I’m a loyal Delta flyer but I’m always thinking of new ways to collect more American Airlines miles. Yes, you read that correctly.
Between a shoddy on-time record and cramped planes without seatback screens, flying with AA isn’t top-of-mind for many travelers. And flying, period, isn’t on many travelers’ minds as we all stay home to combat coronavirus.
But this downtime is a great chance to study up on ways to save on travel, learn about miles, and earn a stockpile of them to fuel future trips. And as you’ll see, American and its AAdvantage program have some serious advantages over other airline programs that make these miles far too valuable to ignore – especially since they’re not just good for booking flights on American airlines.
Don’t want to fly American? No problem.
One of the best parts about AAdvantage miles – and all airline miles – is that they’re not just good for booking flights on American Airlines itself. Airline alliances and partnerships open up the world of using your miles, making them far more valuable and versatile. And if you ask us, American has some of the best partners out there.
From far more spacious seats in economy at the back of the plane to the incomparable service in first class at the front, Japan Airlines is one of the best ways to fly from the U.S. to Asia. You can book these flights from 35,000 miles each way in economy, 60,000 in business class, and 80,000 miles for first class.
Cathay Pacific is another great AA partner on which you can redeem AA miles. Qantas to Australia, Finnair to Scandinavia, and Etihad to the Middle East are strong options, too.
But if you want to fly the best airline in the world, your best bet is … you guessed it, AAdvantage miles. Booking flights on Qatar Airways is one of our favorite ways to use AA miles – especially if you’re flying in their Qsuite business class.
Read more: Our full review of flying Qsuites from Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) to Doha (DOH).
But the best part is that it’s gotten much easier to book many of these partner airlines – many previously required a phone call to American. In the last year alone American has added Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Etihad to its online booking engine at AA.com. And you can generally book these awards as far out as 11 months. So while a trip in the near-term is out of the question, you could start planning something as far out as February or March 2021.
Great Award Chart
Great partner airlines don’t mean much if they cost a boatload of miles to book. Luckily, that’s not the case with American.
American uses a regional award chart, which means that award rates depend on where your origin and destination fall on the map – not on the cash price of a flight or how many miles you’re flying. And overall, American’s award rates are on par. Here’s what it looks like.
Follow the award chart, and you’ll see that a flight on a Oneworld partner airline from the U.S. to the South Pacific costs 40,000 one-way in economy. A business class flight from the U.S. to Europe will run you 57,500 AAdvantage miles on British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, and other partner airlines. It’s easy enough to follow along – though finding award availability can be another matter.
But there are some sweet spots in this award chart worth highlighting:
- Flying from the U.S. to Japan (Asia Region 1) in business class for just 60,000 AAdvantage miles is an absolute steal. Most airlines charge far more.
- Flying American to Mexico or the Caribbean? Doing it in the off-peak season can get you there and back for just 25,000 miles.
- The cost to fly from the U.S. to Africa in Qatar Airways economy is 40,000 miles – the exact same amount as the nonstop flight to the Middle East. And American’s definition of Africa includes South Africa, so you could make the. Or do it in business class, adding in the extra, 10-hour flight from the Middle East to Cape Town (CPT) or Johannesburg (JNB) for just another 5,000 miles over the nonstop rate.
- If you’re making your way around the world, the ability to get on a long flight from the Middle East to China, Hong Kong, or Southeast Asia for just 40,000 AAdvantage miles is a steal. Or do it in Etihad Apartments for just 50,000 miles!
And keep in mind that this award chart doesn’t just apply to nonstop flights.
…With Free Connecting Flights
Behold! Here’s the true beauty of a region-based award chart.
While you might be accustomed to forking over big bucks for a flight that starts from smaller airports, that’s not the case with American miles. All that matters is that your origin is part of the same region. Even with several connections, it won’t change the price in miles.
In the eyes of American, flying business class from tiny Peoria (PIA) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Hong Kong (HKG) is the same as the nonstop flight to Southeast Asia – both cost 70,000 AAdvantage miles because your journey is still from the continental U.S. to Asia Region 2. Even with a longer flight – say, starting from Duluth (DLH), Minnesota to Chicago or even San Francisco (SFO) to Chicago – it will price out the same. All that matters is the region.
And the same principle holds true for your final destination. So long as the regions remain the same, the price doesn’t change. So you could fly from Peoria to Chicago to Hong Kong and onward to Hanoi (HAN) for the same 70,000-mile rate because your award is still from the U.S. to Asia Region 2 – even with all those connections.
Thrifty Tip: With more complicated itineraries like these, search for each segment of your trip individually at AA.com to confirm each flight is bookable with miles. Once you’ve done that, search for the entire itinerary, with your initial starting point in “From” and final destination in “To.”
That’s true whether you’re using AA miles to fly American itself, one of its partner airlines, or a mix of the two. They’re AAdvantage miles, so American sets the rules for how many you need.
This ability to book itineraries with connections isn’t unique to American – it’s true of almost every airline with a region-based award chart. But in our experience, American makes it easier than most to get the flights you need.
A Powerful Award Search
Some airlines make it difficult to find the flights you want with clunky search engines that only show one day at a time. But that’s not the case with American.
American’s award platform – at least its older search engine, which is still accessible – is one of our absolute favorites. It allows you to filter for only nonstop flights, which makes it much easier to zero in on the exact flight you want. It has a calendar view, making it easy to scroll through a month’s worth of award availability at once.
In our experience, few airline award search engines are more powerful than American. While it may seem trivial, it just makes it easier to use your miles on the flights you want. And that’s no small matter.
Deals on Domestic (and Some International) Flights
American has two great ways you can score cheap domestic flights using your miles.
