Your ultimate guide to American Airlines AAdvantage

Jan 31, 2021

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American Airlines AAdvantage miles have devalued over the last few years, but you can still get a ton of value out of the program. 

And now might be the time to do so. American has made several consumer-friendly changes in recent months, including extending elite status for AAdvantage members, eliminating most change fees and pausing mileage expiration. If you’re switching your airline loyalty to American, there are a few things to keep in mind before you start earning and redeeming American miles.

Interested in the program? Here, I’ll show you everything you need to know about the program, including the ins-and-outs of earning and burning AAdvantage miles. Consider it your one-stop-shop for everything AAdvantage.

Let’s get started!

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In This Post

American Airlines Partners

American Airplanes Parked on Tarmac
American is a Oneworld member, so you can earn and redeem miles with many different international airlines. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy)

American Airlines is part of the Oneworld alliance, so you can earn and redeem miles with a handful of international partners.

Likewise, American elite status members will have some reciprocal elite status benefits with these airlines. Think airline lounge access, extra baggage allowance and other perks. The perks you receive depend on your elite status level with American — don’t worry, we’ll discuss this more in-depth later in the article.

These are American’s current Oneworld partners:

  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

The airline also partners with a handful of airlines outside of Oneworld. These include:

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air (joining Oneworld in Spring, 2021)
  • Cape Air
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Etihad Airways
  • Fiji Airways
  • GOL Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Interjet
  • Seaborne Virgin Islands

American Airlines also partners with the major car rental companies like Hertz, Avis and Budget to earn miles on car rentals. Check out the airline’s car rental partner page for information on how many points you’ll earn. In some cases, those with elite status or an American Airlines credit card earn more points than other members.

Further, you can earn AAdvantage miles on hotel stays too:

  • American Airlines Hotels (Earn up to 10,000 miles each night)
  • Hyatt (500 miles each stay)
  • Intercontinental Hotels (Earn up to 2x miles per dollar spent at select Intercontinental hotels)
  • Marriott Bonvoy (Earn up to 2x miles per dollar spent at select Marriott hotels)
  • PointsHound (Earn up to 10,000 miles each night)
  • Rocketmiles (Earn up to 10,000 miles each night)
  • Wyndham (Earn up to 2x miles per dollar spent on all qualifying stays)

You’ll remember World of Hyatt previously awarded American Airlines Executive Platinum status to some lucky Globalist members. American Airlines Concierge Key members (the top tier in A.A.’s program) get automatic Hyatt Globalist status, so the benefits go both ways.

Elite status 

American Airlines A321T Business Class Cabin
American Airlines elite status can help you get upgraded to business class.  (Photo by Chris Dong/The Points Guy)

American has four public levels of elite status: Gold, Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum.

Concierge Key, which is invite-only, can be earned typically by spending at least $50,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) in a calendar year. That said, this number has not been officially published.

American reduced the requirements for earning elite status (or moving up a tier) in 2021 due to the pandemicThe cuts apply to Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs), Segments (EQSs), and Dollars (EQDs) for all elite status tiers. Here’s a breakdown of these levels.

Metric Gold Platinum Platinum Pro Executive Platinum
Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) 20,000 40,000 60,000 80,000
Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS) 20 45 70 95
Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) $2,000 $4,500 $7,000 $12,000

 

As an AAdvantage Gold, you’ll get several perks like upgrades on flights under 500 miles, a 40% elite mileage bonus, priority check-in, security and boarding and more.

On the other hand, Platinum members receive a 48-hour upgrade window, a 60% elite mileage bonus, complimentary Main Cabin Extra seats and two free checked bags.

Gold and Platinum members are also eligible for upgrades on flights longer than 500 miles, but you’ll have to use 500 Mile Upgrade certificates to request them. Gold and Platinum earn four 500 Mile Upgrades every 12,500 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) flown. They can also be purchased for $40 apiece.

