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Best Routes for AA’s New 7,500-Mile Award Level

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TPG Contributor JT Genter takes a look at the best options for using American’s new award level for flights under 500 miles in length.

While most of the changes to the AAdvantage program on March 22 were negative, there were also some positive updates. One of these is certainly the addition of the 7,500-mile award level for one-way, nonstop award flights under 500 miles.

However, the usefulness of this award chart level is highly dependent on where you’re based. For many of us living in “spoke cities,” we have just one option within 500 miles: an AA hub. However, if you live in — or fly out of — an American Airlines hub like DFW, you may have dozens of options at your disposal. The question for those based near AA hubs: Which are the best routes for taking advantage of this new award level?

Criteria for the “Best Routes”

American Airlines is adding brand new Embraer ERJ-175s to more and more shorter routes.
American Airlines is adding brand-new Embraer ERJ-175s to more shorter routes.

1. Per the most-recent TPG valuation, we estimate the value of American Airlines miles at 1.5 cents each. So, if you have the option to fly these <500-mile routes for less than $120 each way (factoring in TSA fees), you should consider purchasing a paid fare instead. For this article, I used Bureau of Transportation Statistics data to rule out routes that are typically cheap to fly nonstop on any airline.

2. Getting to the airport, checking in, clearing security, boarding, taxiing, flying, arriving, etc. can make even a short flight a long ordeal. So, I filtered out most routes that’d take less than 4 hours each way to drive.

3. These routes are only useful if they actually have award seat availability. Using ExpertFlyer, I compiled the average number of award seats for all of these routes for Fridays in August — a perfect time for a weekend getaway. Any routes that didn’t have MileSAAver award seats were excluded.

4. To make this relevant to the most people, I also discarded any airport pairings that serve less than 180 passengers per day.

Charlotte (CLT)

All 56 airports within 500 miles of CLT that have a nonstop flight on AA.

This former US Airways hub is still a very active airport for American Airlines. There are a whopping 56 options within 500 miles, with many of these routes only served by AA.

AA’s monopoly over some of these routes results in some astronomical fares — at least until AA is challenged by another airline. This is the case for Nashville, where AA is charging at least $379 round-trip until August 6. Southwest begins flying this route August 7, and AA drops its fares that same day. If you’re looking for a summer getaway to Music City, your best option is likely using miles.

Destination Direct Miles Average Q4 Fare
(one-way)
Driving Time
(hrs)
Award Seats
(avg Fri in August)
Washington, DC (WAS) 361 $198 6.1 23
Philadelphia, PA (PHL) 449 $204 9.0 12
Orlando, FL (MCO) 468 $245 7.7 25
Nashville, TN (BNA) 328 $265 6.6 7
Indianapolis, IN (IND) 427 $219 9.4 11
Columbus, OH (CMH) 347 $242 7.1 6

Routes that satisfy the other criteria but are excluded for having too few award seats: Pittsburgh (PIT), Cleveland (CLE) and Cincinnati (CVG).

Chicago (ORD)

ORD-based flyers have 44 airports within 500 miles served by AA.

With 44 nonstop options within 500 miles, Chicago-based travelers have plenty of options from which to choose. The problem is that for most of the routes I checked there was hardly any award flight availability! Just four routes averaged more than one award seat per day for the dates we checked.

Destination Direct Miles Average Q4 Fare
(one-way)
Driving Time
(hrs)
Award Seats
(avg Fri in August)
Kansas City, MO (MCI) 405 $178 8.0 3
Detroit, MI (DTW) 235 $180 4.6 4
St. Louis, MO (STL) 258 $179 4.7 15
Cincinnati, OH (CVG) 264 $310 4.7 2

Routes that satisfy the other criteria but are excluded for having too few award seats: Cleveland OH (CLE), Columbus OH (CMH), Pittsburgh (PIT), Omaha (OMA), Memphis (MEM), Louisville (SDF), Des Moines (DSM), Knoxville (TYS), Buffalo, NY (BUF), Nashville (BNA).

Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)

AA has 46 domestic routes within 500 miles of its headquarters at DFW.

