Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage

Oct 8, 2019

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American Airlines’ AAdvantage program has the potential to be very lucrative. But more so than other carriers, you often need to know what you’re looking for to get maximum value. The carrier has a frustrating way of releasing award space that can make it challenging to book award tickets, and with several partners only bookable over the phone, it isn’t as simple as logging on, searching and booking the exact award you want.

That said, more and more partners have been added to over the last couple of years, so you can still get some solid value from your AAdvantage miles. Today we’ll take a look at some of the strategies you can use to maximize your American redemptions.

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Redeem AAdvantage miles for American Airlines flights

A plane sits on the tarmac in front of an American Airlines hangar at La Guardia airport in New York City on Independence Day July 4,2018. (Photo by Eva HAMBACH / AFP) (Photo credit should read EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images)
Using your AAdvantage miles on American can offer some solid value in the right circumstances. (Photo by EVA HAMBACH/AFP/Getty Images.)

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. While it appears that the program is moving toward more dynamic pricing, it hasn’t (yet) followed Delta and United in removing its award chart entirely.

American uses a region-based chart for pricing awards, and it doesn’t change when you add connecting legs, so those flying out of smaller airports can redeem awards at the same rates as those flying out of American hubs. Here’s a sampling of American’s award chart (prices are one-way and apply to flights starting in the U.S.):

As noted above, the carrier is starting to move beyond these award rates. Last year saw the launch of Economy Web Specials, and it quickly expanded to other cities. These awards started at just 5,000 AAdvantage miles each way, making for awesome low-priced domestic redemptions.

The carrier 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 cobranded credit card in your wallet (we’ll get to that).

Actually redeeming American miles for its own flights is simple: just load American’s site and search for your award ticket. American isn’t known for having plentiful award availability, but you can find good deals when searching for awards far in advance. You can also use ExpertFlyer 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.

Related: Beginner’s guide to award searches on ExpertFlyer

We’ve covered the best ways to redeem AAdvantage miles here at TPG before, so 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.

Utilize top Oneworld partners

American’s membership in the Oneworld alliance means that you can use your AAdvantage miles to book flights on some of the world’s best airlines:

  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • LATAM Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

Redeeming AAdvantage miles on partner flights requires the same number of miles as redeeming for American flights. However, things differ when you look at carrier-imposed fees and surcharges. For example, British Airways routinely charges $500 or more in surcharges for Europe-bound flights, and these are passed on to AAdvantage members.

But 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 airlines respected for their stellar business- and first-class products with extremely low fees. Carriers such as Cathay Pacific, JAL, Qatar and Qantas set the bar incredibly high no matter which cabin you book. As an added bonus, Oneworld is probably the easiest alliance for first-class awards, as it doesn’t share the same restrictions as Star Alliance or pricing irregularities as SkyTeam.

Of course the exact price will depend on where you choose to fly, but there are some good deals to be had.

One of the best values is flights from the U.S. to Japan or South Korea, which AA designates as a separate “Asia 1” region. These one-way flights only cost 60,000 miles in business class or 80,000 miles in first class.

Flights to the rest of Asia are a little pricey in first class at 110,000 miles one way, but you can fly Cathay Pacific business class to any Asian destination for only 70,000 miles, which is a solid deal.

Another great option is booking flights from the U.S. to the Middle East or India for 70,000 miles each way in business class; booking flights to Africa instead will only set you back 75,000 miles each way. This is a great opportunity to try out Qatar’s industry-leading Qsuite business class on its ever expanding U.S. route network. Depending on your final destination, you might even get to enjoy Qsuites on both legs of your flight!

Explore non-alliance partners

In addition to its Oneworld route network, American Airlines also partners with:

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

Two of these airlines in particular provide some incredibly valuable redemption options: Etihad and Air Tahiti Nui.

Etihad is best known for its flagship A380 apartments, which can be found flying between New York-JFK and Abu Dhabi (AUH). Availability has gotten much harder to find recently, but you can book this ticket for 115,000 AAdvantage miles each way. That’s certainly not cheap, with those miles being worth over $1,600 based on TPG’s most recent valuations, but for a $16,000+ ticket, it’s a steal.

If you’re struggling to find Etihad award space, you can use ExpertFlyer to search a whole week at a time and even set alerts if space opens up. Just note that there have been examples in the past where AA phone agents have had trouble seeing Etihad space, so you might need to call the Australian call center to actually book your award.

There are now more ways than ever to fly to Tahiti using points and miles, and AAdvantage is one of the best programs to do so. Air Tahiti Nui flies daily between Los Angeles (LAX) and Tahiti (PPT), with the flight continuing on to Paris (CDG) as part of a fifth freedom route. The route alternates between an older A340 and a new 787.

