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TPG reader Brian sent me a message on Facebook to ask about earning miles:
“If I use American Airlines gift cards to cover part (or all) of my fare, will I still earn AAdvantage miles on my flight?”
In order to maximize your flight rewards, it’s important to know which fares are eligible to earn miles. Generally, any flight paid for with cash will qualify, but airlines offer a variety of payment alternatives (like Delta’s Miles + Cash option), and it’s not always clear how fares purchased through these methods are classified. As airline-branded gift cards have gained popularity in recent years, Brian wants to know whether they count as a cash equivalent. Fortunately, the answer is yes.
Just about every airline sells electronic gift certificates in one form or another, but several carriers (including American and Southwest) offer physical gift cards that you can also find on the rack at major retailers, grocery stores and gas stations. These gift cards are treated like cash when you use them to buy airfare, so you’ll earn both redeemable miles and credits toward elite status whether your gift card covers the entire purchase or only part of it.
The same goes for airline vouchers (at least the ones that specify a dollar amount), as well as fares purchased with flexible or fixed-value points from a credit card loyalty program like Chase Ultimate Rewards or Citi ThankYou Rewards. So long as you book an eligible fare, you’ll earn rewards for your flight.
One thing to watch out for is that gift cards tend to come with a number of restrictions. For example, American Airlines gift cards can’t be redeemed toward upgrades or Admirals Club access (either memberships or one-day passes). Southwest explicitly limits gift cards to passenger travel and excludes incidentals like baggage fees and in-flight purchases. On the plus side, American and Southwest gift cards have no fees or expiration date, so you can use them when it best suits your travel plans.
Finally, keep in mind that the AAdvantage program will soon shift to a revenue-based earning system, so your mileage will be tied directly to how much you spend. That means you can figure out what sort of return you’ll get from redeeming a gift card based on your elite status level.
For more on earning miles with American Airlines, check out these posts:
- Earning American Airlines AAdvantage Miles Without Flying
- Which Card Is Best for AAdvantage Awards After the Devaluation?
- 21 Ways to Earn Airline Miles that You Might Not Know About