American Airlines’ largest hub is Dallas (DFW), and it shows: AA has 46 destinations within 500 miles. However, many of these are close enough to drive to or are very small markets. Also, American Airlines is facing competition from Southwest (out of Dallas’ Love Field) or by a low-cost carrier such as Spirit. So, there are just five airports that met all of the criteria.

Destination Direct Miles Average Q4 Fare
(one-way)
Driving Time
(hrs)
Award Seats
(avg Fri in August)
San Antonio, TX (SAT) 248 $175 4.2 28
Kansas City, MO (MCI) 460 $164 8.2 18
Memphis, TN (MEM) 431 $182 6.9 4
Midland/Odessa, TX (MAF) 319 $192 6.2 19
Tulsa, OK (TUL) 237 $153 4.2 7

Routes that satisfy the other criteria but are excluded for having too few award seats: New Orleans (MSY), Lubbock (LBB), Little Rock (LIT), Amarillo (AMA), Corpus Christi (CRP).

Los Angeles (LAX)

LAX-based travelers have just 9 options for the new 7,500-mile award chart.

Although American Airlines is expanding as fast as possible from LAX, there are only nine nonstop routes within 500 miles. However, even these aren’t great options for taking advantage of the <500-mile award flight option, due to stiff competition keeping prices low on these routes. Make sure that the paid fares for your planned travel dates justify redeeming miles for an award flight.

Destination Direct Miles Average Q4 Fare
(one-way)
Driving Time
(hrs)
Award Seats
(avg Fri in August)
San Francisco, CA (SFO) 372 $144 6.3 9
Sacramento, CA (SMF) 404 $142 6.3 14
Phoenix, AZ (PHX) 370 $155 5.9 7

Routes that satisfy the other criteria but are excluded for having too few award seats: Reno (RNO), Tucson (TUS), Las Vegas (LAS).

Miami (MIA)

While AA has 122 destinations from MIA, just 9 routes are eligible under the new award level.
While AA has 122 destinations from MIA, just 9 routes are eligible under the new award level.

Even though MIA is an American Airlines hub, it only has seven qualifying options within 500 miles — thanks to its location on the US map and 7,500-mile flights being limited to the “contiguous 48 US states and Canada.” Even Atlanta is almost 600 miles away! Orlando and Key West are within driving distance. So, I checked all five other destinations. Sadly, only one destination (TPA) has any award seats on Fridays in August — but you might have better luck on other dates.

Destination Direct Miles Average Q4 Fare
(one-way)
Driving Time
(hrs)
Award Seats
(avg Fri in August)
Tampa, FL (TPA) 204 $134 4.1 12
Jacksonville, FL (JAX) 335 $172 5.0 0
Charleston, SC (CHS) 489 $194 8.8 0
Gainesville, FL (GNV) 294 ** 4.9 0
Tallahassee, FL (TLH) 402 ** 7.1 0

**Comparable BTS data not available

New York City (JFK/LGA)

From NYC’s three airports (LGA/JFK/EWR), AA serves 19 nonstop routes within 500 miles.

If you’re NYC-based, you have 19 destinations within 500 miles from which to choose from either LaGuardia (LGA) or John F. Kennedy (JFK). There’s just one <500-mile option from Newark (EWR): Philadelphia (PHL). For that route, you’re likely to save time and money taking the train.

Despite plenty of competition from dozens of other airlines out of NYC, there are some routes that are both expensive and far — especially if you’re one of the many NYC residents without a car.

The best uses of these routes might be for those flying to NYC — rather than from NYC. Considering the cornucopia of flight options and flight deals out of the NYC airports, residents of cities within 500 miles of NYC may get great value out of a quick 7,500-mile positioning award flight to NYC.

Destination Direct Miles Average Q4 Fare
(one-way)
Driving Time
(hrs)
Award Seats
(avg Fri in August)
Washington, DC (WAS) 249 $205 3.8 61
Pittsburgh, PA (PIT) 375 $254 6.0 11
Greensboro, NC (GSO) 492 $227 8.5 7
Richmond, VA (RIC) 325 $298 5.5 11

Routes that satisfy the other criteria but are excluded for having too few award seats: Norfolk (ORF), Cleveland (CLE), Raleigh/Durham (RDU)

Philadelphia (PHL)

AA serves 50 airports within 500 miles of PHL — including three Canadian options which qualify for the 7,500-mile award level.

