Although much smaller than its Star Alliance competitor, the oneworld airline alliance includes many award-winning partners, such as British Airways, Qantas and Cathay Pacific. However, finding award travel on partner airlines can be a challenge for American AAdvantage members because American's web site aa.com will not show partner award availability for Cathay Pacific, Royal Jordanian and many other oneworld partners.
And now with US Airways, American's recently announced merger partner, switching to oneworld later in 2013, there will be more partner award options although it is still unclear when current US Airways flights will be available to book on aa.com. All of this depends on government regulatory approval of the merger, joint operating certificates, and the speed of the merged airline's website/technical team.
For now, one thing is certain if the merger is approved: US Airways and American mileage balances will be combined leading to a bigger pile of miles for redemption opportunities. Let's take a look on the present-day award booking process on aa.com as we await news on the new AAdvantage program.
Recently, American's website experienced a total revamp and displays more partner award availability than before. This includes flights on Air Berlin, Alaska, British Airways, Finnair, Hawaiian, and Qantas. The best way to search for awards is to begin by searching each leg independently. Once you find all of the individual flights that fit in your itinerary, you can piece it together via aa.com using the multi-city search function or call American directly.
Search less common routes that many travelers may not now about such as Air Berlin's Fort Myers-Dusseldorf nonstop, Royal Jordanian's Montreal-Amman nonstop, and newly started routes like American's Chicago-Dusseldorf and Dallas/Fort Worth-Seoul flights where award space may be opened to encourage new bookings. This is another tip that frequent travelers may often overlook on their quest to find free award tickets.
But here's a tip that savvy frequent flyers already know: there are two oneworld alliance member airlines that do a good job of showing flights with available award seats on their web sites. This is important because it allows you to research available flights, make a note of their dates/flight numbers/routes, and then call up your airline program (the one with which you have collected the miles) to make the reservation. Airline telephone service center agents are not as likely to search all oneworld's award booking possibilities. So it's time to take matters into your own hands, at least until American's website shows all oneworld partners.
First, get a frequent flyer number with British Airways and Qantas Airways (if you don't already have one); it's free when you sign up on their websites. Once signed up with British Airways, you can scour their award booking engine for the seats you want on their own flights. The web site shows BA availability first, but by then going through its partner search option you can uncover Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Royal Jordanian, and S7 Airlines award seats. This is the only place where you can search for Japan Air Lines, Royal Jordanian, or S7 availability making it an important tool for those with travel to Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. One caveat with the BA search tool is that if the route is served by American, British Airways or Iberia, it only shows those flights and not those of partners. Thats where the Qantas web site comes into play.
Qantas is equally helpful in showing award availability on its own flights and that of several partner carriers including American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, LAN, and others that American's website won't show. Simply log in to the site, and search your city pairs to see which partners are available. It also helps to know the route networks of your partners. One popular feature of Qantas' website is that it shows an entire month of availability whereas British Airways is more restrictive in the availability dates it shows (except for flights on its own metal). Occasionally there are times where Qantas shows availability, but it cannot be booked using AA miles, but this is a hiccup particular to Qantas flights using American miles.
These two partner award sites are useful research tools and will allow you to explain to American's AAdvantage agents which flights have open award inventory. While it may seem odd to put so much effort into searching for flights via various websites, this added time can help you to avoid paying more miles than necessary and to travel on your desired dates.
Unfortunately there are some partners that still do not display on any of these sites including American's non-alliance South Pacific partners Air Tahiti Nui and Air Pacific (soon to be rebranded as Fiji Airways).
Once US Airways is fully integrated, there will be even more options to use your miles, and new oneworld partners Malaysia Airlines and Qatar Airways will add new countries to the destination choices. Let's hope American makes it a priority to put that flight availability on its website so travelers can more easily redeem their miles.
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