Guide to earning and burning with American Airlines’ Business Extra program
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with a promotion on select routes from Austin. It was originally published on May 8, 2019.
I’ve been a (mostly) loyal American Airlines and Oneworld flyer for the last several years. While I picked AA by accident (I happened to have a long-haul fight booked on British Airways and decided to do a status challenge), two things in particular have convinced me to keep my loyalty. The first is that American consistently offered cheap cash fares between Washington-Reagan (DCA) and Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), the route that accounted for 80 to 90% of my flying when I lived in the U.S. The second is that American actually offers a second method to help frequent travelers earn rewards in addition to its much better known AAdvantage program.
I’m talking about the American Airlines Business Extra program, which lets companies earn rewards for their employees’ travel in addition to any AAdvantage miles the employees earn. This program is free, and the registration process is easy. By signing up, you’ll be able to ‘double dip’ on AA and select Oneworld flights.
Today we’ll take a deep dive through the Business Extra program to make sure your business is earning the most possible rewards.
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Eligibility and registration
As the name suggests, this program is intended to help businesses both large and small earn rewards on their corporate travel. Many points enthusiasts would be surprised to learn that they’re eligible for business credit cards and rewards programs and that you don’t need to file any paperwork to form a sole proprietorship. You become one simply by doing business, which could be freelancing or selling items on sites like Etsy or Ebay.
You can register for a Business Extra account at this link, and while the program doesn’t ask for any verification of your business activity, I would strongly suggest being honest with the information you put on your application. Once you register and receive your account number, you should immediately save it to your AAdvantage profile. This way you’ll automatically earn rewards without having to manually enter the number for each flight you book. You can do this by logging into your AAdvantage account and clicking on the “Reservation Preferences” tab:
The terms and conditions on the Business Extra website also clearly indicate that the following groups are not eligible to register:
- Companies who have a corporate discount agreement with American Airlines, British Airways or Iberia (though they can negotiate limited participation in Business Extra directly with American Airlines)
- Travel agencies, wholesalers, consolidators or other resellers of travel
Like most loyalty programs, Business Extra offers several different ways to earn points.
When you attach your Business Extra number to your reservation, you’ll earn 1 point per $5 spent on flights operated by American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia. You’ll also earn (at the same rate) for flights operated by select codeshare participants including Finnair, Japan Airlines and Qantas on tickets issued by American Airlines that begin with 001. If your business address is located outside of the U.S. or Canada, your earning rate is actually a bit higher, as you’ll earn 2.5 points for every $10 spent.
Approved AACargo customers can also earn Business Extra points on their cargo shipments and can log on to their online accounts for complete details.
In addition to the standard earning rates on flights and cargo, Business Extra has been extremely generous with some of the promotions they’ve offered over the years, including 500 bonus points for taking a quick five-minute survey or 500 points for taking a single qualifying flight. You would normally have to spend $2,500 on airfare to earn that many points, so these promos are a great shortcut if you’re able to take advantage of them.
Business Extra will also routinely offer double points on certain routes. While I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to scoop up these points, this can be a great way to increase earnings on travel you already had planned. You have to register individually for these promotions through the website, but if you use the code AUSTIN20 you’ll earn double points on American’s newest domestic non-stop routes from Austin (AUS) to Boston (BOS) and San Jose (SJC) through Sept. 30, 2020.
American Express issues a corporate Business Extra card that can be rewarding for companies that are big spenders on American Airlines. You’ll earn up to 6% back on the first $1.5 million of eligible American Airlines fare purchases each year, though the rebate is only 1% during any quarter when your company has a negotiated corporate discount. The rebate is also only 4% if you’re purchasing a large amount of airfare on other airlines. Unless your company is fiercely loyal to American and values cash back over transferable points, it’s possible to earn an even better return on travel purchases by using a card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve or The Platinum Card® from American Express.
In addition to the flight discount, you’ll earn one Business Extra point per $20 spent on the card. Individual employees on your account can earn a $50 AA flight discount for every $5,000 they spend on the card, up to $1,000 in discounts each year.
The card carries a $55 annual fee, but this could easily be covered by the rewards you’d earn, especially for large companies. The Business Extra site even gives examples of how different types of organizations have redeemed their points:
While it might take you a while to save up enough points for a certain reward, you don’t have forever to act. All Business Extra points expire on Dec. 31 of the year two years after they were earned. So if you sign up today and earn points in November 2019, they will expire Dec. 31, 2021, no matter what account activity you have between now and then. This gives you a great incentive to earn and burn.
Of course, earning is just one part of the equation. Before determining how much Business Extra points are worth, it’s essential to consider the different awards available. The redemption options in the program vary from high quality to very bad 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.
Business Extra recently made it easier to redeem your hard-earned points by adding an online booking engine for flights and upgrade certificates. The new system is far from perfect, and you should probably still use ExpertFlyer to find available upgrade inventory before you head over to https://business.aa.com/ to book (but more on that later).
