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

Sep 9, 2019

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While American Airlines isn’t known for having the most reliable award availability or the best rates, there are a few different discount programs that travelers can use to reduce the price of their award flights.

For domestic flights, certain cardholders can save 7,500 miles per round-trip through Reduced Mileage Awards. A new Economy Web Specials program offers domestic flights as cheap as 5,000 miles each way as well as discounted awards to the Caribbean, Europe, South America and more.

But today we are focusing on the original AAdvantage mileage-saving program: MileSAAver Off Peak. During select periods, AAdvantage members automatically save up to 25% off the standard economy award prices between select regions – no promo code needed.

Now is a sweet spot in the American Airlines AAdvantage award chart, because as of Sept. 7, seven of eight regions are eligible as off-peak awards.

Let’s take a look at when, where and how you can get these discounts.

In This Post

Regions and rates

Eight of the 13 regions on American Airlines’ award chart have off-peak rates. You won’t find off-peak rates for intra-U.S., Canada, Alaska, South America Region 2 (Argentina, most of Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay) or the South Pacific.

However, economy-class award flights to anywhere else that American Airlines flies are discounted at some part of the year. Note that the off-peak dates can vary whether you’re leaving the U.S. for that region or coming back to the U.S..

Between the contiguous
48 US states and:
Off Peak MileSAAver Discount Dates
Hawaii 20,000 22,500 11% To Hawaii: Aug. 11 to Nov. 18, Nov. 24 to Dec. 10 & Dec. 29 to Mar. 12

From Hawaii: Aug. 18 to Nov. 27, Dec. 3-25 & Jan. 7 to Mar. 19

Caribbean 12,500 15,000 17% Sept. 7 to Nov. 14 & Apr. 27 to May 20
Mexico 12,500 15,000 17% Sept. 7 to Nov. 14 & Apr. 27 to May 20
Central America 12,500 15,000 17% Sept. 7 to Nov. 14 & Apr. 27 to May 20
South America Region 1 17,500 20,000 13% Sept. 7 to Nov. 14 & Jan. 16 to June 14
Europe 22,500 30,000 25% Nov. 1 to Dec. 14 & Jan. 10 to Mar. 14
Asia Region 1 32,500 35,000 7% Generally July-Nov. & Jan-May. See exact dates below
Asia Region 2 32,500 35,000 7% See dates below

All of these award rates are detailed on the AAdvantage award chart:

Limitations

Before we get into the details for each region, let’s run through some of the general restrictions. First of all, you’re going to need to find saver award availability on American Airlines to get the off-peak pricing. And with American Airlines, that’s not always easy.

Off-peak pricing is only available for flights between the contiguous 48 states and select regions, and almost all of the regions require you to only fly American Airlines flights. So, you won’t be able to connect through to another destination served by a partner airline. That’s a bummer when trying to visit secondary cities that American Airlines may only operate seasonally to or not at all.

Europe

  • Off-peak rate: 22,500 miles each way vs. 30,000 standard MileSAAver rate
  • Off-peak travel dates: November 1 to December 14 and January 10 to March 14
  • Available on Oneworld partners? Yes — but beware of high taxes/fees
  • Destinations to consider: Rome (FCO), Milan (MXP), Prague (PRG), London(LHR), Zurich (ZRH)

The biggest discount by both percentage and total discount is between U.S. and Europe. For 3.5 months out of the year, you can save 7,500 miles each way — a 25% discount off the standard 30,000 miles each way.

For some European cities, there’s definitely a reason that November-March is an off-peak time, especially the further north you go. During the peak of winter, daylight hours are going to be a lot shorter and the temperatures much colder. However, don’t assume “off peak” means “miserable” for all options; fall and spring can be wonderful times to visit countries in southern Europe, such as Italy and Spain.

AA doesn’t add fuel surcharges and other fees to awards on AA-operated flights. Flying to Europe on Oneworld partner Finnair also won’t incur these fees. However, booking British Airways- and Iberia-operated flights across the Atlantic means you’ll be subject to costly fuel surcharges. For the cheapest out-of-pocket costs, limit your award searches to cities where AA flies, including:

  • Amsterdam, Netherlands (AMS)
  • Barcelona, Spain (BCN)
  • Dublin, Ireland (DUB)
  • Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)
  • London, England (LHR)
  • Madrid, Spain (MAD)
  • Manchester, England (MAN)
  • Milan, Italy (MXP)
  • Munich, Germany (MUC)
  • Paris, France (CDG)
  • Rome, Italy (FCO)
  • Zurich, Switzerland (ZRH)

American Airlines also offers flights to a number of destinations — such as Athens, Greece (ATH), Berlin, Germany (TXL), Bologna, Italy (BLQ) and Dubrovnik, Croatia (DBV). However, all of these seasonal routes conclude before off peak dates begin.