You’ll need to use enough certificates to cover the entire length of your trip. For example, a 733-mile flight from New York (LGA) to Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) requires two certificates to upgrade. Upgrades aren’t confirmed, but your certificates are refunded if your upgrade doesn’t clear.

Platinum Pro is effectively an upgraded version of Platinum status. These members receive a 72-hour upgrade window, an 80% elite mileage bonus, complimentary Main Cabin Extra and preferred seats and two free checked bags. Those with Platinum Pro status and above do not need to use 500 Mile Upgrades to request upgrades on flights over 500 miles.

Finally, the top tier status level is Executive Platinum. Executive Platinum members will receive four systemwide upgrades, a 100-hour upgrade window, a 120% elite mileage bonus and more.

Each of these elite status tiers is assigned Oneworld elite status too. Each of these tiers entitles the elite status member to benefits on partner airlines.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Gold: Oneworld Ruby
  • Platinum: Oneworld Sapphire
  • Platinum Pro: Oneworld Sapphire
  • Executive Platinum: Oneworld Emerald

Related: What is American Airlines elite status worth in 2020?

How to earn AAdvantage miles 

You can earn AAdvantage miles by flying on American Airlines flights or partners, opening a co-branded credit card or spending through shopping portals or dining programs. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways you can earn AAdvantage miles.

Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy
(Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Fly on American Airlines

When you fly on American Airlines, you’ll earn miles according to the base price of your ticket minus taxes and fees. The amount of miles you earn also varies based on your AAdvantage elite status. The higher your status, the higher the number of miles you will earn.

Here’s how many miles each status tier earns per dollar spent:

  • No status – 5 miles
  • Gold – 7 miles
  • Platinum – 8 miles
  • Platinum Pro – 9 miles
  • Executive Platinum – 11 miles

For example, if you booked a round-trip American Airlines ticket from Philadelphia (PHL) to Los Angeles (LAX) that costs $192 and includes $20 in taxes, you would earn 960 miles ($192 x 5 miles per dollar) as an AAdvantage member without elite status.

However, if you were an Executive Platinum member, you’d earn 2,112 AAdvantage miles. 

Related: American Airlines launches new way for some flyers to earn double miles for a year

Fly with partners

Earn AAdvantage miles with American’s worldwide partners. (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

You can earn AAdvantage miles by flying through American’s partners. How you earn miles changes when you book a ticket on a partner’s website and add your AAdvantage number to the reservation. 

In this case, you’ll earn miles based on how long your flight is — just like EQMs. However, the exact earning rate depends on the fare class of your ticket. Here’s an example of the earning chart for British Airways-operated flights:

(Image courtesy of American Airlines)

As you can see, the lower economy fare classes earn smaller percentages of miles, while certain premium-class fares earn bonuses beyond 100%. You can see the fare class booked by looking at your e-ticket or calling the airline and asking. 

Related: How to earn miles in the American Airlines AAdvantage program

Earn AAdvantage miles through credit cards

Citi Advantage credit card
Quickly earn American miles with a cobranded credit card. (Photo by John Gribben for The Points Guy)

One of the easiest ways to earn American AAdvantage miles is through sign-up bonuses and everyday spending on co-branded credit cards.

Between Citi and Barclays, the two companies currently issue six American credit cards with different welcome bonuses and point-earning abilities.

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1x mile elsewhere. ($450 annual fee)
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on gas station, restaurant, and eligible American Airlines purchases and 1x mile elsewhere. ($99 annual fee, waived the first year)
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening. ($99 annual fee, waived for the first 12 months)
  • American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card: Earn 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on grocery store and eligible American Airlines purchases and 1x mile elsewhere. (No annual fee)
  • Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 60,000 bonus miles after making your first purchase in the first 90 days and paying the $99 annual fee. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on American Airlines purchases and 1 mile elsewhere.
  • Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard®: Earn up to 75,000 miles: Earn 65,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days and earn another 10,000 miles when a purchase is made on an employee card. Earn 2x AAdvantage miles on office supply, telecom, car rental and American Airlines purchases, and 1 mile elsewhere. ($95 annual fee)

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select, CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select, Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red, and Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Business card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

Earn AAdvantage miles through partners

You can also earn AAdvantage miles through American’s many partners, including online shopping or dining rewards programs.