Elite status and lounge access
Two of the worst possible redemption values involve Admirals Club access and elite status. An Admirals Club day pass requires 300 Business Extra points, while a full membership costs 3,000. The cash prices of these would be $59 and $650 respectively (assuming you don’t have American Airlines elite status). To earn this many points from actual flying, you’d have to spend either $1,500 or $15,000 on flights. And there are many other ways to gain access to Admirals Clubs, including opening the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®. This card provides a full Admirals Club membership to the primary cardholder plus Admirals Club access for authorized users, which would likely be a much better value than using your Business Extra points in this fashion.
If elite status is your goal, the program allows you to redeem 3,200 points ($16,000 of flight spending) for AAdvantage Gold status. TPG Editor Nick Ewen values AA Gold status at $970, but that number is based on flying enough to earn it organically. While this might make a nice gift to an employee who wouldn’t ordinarily qualify on their own, as a personal redemption, you’re not likely to get much value out of it. Again, if you have points set to expire soon you should redeem them for something instead of letting them go to waste, but you can probably do better.
Generally speaking, you’ll get significantly more value by using your Business Extra points for free flights and upgrades. While it’s possible to redeem for award travel on both American and certain partner airlines, upgrades are only valid on AA metal.
Perhaps the single best upgrade is coded as “BXP1” — a one-segment upgrade valid within North America, including Hawaii and the Caribbean. This award costs 650 points, or ~$3,250 in airfare spending. If you took advantage of one of the 500-point bonus offers mentioned above, you’d only need to spend $750 on airfare to reach the threshold for an upgrade.
Let’s start with the bad news: This upgrade is not valid on the following fare codes: B, N, O, Q, or S. These are all basic economy or deeply-discounted economy fares, and it’s quite easy to check the fare code of your ticket before booking. Simply click on details and you’ll be able to see the fare code that corresponds to each of the three pricing options given. You might need to search for flexible fares in order to avoid the excluded fare codes.
Fortunately, if you do book an eligible fare class, you can redeem this upgrade on any American-operated flight within the U.S., including lie-flat business class seats on the carrier’s A321T (transcontinental) between New York-JFK and Los Angeles. You can confirm these upgrades at the time of booking and should be valid on any flight showing “C” upgrade space (Pro tip: you can easily search this inventory on ExpertFlyer).
For the flight shown above, you’d save about $500 by booking an economy ticket and upgrading to business (as opposed to buying the business-class ticket outright). However, the value of a lie-flat seat on a transcontinental, late-night flight may be worth even more to many travelers.
These specially-configured A321Ts also feature a first-class cabin with 10 reverse herringbone seats in a 1-1 configuration (similar to the seats you’d find on some of American’s long-haul jets). You can also use you your “BXP1” award to upgrade a paid business-class ticket to first class on any flight with “A” space, which is almost comically plentiful. These flights often sell for ~$1,500 one-way, meaning you could potentially save hundreds of dollars by buying a cheap business-class ticket and upgrading.
You can also redeem Business Extra points for international upgrades, and interestingly enough all international destinations (Asia, Europe, South America, etc.) are priced the same.
You have two options here:
- Upgrading a discounted ticket for 3,100 points (the same B, N, O, Q, and S fare codes are excluded from upgrades)
- Upgrading a full-fare ticket (only fare codes J or Y can be upgraded) for 1,200 points.
Again, you’ll need to have C space to upgrade, though bear in mind that it can be much trickier to find on international routes.
Unlike Admirals Club passes (which are mailed to your address), upgrade certificates are now electronic and should be delivered instantly. They are valid for one year from the date of issue, and travel must be completed by then. It’s also worth noting that upgrades are only valid for one segment. If you wanted to fly from Shanghai (PVG) to Washington-Reagan (DCA) through Los Angeles, you would need to redeem one award to upgrade the long-haul leg from Shanghai and another award to upgrade the domestic leg.
Redeeming your Business Extra points for free flights is probably the best award option. Although the program doesn’t publish a formal award chart for flight redemptions, they do have different pricing categories for many different flights. You can redeem for “PlanAhead” (sAAver) or Anytime awards. Here are a few good options for American-operated flights (all prices are for one-way, PlanAhead tickets in the main cabin):
- Within North America: 2,000 points
- Shuttle flights between Boston (BOS), Washington-Reagan and New York-LaGuardia (LGA): 1,400 points
- North America to Europe, Japan, China, South Korea or South Pacific: 4,400 points
The partner awards are incredibly expensive and include an annoying restriction: All itineraries must feature at least one segment on British Airways or Iberia, even if you’re flying within Africa.
While British Airways does operate a few interesting fifth freedom routes in Africa, this severely restricts the value of these partner awards. And if you’re flying on a longer international trip, having to route through Europe (especially London) could easily add several hundred dollars worth of taxes. Your best bet is to stick to American-operated flights for Business Extra redemptions, especially those within the U.S. and North America.
If you’re a business owner who flies primarily on American Airlines and Oneworld carriers, you absolutely should register your company for Business Extra. Unlike some complex multi-card strategies, this takes virtually no time on your part. Simply save your Business Extra number to your AA account and let the rewards pile up automatically while you fly.
Even if you’re only able to accumulate enough points for one or two domestic upgrades, that’s still better than nothing, especially if it’s free.
Featured photo by Ethan Steinberg/The Points Guy.
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