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How do I redeem miles on alliance partner airlines?

Cathleen McCarthy

Dear Cashing In,
How do you redeem rewards miles for "partner" airlines, such as American's oneworld alliance? For example, I have a lot of American Airlines miles and was hoping to cash them in for a flight abroad next year. Is the redemption process the same? Are the value of the miles equal to U.S. flights? Thank you for your help. -- Julia

Dear Julia,
In most cases, you would book your flight the same way you would a flight on the airline that holds your award miles. For example, if I were planning to fly to Prague using AAdvantage miles, I might do a quick comparison on Expedia or Travelocity to gauge overall prices and availability, then go to AA.com and plug my dates in there.

If the routes and deals look better on oneworld partner British Airways than American flights to Prague, you can apply your miles to a BA fare. If you find a route that involves more than one carrier, oneworld Explorer Awards allow you to travel to multiple regions or cities within a region on a single award. 

Along with American, Explorer awards are valid on all airlines in the oneworld alliance -- Airberlin, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Qantas, Royal Jordanian and S7 -- as well as more than 20 of their affiliate airlines. Mileage required to claim these awards is based on the total mileage of the trip.

A chart on the American Airlines website shows how many oneworld miles you need for various destinations . You'll see they work out about the same as your AAdvantage miles, with one-way domestic fares starting at 12,500 miles. Awards are subject to limitations on seating availability, and some partner airlines come with blackout or travel embargo dates . 

One destination you're not going to be able to book online with AAdvantage miles is South America. Try to book a flight to Ecuador using AAdvantage miles and you'll discover oneworld partners LAN and TAM don't allow online booking, so you have to pay a $25 fee to book your flight over the phone via the international AAdvantage department.

Generally, if you book a flight using an airline's reward miles, you're subject to the partner airline's booking limitations, taxes and fees for the destination. Other than that, your miles should have a 1:1 transfer value. 

If you have miles with United or US Airways, you'll have access to Star Alliance partners -- although US Airways will give way to American's oneworld alliance when the merger goes through. Delta miles can be used with SkyTeam partner airlines.

See related: How will the airline merger affect my US Airways miles?