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How (and Why) to Book Domestic Award Flights Using Partner Miles

Whether you prefer domestic travel or you’re simply staying closer to home these days, getting the most from your points and miles is always the goal.

You can book domestic award flights using partner miles and have points and miles leftover for another trip! What’s not to love about that?!?

In this guide, I’m recapping a live talk I gave in my Facebook Group about booking domestic award flights using partner miles.

You’ll learn how to maximize your domestic award bookings so you can get out to explore the gorgeous U.S. of A!

distance from Flagstaff to Grand Canyon

How to Book Award Flights With Partner Miles

You’ll need a basic understanding of airline alliances and non-alliance partnerships to make the most of booking domestic award flights using partner miles.

If you’re just getting started with points and miles, you can also learn more about these partnerships and how to search for award flights in my free course, Travel Hacking Basics.

There are 3 main airline alliances, each with reciprocal earning and redeeming benefits among their members.

United is a member of the Star Alliance along with airlines like Swiss Air, Avianca, Air Canada/Aeroplan, and ANA.

American Airlines is part of the Oneworld Alliance along with British Airways, Iberia, Japan Airlines, and Qantas.

Delta is in the SkyTeam Alliance with partners like Air France, KLM, and Korean Air. Delta also has a strategic non-alliance partnership with Virgin Atlantic.

The key to leveraging these partnerships is to understand a couple of important concepts.

Each airline sets its own award pricing and rules for flights booked with their miles.

This means Avianca LifeMiles website will show United-operated flights because they’re alliance partners. But Avianca can charge less than what United is charging for the exact same flights.

Airline miles cannot be transferred to another airline.

Delta miles are always Delta miles.

If you have Delta miles, you must book through Delta and pay Delta prices.

On the other hand, if you have flexible points, like American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards that give you access to a partner of Delta’s, you may be able to book Delta-operated flights for less than what Delta is charging.

Why Learning How to Use Partner Miles is Essential

best hikes in shenandoah national park
Gorgeous Shenandoah National Park & the Blue Ridge Parkway make for a great domestic trip!

One of the most-asked questions about redeeming points and miles is why does it feel so complicated and overwhelming!

No doubt there’s a steep learning curve to knowing how to get the most for your points and miles. This is the ultimate goal! But the investment is worth it.

Here are a few tips to get started.

Flexible Points and their Airline Transfer Partners for the Win!

Flexible points like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards can be easily earned with rewards credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or the American Express Gold.

The flexible points programs like these have a variety of airline partners for you to transfer your points to. You can access better partner pricing and domestic flights on airlines with which you might not earn miles.

For example, American Airlines miles are harder to earn because only Marriott Bonvoy Points can be transferred to American Airlines. Otherwise, you need an American Airlines co-branded credit card.

However, British Airways Avios can be used to book American Airlines flights because they are alliance partners. British Airways is also a transfer partner of programs like Chase and Amex.

Steer Clear of Dynamic Pricing!

Easier said than done, I know!

United, American, and Delta have all ditched their award charts in favor of dynamic pricing. So their award pricing fluctuates based on demand, seasonality, and can be somewhat tied to the cash price.

This makes it really hard to know if you’re getting the lowest possible price and the best possible value for your miles.

Can you find a super cheap domestic award flight to book with your Delta SkyMiles? Yes. 

But, you can also find insane pricing, too.

Take Advantage of Partner Award Charts Instead.

Many partner airlines use award charts with fixed pricing. Even those that have moved to dynamic pricing can still cost less than the legacy airlines, Delta, American, and United.

Remember, you follow the award pricing and rules of the airline whose miles you’re using to pay.

So for example, Iberia’s website will show American Airlines flights often for less than what American Airlines would charge for the exact same flights. 

If you have access to Iberia Avios via flexible points, you can book through Iberia and save points and miles!

3 Ways to Use Partner Miles to Book Domestic Flights

Mesa Verde National Park Colorado
How about a Colorado road trip to see 4 National Parks?!?

I’ve used partner miles to fly domestically within the 48 continental States and Canada many times. These are just a few of the possibilities!

