How to get short-distance award flights for next to nothing

November 13, 2015

by — Posted in Epic Credit Card Deals, Epic Travel Hacks

I was going to title this post “how to get domestic American Airlines flights for way less than they charge”, but I realized this is broadly applicable way beyond just American Airlines in the US.

What’s the secret? Well, airlines have alliances with other airlines, and there are three broad conglomerates: Star Alliance (United et al), SkyTeam (Delta et al), and OneWorld (American Airlines et al).

We’ll be talking about how to maximize short-distance awards on OneWorld today. This involves one of the hidden gems in the award flight redemption world –> namely, British Airways’ distance-based chart.

BA is a partner of AA in OneWorld, but unlike AA, and most other airlines in general, BA doesn’t price flights based on geographical zones, but rather more straightforwardly, based just on distance. For instance, if you were to book an AA flight in the US, no matter where you were flying from and to, it would be a flat 12,500 award miles one way (with occasional discounts for certain locations if you hold the Citibank AAdvantage or Barclay Aviator premier cards).

This means that while flying San Francisco to New York might make sense, flying from New York to DC makes much less sense, as you’d be paying the same amount for both flights.

Enter BA to the rescue. British Airways has extremely reasonable distance based charges, as outlined in the chart below:


Important note – this is their old award chart, and they’ve now introduced peak/offpeak award redemptions and slight changes to business class/first redemption prices, but this chart is more helpful as it shows the distance per each award price very distinctly.

So what does this mean? It means you can actually book, for instance, a flight on AA, through redeeming BA miles, for far cheaper than AA would itself allow in the states. As BA and AA are part of the same OneWorld alliance, BA allows bookings on AA for domestic travel in the states, and indeed, just yesterday, I just booked a flight for my mom, in Chicago, to fly out to see my sister, in DC, for Christmas, for just 4500 BA miles + $5.60 in taxes:

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If I had booked this flight on using AA miles, it would have cost 12,500 miles and $5.60. Instead, through BA, it cost only 4,500 miles, as the distance between Chicago (ORD) and DC (DCA) is 610 miles – right under the 650 mile threshold for a 4,500 mile redemption.

What’s better, BA is a transfer partner of the AMEX Membership Rewards, so I have several hundred thousand of these miles stockpiled (as does my entire family).

What’s even better – this is exceptionally good for redemptions across country borders, which typically hikes up redemption values even more, e.g. flights from the US to Canada or Mexico.

And when Daria and I were visiting Peru to go see Machu Picchu, we got a similarly incredible redemption on BA for the same 4,500 miles and $4.25 a person (9,000 and $8.50 for both of us) to fly back from Cuzco (the closest airport to Machu Picchu) to Lima – a flight that typically costs far more.

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So yeah. This stuff goes a long way, and is pretty fricken awesome.

Now you’re wondering: how do I make this work for me and get these awesome miles? Two easy ways.

1. Open up an AMEX Membership Rewards card for epic bonuses, such as the AMEX Business/Personal Gold Rewards card that regularly offers 75,000 point signup bonuses, or

2. Go straight to the source and open up the Chase British Airways credit card:

You’ll earn 50,000 points when you spend $2,000 in the first 3 months, and either another 25,000 when you spend $10,000, or another 50,000 when you spend $20,000 in the first year (easy enough to do with manufactured spend over such a long period of time).

This card comes with a $95 annual fee, but that’s next to nothing compared to getting 100,000 miles…which can redeemed for over 22 one-way flights at these excellent short-haul redemption values. Twenty-two flights for opening one credit card? That’s pretty hard to beat.

Final protip: If you’re curious about the distance between two airports, use this excellent tool to find out:

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