Top 10 Ways to Use American Airlines Miles

by on February 4, 2014 · 34 comments

in American

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I know a lot of people have been getting in on the amazing limited-time sign-up bonuses of up to 100,000 miles on the Citi Executive AAdvantage World Mastercard (there are also public offers of 60,000 miles and 75,000 miles with lower spending bonuses), and while it’s a no-brainer to score a mileage bonus that high if you can swing the $10,000 minimum spend, once you have those miles, your next question might be – what to do with them?

Citi has upped the offer to 100,000 miles.

Did you get in on the 100K offer? Now it’s time to maximize those miles.

So I wanted to put together this quick hit list of ways you can maximize your miles and stretch those 100,000 miles even further. Of course you can just redeem a business class award to Europe or Asia 1 (Japan, Korea, Mongolia) outright, but here are a few other creative ways to use them.

1. Off Peak Awards: I know I often talk about business and first class redemptions as some ways to get the most value from your miles, but one of the best aspects of American’s AAdvantage mileage chart (and one I hope sticks around after the merger with US Airways) are their off-peak economy awards. You cannot use them for travel within the continental U.S. and Canada. You can use them to get pretty much anywhere else AA flies:

Off-peak dates:
Hawaii: January 12 – March 13; August 22 – Dec. 15
The Caribbean and Mexico: September 7 – November 14
Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela: January 16 – June 14; September 7 – November 14
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay: March 1 – May 31; August 16 – November 30
Europe: October 15 – May 15
Japan and South Korea: October 1 – April 30

For many destinations including Europe, over half the year counts as off peak season! From North America, here are the one-way mileage requirements:

  • Within and Between the Continental U.S./Canada/Mexico/Caribbean: 12,500 miles (instead of 17,500 for MileSAAver Peak or 35,000 AAnytime).
  • Hawaii: 17,500 (as opposed to 22,500 for a MileSAAver Peak Awards or 45,000 for an AAnytime award).
  • Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru or Venezuela: 15,000 (17,5000 for MileSAAver Peak and 35,000 for AAnytime).
  • Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile or Uruguay: 20,000 (30,000 MileSAAver Peak, 60,000 AAnytime).
  • Europe: 20,000 (MileSAAver Peak is 30,000, AAnytime is 60,000).
  • Japan: 25,000 (32,500 MileSAAver Peak, 65,000 AAnytime).

And unlike saver award availability on other airlines, there’s often a fair amount of award availability at these levels available. For instance, here’s the award calendar for flights from Los Angeles to Paris in March – as you can see, there is Off Peak availability on nearly every day.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 9.34.56 AM

2. International Gateway Stopovers: One of the best ways to squeeze extra value out of American miles and get what amounts to two awards for the price of one is to take advantage of their international gateway stopover routing rules. American will allow you to make a stopover in the North American international gateway city from which the international portion of your award itinerary departs, or where it arrives. With a little creative planning, that means you can essentially add on another free award flight within North America (which also includes Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean for the purposes of this rule). So for example, instead of using 25,000 miles to fly business class from LAX-JFK and then another 50,000 miles to fly JFK-London a week later, you could combine both awards on the same itinerary and use a total of 50,000 miles to fly LAX-JFK have a stopover and then continue on to London at a later date of your choosing. Conversely, on the return, you could fly LHR-LAX and then tack on an extra LAX flight to Hawaii at a later date as part of the same award and not pay any more miles.

My window seat.

I recently used this routing rule to book what amounts to a free first class transcon award.

I recently did this when redeeming miles for a first class ticket on American’s new A321. Instead of paying 32,500 miles for a one-way, I tacked on a Qatar Airways award for the Middle East for later this year and redeemed a total of 90,000 miles instead of booking an entirely separate award – saving myself the miles the trasncon first class ticket would have cost me if I’d just booked it alone.