AAdvantage eShopping mall

American Airlines’ AAdvantage eShopping mall awards bonus miles for everyday online purchases. Using the portal is simple: sign up for an account and find your merchant on the shopping portal before purchasing. 

By clicking through this site rather than going directly to the merchant, you’ll take home bonus miles in addition to the earnings you’ll get on the rewards credit card you use.

Each merchant offers a different amount of miles per dollar spent, so you could get a hefty haul on your shopping. Plus, the AAdvantage shopping portal occasionally offers spend-based bonuses.

Related: Maximizing shopping portals for your online purchases

AAdvantage Dining

(Photo by Fertnig/Getty Images)
(Photo by Fertnig/Getty Images)

AAdvantage Dining is similar to the AAdvantage shopping portal, but for eating out. Just sign up for an account, link your favorite credit cards, and you’ll earn miles when you dine at a participating restaurant. 

You can earn 5 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent as a VIP member, 3 AAdvantage miles per dollar spent as an online member and one AAdvantage mile per dollar spent as a member. 

You’ll qualify for online member status by simply opting in for email communications from AAdvantage Dining. Then, you’ll qualify for VIP status after dining with the program 11 times.

Related: 10 programs that reward you for dining out

How to redeem AAdvantage miles

American Airlines 737 MAX Aircraft at Gate
American has an award chart but also employs dynamic pricing. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

One of the most straightforward ways to redeem AAdvantage miles is on American-operated flights. American charges relatively reasonable mileage rates for international flights, though domestic flights are relatively standard amounts for the travel industry.

The program shifted to dynamic pricing on some tickets but kept an award chart for MileSAAver and partner award tickets.

Related: How to redeem miles with the American Airlines AAdvantage program

Things to know

I’ll talk more below about the best ways to spend your miles, but there are some redemptions you’ll want to avoid. 

Redemptions like Admirals Club memberships, flight upgrades or hotels provide almost always a poor rate.

TPG’s most recent valuations estimate American miles to be worth 1.4 cents apiece, and the above options are usually significantly lower. 

Additionally, if you hold the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, you’ll get Admirals Club membership anyway, so it’s best to avoid wasting your hard-earned miles this way.

Related: TPG readers’ worst-ever points and miles redemptions

Award chart

MileSAAver is the airline’s version of “saver” award space. All MileSAAver and partner award tickets price according to American’s award chart.

American’s award chart is broken down into the following regions: 

  • Contiguous 48 U.S. states & Canada
  • Alaska
  • Hawaii
  • Caribbean
  • Mexico
  • Central America
  • South America Region 1
  • South America Region 2
  • Europe, Asia Region 1
  • Asia Region 2
  • South Pacific

If it all sounds confusing, American publishes award charts for each region and even partner awards (more on that below). For example, if you wanted to fly from Dallas (DFW) to Rio (GIG) on American metal, it would fall under South America Region 2, including all of Brazil except for Manaus. 

Keep in mind a few things: the number of miles shown is for one-way travel, and each award is subject to taxes and fees starting from $5.60 per person. Also, three segments are permitted for each one-way award redeemed in the United States and Canada.

Partner awards

American partners with over a dozen airlines, many of which are world-renowned for their excellent business and first-class products. That means you can use your American miles to fly products such as Japan Airlines’ first-class from New York to Tokyo (80,000 miles each way) or Qatar Qsuite to the Maldives (70,000 miles).

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)

You’ll notice some differences when booking American Airlines partners, one of which is consistency in price. For example, you can expect to pay 57,500 miles when flying to Europe in business class. However, watch for carrier-imposed fees and surcharges when you book on partner airlines. British Airways is infamous for routinely tacking on $500 or more in taxes for Europe-bound flights.

