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Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage

Oct. 29, 2022
11 min read
American Airlines Boeing 777 JFK
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Editor's Note

We've updated this post with new information.

American Airlines AAdvantage is arguably one of the best loyalty programs out there. As it is the largest airline by passengers carried and has many Oneworld and non-alliance partners, you can redeem AAdvantage miles for travel to many destinations.

With the airline's move to dynamic pricing, it's harder to get significant value out of your AAdvantage miles. But it's still possible to get a ton of value from partner awards and select domestic ones.

Today we’ll look at some strategies you can use to maximize your American AAdvantage redemptions.

Redeem AAdvantage miles for American flights

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

Perhaps the most straightforward way to redeem your AAdvantage miles is on flights operated by American Airlines. To do so, go to American’s website and search for your award ticket.

American Airlines technically still publishes award charts for flights on its own metal. The award charts show MileSAAver and AAnytime rates, but you can also book discounted Web Special awards for select flights and dates. And the MileSAAver off-peak awards can provide a lot of value, as highlighted in these stories:

You can see the award chart for American-operated flights on the AAdvantage website. Here's a look at the American AAdvantage award chart for flights originating in the contiguous U.S. and Canada:

AA.COM

However, when you look for an award flight, you'll likely see many rates that don't appear on the award chart. That's because Web Special awards can discount the MileSAAver or AAnytime award price. And AAnytime awards actually have more than just the two levels listed.

In short, looking at the award chart for American-operated flights only provides limited value. If you want to know the price of an American-operated AAdvantage award, your best option is to visit the American Airlines website or mobile app and search for your award.

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When you look at the award results, consider whether you'd be willing to connect — or travel on an adjacent date, use an alternate airport or fly at a less convenient time — to redeem fewer miles. For example, consider these options for Thanksgiving travel:

AA.COM

If you're willing to fly out of Fort Lauderdale instead of Miami, you can fly nonstop for 19,500 miles. But, if you want to fly out of Miami, your best option on this date is likely to get up for the 8:16 a.m. departure and connect through Las Vegas. You might be able to save some miles or book a better itinerary if you fly on an adjacent date, so check your options if you have schedule flexibility.

Related: How TPG staffers would spend 1 million American Airlines AAdvantage miles

Redeem for flights on AAdvantage partners

ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

American’s membership in the Oneworld alliance means you can use your AAdvantage miles to book flights on some spectacular airlines, including Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Qatar Airways. Here’s a list of American’s current Oneworld partners:

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

And here's a list of American's other partners:

  • Air Tahiti Nui.
  • Cape Air.
  • China Southern Airlines.
  • Etihad Airways.
  • Fiji Airways.
  • GOL Airlines.
  • Hawaiian Airlines.
  • IndiGo.
  • JetBlue.
  • Silver Airways.

American Airlines still uses a fixed award chart for partner flights, which you can find on the American Airlines website. You’ll pay the same amount of miles on a given route no matter which partner airline you choose to fly with. However, carrier-imposed fees, routing rules and availability vary by partner.

Here's the AAdvantage partner award chart for one-way awards from the contiguous U.S. and Canada:

AA.COM

There are many truly aspirational redemptions you can book with your AAdvantage miles. Carriers such as Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Japan Airlines, Qatar and Qantas set the bar incredibly high no matter which cabin you book. Best of all, you can book most partner award tickets online.

Top AAdvantage partner redemptions

You could try our Finnair's new business-class seat. ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY

One of the best parts of the AAdvantage program is its partner award chart.

One of the best value partner awards is from the U.S. to Japan or South Korea, as AAdvantage designates these two countries as the “Asia 1” region. A one-way flight from the U.S. to Japan or South Korea costs 35,000 miles in economy, 50,000 miles in premium economy, 60,000 miles in business class or 80,000 miles in first class.

AA.COM

Flights to the rest of Asia are a little pricier. Still, you can fly Cathay Pacific business class to many Asian destinations for only 70,000 miles, which is a solid deal — especially given the carrier’s massive route network.

AA.COM

And you can fly Japan Airlines first class from the U.S. to many Asian destinations for 110,000 miles. However, note that your flight from Japan to your destination in Asia may be in business class, not first.

