Five Oneworld hacks to upgrade your travel experience

American Airlines, member of a global alliance of airlines called Oneworld, is switching their frequent flyer program from miles-based to revenue-based point system. Here are some tips for making this switch work for you.

Jim Young/Reuters/File
An American Airlines plane sits at a gate at O'Hare Airport in Chicago, Ill.

American Airlines is switching to a revenue-based frequent flyer program on August 1st, 2016, and this means that their miles system is changing. Under the old system, you earned one mile for every mile flown, and elite passengers could collect extra miles based on their status. However, after August 1st, miles earning will be based purely on how much a ticket costs, which means that people who buy a ticket on the cheap will be earning fewer miles than someone who buys the same flight for more money. 

Most people affected by this change are using American Airlines as their default mileage account. But many people are unaware of the fact that American is part of a global alliance of airlines called oneworld, and each airline in oneworld has a different milage program with different rules -- some of which are better than others. When you fly a oneworld airline like American, you can choose to earn miles on another oneworld airline instead of American, which can help you get closer to elite status on your airline of choice.

So which airline is best to credit oneworld flights to? This question is going to vary depending on what your travel needs are. So I'm going to break the answer down in terms of five different travel goals:

If domestic upgrades are the most important thing to you, credit your miles to American/Alaska Airlines.

If you live in the U.S., your domestic option for crediting oneworld miles is American Airlines. American also has a partnership with Alaska Airlines that has some reciprocal benefit: no upgrades, but you can get free exit row seating, priority boarding and free checked bags. If domestic upgrades are the most important thing to you in a loyalty program, I would still credit your miles to American, with a few exceptions.

For example, West Coast fliers living near an Alaska Airlines hub might want to consider going for elite status with Alaska. Keep in mind that you'll only earn between 25 and 75 percent of the miles flown if you're traveling on paid economy tickets, as they're in a lesser fare class.

Under the new program, you will still be earning one elite-qualifying mile per mile flown, and even more if you have a first or business class ticket. But adding a revenue requirement for earning status is going to make it much more expensive to earn status in the future.

The benefits for those who often fly with Alaska is that their frequent flyer program is the only one in the U.S. that gives their elites free Alaska Board Room lounge access, complete with access to their infamous pancake machine!

If lounge access is important to you, try for oneworld Sapphire Status.

As mentioned above, American Airlines does not give free lounge access for elites. You'll only be offered domestic lounge access for free if you're traveling in business or first class on an international reservation. If you credit your miles to Alaska instead, you'll gain Board Room (and pancake machine!) access. But this is only useful for people who can actually use those lounges, so unless you're in Anchorage, Seattle, Portland, or Los Angeles, this isn't going to be your best bet.

If you're going to be doing a fair amount of flying, as in, enough to qualify for mid-tier status (around 50 segments or 50,000 miles flown in a year), you will probably qualify for oneworld Sapphire status. If you have Sapphire status in oneworld, your elite status in a certain airline, like American, carries over and gives you benefits when you're traveling with another oneworld carrier.

For example, oneworld Sapphire status grants status holders access to any business class oneworld lounge when traveling on a oneworld flight (even when flying economy!). This means that if you're an American elite flyer traveling in Britain, you could use the British Airways lounges. The exception here is that domestic status holders of American status cannot use domestic American lounges. The same goes for domestic holders of Qantas status: they cannot use domestic Qantas lounges.

But if you're flying American a lot, and you want domestic lounge access, there is a hack! Gain status with another oneworld airline, like Air Berlin, and you can use that status to get access to American lounges when traveling domestically. Unfortunately, many airlines have segment requirements, or a set amount of times you have to fly on their own operated flights, which are usually set at four per year.

Which airlines don't have these requirements? Air Berlin and Finnair. Finnair requires only 46 segments, which is equal to 46 individual flights (so a one-way with a stop counts as two segments) to gain Gold status/oneworld Sapphire status, and has no segment requirements. Air Berlin will allow you to earn the appropriate status with 60 segments, and also has no segment requirements after you've earned status.

Using oneworld Saphhire to gain access to domestic American lounges is a good trick, the trade off is that you lose the opportunity to upgrade on domestic American flights. Still, you'll be eligible for priority boarding, preferred seating, and free baggage checks, so if lounge access is important to you, this is a good way to get it.

If you fly a lot of partner airlines, play it by ear.

American Airlines seriously devalued most partner redeemable and elite mileage earning this month, and you'll now have to review a complicated list to figure out what, depending on the airline you're flying, you will be earning in redeemable miles, elite qualifying miles, and elite qualifying dollars.

Other foreign airlines still treat partners relatively equally (or at least better than American does), and don't have revenue requirements for status. If you're flying a lot of international long-hauls on a certain airline, like Cathay Pacific, I would credit your miles to them, as you'd then have opportunities for very valuable upgrades on much longer flights.

If you're buying premium fares, credit to American.

While American's policy change is an inconvenience for most travelers, big spenders will reap major benefits from it. Premium fares earn a lot of elite-qualifying miles, and people who buy expensive flights will earn a lot of redeemable miles under the new program. In addition to this, members who buy more expensive flights can get up to the minimum spend for elite status that much faster. If this sounds like your travel strategy, you should still credit your miles to American even after the policy shift.

If you're looking for the most redeemable miles for a travel award, credit to British Airways or American.

You'd want to check carefully on the program that you're crediting to for specifics on how you earn redeemable miles. I like British Airways' program for short-haul flights because it's distance-based, but American has revised their chart to save miles for those flying short-haul as well. Partner redemption charts also vary per airline- and often airlines (like British Airways) have high fees for award redemptions. If I were a US flier, and this is my biggest concern, I'd probably still stick to American, but get an American credit card that earns me miles for daily spend as well. In the future, this will be the quickest way to earn American miles- like with the Citi Executive/AAdvantage card, which currently has a 60,000 mile bonus.

This article first appeared at Brad's Deals.

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