How to Use Your Miles to Fly on Your Airline’s Partners

Reader Dee asked,

I’d love to know more about how to transfer points from one airline to flying on a partner (example: AA to Cathay Pacific). Sites seem intentionally vague on how to do this and how many points it would cost. Am looking to fly ORD-PEK roundtrip as an example. THANK YOU

This is actually a very simple point but one that’s often misunderstood. You do not transfer points from one airline to another when you redeem points to travel on an airline partner.

When redeeming a partner award, the number of miles you need depends on where you’re going, and it depends on the frequent flyer program whose miles you are using.

For instance, a frequent flyer program like United has a zone-based award chart. That means you look up the region of the world you are starting from, and the region of the world you are traveling to, and that determines the number of miles you need. And that’s true regardless of the airline partner you’re flying.

You don’t go to the partner airline’s website to determine the number of miles you need, you don’t use the partner’s award routing rules. You use United’s in both of those cases.

Basic Principles:

Here are the three things to understand about your miles before we get started using them to travel the world using your miles on your airline’s partners.

  • You can use miles you have to book travel on any airline that is a partner of your frequent flyer program. You may have United miles, or Air Canada’s Aeroplan miles, or Asiana Club miles for instance or even miles in the EVA Airways Infinity MileageLands programs. And you can book travel with those miles on any airline that is a member of the Star Alliance, if the flight you want has award space available. You can use your AAdvantage miles to book travel on any oneworld airline, or any airline partner that isn’t a member of the oneworld alliance.
  • You cannot combine miles from different programs towards a single award ticket, at least in any reasonable way (that is, without paying to transfer miles through a service like that’s almost never worth it). You can’t use some Aeroplan miles and some United miles to get one ticket (although you can book a one-way ticket using United miles, and book your return to the U.S. using Aeroplan miles).
  • How many miles your ticket will cost, and how you go about making the award reservation, will depend on the frequent flyer program you have miles with. You will also go to United (whether their website or over the phone) to use United miles, no matter whose planes you want to fly. You don’t call the airline you’re trying to fly to book the ticket. And you will pay the price that United charges for the travel you want. For instance, a roundtrip Chicago – Tokyo on All Nippon might cost 90,000 of ANA’s miles for business class. But if you are using United miles, you will book on United’s website or by calling United and you will pay United’s price of 150,000 miles roundtrip for those same All Nippon flights..

Booking Cathay Pacific With American Miles

To book Chicago – Beijing using American miles on Cathay Pacific, you need to:

  • Find available award space on the Cathay Pacific flights. The best places to look for this space are the British Airways and Qantas award search websites (since the site does not currently support Cathay Pacific searches) or just call American.
  • Then you need to deal with American AAdvantage over the phone to book the award tickets.
  • For Chicago – Beijing it will entail flying to Hong Kong and connecting onto a flight to Beijing, on Cathay Pacific or their sister airline Dragonair.

It’s really quite straightforward once you understand that you always talk to the program whose miles you have, regardless of whom you wish to travel.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. @Gary, Can you use Airfrance miles to fly on Etihad, now that they have a partnership, i could not find an award chart for that?

  2. For the Cathay example, are you limited to AA’s booking window? BA’s window goes 20-ish more days in future. Thanks Gary

  3. @Sach,
    The booking window you’re limited to is whatever program you are booking the award through….if booking via AA, then that’s the window you’re going to have to work within.

  4. For the Cathay example, why do you suggest searching for award availability on Qantas or British Airways rather than the Cathay website itself?

  5. Gary – this information is invaluable for us novices as we try and book award travel. It’s easy for you and Lucky because you do it everyday. A spread sheet or algorithm would be greatly appreciated: if you want award travel from say North America to Hong Kong these are your airline options; for Cathay Pacific (example) view all CP award options on these airline award search websites; to use a specific FFP to buy your award (United for example) get United (or whatever FFP u choose) miles by flying, transferring points from Chase, SPG, AMEX, etc; I think you get the gist of what I’m thinking here. Maybe this already exists in some format. If so please tell me how to find it. It’s not intuitive for me to look on BA’s or Qantas’ award search website for Cathay Pacific award travel.

  6. One of the challenges I find is booking Star Alliance flights. I currently have a boatload of Aeroplan, United and Lifemiles.
    United is pretty straight forward as the majority of their partners are online and display in the award calendar. Two problems. One they don’t display several of their partner airlines. The other problem is that they charge 280,000 miles for a first class return on a partner to Europe.
    OK, so I go to book using my Lifemiles to book that Lufthansa First class to Europe. Problem with Lifemiles is that they block some of their partners. Lifemiles blocks all Lufthansa first class tickets. So even though Lufthansa is willing to let Star Alliance partners book their flights (Aeroplan, United, ANA etc. etc) they block Lifemile members from redeeming them. Other problem is that they don’t allow mixed cabin awards, so if SEA-SFO (coach) – LHR business class is available to partners, Lifemiles won’t allow it to be booked.
    Other problem is understand which Star Alliance partners block which members. As I mentioned many Star Alliance carriers block Lifemile members from redeeming. Singapore is notorious for blocking most of its flights in business or first to other Star Alliance members. Swiss is also blocks members..and so does Lufthansa and so does… whew.. It gets confusing who blocks who and who allows who to book.
    Do you have a handy table or chart somewhere that displays who can book whose Star Alliance standard awards?

  7. @graham
    I think you are wrong Graham
    Just because BA displays more into the future doesn’t mean you can’t book with AA up to about 330 days ahead

Comments are closed.