AA.COM

Another great option is booking flights from the U.S. to the Middle East or the Indian subcontinent for 40,000 miles one-way in economy or 70,000 miles one-way in business class. And booking flights from the U.S. to Africa will only set you back 75,000 miles each way in business class.

British Airways offers flights on many routes, but the taxes and fees can be high. So, you'll likely want to consider flying with other partners like Qatar or Royal Jordanian.

AA.COM

Air Tahiti Nui also offers a great product. There are now more ways than ever to fly to Tahiti using points and miles, and AAdvantage is one of your best options. Air Tahiti Nui flies daily between Los Angeles and Tahiti. You can book a one-way award for 40,000 AAdvantage miles in economy, 65,000 miles in premium economy or 80,000 miles in business class.

AA.COM

Of course, these are just a few examples of how the AAdvantage partner award chart can provide a ton of value. Look at the award chart and see what AAdvantage sweet spots stick out to you.

Related: The best sweet spots with American Airlines AAdvantage

Know when to use alternate programs

If your travel plans mean that you must fly on American Airlines, AAdvantage might not be the cheapest program to book your award.

For example, you might be able to leverage the British Airways distance-based award chart to book short, nonstop flights for less. You can book an economy flight to, from or within North America for just 7,500 British Airways Avios if it's 650 miles or less.

BRITISHAIRWAYS.COM

Meanwhile, a nonstop economy flight to, from or within North America that's 651 to 1,151 miles would be 9,000 Avios. And a nonstop flight between 1,152 and 2,000 miles would cost just 11,000 Avios. Using British Airways Avios to book nonstop domestic flights can provide excellent value, especially since it's relatively easy to earn Avios.

Related: How to book award flights using British Airways Avios

If you’re looking to fly in the forward cabins of the plane, consider booking American Airlines flights through Etihad Guest instead. Etihad’s award chart for American-operated flights mirrors what AAdvantage used to charge for its flights before its 2016 devaluation. Etihad often requires fewer miles to fly American-operated flights than AAdvantage.

WWW.ETIHADGUEST.COM

Knowing when it makes sense to not use the AAdvantage program to book American-operated flights can save your American miles for more valuable redemptions.

Related: Book this, not that: Oneworld award flights

Cancel AAdvantage awards for free

LUMINA IMAGES/GETTY IMAGES

In late 2020, American introduced a new policy that made the AAdvantage program significantly more valuable for most members: the ability to cancel awards until departure for free. Previously, only Executive Platinum elite members got this benefit.

Although we don't recommend booking awards speculatively, being able to cancel your award if your plans change, you find a better award option or you find a better price is valuable. Being able to cancel AAdvantage awards for free and get the miles deposited back into your account may encourage you to book through AAdvantage instead of a partner.

Related: How to change or cancel an American Airlines flight

How to earn American miles

OLEG BRESLAVTSEV/GETTY IMAGES

Before you can redeem American miles, you must earn American miles. As we discuss in our guide to earning American miles, it’s relatively easy to boost your balance. For example, you could earn miles when you:

But you may also find it worthwhile to add one or more American Airlines credit cards to your wallet. In particular, here's the sign-up bonus and earning rates for some of our favorite American Airlines cards:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 80,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after you spend $5,500 within the first three months of account opening. Plus, earn a total of 4 miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases through Dec. 31, 2022. After that, earn 2 miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases. Earn 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases.
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after you spend $2,500 within the first three months of account opening. Plus, earn 2 miles per dollar spent at gas stations, restaurants and on eligible American Airlines purchases. Earn 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases.
  • American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card: Earn 10,000 AAdvantage bonus miles and get a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 within the first three months of account opening. Plus, earn 2 miles per dollar spent at grocery stores and on eligible American Airlines purchases. Earn 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases.

Related: Best credit cards for American Airlines flyers

Bottom line

There are plenty of great ways to redeem American miles, but it helps to have a good idea of how to get solid value even before you start searching.

You’ll often get a much better value using your AAdvantage miles for partner flights, especially those to Asia and the Middle East. And if you want to redeem American miles to fly on an American-operated flight, look at all the award options and decide whether you're willing to add in an extra connection or travel at less popular times to snag a good deal.

Additional reporting by Ehsan Haque, Andrew Kunesh, Katie Genter, Richard Kerr and Joseph Hostetler.

Featured image by ZACH GRIFF/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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