As one example of why you’ll want to stick to AA flights if possible, flying all the way from Los Angeles (LAX) to Istanbul (IST) for just 45,000 AAdvantage miles round-trip might seem like a great redemption. Plus, availability is wide-open in November and December.

But, after selecting your dates and flights, you might be shocked to see some very high taxes and fees. Although, interestingly, the taxes/fees on this route have dropped from $602 when we searched in March 2019 to “just” $497:

That’s because AA doesn’t serve Istanbul (IST) directly, so you’d have to fly British Airways for some segments. In addition to the steep BA fuel surcharges, flying BA-operated flights involves flying through London — which adds its own layer of fees. For some dates, the taxes and fees on these “free” flights are almost as much as purchasing flights outright.

However, if you’re able to find award flights on American Airlines, the taxes/fees will be significantly less. For example, for the same dates and route as above, the out of pocket cost drops by $392 round-trip if you can find flights operated by American Airlines across the Atlantic:

Long story short: If you’re set on a certain destination that isn’t served directly by AA, limit your out-of-pocket cost by choosing an itinerary with as many AA-operated flights as possible.

Central America

  • Countries included: Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama
  • Off-peak rate: 12,500 miles each way vs. 15,000 standard MileSAAver rate
  • Off-peak travel dates: Sept. 7 to Nov. 14 and April 27 to May 20
  • Not available on Oneworld partners
  • Destinations to consider: Panama City, Panama (PTY), San Jose, Costa Rica (SJO), Liberia, Costa Rica (LIR)

While it’s only available for about three months per year, you can fly to Central American destinations for the same 12,500 miles that it typically costs to fly within the U.S.. Just beware that hurricanes can affect some of these areas during the fall off-peak season. So, make sure to put the award taxes and fees on a credit card that offers weather delay/cancellation insurance.

Since you can’t fly on American Airlines partners, this discount is limited to only the places American Airlines flies. Destinations include: Belize City, Belize (BZE), Liberia, Costa Rica (LIR), San José, Costa Rica (SJO), San Salvador, El Salvador (SAL), Guatemala City, Guatemala (GUA), Roatán, Honduras (RTB), San Pedro Sula, Honduras (SAP), Tegucigalpa, Honduras (TGU), Managua, Nicaragua (MGA), Panama City, Panama (PTY)

Caribbean

  • Off-peak rate: 12,500 miles each way vs. 15,000 standard MileSAAver rate
  • Off-peak travel dates: Sept. 7 to Nov. 14 and April 27 to May 20
  • Not available on Oneworld partners
  • Destinations to consider: Aruba (AUA), Curacao (CUR), Barbados (BGI), Bermuda (BDA)

Like with Central America, you can fly to the Caribbean for the same standard saver economy award price as flying domestically for about three months out of the year. That’s a great deal considering you can fly all the way across the country and more for this price:

American Airlines doesn’t provide a specific list of countries and destinations that fall in the Caribbean category — only stating that the Caribbean includes Bermuda and the Bahamas. Cross-referencing a map with American Airlines’ destinations, the following destinations should be part of this region:

Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Bonaire, Cayman Islands, Cuba, Curaçao, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Sint Maarten, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands

Mexico

  • Off-peak rate: 12,500 miles each way vs. 15,000 standard MileSAAver rate
  • Off-peak travel dates: Sept. 7 to Nov. 14 and April 27 to May 20
  • Not available on Oneworld partners
  • Destinations to consider: Mexico City (MEX), San Jose Cabo (SJD), Cancún (CUN), Cozumel (CZM)

Just like the Central America and Caribbean regions, you can fly to Mexico during mid-September through mid-November and late April through mid-May for just 12,500 miles each way. This fall time range is during the peak of hurricane season, so make sure to pay taxes and fees with a credit card that protects for weather delays.

