How to redeem miles with the American Airlines AAdvantage program

Apr 20, 2020

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Editor’s note: At TPG, our top priority is providing our readers with the information needed to make educated decisions about travel and rewards-earning strategy. This is not the best time to travel, domestically or internationally, as airlines have cut major parts of their route networks. But we are sharing this information to provide value for future travel once coronavirus concerns have subsided.

This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

It’s true that American miles have devalued over the last few years (due to factors like stingy business class availability, migrating to dynamic pricing, etc.), there are plenty of ways to maximize redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage. Yes, American provides an extensive network of exciting and practical domestic and international routes, but it’s also a part of the Oneworld alliance and has over 15 airline partners — many of which offer some of the most coveted experiences in the skies.

Because of this, your AAdvantage miles are extremely flexible, and can even be used for aspirational luxury on Qatar, Etihad and other airlines with stellar hard products, both in economy and premium classes. While American has continued to add partners to its online award search engine (most recently Cathay Pacific and Seaborne Airlines), a few still do not appear, so you need to be creative in how you search.

I’ll show you how to redeem American Airlines miles, and touch on the process of redeeming for American and partner-operated flights. I’ll also alert you to alternate (and poor) ways to redeem your miles.

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In This Post

Redeem miles on American flights

American Airlines plane landing at Sint Maarten Airport (SXM) in January of 2017. (Photo by Clint Henderson/The Points Guy)
Using your AAdvantage miles on American can offer some solid value in the right circumstances. (Photo by Clint Henderson/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 has shifted to dynamic pricing, though it hasn’t yet removed its partner award chart (we’ll get to that later).

American uses a region-based chart for pricing awards. While no price is any longer a guarantee, you should still be able to find flights such as:

  • 60,000 miles for an economy round-trip flight to Chile
  • 57,500 miles for a business class one-way flight to Europe
  • 12,500 for a domestic economy one-way flight

The difference is that now you may find the same business-class flight to Europe for 200,000+ miles, or as low as 50,000 miles. Or that domestic economy flight for 50,000+ miles, or as low as 5,000 miles. Dynamic pricing rewards those with a flexible schedule, and punishes everyone else.

American launched Economy Web Specials in 2018, and it has quickly expanded to other regions. These awards start at just 5,000 miles each way, making for awesome low-priced domestic and international redemptions. In the past, we’ve even seen American offer Flagship First Class tickets to Japan for just 55,000 AAdvantage miles one-way.

American also publishes reduced mileage awards every couple months, allowing you to save miles on award flights to or from eligible cities that rotate every few months, so be sure to bookmark our American Airlines Reduced Mileage Awards page for up-to-date information. To receive these deals, you must have an eligible American Airlines cobranded credit card in your wallet, including:

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum 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.

Interested in booking a Reduced Mileage Award? Just note that you must call to book these, and the discount only applies to saver-level awards (though it can be used on both economy and premium class flights).

Actually redeeming American miles for its own flights is simple: head to the American Airlines website and search for your award ticket. While American isn’t known for having plentiful award availability, you can find good deals when searching for awards far in advance. You can also use ExpertFlyer (which is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) to search for this award space up to a week at a time, and if you can’t find it initially, premium subscribers can set alerts to receive an email when a spot opens up.

Make sure to check out our articles on the best ways to redeem American miles and best business-class awards you can book with AAdvantage miles.

Related: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

Redeem miles on partner flights

Flights on partner airlines, like Qatar’s incredible Qsuite, can be a terrific use of AAdvantage miles. (Photo by Emily McNutt/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 — no amazing deals, but no 200,000-mile pricing, either.

Also watch for carrier-imposed fees and surcharges. British Airways is infamous for routinely tacking on $500 or more in surcharges for Europe-bound flights. These are passed on to AAdvantage members in addition to the miles they’ll spend.

That’s not to say there’s no good AAdvantage partner redemptions — it’s quite the opposite, in fact. As discussed earlier, American Airlines partners with many world-renowned airlines that have stellar business- and first-class products with extremely low carrier-imposed fees.

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 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
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Interjet
  • Seaborne Airlines

You can book most of these partners online — only two (China Southern Airlines and Interjet) require you to call. At the time of writing, you can book the following airlines on American’s website in addition to American-operated flights:

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cape Air
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Etihad Airways
  • Fiji Airways
  • Finnair
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas Airways
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines
  • S7 Airlines
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

For the few not on this list, you can search for partner awards on the airline’s own website for saver availability, and then call in to book with American Airlines. You shouldn’t encounter this problem often, as the main players are bookable online.

Related: Searching Oneworld availability

When you call American, the phone agent will give you a quote for both mileage and taxes and fees. Most of the time, these taxes and fees are the same as quoted on the partner’s own website, but may vary depending on the award.

There are very real steps you can take to succeed via phone call with airline agents. Ensure you note specific flight numbers when you locate an available partner award seat. Instead of saying, “I’m hoping to use my miles to fly from New York-JFK to Guangzhou (CAN),” and then relying on the agent to find the award space, say something like, “I’ve found award space on China Southern flight X, departing on date Y, but I can’t book it online. Can you please help?” Many (most?) phone agents may not be familiar with all rules, or even know all of an airline’s individual partners. If you’ve been in the points and miles world in a while, you likely know more than most airline agents.

Redeem miles for rental cars, hotels or merchandise

(Photo by thegiffary/Shutterstock)
(Photo by thegiffary/Shutterstock.)

You can redeem AAdvantage miles for many other travel-related things, such as:

  • Flight upgrades
  • Admirals Club membership
  • Merchandise
  • Rental cars
  • Hotel stays
  • Charities (such as Miles of Hope, Miles for Kids in Need, etc.)

These redemptions 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. For example, we priced out a one-day economy car rental in Los Angeles through Dollar and were quoted 4,200 miles. The same rental costs just $24.93 after taxes and fees, giving you a redemption value of just 0.59 cents per mile. Bad idea!

Obviously, redemption values for things other than flights will vary, but the general consensus here at TPG is simple: you should do everything you can to redeem your AAdvantage miles only for award flights. This will give you the most bang-for-your-mile, especially when redeemed for aspirational partner awards.

Related: The best sweet spots in the American Airlines program

Bottom line

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to redeeming AAdvantage miles. Make sure to do your research and find the best routes for your redemption, and don’t rely solely on American’s website for award availability. After all, the best option for your next trip abroad may not be on American but on one of its many alliance or non-alliance partners. Just be sure to watch out for pesky fuel surcharges.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

Joseph Hostetler contributed to this post.

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