Flight of Fancy: Transferring Frequent Flier Miles Between Airlines

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Dear Tim—

I always like reading your remarks about mileage programs.

Could you in the future explain how to move miles/points from foreign international carriers to North American carriers?

For example: I have mileage points with Iberia and wanted them to be transferred to American. Even though they belong to the oneworld alliance and actually have announced a special alliance with British Airways and Iberia, I was by told by American I could not transfer the Iberia points.

So what to do, because I do not fly Iberia much?

Polder

Dear Polder—

American and Iberia do indeed both belong to the oneworld global airline alliance, a network of cooperating carriers that also includes British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Japan Airlines, LAN, Malev, Mexicana, Qantas, and Royal Jordanian.

And those two airlines, plus British Airways, have indeed just been granted anti-trust immunity to operate their transatlantic services as though they were a single carrier, cooperating on scheduling, pricing and so on.

While such alliance relationships are routinely referred to as virtual mergers, that borders on overstatement. There are limits to their conjunction— the allied airlines are more like kissing cousins than they are like married couples.

American and Iberia maintain separate loyalty programs, as do all the other oneworld airlines. True, you can earn American miles when flying on Iberia, or Iberia miles when flying on American; that's called frequent flier program reciprocity, and it's a defining feature of alliance tie-ups. But once the miles have been earned in a particular program, they generally cannot be transferred to another program.

In short, there's nothing you can do to move your Iberia miles into American's program. And that's the rule, not the exception.

What to Do?

If you're reasonably close to reaching an award threshold in the Iberia program, it might be worth earning just enough additional miles to meet the award requirement and cash out with a free ticket. Because of Iberia's alliance connections, you can earn those extra miles when flying on many other airlines, including American. And you'll have the same airlines to choose from when it comes time to redeem the miles.

Having cut your ties to the Iberia program, and assuming you've decided American's program best meets your ongoing needs, you can then focus on earning miles in American's AAdvantage program. With more than 1,000 companies awarding AAdvantage miles, including Iberia, British Airways, and the other oneworld carriers, that shouldn't be too hard to do.

Tim Winship is editor at large for SmarterTravel , as well as the editor and publisher of FrequentFlier.com, and a frequently quoted expert on frequent flier programs. SmarterTravel provides expert, unbiased information on timely travel deals, the best value destinations, and money-saving travel tips.

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