Mexican destinations served by American Airlines include: San José del Cabo (SJD), Mexico City (MEX), Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo (ZIH), Guadalajara (GDL), Puerto Vallarta (PVR), Cancún (CUN), Cozumel (CZM), Merida (MID), Chihuahua (CUU), Torreon (TRC), Monterrey (MTY), Mazatlan (MZT), San Luis Potosi (SLP), Aguascalientes (AGU), Leon/Guanajuato (BJX), Queretaro (QRO)

South America Region 1

  • Countries: Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Manaus (Brazil), Peru
  • Off-peak rate: 17,500 miles each way vs. 20,000 standard MileSAAver rate
  • Off-peak travel dates: Sept. 7 to Nov. 14 and Jan. 16 to June 14
  • Not available on Oneworld partners
  • Destinations to consider: Lima, Peru (LIM), Quito, Ecuador (UIO), Santa Cruz, Bolivia (VVI), Bogota, Columbia (BOG), Medellin, Colombia (MDE)

One of the regions with the broadest off-peak dates is South America Region 1, with a seven-month off-peak period. While the off-peak discount is just 2,500 miles each way, this discount brings the mileage cost of flying round-trip to parts of South America to just 35,000 miles.

Unfortunately, off-peak rates aren’t available for flights connecting through AA-operated cities to cities served by Oneworld partner LATAM. You’ll have to spend the full 20,000 miles each way to book award options from the US to connecting cities served by LATAM, such as Cusco, Peru — the launching point for treks and trains to the magnificent Machu Picchu.

Hawaii

  • Off-peak rate: 20,000 miles each way vs. 22,500 standard MileSAAver rate
  • Off-peak travel dates:
    • To Hawaii: Aug. 11 to Nov. 18, Nov. 24 to Dec. 10 and Dec. 29 to March 12
    • From Hawaii: Aug. 18 to Nov. 27, Dec. 3-25 and Jan. 7 to March 19
  • Not available on partners like Alaska
  • Destinations available: Honolulu (HNL), Kauai (LIH), Kahului (OGG) and Kailua-Kona (KOA)

It seems that Hawaii would never have an off-peak time. But — believe it or not — AA offers discounted award flights to Hawaii roughly half of the year.

AA flies to four airports (LIH, HNL, OGG, KOA) on four islands (Kauai, Oahu, Maui and “The Big Island” Hawaii). Unfortunately, you cannot tack on a connection to a more remote airport on Hawaiian Airlines using the same ticket — although island-hopping flight options on Hawaiian can be booked with AA miles for 7,500 miles each-way, and they’re also frequently available for very low paid prices.

While having an off-peak period covering most of August to March is generous, the discount is only 2,500 miles off the standard award rate. Plus, cash rates to Hawaii have been so cheap recently that it may be better to save your AA miles for another redemption and just pay cash for a Hawaii vacation.

Asia Region 1

  • Countries: Japan and South Korea
  • Off-peak rate: 32,500 miles each way vs. 35,000 standard MileSAAver rate
  • Off-peak travel dates:
    • To Japan: July 1 to Nov. 30 and Jan. 1 to April 30
    • From Japan: Sept. 1 to Dec. 31, Jan. 16 to April 19 and May 2-31
    • To Korea: July 1 to Nov. 30 and Jan. 1 to April 30
    • From Korea: Sept. 1 to Dec. 31 and Jan. 16 to May 31
  • Not available on Oneworld partners
  • Destinations available: Tokyo Narita (NRT), Tokyo Haneda (HND) and Seoul (ICN)

Unlike with award flights to Europe, you don’t have to worry about huge fuel surcharges on flights to Japan and South Korea. However, this region has its own limitations. As you aren’t able to connect onward on Oneworld partners, you’re limited to only the three destinations that American Airlines serves: Tokyo Narita (NRT), Tokyo Haneda (HND) and Seoul (ICN).

The advice used to be to search for award availability on the over-water flight first to back into award availability. However, AA has implemented married-segment logic to award flights, meaning that the nonstop flight may not be available but a connecting flight is available. While this can be maddening, it simplifies the award searching process: just search the route you want on AA’s website:

 

Asia Region 2

  • Countries: China and Hong Kong
  • Off-peak rate: 32,500 miles each way vs. 35,000 standard MileSAAver rate
  • Off-peak travel dates:
    • To China/Hong Kong: Jan. 1 to April 30, July 1 to Sept. 30 and Oct. 11 to Nov. 30
    • From China/Hong Kong: Feb. 1 to May 31, Sept. 1-19 and Oct. 2 to Dec. 31
  • Not available on Oneworld partners

Last but not least, you can fly to American Airlines destinations in China or Hong Kong for a slight discount for much of the year. But again, the discount is only limited to American Airlines operated flights, so your destinations are limited to Shanghai (PVG), Beijing (PEK) and Hong Kong (HKG).