Citi Aadvantage reduced

3. Citi Cardholder Reduced Price Awards: If you have a co-branded Citi AAdvantage card, including the Citi Executive AAdvantage World Mastercard, you have access to reduced-price domestic awards. Those reduced-price awards shave 5,000-7,500 off roundtrip award tickets (it depends on your card, but the Citi AA Executive card gets the full 7,500, as do the Platinum Select Visa and Mastercard) and are valid on certain routes within the US and Canada originating within the 48 contiguous United States. They can be booked in economy or first class. Though they only used to be bookable as roundtrip awards, they are now also available for one-way bookings, making them even more versatile. Also instead of being available between various city pairs on a quarterly basis, the reduced mileage award routes now change monthly. You can check the current list of eligible destinations to find out if your city is included. The list of eligible cities changes each month, there’s a lot of overlap month-to-month, and American makes the details available 4-5 months in advance, so you can score a lot of discount award tickets on the airline just by keeping up with the cities lists and calling in to book your reduced-mileage awards. That’s the thing, though, you must call to book your award and will incur a $25 phone booking fee, but that could still be worth it to save 7,500 miles!

4. 10% Cardholder Redeemed Mileage Refund: This benefit applies to personal Citi cardholders – so the Citi Executive does not carry this benefit, though if you already have the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select Visa or Mastercard, you do get this benefit – but when you redeem your miles for awards (they must be from the primary cardholder’s account), you get a 10% mileage refund up to a total of 10,000 miles per calendar year.

You can earn up to 10,000 miles back per year.

You can earn up to 10,000 miles back per year.

You don’t even have to use the card to pay the fees or anything else to get this 10% refund. You just have to be a cardholder with your AAdvantage account and credit card account in good standing. That means you’re really only paying 90,000 miles for a roundtrip business class award to Europe, or 60,750 miles to fly first class from North America to most of Asia including China, Hong Kong, Thailand and Singapore.

Cathay Pacific First Class Seat

Cathay Pacific First Class is one of the best ways to use your American miles.

5. Cathay First Class: Speaking of flying to Hong Kong in first class, one of the best (in my opinion) and highest-value uses of AAdvantage miles is using them to book Cathay Pacific first class tickets to Asia. The product is one of my favorite first class cabins and seats out there, the service is impeccable, and it’s just a great airline with very convenient routes and frequencies from both coasts. Plus, at 67,500 miles each way, it’s practically a steal – especially considering United’s devaluation and Delta’s upcoming one as well as the limited availability of saver awards using SkyMiles, and the fact that if you wanted to use BA Avios, it would cost you 105,000 Avios each way from LAX or New York.

Qantas business class awards can be scarce, but they do pop up at the last minute sometimes.

Qantas business class awards can be scarce, but they do pop up at the last minute sometimes.

6. Qantas Business Class: Though business class award availability can be hard to find on Qantas using American miles, it does come up fairly frequently at the last minute if you can be a bit flexible with your planning, and you only need 62,500 miles each way. When you combine that with American’s international stopover rules, you’re looking at potentially scoring both a domestic and trans-Pacific business class ticket for just 37,500 more miles than just the domestic ticket alone would cost you.

Juice out your AA miles with round-the-world awards.

Juice out your AA miles with round-the-world awards.

7. Oneworld Explorer Awards: One of the more convoluted yet potentially high-value redemptions are with Oneworld Explorer awards. There are a lot of rules, but the gist of it is, awards are distance-based and depend on zones, sort of like regular awards. Awards must include two non-American Airlines Oneworld partners, can have a maximum of 16 segments and just one open jaw, you can stopover in a city once but connect through it twice, you must complete travel within one year of ticket issue date, and you cannot change routing or carrier after ticketing, but can change dates. Miles obviously vary based on where you’re heading, but if we’re just talking about the 100,000 Citi AA Exec bonus, that will get you an economy award of up to 20,000 miles total in coach, up to 10,000 miles in business class, and up to 9,000 miles in first class.