First up is the airline’s Reduced Mileage Awards, available only to AAdvantage Platinum Select cardholders. This novel offering allows you to reduce the cost of a domestic trip from 25,000 miles round trip down to 17,500.
AA puts out a list of which airports qualify for these discounted flights every month. The good news is that as long as either your origin or destination airport is listed, you should qualify for the discount. Unfortunately, you can’t simply book these flights online – it requires a phone call to AA. But given the savings here, it’s worth the extra effort. Read our full guide to booking Reduced Mileage Awards.
But there’s another, easier option: American has started selling select domestic flights for as low as 5,000 AAdvantage miles each way. They’re called Web Special fares.
Unfortunately, AA doesn’t publish a list of which routes are eligible for this lower pricing. The sweet spot appears to be flights under 1,000 miles each way to or from an American Airlines hub, but longer journeys and even some international flights sometimes make the cut, too.
And while it’s almost certainly a precursor to American instituting an unpredictable dynamic award pricing system – much like Delta and United – the upshot is that this is one of the cheapest ways to book domestic flights.
And it’s not just domestic flights. Over the last year, we’ve seen these discounted awards spread to international flights with dirt-cheap pricing to Europe, Australia, South America, and beyond. One of the best award sales of all time was an economy web special: Round-trip flights to New Zealand for just 10,000 AAdvantage miles!
There are even some web special fares for first and business class cabins on American – although it’s more likely you’ll find exorbitantly high pricing than a good deal.
One important note: This cheaper, web special pricing is only available on American flights. You won’t find these discounted deals on partner airlines like Cathay Pacific, JAL, and others.
Thrifty Tip: Want to learn all of our best tips and tricks for maximizing American AAdvantage miles? Start learning with our Thrifty Traveler University online lessons.
Free Award Changes
American has the most generous policy when you need to change your award ticket booked with miles. At least for now.
The airline’s U.S. competitors like Delta and United typically will charge at least $75 to change the date of an award ticket. But that’s not the case with American.
So long as your origin, destination, and class of service don’t change, you can alter an American award ticket for free, shifting the time and date as needed. And you can do it as often as you need or want.
That means you could push up or back dates if your schedule changes, and do it for free. Or lock in flights on one airline, switching to another airline once award space opens. Want to connect through Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) rather than New York City (JFK) on your way to Asia or the Middle East? No problem.
It’s as simple as calling up American to make the change for free – or better yet, send them a direct message on Twitter.
This generous, free change policy can come in handy big time. It’s a serious perk of using AAdvantage miles. Unfortunately, those days are ending.
For award tickets booked June 1, 2020 and onward, American is implementing a brand new award fee structure – and there are pros and cons. On the downside, it replaces this lucrative free date and time change policy.
But on the plus side, it allows free changes or cancellation to any award ticket that’s at least 60 days prior to departure. And that even includes web special fares, which typically can’t be changed at all. If your award flight leaves within the next 59 days, there’s a sliding scale for what you’ll pay based upon the schedule and your status with American.
Cheap Mexico and Caribbean Getaways
If you want to escape to Mexico or the Caribbean, AAdvantage miles can be invaluable.
No U.S. airline has a better network throughout Central America and the Caribbean islands. And we’re not just talking Cancún (CUN) or the Bahamas (NAS), with more than 170 daily flights into 37 destinations in the Caribbean alone. American has flights to even smaller cities like Oaxaca (OAX) or Huatulco (HUX) and smaller Caribbean spots like St. Martin (SXM) and St. Lucia (UVF).
And if you time it right and find the right award availability, you can get there for as low as 12,500 AAdvantage miles each way.
American’s award chart carves out this low pricing during the off-peak season: from Sept. 7 to Nov. 14 and April 27 to May 20. Other times of the year, a low-priced saver level award will run you 15,000 AAdvantage miles each way.
No matter how you approach it, it’s one of the cheapest ways to get the Caribbean, Mexico or elsewhere in Central America.
The Bad News
It’s not all sunshine and roses with American miles. There are some definite downsides.
Finding award tickets – especially business class to Europe – can feel like pulling teeth. American rarely releases award space on these flights, so you’re probably better off focusing on economy seats – or settling for British Airways to Europe. Other times, you may have to settle for something more expensive than the low-priced MileSAAver award.
And then there’s the flight itself on American. Service can be hit or miss, though that’s true of every airline. Seats are increasingly shrinking on AA planes, as the airline also pulls out seatback entertainment. But above all, it’s harder than ever to count on your American flight arriving on time – though there are some signs the airline has started to turn that around.
How to Earn AAdvantage Miles
You know why AAdvantage miles are worth collecting. And now’s a great time to start piling them up.
Few credit cards offer a better, more lucrative welcome offer bonus than the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard. Just for opening the card, making a single purchase, and paying the $99 annual fee, you can earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles. These are some of the easiest miles you will ever earn.
Click Here to apply for the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard (this is not an affiliate link)
Additionally, American Airlines is unique in the fact that they have co-branded credit card relationships with both Citi and Barclays thanks to the merger of American and U.S. Airways a few years ago. For the time being, American has made the decision to continue the relationship with both banks.
So you can also apply for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Card, which is currently offering 50,000 AAdvantage Miles after spending $2,500 within the first three months. The card’s $99 annual fee is waived in the first year.
This is significant because you can earn the welcome offer bonus on each card, netting you 110,000 American Airlines miles after paying one annual fee (the Barclays AAdvantage Red Aviator Card) and spending $2,500 on the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Card in the first three months of card membership.
If you’ll excuse the pun, AAdvantage miles have some serious AAdvantages. Between easy-to-earn-miles, sweet spots in the award chart, extra flexibility, and some amazing partners, collecting AAdvantage miles is worth your time. And that’s true regardless of whether you consider yourself an AA flyer.