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Maximizing the 10% AA Mileage Credit in 2016

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Now that it’s 2016, several credit card benefits have reset, giving you the opportunity to use them anew. Below, TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Nick Ewen provides tips on getting the most out of the 10% AAdvantage mileage rebate available on select co-branded credit cards.

A variety of credit card perks reset each calendar year, and the great thing about these benefits is that you don’t need to spend anything to utilize them (a big difference from my eight credit card perks to work toward in 2016). Among the items on that list is the 10% mileage credit offered to holders of certain American Airlines co-branded credit cards, and today, I want to go through some strategies for making the most of this benefit in 2016.

Let’s start with a quick overview of the benefit if you haven’t utilized it before (or if you’re considering applying for an American Airlines card in the next few months). It’s actually pretty straightforward: If you have an eligible American Airlines credit card, you’ll receive 10% of your redeemed miles back every calendar year up to a maximum rebate of 10,000 miles per AAdvantage account. Thus, if you redeem 25,000 miles for a round-trip economy ticket within the US, you’ll receive 2,500 miles back in your account. This essentially decreases the cost of your award tickets by 10%.

Now, it’s important to note that not all American credit cards offer this benefit. In fact, there’s only one that’s still open to new applicants: the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard. The card is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 American miles after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. It also includes a variety of additional benefits like your first checked bag fee, Group 1 boarding and double miles on American purchases.

However, there are many older versions of this card that are still eligible, including the Citi Platinum Select AAdvantage Visa Signature and the the Citi Select AAdvantage American Express. In addition, the two most “premium” versions of Barclaycard’s AAdvantage Aviator cards are eligible: the Silver and the Red. Again, though, these are not open to new applicants. They are (instead) conversions from the US Airways World MasterCard that went away with the integration of the AAdvantage and Dividend Miles programs.

Unfortunately, that leaves several popular options out, as the following cards do not carry this benefit:

There’s another key element to bear in mind with this rebate: You cannot earn more than 10,000 miles back per calendar year, regardless of how many eligible cards you have. For example, I currently hold both the Platinum Select MasterCard from Citi and the Aviator Red card from Barclaycard. Even if I redeemed 200,000 miles in 2016, I would still only get 10,000 miles back.

Here are the other important things to keep in mind with this benefit:

  • Only the primary cardholder’s AAdvantage account is eligible for the 10% rebate. If you’re an authorized user on one of the aforementioned accounts and redeem your miles for an award ticket, you will not get any refund.
  • The rebate should post very quickly after you book an award ticket, though I have read reports of it taking a day or two. If you haven’t seen the refund within 48 hours of ticketing, I would recommend calling the AAdvantage service desk to inquire.
  • You don’t need to use the eligible card to pay the taxes and fees on the award ticket; you simply must have an open account in good standing. This frees you up to use a card like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard so you can then redeem miles to cover the expense.
  • The rebate applies to all award tickets booked using AAdvantage miles, including flights on American metal, flights on Oneworld partners (like British Airways) and flights on other partner airlines (like Etihad).
Etihad A380 Featured
Booking an award like Etihad’s First Apartment before the devaluation is one way to make the most of this perk.

Maximizing the Perk

When it comes to a standard benefit like this, there aren’t necessarily any tips or tricks to get more value out of your redemptions. As long as you redeem at least 100,000 AAdvantage miles in 2016, you’ll earn the full rebate of 10,000 miles (worth $170 based on TPG’s most recent valuations). This perk alone easily covers the $95 annual fee on the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard and comes close to covering the $195 annual fee on the AAdvantage Aviator Silver card.

However, I do have a few suggestions to help ensure that you utilize the benefit to the fullest:

1. Book Before the Devaluation

If room rates are high but flights are cheap, you can transfer your points to Hyatt and book a room at the Hyatt Key West Resort & Spa for your next trip.
Key West is one option for reduced mileage awards this quarter.

Interestingly enough, this benefit will likely become easier to maximize after the March award chart devaluation goes into effect. With many of the most popular awards going up in price (like the shocking 63% jump on Cathay Pacific first class to Asia or the across-the-board increases for Etihad’s A380 First Apartment), it’ll be easier to spend the 100,000 AAdvantage miles needed to earn the full 10% back. However, there’s no point in waiting to book these tickets until then, because you’ll still come out ahead now.