Related: Searching Oneworld availability

Web Special and AAnytime awards

The airline also offers Web Special awards that are usually priced well below the MileSAAver rate. There are some excellent deals to be had here, including ultra-cheap domestic awards.

I’ll show you more sweet spots later, but here’s a quick example. This flight from Philadelphia (PHL) to Charlotte (CLT) is just 7,500 miles one-way:

PHL to CLT AA Award Ticket
(Image courtesy of American Airlines)

Not all Web Special tickets are cheaper than MileSAAver. Sometimes they’re discounted AAnytime awards. AAnytime awards are American’s “last-seat” award tickets. These are significantly more expensive than MileSAAver or Web Special awards but give you more choice in tickets.

For example, this last-minute flight from New York-JFK to London-Heathrow (LHR) doesn’t have MileSAAver space (which would cost 57,500 miles). Instead, you can book a Web Special award for 78,000 miles one-way or AAnytime for 400,000 miles. The only major difference is that you cannot change Web Special tickets, but you can cancel and reinstate your miles for free.

Web Special and AAnytime Pricing for JFK to LHR
(Image courtesy of American Airlines)

Web Special and AAnytime awards appear in award searches like any other award ticket. Just search for your ticket of choice and you’ll find them mixed in with MileSAAver tickets.

Related: Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage

American Airlines Business Extra

The American Airlines Business Extra program lets companies with at least two employees earn rewards for their employees’ travel and any AAdvantage miles the employees earn. 

This program is free, and the registration process is easy. By signing up, you can ‘double-dip’ on American and select Oneworld flights. Business Extra members earn 1x point per $5 spent on qualifying flights on American, British Airways, Iberia and Japan Airlines, and Finnair and Qantas flights sold by American.

The redemption options in the program vary from high quality to low value. And, depending on how many points you have at your disposal, you might be forced to pick some mid-tier redemptions before your points expire every two years.

Two of the worst possible redemption values involve Admirals Club access and elite status. An Admirals Club day pass requires 300 Business Extra points (after spending $1,500), while a full membership costs 3,300 points (after spending $16,500).

The cash prices of these would be $59 and $650, respectively (assuming you don’t have American Airlines elite status).

(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Daniel Ross/The Points Guy)

There are other ways to access Admirals Clubs, like opening the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®. This card provides full Admirals Club membership to the primary cardholder, plus Club access for authorized users.

You can also redeem 3,200 points ($16,000 of flight spending) for AAdvantage Gold status. This might make a nice gift to an employee who wouldn’t ordinarily qualify on their own, but you aren’t likely to get much value out of it. 

The best value is by using your Business Extra points for free flights and upgrades. It’s possible to redeem for award travel on American and British Airways, Iberia and Japan Airlines.

Upgrades are only valid on American metal. Note that you must be booked in a specific fare class to redeem your upgrade, and upgrades from discounted fare classes cost more than full-fare tickets.

Business Extra Upgrade Awards
(Image courtesy of American Airlines)

Related: Guide to earning and burning with American Airlines’ Business Extra program

Sweet spots

American Airlines A321T First Class Seat
Use your AAdvantage miles to fly in luxury on American’s A321T aircraft. (Photo by First Class Photography/Shutterstock)

There are some hidden gems in American’s award chart — let’s take a closer look!

Premium cabin flights to Japan or South Korea

American Airlines divides Asia into three award regions: Asia Region 1, Asia Region 2 and South Pacific. Asia 1 covers Japan and Korea, while Asia 2 includes China and Hong Kong.

Flights to the former are slightly cheaper in premium cabins (prices are for one-way flights):

The lower prices on premium flights to Asia 1 apply to American-operated flights and those on Oneworld partners such as Japan Airlines. This means you can book JAL first class from Los Angeles to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) for only 80,000 miles.

