This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard
I like to have a plan for my points and miles, so whenever I’m contemplating a big credit card sign-up bonus, I try to think about how I would use it. Today, TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen explores some lucrative award travel options for anyone considering the current offer for Citi’s premium AAdvantage card.
Last week, Citi announced a new 75,000-mile sign-up bonus on the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard. You’ll earn the full bonus after making at least $7,500 in purchases in the first three months of account opening and you receive one mile per dollar on all purchases, meaning your total haul will be at least 82,500 AAdvantage miles. (Note that it could be even higher if any of those purchases are made directly with American Airlines and/or US Airways, which earn 2x miles). That amount of AAdvantage miles can go a long way, so in this post I want to highlight some of the redemptions that would be unlocked by applying for this one card and earning the sign-up bonus.
1. Three round-trip domestic flights on American Airlines or US Airways
One of the simplest ways to redeem AAdvantage miles is on round-trip economy flights within the contiguous US, Alaska and Canada. As long as you can find MileSAAver inventory, these flights price out at 25,000 miles, meaning that the sign-up bonus can get you three of them (plus a bit left over). American tends to be very good at releasing these seats, and you can even find them on cross-country flights at the last minute.
For example, at the time of writing, I see three tickets for July 10-15 on nonstop flights from Orlando to Los Angeles:
These flights would cost more than $1,000 per person if you were to pay cash, giving you a redemption value of almost 3.7 cents per mile (taking into account the $75 close-in booking fee that American imposes, which is waived for AAdvantage elite members).
You can search for these flights on AA.com, though you’ll also find the inventory on ExpertFlyer, allowing you to set alerts if there are no MileSAAver seats on your desired flights. In addition, American doesn’t charge change fees on award tickets as long as your origin, destination and award type remain the same. You can ticket a less-than-desirable itinerary at the low level (maybe one that involves a lengthy connection or an inconvenient departure time) and then use ExpertFlyer to alert you when a better nonstop flight opens up.
2. One-way flight to Asia in Cathay Pacific first class
One of the best uses of AAdvantage miles is on Cathay Pacific to Asia. My wife and I flew in first class a few years ago and had a terrific trip, much like TPG’s experience when he flew Cathay back in 2012. A one-way redemption in first class will set you back 67,500 miles, so you’d easily have enough with this single sign-up bonus. AA.com doesn’t show these awards, but you can call the AAdvantage service desk to search inventory, or use the British Airways search tool to find award space:
That same flight would currently set you back just over $17,000, giving you an astonishing value of more than 25 cents per mile!
Unfortunately, the carrier has recently indicated that it may start restricting first-class awards for partners, but for now, this is still an incredibly valuable redemption option.
3. Off-peak awards to Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe, Asia or Central and South America
Another great value in the AAdvantage program is the off-peak redemption option. This allows you to save 10,000 – 20,000 miles on round-trip economy awards to certain destinations during certain times of the year. The current dates for the rest of 2015 are as follows:
- Hawaii — August 22 – December 15
- Caribbean and Mexico — September 7 – November 14
- Central America, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela — September 7 – November 14
- Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay — August 16 – November 30
- Europe — October 15 – May 15
- Japan and Korea — October 1 – April 30
With this sign-up bonus, you could actually snag three round-trip award tickets from the US to Mexico or the Caribbean, or two round-trip award tickets from the US to Hawaii (35,000 miles per person) or to Europe or South America (40,000 miles per person). You also have your choice of carriers, as you’ll be charged the same discounted amount whether you fly with American Airlines or a Oneworld partner:
Asia is another interesting off-peak destination. You’d need 25,000 miles for a one-way economy ticket, so this sign-up bonus would be enough for three one-way flights. TPG COO Leigh Rowan took advantage of this very redemption for his family this fall, redeeming 75,000 AAdvantage miles for three one-way tickets from Tokyo-Haneda to San Francisco on Japan Airlines. These one-way tickets would have cost 462,000 JPY (~$3,760) per person (though you’ll save quite a bit by booking round-trip), giving him an incredible value of over 15 cents per mile!