For example, a one-way Cathay Pacific first-class award flight from the US to Asia currently costs 67,500 miles, but with the 10% mileage discount, you’d save 6,750 miles. That same flight after the devaluation will cost you 110,000 miles, but you’d get the full 10,000 miles back. Still, you’re looking at spending 60,750 miles now vs. 100,000 miles after March 22, so it clearly makes sense to lock in those award flights now.

Keep in mind that there are still a few bright spots in the new AAdvantage award chart, so don’t rush to book if your desired redemption isn’t jumping in price. A few are even dropping in price (like short-haul flights of less than 500 miles or economy flights to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America).

2. Stack the Bonus with Other Promotions

While you can’t get multiple 10,000-mile rebates by holding multiple American credit cards, you can utilize this benefit in conjunction with other promotional awards through the AAdvantage program. One of the best values along these lines is the reduced mileage award option, which allows you to save up to 7,500 miles on round-trip award tickets to specific destinations that rotate on a regular basis. This program is actually available to all American credit card holders, but remember that only a select few will then refund you 10% of the miles you redeem.

The current list of cities eligible for this discounted award travel through March include Austin, Key West and New Orleans, and you can access the full list on American’s website. You do need to call to make these reservations, though you shouldn’t have to pay the phone ticketing fee since they aren’t bookable online.

Another option would be the carrier’s off-peak awards. These are actually available to anyone booking economy award tickets to certain regions during specific timeframes, though many will be changing with the upcoming devaluation (all amounts are for one-way redemptions):

  • Hawaii: 17,500 miles to 20,000 miles
  • South America Region 1: 15,000 miles to 17,500 miles
  • Europe: 20,000 miles to 22,500 miles
  • Asia Region 1: 25,000 miles to 32,500 miles

3. Book Two Separate Awards to “Top Off” Your Account

Those middle seats provide the right balance of privacy and togetherness.
If you’re just shy of a business class award ticket to Europe, this can be a nice way to top off your account.

A final thing to consider is if you’re just short of the mileage required for a given award. Remember that the rebate should post to your account right after you make the redemption rather than when you actually take the flight. You do need to have enough miles to cover the full amount of the desired redemption, but American does allow you to book one-way award tickets. As a result, you can split up a round-trip ticket into two one-ways and then use the mileage rebate from the first ticket to “top off” your account for the second ticket.

Here’s an example of how that might work. Let’s say that you have 95,000 AAdvantage miles but want to book a round-trip business-class ticket to Europe before the devaluation. Sure, there are many ways to boost your account balance without flying, but if you have a card eligible for the 10% discount, you can do the following:

  1. Book your outbound flight for 50,000 miles, dropping your account balance to 45,000 miles
  2. Wait for the 10% rebate (5,000 miles) to post to your account
  3. Book your return flight for 50,000 miles

This last step will then trigger another 5,000-mile rebate into your account, which can then be used toward a future redemption.

Bottom Line

Making the most of your travel isn’t just about earning and redeeming points and miles, as it also requires knowing about and then taking advantage of various benefits on popular travel-rewards credit cards. The 10% mileage discount for cardholders of certain American Airlines co-branded credit cards is a perfect example of this. Now that 2016 is in full swing (and with the AAdvantage devaluation looming), it’s a perfect time to start thinking about maximizing this benefit!

What are your plans to utilize this benefit in 2016?

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®

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  • Earn 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $1,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to four companions traveling with you on the same reservation*
  • Enjoy Group 1 Boarding on American Airlines flights*
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases.1
  • Receive 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases when you use your card on American Airlines flights*
  • Double AAdvantage® miles on eligible American Airlines purchases*
  • Earn 10% of your redeemed AAdvantage® miles back — up to 10,000 AAdvantage® miles each calendar year*
Intro APR Regular APR Annual Fee Foreign Transaction Fee Credit Rating
N/A 14.24% - 22.24%* (Variable) $95, waived for first 12 months* 3.00% Excellent/Good