Experience Cathay’s new business class on non-North American routes.

8. Asia/South Pacific Awards: One of the interesting sweet spots in the AA partner award chart is flying between the South Pacific (including Australia and New Zealand) and Asia 2 (which includes Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Guam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Saipan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam). The one-way award rates are as follows: 25,000 miles in economy, 35,000 in business class, 45,000 in first class. Where this gets interesting is if you’re looking at flying Cathay Pacific between Hong Kong and various Australian destinations including Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. There is actually a fair amount of award availability on these routes, which Cathay services with its A330′s with their new business class, and that one-way 9-hour flight to Australia in business only costs 35,000 miles. Not a bad redemption. You could also choose to fly Qantas to a variety of Asian destinations including Singapore and Bangkok at the same rates.

I'd like to try out Qatar's new B787 business class.

I’d like to try out Qatar’s new B787 business class – maybe to the Maldives using my American miles.

9. Fly to Maldives via the Middle East: I had a blast in the Maldives and thought they were one of the most spectacular destinations I’ve ever been. This past time I used United miles to fly there via Taipei and Singapore on EVA and Singapore Airlines, but if and when I go back, I’ll probably use American miles on one of their Middle East-based partners, Qatar or Etihad. Qatar flies to Male from its hub in Doha, and since the airline joined the Oneworld Alliance in October, awards are bookable using American and British Airways miles, though beware high fuel surcharges in the hundreds of dollars. You would need 90,000, 135,000 or 180,000 miles roundtrip in economy, business or first class respectively. Those mileage figures are also the same for Etihad, which is a non-alliance partner of AA that’s based in Abu Dhabi and which has some amazing business class and first class products.

Fly AA's South American partner LATAM to hundreds of destinations.

Fly AA’s South American partner LATAM to hundreds of destinations.

10. South America: Thanks to LAN’s merger with TAM and the fact that the new airline has remained in Oneworld (rather than Star Alliance, of which TAM was a member), one of the best uses for AA miles is to fly to South America. As I mentioned above, you can get Off Peak Saver fares in economy for as low as 40,000 miles roundtrip, and 100,000 miles in business class and with LATAM’s extensive network based in Peru and Chile as well as Brazil now thanks to TAM’s network, plus increased frequencies from the US to Brazil on American itself (including JFK to Sao Paulo – and Miami to Sao Paulo starting in November – aboard their new 777-300′s), there are tons of great destinations that have opened up to American mileage awards.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Marz

    Are we positive that the World Mastercard carries the 10% redeemed award miles refund? This benefit was not listed on the list of benefits for this card, whereas other cards on the same page do list it.

  • Shawn

    Any guidance on how to move about in South America? I couldn’t figure out how to get from IAH/DFW to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile in an order where I could book them non-stop.

  • Karim Sie

    I used my 40000 miles to fly Etihad from BOM-AUH-LHR, First Class all the way and LHR-MAD with Iberia new 330 Biz class this Feb.
    Thanks to you.

  • Marvin le Android

    I used my Citi card to get special tickets to take my daughters to a One Direction concert. $100 per ticket for floor seats now being sold for $500-$1,000.

  • Ben Price

    Probably BA distance-based awards.

  • thepointsguy

    No, as the post explicitly states, it does not apply to the Citi Executive AA World Mastercard.

  • lilpony

    Received my card using your trick. 100K miles confirmed. Approved after getting the Barclay Card just 2 months ago too. Whoo! MUCH higher limit than any of my chase cards too.

  • Mike

    Brian, do #3 and #4 stack if you have both cards? Just to clarify, I have both the World MasterCard (10%) and the Executive 100,000 miles card.

  • District Downer

    On the subject of AA, has anyone gotten the 50K Platinum Mastercard to work recently? I keep getting thrown an error message. Is the deal dead?

  • April

    Any good redemptions from hawaii other than to the mainland? ^_^

  • Brian

    Is Cathay still releasing a good amount of F space 10 days out or did they tighten that up?

