AA Mileage Earnings When Paying With Citi ThankYou Points & Cash

Nov 7, 2016

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Back in August, we posted about how you’ll earn American Airlines award and elite miles when booking through the Citi travel portal. TPG reader Casey asked in the comments about how mileage earnings would be calculated when splitting the purchase between points and cash. So, we booked a flight to test it out.

For my trip to Chicago for the Chicago Seminars, I took a convoluted route in order to test out American Airlines new 787-9 aircraft. This left me needing a one-way flight from Chicago (ORD) back home to Austin (AUS). Here’s how I used my Citi ThankYou points and the Citi travel portal to book this flight and — more importantly — how many miles I earned from the flights.

It’s important to know the fare and tax amounts for calculating AA award miles.

First, I found a cheap-ish flight via Google Flights and confirmed that this fare was available on American Airlines’ website. While on AA’s website, I noted the booking fare code (Q) and the fare ($84) and taxes ($29). These elements are necessary to calculate your American Airlines award and elite miles under AA’s new revenue-based mileage program.

Booked through AA.com, AAdvantage members would earn 1,302 Elite-Qualifying Miles (EQMs) for these flights. Based on the base fare ($83.72) plus carrier-imposed fees ($0), AAdvantage members also would earn the following award miles:

  • General members (5x): 419 AAdvantage miles
  • AAdvantage Gold (7x): 586 AAdvantage miles
  • AAdvantage Platinum (8x): 670 AAdvantage miles
  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum (11x): 921 AAdvantage miles
I found the same flight options at the same price on the Citi travel portal.
I found the same flight options at the same price on the Citi travel portal.

Now that I knew how much AA was selling these flights for, I logged in to the Citi travel portal to find the same flight options that I’d found through Google Flights and AA.com. Although I’ve seen the portal charge more for the same flights, this time it had the exact same cash price.

Since I have the Citi Prestige card, my ThankYou points can be redeemed at 1.6 cents per point toward American Airlines flights. This meant that this one-way flight would cost just 7,037 ThankYou points to purchase with points — which is less than even a one-way reduced mileage award would cost using AAdvantage miles.

However, effective July 23, 2017, American Airlines flights won’t get this preferred rate of 1.6 cents per point. ThankYou points will be redeemable for 1.25 cents for all flights, meaning that this same flight would cost 9,008 ThankYou points if purchased on or after that date next summer.

I chose to clear out the 2,325 TY points that were expiring first.
I chose to clear out the 2,325 TY points that were expiring first.

While I had enough points to cover the entire purchase, there are plenty of other ways to use Citi ThankYou points for maximum value. So, I’m not in a hurry to spend all of my rewards in this program. I did have 2,325 ThankYou points earned through a Citi bank account that were expiring at the end of next year. So, I selected this many ThankYou points to redeem for this flight — paying the rest with my Citi Prestige for its excellent travel insurance benefits.

After completing the booking through the Citi travel portal, I returned to AA.com to find the reservation showing in my account just a few minutes after booking. There was no need to take any steps to link the reservation to my account, likely thanks to listing my AAdvantage number on the Citi booking.

Flights booked through the Citi travel portal are still eligible for upgrades.
Flights booked through the Citi travel portal are still eligible for upgrades.

American Airlines elites may be relieved to find out that these tickets are still eligible for 500-mile upgrades. Executive Platinum members should get complimentary upgrades as if they booked the flights directly through AA.com.

Here are the mileage earnings for those flights.

Once back in Austin, I checked back the next day to see how the miles posted. Sure enough, these flights earned fully based on the American Airlines Special Fares chart. For the 802- and 184-mile flights, I earned 401 and 92 base AAdvantage miles. Thanks to my Platinum status, I also received a 60% bonus. All together, I earned 790 AAdvantage miles — compared to the 670 AAdvantage miles I would’ve earned booking these flights directly through American Airlines.

The 120 extra award miles isn’t anything to write home about. After all, the 790 award miles I earned on these flights is dwarfed by the 2,104 I would have earned on these same flights on July 31. Even so, it’s always nicer to get more miles than less.

A few interesting notes about how these miles posted:

  • American Airlines now lists the “method” the miles were earned. For all of my post-August 1 flights, the Method has been “fare.” However, these Citi ThankYou flights are listed as “distance” — which is an easy way of confirming that the miles are based on the Special Fares chart.
  • My 184 mile hop from DFW to AUS still earned 500 Elite-Qualifying Miles (EQMs). While you no longer earn a minimum of 500 award miles for <500-mile flights, the 500-mile minimum mileage guarantee still applies to EQMs.
  • There’s no indication of the booking code when the miles post; American Airlines simply lists “Y” for economy. Under the Special Fares chart, almost all economy fares earn 50% of flight miles as award miles, 1 EQM per mile flown and 10% of miles flown as Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) in 2017. However, full-fare economy booking codes Y and B earn at 100% award, 1.5 EQMs and 20% EQDs. Without checking the booking code on AA.com prior to booking your flights through the Citi travel portal, you’re not going to know if your flights posted using the correct code.

Bottom Line

For short flights, you
For short flights, you’re likely going to earn more miles booking directly with American Airlines.

It seems you can redeem as many or as few ThankYou points as you want for a booking through the Citi travel portal. This can come in handy if you have expiring ThankYou points or don’t have enough points to fully cover a redemption. Also, this can be a great way of “rounding down” your point balance ahead of a transfer to a ThankYou partner, so that you aren’t left with an odd number of points in your ThankYou account.

Regardless of whether you partially or fully cover your American Airlines flight purchase with ThankYou points, these flights are being credited based on the American Airlines Special Fares chart. If you’re focused on earning the most award miles from you booking, you’re going to want to book cheap per-mile flights through Citi travel portal and flights with a higher per-mile cost directly with American Airlines.

Featured image courtesy of American Airlines.

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