios in business class. Booking with American Airlines miles would cost a minimum of 20,000 miles in economy or 40,000 miles in business.

But thanks to Iberia Avios, these flights can be booked for just 17,000 miles round trip in economy:

Or just 34,000 miles round trip in business class:

You can even mix economy and business to have the final cost fall in between those figures.

K2 Side Note: It is possible to transfer Avios between Iberia Plus and British Airways Executive Club, with certain conditions. Jess Farley at Award Wallet has an excellent guide with all the details.

When looking at short flights which require a connection, be sure to compare with Iberia Avios. Transfers to Iberia Plus from Chase Ultimate Rewards are nearly instant. Transfers from American Express Membership Rewards can take a few hours. We’ve experienced some transfers taking longer than 24 hours. Keep that in mind to have a backup plan if the award space is no longer available by the time the points hit the account. There’s another possible workaround to get Membership Rewards in your Iberia account faster: Transfer them first to a British Airways account (as long as both accounts meet the criteria defined in the Award Wallet post linked above) and then from there to Iberia. Membership Rewards to BA is instant, and BA to Iberia is instant.

Cards That Earn & Grant Access to BA & Iberia Avios

Chase issues a co-branded card called the British Airways Visa Signature that earns Avios. You’ll get 50,000 Avios for spending $3,000 within three months of opening it, and the annual fee is $95. There’s a second tier bonus as well: spend $20,000 within the first year of holding the card and you’ll get an additional 50k Avios for a total of 100k bonus Avios.

Chase also issues an Iberia Visa Signature Card, which earns Iberia Avios instead of British Airways Avios, with the same exact tiered bonus and a $95 annual fee.

And as mentioned above, any card that earns Ultimate Rewards, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, or Membership Rewards, like the Amex Gold, grants access to Avios as British Airways is a transfer partner of both programs.

American Airlines

So far we’ve seen how some American Airlines flights can be booked for cheaper using British Airways or Iberia; however, you’ll always want to compare with AA’s own program. AAdvantage is the name of American Airlines’ mileage program and they refer to miles as miles. Insert sigh of relief.

The only credit card program which partners with American Airlines is Marriott Bonvoy at a transfer ratio of 3:1. Thankfully there are lots of credit cards which earn AAdvantage miles and also come with generous sign-up bonuses. There are even bank accounts which earn AAdvantage miles.

Key Points

Here are the two areas in the AAdvantage program to watch for cheap domestic awards.

  1. Web Specials – As low as 5,000 miles each way in economy. There can also be Web Specials offered in business and first class. Sometimes the lower price is only available if booking round trip, so be sure to search both one way and round trip.
  2. AA Reduced Mileage Awards – if you hold a certain AA-branded credit card, you are eligible for a discount to select destinations. The destinations change every month.

Web Specials

Web Specials can appear for any AA-operated flight. There is no pattern to when and where such specials will pop up. As with award availability in general, the dates and routes and prices can all change.

Run a search on AA.com and check the box for “Redeem miles.” Here is a direct transcontinental flight for 11,000 miles in economy:

Clicking on the 11k will reveal a pop-up screen which indicates this can be offered as a Web Special:

You may notice it says Web Specials cannot be changed once ticketed. Thankfully, that is soon to change. AA is updating the change and cancellation policies for all award tickets as of July 1, 2020. From that date forward, all awards including Web Specials can be changed or cancelled for free if done 60 days or more in advance of departure. Lucky at One Mile at a Time has all the details and analysis.

K2 Top Tip: AAdvantage awards booked in June (for travel at any future date) can be changed or cancelled for free. For Web Specials booked by the end of June, AA states you cannot make changes, but you can cancel and receive a refund at no additional charge. Even if your trip is speculative, you can book it in June using the AAdvantage program knowing that you can cancel for free later.

This K2 Top Tip also applies to previously booked AAdvantage awards. This week, we helped a client cancel their award ticket for a flight on Etihad Airlines, which was booked months ago using AAdvantage miles. Visit the MileValue Award Booking Service website or send us an email at info@milevalue.com for any new award booking, change or cancellation help.

Reduced Mileage Awards

On over a dozen credit cards, AA offers a discount on round trip domestic awards. AA has the step by step on their Reduced Mileage Awards page.

The cards below offer a discount of 7,500 miles if the flights are over 500 miles, or a 2,000 mile discount if the flights are under 500 miles. Some on this list are old cards no longer accepting applications, but for those that are current I’ve listed sign up offers and annual fee info as well.

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard®
    • 50k AA miles for spending $5k in three months
    • Admiral Club membership for you + 2 guests
    • 10k EQMs after $40k spend in a year
    • $450 annual fee
  • Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select Visa
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
    • 50k AA miles for spending $2.5k in three months
    • First checked bag free on domestic trips for you + 4 companions
    • $99 annual fee is waived the first year
  • Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select American Express
  • CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Select Visa
  • CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Select MasterCard
    • Taking new applicants, but a meager selection of benefits
    • No annual fee
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®
    • 65k AA miles for spending $4k in three months
    • First checked bag free on domestic trips for you + 4 companions
    • $99 annual fee is waived the first year
  • AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite MasterCard
  • AAdvantage Aviator Red MasterCard
    • 60k AA miles for one purchase
    • First checked bag free on domestic trips for you + 4 companions
    • $99 annual fee (which must be paid to trigger bonus)
  • AAdvantage Aviator Business MasterCard
    • 65k AA miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days
    • Additional 10k AA miles when a purchase is made on an employee card
    • First checked bag free on domestic trips for you + 4 companions
    • $95 annual fee (which must be paid to trigger bonus)

And the following cards offer a 5,000 mile discount on flights over 500 miles, or a 1,000 mile discount on flights under 500 miles:

  • Citi / AAdvantage Gold American Express
  • Citi / AAdvantage Gold Visa
  • Citi / AAdvantage Gold MasterCard
  • AAdvantage Aviator Blue MasterCard

Further down the page, you’ll see dozens of domestic destinations listed alphabetically. AA offers these discounts for the upcoming four months, so check back each month to check for changes.

Just a few of the domestic destinations currently on offer for reduced mileage awards

If you have AA miles and are looking to fly domestic, always check for Web Specials and, if applicable, the reduced mileage awards. Sometimes these can be even cheaper than the aforementioned sweet spots with British Airways and Iberia.

Final Approach

You now harness some powerful redemption tactics to use foreign airline programs to book the cheapest awards. Plus, there is excellent flexibility with British Airways and Iberia, as credit card points can be transferred from both American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. AA only partners with Marriott Bonvoy, but has many options for earning points through credit cards.

Briefly, a friendly K2 reminder on some award redemption tactics to keep in mind:

  • Always confirm award space is available before transferring miles.
  • Award space is fluid. Search every day. Flexible travel dates can be paramount to making a successful award booking.
  • Always compare with travel portal if that’s an option. If cash prices are low, sometimes it can be even fewer miles to book through the Chase or American Express travel portal (in particular Chase, depending on what Ultimate Reward card you have) rather than through an airline’s program. When booking through the portal, you’ll also be able to earn miles on the flight(s).

Have you used a foreign airline to book cheap domestic travel? Or have you snagged a Web Special or Reduced Mileage Award? Please share your experience in the comments below!

Stay tuned for our next article in this series where we’ll look at two Star Alliance partners and how to book cheap domestic award flights on United Airlines.

Cheers and search on.

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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