Although there are 50 routes that qualify for the 7,500-mile award level, a vast majority of American Airlines’ routes from PHL are small routes — some served by just one flight per day. Depending on your travel plans, some of these routes may be worth a look.

However, there are plenty of larger routes that are perfect for the 7,500-mile award level. If you need to hop over to Charlotte, you can redeem 7,500 AA miles to avoid a 9+ hour drive. Fares between Philadelphia and Columbus, OH are typically high, and driving between the two cities would take a good part of a day. Thankfully, there were at least 11 award seats on each day I checked.

Destination Direct Miles Average Q4 Fare
(one-way)
Driving Time
(hrs)
Award Seats
(avg Fri in August)
Boston, MA (BOS) 289 $169 5.1 21
Charlotte, NC (CLT) 449 $204 9.1 10
Raleigh, NC (RDU) 337 $208 6.6 7
Pittsburgh, PA (PIT) 268 $277 4.9 6
Columbus, OH (CMH) 406 $263 7.4 15
Greensboro, NC (GSO) 365 $199 7.1 9

Routes that satisfy the other criteria but are excluded for having too few award seats: Cleveland (CLE) and Detroit (DTW).

Phoenix (PHX)

PHX-based travelers have 19 eligible routes, most located in southern California.

Former US Airways headquarters and current American Airlines hub Phoenix (PHX) has 19 routes inside 500 miles. As one can see from the map, most of these are bunched in southern California. Since many of these are small routes, only five met my filters — and only two of those routes has any award availability on the dates I checked.

Destination Direct Miles Average Q4 Fare
(one-way)
Driving Time
(hrs)
Award Seats
(avg Fri in August)
Los Angeles, CA (LAX) 370 $155 5.9 11
San Diego, CA (SAN) 304 $163 5.8 2

Routes that satisfy the other criteria but are excluded for having no award seats: Las Vegas (LAS), Albuquerque (ABQ) and El Paso (ELP).

Washington, DC (DCA)

AA serves 38 routes from DC’s airports (DCA/IAD), but you might have trouble finding any saver award availability for many routes.

Washington, DC’s Reagan airport (DCA) has 38 options within 500 miles. American Airlines controls nearly half of the passenger traffic out of DCA, and the lack of strong competition leads to high average fares. Also, heavy vehicle traffic can cause long drives, making flying even more attractive. This seems to be leading to steep competition for the award seats that AA releases, with only four routes having any award seats. Unless you’re flying to NYC, you might have trouble finding award seats.

Destination Direct Miles Average Q4 Fare
(one-way)
Driving Time
(hrs)
Award Seats
(avg Fri in August)
New York City, NY (NYC) 249 $205 3.8 56
Charlotte, NC (CLT) 361 $198 6.1 5
Raleigh, NC (RDU) 255 $185 4.3 9
Columbia, SC (CAE) 438 $201 7.2 2

Routes that satisfy the other criteria but are excluded for having too no award seats: Boston (BOS), Detroit (DTW), Hartford (BDL), Charleston SC (CHS), Cleveland (CLE), Louisville (SDF), Buffalo (BUF), Cincinnati (CVG), Portland ME (PWM), Albany (ALB), Dayton (DAY), Greenville (GSP), Rochester (ROC), Burlington (BTV), Syracuse (SYR).

Bottom Line

If you live in an American Airlines hub — and retained AA miles after the March 22 devaluation — these sub-500 mile routes can provide an excellent opportunity to stretch your miles. However, with many routes having limited award availability, it might be frustrating to find a use of this new award chart feature. Hopefully, this article helped you find some trip possibilities!

If you’re interested in one of the routes I listed with no award availability, don’t worry; that doesn’t mean that there’s never award availability. Make sure to search AA.com to see if there’s any award availability for your travel dates. If not, we recommend using ExpertFlyer, where you can set email alerts for when award availability opens up.

Sources

What is your favorite <500 mile American Airlines route?

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