Anatomy of an Award: Saving 60k Miles by Combining Avios and American Airlines Miles

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I recently saved a MileValue Award Booking Service client 60,000 miles on a trip to Israel by taking advantage of the best use of American Airlines miles and British Airways Avios on the same trip.

A client contacted me looking for a trip for two from Atlanta to Israel next spring. She had some Delta miles, American miles, and Avios. I quickly zoomed in on a solution to book the trip as two awards using American miles and Avios to save her 60,000 miles.

American Airlines has a very generous miles price to Europe combined with a too-expensive price to the Middle East.

Five months out of the year, American charges the industry-standard price of 30k miles each way between the US and Europe in economy class. But for most of the year–from October 15 to May 15–you can fly from the US to Europe on American or any of its partners for only 20k miles each way.

Fly off peak for big savings

All year round, American charges 45k miles each way in economy (and a whopping 90k in first) from the US to the Middle East and Indian Subcontinent.

That means for seven months out of the year, it costs 40k miles roundtrip from Atlanta to Germany but 90k miles roundtrip from Atlanta to Israel!

Luckily you have a better option than blowing another 50k miles for the trip to Israel. Fly to Europe roundtrip and adding an Avios award to Israel for as little as 20k Avios roundtrip. By combining the strengths of both programs–American’s off peak offerings and Avios’ advantage on short, direct flights–my client saved big time.

Planning

I wanted to work backwards and see where in Europe she’d need to be to get a direct flight to Tel Aviv on a British Airways partner, so I used wikikpedia. There are seven routes operated by four airlines from Europe to Israel with Avios.

from gcmap.com

I quickly focused on the German options, all flown by airberlin. The advantages of the German options were twofold. All of the airberlin routes were short enough to cost only 10k Avios each way, instead of 12,500 Avios that the other routes cost. (Remember that the Avios chart is distance-based.) Also Avios awards operated by airberlin do not incur fuel surcharges. (Remember that Avios awards often include crippling fuel surcharges.)

Among the airberlin routes, the two most useful are from Dusseldorf (DUS) and Berlin (TXL) since those cities have direct flights to the US on airberlin and American.

The Search

The search was the easiest part of this award. I searched the entire Atlanta to Tel Aviv trip as a simple roundtrip award search on aa.com because aa.com displays award availability for American Airlines and airberlin flights.

So far, so easy. This search box is on the homepage of aa.com

The results showed that award space was wide open! Since I wanted MileSAAver award space for all segments in economy, I wanted results that showed a price of 45k miles each way–the price to book the whole trip with AAdvantage miles. Remember that I was just searching, not planning to book the results of my search.

ATL-TLV (outbound) award space wide open (green dates)
TLV-ATL (return) space wide open (green dates)

Since saver economy space was wide open, I just had to click on the preferred dates and exclude bad itineraries.

The two types of bad itineraries I saw were itineraries that required a cab ride in New York or itineraries that used British Airways. Here’s one with both faults.

Cab ride from LaGuardia to JFK plus BA fuel surcharges!

My client didn’t want to have to cab between LaGuardia and JFK for obvious reasons, and she didn’t want to fly British Airways to Tel Aviv and incur fuel surcharges on the Avios award.

Removing itineraries with British Airways segments is easy, just unclick British Airways from the list of airlines to the left of the results.

Hunting around, there are several days with an itinerary like this one.

I found a similarly suitable three segment return from Tel Aviv to Atlanta, and we moved to the booking.

In my client’s case, the return I found had an overnight layover in Berlin, which we couldn’t avoid.

Booking

Trips that will be booked as more than one award involve an awkward situation where you could book half the trip and have the other half of the award space disappear. This problem is easy to avoid when one of the two awards uses American Airlines miles.

On this trip, the plan was to book Atlanta to Dusseldorf//Berlin to Atlanta as an American Airlines award for 40k miles per person and Dusseldorf to Tel Aviv and Tel Aviv to Berlin as Avios awards.

American Airlines awards can easily be held for five days online, so I held the American Airlines award. Then we booked the Avios awards from Dusseldorf to Tel Aviv and Tel Aviv to Berlin one after the other in fifteen minutes. Then we circled back and ticketed the held American Airlines award. Using this order, we ensured getting everything booked or being able to walk away with nothing booked if space disappeared before we could ticket it.

In the end, this trip was ticketed for two passengers for 80k American Airlines miles and 40k Avios instead of 180k American Airlines miles–a tidy 60k mile savings.

from gcmap.com

Other Notes

My client wanted to maximize her time in Israel, so she wasn’t interested in a stopover in Europe. But the other big advantage of combining an AA and Avios award like this is that she could have stopped over in Europe in either or both directions for no extra cost. Normally AA awards cannot have stopovers outside of North America, so stopovers in Europe are a huge benefit.

