How Does American’s Reduced Mileage Award Program Work?

May 17, 2017

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“Reader Questions” are answered three days a week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

TPG reader Geraldine sent us a Facebook message after she tried booking an American Airlines reduced mileage award and ran into problems…

I just called to book an AA reduced mileage award and the agent wouldn’t let me because the destination is not on the list, even though the city of origin is. Could you clarify that rule?

TPG Reader Geraldine

AA’s reduced mileage award program offers certain AAdvantage award flights for lower prices than normal, based on selected cities that change every few months. Since the flights can run as low as 6,500 miles one-way with the discount, these awards can be extremely valuable. But the rules can also be a bit confusing, so let’s run through the basics.

First, in order to have access to reduced mileage awards, you need to have one of the American Airlines co-branded credit cards linked to your AAdvantage account, and different cards will get different mileage discounts. For instance, the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard or the AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard will get you a 7,500-mile discount on round-trip flights over 500 miles in each direction, but the Citi / AAdvantage Gold World Elite Mastercard will only get you a 5,000-mile discount for that same round-trip. Flights under 500 miles each way get a lower discount — again, the amount depends on which credit card you have.

Next, you’ll need to take a look at the current list of cities. Note that even within that list, not every city is available every month of the period. For instance, on the current list, Bakersfield, CA, is an eligible city for April, May, June and July, but West Palm Beach, FL, is only available in July, probably because it’ll be about 800 degrees there in July and alligators will be looking for frequent flyers to munch on.

IMG-ord-pbi-milesaaver
You’ll need to find MileSAAver space to get a reduced mileage award.

Finally, there needs to be low-level saver award space for the specific flight you want. That means when you search for mileage awards on aa.com, the flight has to be available at the bright green MileSAAver level for economy seats, not the dark green Anytime level. Don’t worry about the number of miles listed — just look for MileSAAver award availability. Yes, you can also get the discount on premium seats if there’s MileSAAver availability in that cabin on the flight you want.

If you can satisfy all these requirements, then congrats! You’re eligible for a reduced mileage award. You can’t book these awards online, but if you call American Airlines and ask for a reduced mileage award or give them the corresponding code, you should be able to book it without being charged the standard $30 phone booking fee, though you will get charged a $75 close-in booking fee if you’re less than 21 days from departure.

But hang on. What about Geraldine’s question? Does the listed city have to be your destination, or can it be your origin?

The answer is yes, it can be your origin. Even though AA refers to the list as “destinations,” you should be able to get the discount so long as your city is either an origin or a destination but not a transit city (meaning a city between your origin and destination). Also, both your origin and destination cities must be within the 48 continental United States or Canada.

Then why did the American agent tell Geraldine that she couldn’t book a reduced mileage award with a listed city as an origin? Either the agent didn’t understand the rules or something else was amiss — perhaps there wasn’t MileSAAver availability on the particular flight Geraldine wanted or the destination was outside the US or Canada — and the agent mistakenly thought the issue was that the city was an origin and not a destination. You might be surprised to learn that it’s not at all unusual for customer service agents to be incorrect. In fact, it happens all the time, and not just at American. That’s why if you get an answer you think is wrong, you should always politely thank the agent and then call back and try again with someone else who will hopefully be more knowledgable.

So if it’s not too late, Geraldine, double-check that you’re meeting the rest of the requirements for reduced mileage awards, and then call American back and try again. Good luck and thanks for the question, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook  or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

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