One of the things I quickly learned after getting started with frequent flyer programs is that the best value usually isn’t where you would expect to look. It seems obvious that you fly on a particular airline, you would want to earn miles with that same airline. As Shania Twain put it, dance with the one that brought you.
But usually the cheapest awards that everyone wants to book are also available to partner airlines, and those partners have a different price, which could be cheaper still. Value can often be found with a different partner program with rules that create unexpected value for certain carriers. When it comes to redeeming miles, I like to play the field. 😉
The cheapest way to book flights on Alaska Airlines and American Airlines, in my opinion, is through the British Airways Executive Club. Prices for flights are based on distance, and the cheapest awards in North America start at 7,500 Avios (4,500 Avios elsewhere). Right now you can earn up to 100,000 bonus Avios when you sign up for the British Airways Visa card from Chase. Since you need to spend $20,000 over 12 months to get those points, you’ll earn at least 120,000 Avios — enough for at least 16 one-way flights or 8 round-trip flights on Alaska Airlines or American Airlines.
To earn 120,000 Avios you’ll need to do the following:
- Spend $3,000 on net purchases in the first 3 months to earn 50,000 bonus Avios
- Spend $10,000 on net purchases (cumulative total) in the first year to earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios
- Spend $20,000 on net purchases (cumulative total) in the first year to earn an additional 25,000 bonus Avios
- And you’ll earn 20,000 Avios (or more) as a result of making $20,000 in purchases
Why Executive Club Is Great for U.S. Flights
Now, I love the Mileage Plan program for other reasons. (I’m less a fan of AAdvantage.) I like Alaska’s award chart for partner redemptions, the upgrades on award tickets, and the generous stopover rules. Mileage Plan also has cheap awards starting at 5,000 points. But because I can use Mileage Plan miles for so many other things, I try not to use them to fly on Alaska Airlines itself. Those miles are so valuable I save them for something like Cathay Pacific first class.
British Airways Avios, on the other hand, are a bad value for Americans trying to get to Europe. The price quickly multiplies if you have connecting flights or want to fly in business or first class. Surcharges can add hundreds of dollars to a ticket, to the point where I’d rather just pay cash when business class goes on sale. And because British Airways issues so many Avios, they’re worth relatively less.
So you see, even though a flight on Alaska Airlines starts at 5,000 miles, it can be a better deal to redeem 7,500 Avios for the same ticket. Flights to Hawaii start at just 12,500 Avios each way from the West Coast, compared to 20,000 miles through most U.S. loyalty programs. As a general rule I will use Avios for my domestic travel whenever possible.
Redeeming Avios for American Airlines and Alaska Airlines
It’s pretty straightforward to search for and book American Airlines flights on the British Airways website. I created an entire guide to help you do it.
If you want to book travel on Alaska Airlines, however, it takes some effort. No Alaska Airlines flights will appear if you search for them on British Airways. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist. The system just isn’t set up to find and display them. You will need to search for them elsewhere (I recommend the American Airlines website since it has access to the same inventory) and call British Airways to book. The wait time can be long, but the telephone reservation fee will be waived.
Combining Avios with a Household Account
The other great thing about earning and redeeming Avios is that you can get create a household account to pool your Avios in one place. That means if you and a spouse each get the British Airways Visa card and earn 120,000 Avios (qualifying spend + bonuses) you’ll have 240,000 Avios total. The main benefit is you can redeem them for larger, more expensive awards.
A lesser benefit is that you can easily book travel for anyone who is a member of the household account. When dealing with other loyalty programs, it’s easy enough for me to call up my sister and ask if she can use her miles to book me a ticket; she doesn’t need to pay to transfer them to my account. But it’s still a hassle. Since my sister and I share a household account, I can just ask her for permission and do it myself.
Avoid the Travel Together Ticket
There is a further bonus, a “Travel Together Ticket” if you spend $30,000 or more on this card in a calendar year. That lets you waive the Avios required for a companion’s award ticket. It seems like a great value for an international business or first class flight that can cost over 100,000 Avios.
The problem with this offer is that you still need to pay the fees for the companion, which I mentioned can be nearly $1,000. You are better off — in my opinion — buying your own business class ticket for cash. If you want to fly in first class, you can use Avios to upgrade. Or use a different loyalty program to fly a different airline to Europe, one that doesn’t charge such high fees (United MileagePlus is a great example).