Normally taking one trip on two or three tickets is risky because if there is a delay, your first airline is only responsible for getting you to the end of your first ticket not to your actual destination. In terms of this trip, that would mean that if there was a delay getting from Atlanta to Chicago on the outbound, American would only be responsible to get her to Dusseldorf, the end of the American Airlines award, not to Tel Aviv, the end of her trip.

But American Airlines has a policy that if you have two or more tickets on oneworld airlines, American will take responsibility to get you to the end of your trip. See here.

More BA/AA Pairings

This isn’t the only time that combining AA and BA awards increases the value of both. Another example is How to Get Almost Free Oneways on AA Awards If You Don’t Live at an International Gateway City.

Because of tricks like this, I like to say that your American Airlines miles get more valuable as your Avios balance increases and vice versa. While in some ways the two miles are substitutes–they’re equally good for a oneway economy award from JFK to LAX–they are vastly different. And very often, they are complements.

Getting Avios and American Airlines Miles

You can replicate this trip by opening two credit cards.

The current offer for The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN is 25,000 bonus Membership Rewards after spending $5k in the first three months.

Membership Rewards can be transferred 1:1 instantly to Avios, and there is often even a transfer bonus like the recent 35% transfer bonus! That would make the 55k Membership Rewards earned from meeting the minimum spending requirement worth 74,250 Avios–more than 7 one way awards from Germany to Tel Aviv.

The card also earns 3x points on airfare, 2x on gas, and 1x on everything else. The card has no annual fee the first year, then $175.

Application Link: The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN with 25,000 bonus Membership Rewards after spending $5k in the first three months.

For American Airlines miles, there is a different card. The standard offer from Citi is the American Airlines Visa card with 30,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 in three months.

But there is usually a zombie link floating around. The terms of the offer are not available at the link, but people post working 50k links to FlyerTalk threads. I have used AA zombie links successfully, and I recommend them to my family and friends.

Keeping track of what 50k AA zombie link is working is a full time job, so I leave it to the dedicated FlyerTalk thread. Scroll down to the first post under the stickied wiki and look for the 50k Personal Visa link.

Recap

Why spend 180k American Airlines miles for a trip when you can spend 80k + 40k Avios? Using AA miles and BA Avios together on the same trip can unleash both of their strengths, saving you tons.

Earn you Avios and American miles for your next trip.

Application Link: The Enhanced Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express OPEN with 25,000 Membership Rewards after spending $5k in the first three months.

FlyerTalk thread with the best AA card offers


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13 COMMENTS

  1. Good post. Would checked bags have to be rechecked in DUS/TXL? Can one use online checkin for an Avios award and not have to clear security again in Germany?

  2. I am the anonymous client that worked with Scott on this award booking. Scott did a great job with us and now I am able to understand the process he used to find such a deal. An additional pleasant surprise: for some reason British Airlines only subtracted 9,027 Avios points from each of our BA accounts for the Germany-Israel RT, even though we were expecting to lose 10,000 apiece. So the entire itinerary cost us 59,027 points in total, not 60,000. Thanks, Scott!

  3. This is a prim example of why I will be using your booking service once I get some miles stored up. (I just started the miles game this year and I started off slow.) You know all the good loop holes and short cuts.

  4. There are actually 8 European oneworld destinations to TLV — you forgot HG out of VIE. I booked something similar for my family last year using a very similar trick and booked HG out of VIE.

  5. “Normally taking one trip on two or three tickets is risky because if there is a delay, your first airline is only responsible for getting you to the end of your first ticket not to your actual destination. In terms of this trip, that would mean that if there was a delay getting from Atlanta to Chicago on the outbound, American would only be responsible to get her to Dusseldorf, the end of the American Airlines award, not to Tel Aviv, the end of her trip.

    But American Airlines has a policy that if you have two or more tickets on oneworld airlines, American will take responsibility to get you to the end of your trip.”

    This is why I ended up with a crazy Star Alliance award routing to TLV instead of doing two award trips as you did. I was using US Airways miles. So this is great to know. Assuming US moves to Oneworld when they merge with AA, I can take advantage of such routings. And perhaps it is also a good reason to put the BA Avios card on my next churn. Thanks for this new info.

  6. What about booking ATL-JFK-TLV-XYZ, with JFK-TLV on El Al and then throwing away TLV-XYZ piece? You would save another 10K Avios this way.

    • You can’t route to Europe through Israel on an AA award. AA is very strict about what continents you can route through on awards.

  7. Did you mean “direct” flights or “nonstop” flights? They mean different things in the aviation. A direct flight entails a stop. If there is no stop, then the flight is a nonstop. Were you looking for flights which stopped enroute?

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