  • AndrewAbroad

    I’ve used my miles to fly from the west coast USA to Asia twice now via Cathay. Round trip to Bali in Business and one-way First class from Ho Chi Minh. By far some of the best experiences I’ve had with awards. Their availability is fantastic and service is exceptional (can’t forget relaxing in a Cabana at the HKG lounge).

    I burned my United miles for a one-way ticket to NZ (ANA 787 to NRT, NZ 787-9 to AKL, in business) . Since you cant route through Asia, and If space dries up via Fiji/Air Tahiti, I’m going to be buy a ticket to SE Asia and use Cathay again. I’m almost tempted to do that from the start so I can route SFO->HNL instead of LAX.

  • bman helps get you in faster

  • r0m8470

    Hi TPG – thank you for the tips regarding reduced price award for Citicard holder. For US domestic trips though, isn’t Chase UR points transferred over to Avios more economical/flexible, provided that you can fly AA from a nearby airport? I was considering using AA miles to fly 4 persons to DCA from Texas in the Fall, but I found that I can use just 40K Avios for the same trip, except I have to drive a bit to DFW.

  • william toliver

    Ok – does one need to phone AA in order to do the stopover award? I can’t seem to figure it out on the website. Lets say I want to go Houston to Bangkok- what are my stop over choices (not US cities)

  • Stompey5

    I got an error message last week but found I was approved when I called… but then again it was last week

  • Joe

    I flew CX JFK-HKG in F over Christmas using AA miles. Most enjoyable flight of my life. I always flew CX economy before I started reading your blog. Thanks TPG for making all this happen!

    Just booked the same flight for next Christmas vacation. There are plenty of award seats in F and J next December around Christmas time from JFK. Also plenty of J from EWR.

  • Sam

    What’s the best way to get to India on AA ? Is it even possible?? I live in PHX and need to go to AMD or BOM. Thanks!!

  • Sam

    Sorry … typo … best way to get to India using AA miles. I bought 100k US Air Miles, so that will eventually transfer to AA miles. Thank you for any advice!! -Sam

  • Marz

    Ah! Got it! I was thrown by the word “Executive” in the post; I thought it meant “business” (vs. “Personal”), like the Ink Bold. With that distinction in mind, the World MasterCard is still a personal card to me…

  • John

    Wait, you don’t even daughters! Kidding

    Interested on how you came by this and how I find similar offers. I would buy and resell those puppies in a heartbeat.

  • UAPhil

    Re “availability nearly every day from LA to Paris” – caution is indicated. Many of the itineraries probably require BA transatlantic travel, which costs a few hundred dollars in fuel surcharges. (But there are definitely good alternatives available; I just booked SFO-LHR with a stopover in Chicago in April entirely on AA metal for 20,000 miles plus $5; returning from Istanbul on UA for 30,000 miles. Ah, the flexibility of one way awards!!)

    (I had no trouble booking the stopover; I just selected “multi-city”, and entered SFO-ORD and ORD-LHR as two separate entries. The award priced correctly at 20,000 miles.)


    There are also a few LANPASS credit cards from USBANK that you can get that give ~30,000 kilometers each for LAN with zero spend requirement and annual fee waived for first year. I have heard of people using 2BM to get two cards with bonuses. If you manage to get two, it is good for a few intra-South American journeys. (Note: LANPASS km does not have one-way awards, but you can do ’round-trip’ awards that are really open jaws… i.e. brazil to chile, then chile to argentina would be valid but you have to call or mess around with the website a bit. if you search you can find some info). Avios also work okay sometimes.

  • mv

    looked at buying alaska miles b/c its +40% but wanted to know if you could combine these with aa miles…

  • Joe

    Hey guys… Does anyone know if the AMEX Platinum gets you CX Marco Polo Gold Status? What is the procedure for getting this status?

