Your ultimate guide to American Airlines AAdvantage

Sep 22, 2020

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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 through the end of 2020. If you’re thinking of jumping ship to American, there’s a lot you’ll need to know before you start earning and redeeming American miles.

Here’s everything you need to know about the American Airlines AAdvantage program.

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In This Post

American Airlines Partners

American Airlines is part of the Oneworld alliance and also partners with several non-alliance members. 

Here’s a list of all of American’s current partners:

Oneworld airline 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

Non-alliance airline partners:

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air
  • Cape Air
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Etihad Airways
  • Fiji Airways
  • GOL Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Interjet
  • Seaborne Virgin Islands

Besides airline partners, American Airlines also partners with the major car rental companies like Hertz, Avis and Budget to earn miles on car rentals.

You can also earn AAdvantage miles on hotel stays:

  • 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 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.

American reduced the requirements for earning elite status (or moving up a tier) in 2020 due to the pandemic. The 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) 15,000 30,000 45,000 60,000
Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS) 15 30 45 60
Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) $1,500 $4,000 $6,000 $9,000

 

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

Platinum Pro members receive a 72-hour upgrade window, an 80% elite mileage bonus, complimentary Main Cabin Extra and preferred seats and two free checked bags. 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.

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. 

Fly with partners

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:

Screenshot from 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 

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.

  • 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.

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

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

AAdvantage Dining

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.

How to redeem AAdvantage miles

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 has shifted to dynamic pricing but hasn’t yet removed its partner award chart.

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 rental cars 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.

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

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 gain access to 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 lovely 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. While it’s possible to redeem for award travel on American and certain partner airlines, upgrades are only valid on American metal. 

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

Sweet spots 

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
Screenshot from 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
Screenshot from 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 bit 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
Screenshot from 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
Screenshot from American Airlines

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

Screenshot from American Airlines

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

Web specials for premium flights

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 (which includes JFK, LGA, and nearby Westchester Airport) and Miami (MIA). I first saw the AAnytime Level 1 pricing of 45,000 miles each way.

Screenshot from 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
Screenshot from 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 September, October and November eligible airports and 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 score big on premium flights on American or partner airlines.

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

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