Use Avios through British Airways or Iberia to fly on American Airlines.

British Airways and Iberia are Oneworld partners with American Airlines and both use the Avios currency. 

Both airlines have distance-based award charts that calculate the number of Avios needed for an award flight by how many miles you fly.

The major difference to understand and use to your advantage is that British Airways charges per segment.

Iberia, though, sets the number of Avios needed for an award flight on the overall distance flown, regardless of whether or not your itinerary has a connection.

Iberia also requires you to book round trip itineraries when booking American Airlines-operated flights whereas British Airways pay-per-segment means you can book one-ways.

The 3 takeaways are:

  • Shorter flights will cost fewer Avios. 
  • You want to book direct American Airlines-operated flights when booking with British Airways.
  • If the American Airlines itinerary you need to book has to connect, it’ll be better to book with Iberia.

Let’s look at an example with each partner airline.

Using the American Airlines route, Chicago to Charlotte, I searched on the AA website for availability.

AA ORD to CLT Example

As you can see, flights are available and would cost 10k American Airlines miles one-way in economy class. 

However, knowing British Airways is a Oneworld partner of AA with a distance-based partner award chart, they’ll be cheaper than American’s pricing.

Log in to your British Airways loyalty account to search for award flights.

BA ORD to CLT Example

You’ll notice, we’ve found the exact same, American Airlines-operated flight but for just 7.5k Avios. 

That’s a sizable difference that will save you valuable points and miles. It also gives you access to American Airlines award flights even if you don’t have any American Airlines miles.

What if your American Airlines itinerary has a connection?

I searched this award itinerary, from Omaha, Nebraska to San Antonio, Texas. The flight connects in Dallas.

While searching for award space on the AA website, I found round trips for as little as 20k American Airlines miles.

AA OMA to SAT Example

However, when I clicked to select the flight, this pop-up appeared.

AA WEB vs MAIN Popup

American Airlines web specials are often cheaper but have more restrictions when it comes to making changes to the itinerary.

You can see, if we wanted to book with the flexibility to make changes, the regular main cabin award fare would be 25k American Airlines miles round trip.

Knowing that Iberia prices award flights by overall distance flown regardless of whether there’s a connection, let’s search this itinerary on Iberia.

IB OMA to SAT RT Example

As you can see, the exact same American Airlines-operated round trip flights would cost 17k Avios for main cabin, regular economy class.

That’s a big difference in price, especially when you calculate what you’d save per person when booking for a family!

How to Get Avios:

ProTip: Keep an eye out for transfer bonuses. Both American Express and Chase have offered bonuses when transferring points to British Airways. Amex also has had them for Iberia.

Use Avianca LifeMiles to fly on United.

Avianca Lifemiles is a member of the Star Alliance with United. Just as you’ve seen above, it’s possible to book United flights for cheaper than United would charge by booking through Avianca LifeMiles.

Avianca used to have an award chart posted with the U.S. broken up into 3 zones to price award flights, despite some wonky pricing on specific routes.

This no longer appears to be the case because the award chart is missing in action. Second, the pricing is no longer predictable within these defined domestic U.S. zones.  

Instead, distance-based pricing appears to be in play, with U.S. flights under 500 miles pricing as low as 6.5k LifeMiles one-way in economy.

Keeping this in mind, let’s search for a one-way flight from Los Angeles to Colorado Springs.

I checked on Great Circle Mapper and the distance between these airports is 833 miles. From what I’ve seen from other LifeMiles award searches, this should cost 10k Avianca LifeMiles.

Avianca LAX to COS Example

Sure enough, there’s award availability for 10k LifeMiles one-way. 

For comparison’s sake, let’s see what United is charging for the exact same flights.

United LAX to COS Example

Holy smokes! The same exact United-operated flights booked through United with United miles would cost 22.5k United miles one-way!

You’d save12.5k points or miles per person(!) by redeeming through a partner instead of a legacy airline. That’s enough for another domestic one-way trip!

How to Get Avianca LifeMiles:

ProTip: Flexible points give you options and access to different airline partners and there are so many travel rewards credit cards available to earn these points like…

Use Virgin Atlantic Miles to fly on Delta.