With the discount being so small, I’d be tempted to pay the extra 2,500 miles each way price for flying on a partner with better service, more legroom and more seat width such as Japan Airlines or Cathay Pacific.

Boost your mileage account

If you need some extra miles to accommodate all the off-peak trips you’d like to plan, there are a number of ways to earn AAdvantage miles. The two quickest methods are buying miles or transferring points. However, if you have time, signing up for a credit card is the best way to accumulate miles.

Buying miles: American Airlines often runs buy miles sales which can drop the rate to buy miles to as low as 1.72 cents per mile. However, it seldom makes sense to buy miles for international economy awards. Instead, buying miles can make sense for incredible business- and first-class redemptions — like Qatar Qsuite to South Africa or American Airlines business class to Japan or Hong Kong.

Transferring miles: Your only transferable-point option for topping off your American Airlines account is Marriott Bonvoy points, which transfer at a 3:1 ratio. There’s a 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 Marriott points you transfer, meaning that you can get 25,000 AA miles when you transfer 60,000 Marriott points.

Credit cards: The best option for boosting your AAdvantage account is by signing up for credit cards. Here are the top options right now:

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® is currently offering a 50,000-mile sign-up bonus after spending $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. The reimbursed Global Entry fee will be handy for promptly getting you through immigration, while the Admirals Club membership — including access for you and two travel companions — will make your departure and layovers much more pleasant. You can even add up to 10 authorized users to the card for free so they can enjoy Admirals Club access as well. Between you, your 10 authorized users and two guests each, you can get up to 33 people into the Admirals Club from one annual fee.

If you’re looking for a no-annual-fee card with solid earning on everyday spend, the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card is offering a decent 10,000 bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after spending just $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

My go-to American Airlines card is the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®. The free checked bag on domestic itineraries, access to Reduced Mileage Awards and preferred boarding covers most of the benefits of entry-level elite status. And it earns 2x miles per dollar spent at gas stations, restaurants and American Airlines purchases. The sign-up bonus is currently 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

If you have a business, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® is offering a very generous 70,000 mile bonus after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening. This card has plenty of perks — such as a free checked bag on domestic itineraries and 2x miles on telecom merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and at gas stations. But it has earned its place in my wallet thanks to the 25% rebate on Wi-Fi purchases. Since this discount applies to Gogo monthly purchases, I get more in statement credits ($150) than the annual fee on this card ($99, waived the first 12 months).

Final Tips

Maximize your travel time by returning from a different city: AA doesn’t require you to book round-trip tickets when booking with miles, which gives you the freedom to travel on open-jaw itineraries. For example, fly from the U.S. to Paris (CDG). Take your time traveling through southern France, perhaps visiting Bordeaux for some incredible wine. Finish your trip down in Spain, and explore a different European culture before flying out of Madrid (MAD). No backtracking needed.

Featured photo by cristina gottardi/Unsplash

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, the 50,000 miles are worth $700. In addition, you can earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) toward elite status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year. As of July 23, 2017 this is the only card that offers Admirals Club lounge access so if you are an AA flyer this card might make sense for you.  Aside from lounge access the primary cardholder will receive a Global Entry application fee credit every 5 years, first checked bag free for up to 8 travel companions on domestic itineraries and a 25% discount on eligible in-flight purchases on American Airlines flights.

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More Things to Know
  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Admirals Club® membership for you and access for guests traveling with you
  • Complimentary Admirals Club® lounge access for authorized users
  • Earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
  • Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases
  • First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation
  • The standard variable APR for Citi Flex Plan is 17.24% - 25.24%, based on your creditworthiness. Citi Flex Plan offers are made available at Citi's discretion.
Intro APR on Purchases
N/A
Regular APR
17.24% - 25.24% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$450
Balance Transfer Fee
3% of each balance transfer; $5 minimum.
Recommended Credit
Excellent

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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