  • Joe

    Check out the One World Interactive Route Map online. It will show you the routing for all AA Flights and Partner Carriers.

  • Bill

    A word of warning! This comment relates to using System Wide Upgrades, or EVIPS rather than miles. I have just had a very disappointing exchange with Suzanne Reed, President of the Aadvantage Loyalty Program. I have been a dedicated American Airlines client for over 40 years, and have had a lifetime membership in the Admirals Club since 1972. I have been a participant in the Aadvantage program since it was founded and have achieved Executive Platinum status every year for the last 14 years. I am approaching 8 million Aadvantage miles total. My wife has also been Executive Platinum for the past 10 years.

    As you posted recently the EVIPS were the most valuable perk of being EXP. We have used them extensively to purchase economy tickets and upgrade to first or business when we purchase the tickets. We have not been willing to buy an economy ticket and hope we get an upgrade. By being flexible on routes and schedules this has always worked for us.
    All of a sudden confirmed upgrades are not available, wait list only. It doesn’t matter if the flight is near term or 330 days out and no seats have been assigned! You also recently posted about the availability of systemwide upgrades being posted on the AA website. If you try to get those you find that they are only for domestic flights or for upgrading from business to first, not economy to business. Still only wait list for that.
    I wrote to Ms. Reed on January 16 asking why the change and she did not reply for almost 3 weeks. Her response was essentially a form letter saying thanks for your loyalty but “tough s**t”, we are going to continue limiting upgrade seat availability. So we are stuck with 18 EVIPs we will use up on short domestic flights where we could afford to pay for upgrades or business, and drop our effort to be EXP or loyal to AA.
    Extremely dismayed.

  • Alec Barron

    Hey William, you can book these online. My guess is you’re encountering trouble because you’re trying to get a stopover outside of North America.

    AA only allows stopovers at the North American International Gateway City. This means you can’t have a stopover in Asia. You’d have to do your stopover in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean.

    Some example places you could have a stopover are San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Chicago, New York, etc.

  • Kristy

    Love this post TPG! Can you do a similar write-up on Top 10 ways to use AMEX Membership Rewards Points and Chase Ultimate Rewards to maximize their value?

  • Stacy

    RE: oneworld explorer awards

    I met you at the LA Times Travel Show earlier this year, and you were kind
    enough to tell me about these passes purchased for miles which allow you to fly fixed amounts of mileage according to AA’s rules. After 2 separate hour long discussions with the AA Platinum desk, I’m still not sure I have all
    the rules correctly and American won’t send me a copy of the rules, which are not published on its website.

    I am planning to travel extensively in South America next year, but still
    have a burning question about the one world passes. Specifically, can I buy a separate one way ticket on another airline to bridge the “open jaw”
    problem in my itinerary. For example, several of the tours we want to take
    start in one city and end in another. If I use the pass to get to the
    starting city, can I buy a ticket from the ending city to get back to the
    starting city for the next leg of my trip? The last guy I spoke to at
    American said I couldn’t do this, but wouldn’t tell me what rule they had
    prohibiting this. In any event, how would they know? For example, if I
    used most of my pass to travel on LAN in South America, but used Avianca or Copa to solve the open jaw.

    I’m keenly interested in your response. I look forward to hearing back from

  • Darren

    Yes it still does. You just need to log on to the AMEX Platinum website and choose the benefits page and it will offer you to opt in for upgrade to CX MP Gold. You do need to have a CX MP account number before to put in.

  • Anonymous

    I just saw on the AA site that Oneworld explorer awards are no longer available for booking. Does this mean I can’t use AA miles for the explorer award at all?

  • 4jan37

    i have 175,000 american miles and want a trip from San Diego to Rome in Apr have never used miles before and the dates I want are not avail do they change these all the time??? Plus they seem to put flights up that are terrible can u get around this at all???

  • A

    Do I go on the aa site to redeem an award on Cathay to HK? Or do I go on the Cathay site?

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