4. Three upgrades on long-haul routes
Another great use of AAdvantage miles is to upgrade paid tickets to the next class of service. American allows you to upgrade any paid ticket on any of its flights, though the more discounted fare classes will require a copay of $75 – $350. Still, paying that amount to upgrade a long-haul flight can mean the difference between arriving tired and arriving refreshed. The haul of miles from the Citi AAdvantage Executive Card would get you three one-way upgrades on long-haul routes from the US (25,000 miles each) to the following destinations:
- Southern South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay)
- Asia (Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and China)
- Middle East
These upgrades are valid on flights operated by either American or US Airways, and both carriers show upgrade inventory on ExpertFlyer, allowing you to set alerts to notify you when availability opens up.
You can also use miles to upgrade on British Airways and Iberia, though you’ll need to book much higher fare classes in order to be eligible.
5. One round-trip flight in Etihad’s First Apartment from London to Abu Dhabi
Cathay Pacific isn’t the only fantastic first-class product available using AAdvantage miles. You can also snag an award in Etihad’s luxurious First Apartment, which is found exclusively on the carrier’s A380 aircraft. Though the A380 will begin operating out of New York-JFK to Abu Dhabi in December, you’ll be just shy of the 90,000 miles needed for a one-way award ticket with this sign-up bonus. However, you can book a round-trip award from London to Abu Dhabi for 80,000 AAdvantage miles.
Like awards on Cathay Pacific, you can’t find these on AA.com. Instead, you’ll want to search on Etihad’s website and look for GuestSeat availability. These should be bookable by calling the AAdvantage service desk (and you shouldn’t have to pay a phone booking fee).
6. One round-trip economy flight from the US to Australia/New Zealand
Last month, American announced that it would launch daily service from Los Angeles to Sydney beginning December 17, 2015. This new flight complements Qantas’ two daily departures on the route, and opens up even more capacity to a very popular destination. While business and first-class award inventory to Australia is tough to come by, economy awards are a bit easier. The sign-up bonus on the card would be enough for a round-trip economy award ticket (75,000 miles).
The new American flight hasn’t yet been loaded into the schedule (it’s still waiting on government approval), but you can search Qantas award space on AA.com:
There are also other flights from the US to Australia that you can book with AAdvantage miles:
- Los Angeles to Brisbane and Melbourne on Qantas
- Dallas to Sydney on Qantas
- Honolulu to Sydney on Qantas or Hawaiian
- San Francisco to Sydney on Qantas (starting December, 2015)
Remember that you can also take advantage of Qantas’ extensive network throughout the South Pacific to add a connecting flight once you arrive in Australia. This opens up a variety of additional destinations such as Fiji and New Zealand.
7. A one-way first class flight from Europe to the South Pacific
For an alternate way of getting down under, consider starting your itinerary in Europe. A first-class award on this route will set you back 80,000 miles. This may not have made my list a month ago, but American recently added another exception to its routing rules (which typically prohibit you from transiting a third region on a single award). You can now connect through Doha on Qatar Airways in addition to the previously allowed exceptions, whereby you could connect in Asia.
8. Four round-trip flights within Europe, Australia, New Zealand or South American Regions
A final redemption that might make sense with this haul of AAdvantage miles is on shorter flights. American allows you to book round-trip economy flights within Europe, Australia/New Zealand and each South American region for just 20,000 miles. This is another way to capitalize on the carrier’s partners, including Qantas, British Airways, Finnair and Airberlin.
Here’s a sample award from Perth to Sydney in January:
That same itinerary would set you back $907.60 if you paid cash, giving you a solid redemption value of over 4.4 cents per mile.
There are several other short-haul flights within certain countries or regions that can also make for valuable redemptions:
- Flights within Hawaii or Ecuador — 5,000 miles one-way
- Flights within Peru, Columbia, Chile or Argentina — 6,000 miles one-way
- Flights within Fiji or Japan — 7,500 miles one-way
- Flights within Brazil or Africa — 10,000 miles one-way
You can see all required mileage amounts for these redemptions on American’s Oneworld and other airline award chart.
There are many ways to use the AAdvantage miles you’d earn from the Citi AAdvantage Executive Card, whether you’re looking to travel in comfort or simply keep money in your pocket. Don’t forget that you’ll also have access to reduced mileage awards for Citi AAdvantage cardholders; current destinations include San Francisco (September) and Tampa (July and August). Even if none of those flights work for your travel plans, I hope this post has given you some inspiration to make the most of this sign-up bonus while it lasts.
For more information on redeeming AAdvantage miles, check out these posts:
How would you redeem 82,500 AAdvantage miles?