Unlike the examples above, Virgin Atlantic and Delta don’t belong to the same alliance. But, they have a strong non-alliance partnership they’ve built between each other.

If you’ve spent any time searching on the Delta website for award flights, you know their pricing can be ludicrous or fabulous.

Don’t fall victim to Delta’s sky-high dynamic pricing. Book fixed-price award flights through Virgin Atlantic instead.

Virgin Atlantic charges 12.5k Virgin Atlantic miles for direct, domestic, Delta-operated flights.

You can search on the Virgin Atlantic website for availability. If the city pairings you’re looking for don’t show up automatically, use the drop-down pin locator to manually select the airports.

Let’s say you want to fly from New York-JFK to Los Angeles and you have Delta SkyMiles and flexible points. 

You could simply search on the Delta website as I did below.

DL JFK to LAX Example

You’ll notice that Delta is charging 16k of their SkyMiles to fly one-way in economy class from New York City to Los Angeles. Also, note the insane Delta One pricing for over 100k miles…one-way!

But, since Virgin Atlantic partners with Delta, you could do the same search on Virgin Atlantic to see if Virgin Atlantic can see the same economy award space.

VS JFK to LAX Example

As you can see, Virgin Atlantic is seeing the same award flight space on the same date. The difference is, it’s just 12.5k Virgin Atlantic miles to fly on the same Delta-operated flight we found on the Delta website.

How to Get Virgin Atlantic miles:
  • Transfer points from Chase, American Express, Citi, and Marriott to Virgin Atlantic.
  • Bank of America offers a Virgin Atlantic co-branded credit card.
  • You can also access Virgin Atlantic miles with flexible points-earning credit cards like the American Express Gold Card or the Blue Business Plus

Award Flight Booking Tips to Remember

  • Compare award flight pricing in the Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel Portal.

If you’re like most points and miles travelers, you earn Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Reserve can be redeemed for 1.5 cents per point in the Chase travel portal. 

Points earned with the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the Ink Preferred can be redeemed for 1.25 cents per point.

Combine this added value you get as a cardholder with a flight deal and the award flight you want just might cost fewer points than if you transfer to an airline partner.

And remember, booking refundable flights is the easiest way to get your Ultimate Rewards points back without some extra effort.

If you’re not yet earning Chase Ultimate Rewards points, be sure you understand why it’s important to get started with an Ultimate Rewards-earning credit card.

  • Compare award flight pricing with domestic airlines.

It’s important to understand that even when you book a domestic award flight in the U.S. with partner miles, your flight will be flown by a domestic airline like United, Delta, or American. 

Many times the partner award price is cheaper…but not always! 

Always compare pricing to make sure you’re actually booking the best award flight option.

  • Check the cash price, too!

Cheap domestic flights can be found using tools like Momondo or Skyscanner. If you’re able to find a deal, it may not make sense to use your points and miles for such a low-value redemption.

Do the math to figure out the cent per point/mile you’re getting and keep in mind you always want to strive for at least a 1.5 cent per point/mile value for your award flight bookings.

Want to Learn More About
Partner Airline Award Flights?

These partner award examples are just the tip of the iceberg! The more you learn, the more you get from your points and miles. 🙂

If you’d like to invest in learning more about redeeming your points and miles for award flights, sign up for the Booking Award Flights Made Easy waitlist to be the first to know when enrollment opens again!

Booking Award Flights Made Easy is a 6-module course packed with video lessons and booking tutorials with every must-know airline award program. You’ll learn how to search and book high-value award flight sweet spots and advanced booking techniques like adding stopovers and open-jaws.

You’ll also learn a step-by-step search and booking strategy to finally(!) overcome the overwhelm and stress of redeeming your points and miles.

Booking Award Flights Mock Up

Using Partner Miles for Domestic Flights: Lesson Takeaways

You can book domestic award flights using partner miles for less than what the actual domestic airline might charge for the exact same flights!

Use what you know about airline alliances and non-alliance partnerships to maximize the value of your flexible points currencies and their airline transfer partners.

How have you used partner miles to book award flights?

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