Screenshot from American Airlines
(Image courtesy of American Airlines)

That same ticket for the exact date is pricing out at over $14,000, so it’s an incredible deal.

Screenshot from Google Flights
(Image courtesy of Google Flights)

Related: Best Sweet Spots in the American Airlines AAdvantage Program

Qatar QSuite to the Middle East

Another one of my favorite redemptions is Qatar’s fantastic QSuite product — it’s why I opened my AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

(Photo courtesy of Becca Manheimer/The Points Guy)
(Photo courtesy of Becca Manheimer/The Points Guy)

Awards cost 70,000 miles each way between the U.S. and the Middle East or Indian Subcontinent. 75,000 miles each way from the U.S. will get you to destinations in Africa like Seychelles, Mauritius or South Africa. 

Off-peak awards

Another fantastic sweet spot is to use off-peak awards for travel outside the country. These are known as MileSAAver off-peak awards. That means if your trip is flexible, you can save quite a lot of miles.  Eight regions are eligible for MileSAAver off-peak and start at just 12,500 miles each way, but keep in mind that you’ll have to fly A.A. metal for almost all regions.

Screenshot from American Airlines
(Image courtesy of American Airlines)

Using the calendar above, you can search for flights that fall within the dates. That means you can fly from the U.S. to sunny Turks & Caicos (PLS) in Main Cabin for just 12,500 miles in November, as it falls under the Caribbean:

Screenshot from American Airlines
(Image courtesy of American Airlines)

Or from Seoul, which falls under Asia Region 1 to the contiguous U.S. for 32,500 miles in Main Cabin:

(Image courtesy of American Airlines)

Related: How to use off-peak pricing to save on American Airlines awards

Web Specials for premium flights

As discussed, while American still has a traditional award chart, much of the AAdvantage program consists of variable award pricing (called “Web Specials) for its flights. That sometimes works in your favor — especially when there are flights for as low as 5,000 AAdvantage miles one way.

But that’s not all — you can also find premium award availability as well. For example, I ran a search between New York-area airports (including JFK, LGA, and nearby Westchester Airport) and Miami (MIA). I first saw the AAnytime Level 1 pricing of 45,000 miles each way.

(Image courtesy of American Airlines)

But after scrolling down a bit, I found several premium Web Specials for 20,000 miles — 5,000 cheaper than the MileSAAver rate. You’ll know you’ve found a premium Web Special rate by clicking the “Details” button and searching for “Web Specials.

Screenshot from American Airlines
(Image courtesy of American Airlines)

Reduced mileage awards

American also publishes Reduced Mileage Awards every couple of months that allow you to save miles on award flights to or from eligible cities, as long as you have an eligible American Airlines co-branded credit card in your wallet. These rotating awards offer discounts of up to 7,500 miles on round-trip award tickets. 

You must call American at 800-882-8880 to book these, and the discount only applies to saver-level awards (though it can be used on both economy and premium class flights). Eligible cards include:

You can check here for eligible airports — just keep in mind that availability changes monthly. 

Nonstop award flights of less than 500 miles usually cost just 7,500 AAdvantage miles. These sub-500-mile award flights aren’t eligible for the full 7,500-mile round-trip discount, but a savings of 1,000 miles each way. This means that you’ll pay just 6,500 miles one-way for flights of less than 500 miles.

Bottom line

The American Airlines AAdvantage program is far from perfect. But if you know how to make it work, you can get value through premium seats on American or partner flights.

If you’re thinking of earning miles through the AAdvantage program, we recommend signing up for the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard. This card has a substantial welcome bonus after making a single purchase and paying the annual fee. Once miles are in your account, make sure to research the best ways to use them for low-cost domestic flights and international business and first-class.

Featured photo by Zach Griff / The Points Guy

Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new card in your first three months of card membership. Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at U.S. restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 bonus miles and 5,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $2,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months.
  • Plus, earn up to $100 back in statement credits for eligible purchases at US restaurants with your card within the first 3 months of membership.
  • Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

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