You can book a one-way award for 40,000 miles in economy or 80,000 in business class. Best of all, you can book these awards directly on the American app and website without having to call in.

Air Tahiti Nui also publishes business and economy award space on ExpertFlyer, yet another reason why a subscription to the service is incredibly valuable.

Finding American Airlines partner availability

Most American Airlines partners can be booked online, except for China Southern, Interjet and LATAM, which require you to call in. Check out our full guide on searching for Oneworld availability for more info.

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 up or down depending on the award.

Another tip: Try to have the specific flight numbers available for the agent, especially for partner awards. Instead of saying, “I’m hoping to use my miles to fly from New York-JFK to Hong Kong (HKG) and then relying on the agent to find the award space, say something like, “I’ve found award space on Cathay Pacific Flight X, departing on date Y, but I can’t book it online. Can you please help?” This is an unfortunate reality of booking award tickets with phone agents, who may not be familiar with all of the rules or even know all of an airline’s individual partners. Once again, use one of the best sites for finding Oneworld award availability or consider signing up for ExpertFlyer for these purposes.

Consider alternate programs for flights on American Airlines

This last strategy applies only to flights operated by American Airlines. For short domestic hops and international premium cabin redemptions, you might be able to find cheaper awards by booking through a partner program instead of directly with AA.

While AA charges 12,500 miles for all domestic flights in the U.S. (except those under 500 miles), British Airways uses a distance-based award chart. The sweet spot here is redeeming for flights that are 1,151 miles or less; these one-way tickets can be booked for only 7,500 British Airways Avios. This applies to a lot of city pairs, including New York-LaGuardia (LGA) to Miami (MIA), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Washington-Reagan (DCA) and many more.

A slightly less lucrative yet still attractive option would be for nonstop flights that cover between 1,152 miles and 2,000 miles. British Airways would charge just 10,000 Avios for these award trips compared to 12,500 miles through American.

If you’re looking to fly in the forward cabins of the plane, consider booking through Etihad Guest instead. Etihad’s AA award chart mirrors what AA used to charge for its own flights before its 2016 devaluation and offers some attractive prices, especially for premium cabins.

One-way business-class flights to Europe or Asia 1 only cost 50,000 miles, a much better deal than the ~60,000 or so miles AA would charge, and 55,000 Etihad Guest miles to Asia 2 beats the 70,000 miles American would charge on those routes by a wide margin. You can also find good deals on first-class awards on AA’s flagship 777-300ER, which primarily flies to London-Heathrow (LHR), Hong Kong (HKG), Tokyo-Haneda (HND) and Sao Paulo (GRU). The product itself isn’t that much better than business class, but it may be worth splurging for access to AA’s Flagship First Dining facilities.

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

Open a cobranded credit card

One final strategy to make the most of your American AAdvantage redemptions is to open a cobranded credit card from Citi or Barclays. Aside from earning a big welcome bonus and miles for ongoing spending, you’ll have access to Reduced Mileage Awards. These rotating awards offer discounts of up to 7,500 miles on round-trip award tickets.

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). Eligible cards include:

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select 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.

Accruing American Airlines miles is easy

You don’t need a huge account balance to enjoy free travel from your loyalty points and miles. In fact, we’ve even argued that you shouldn’t amass huge quantities of miles with no plans for utilization. That said, it’s relatively easy to earn a significant stash of miles with the help of credit card sign-up bonuses, shopping portals and other strategies, so you should by all means take advantage of the plentiful award travel options if you have a trip in mind.

Travel rewards credit card sign-up bonuses are without a doubt the quickest way to earn big miles in your loyalty program of choice, and the AAdvantage program is no exception to that rule. Citi offers cobranded credit cards with sign-up bonuses sometimes reaching 100,000 miles. Meanwhile, Barclaycard administers the AAdvantage Aviator cards, which were originally U.S. Airways Dividend Miles cards, but you can no longer apply for these products.

Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

I used the 100,00 bonus miles from last year
Use the miles from the Citi AAdvantage Executive to fly Japan Airlines business class to Tokyo.

In many ways, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® is the cream of the crop of American Airlines cards. It’s currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. The card comes with a steep $450 annual fee, but you can easily recoup that with its ongoing benefits including Admirals Club lounge access.

CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® is currently offering 70,000 AAdvantage miles after making $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening.

The increased sign-up bonus for the business card makes it a worthwhile option, along with the ability to earn bonus miles on specific category spending with no foreign transaction fees. If you’re in the market for an AA card to boost your bonus and you qualify for a business card, this should be a priority for you.

Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

This card currently offering 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. Its $99 annual fee is waived the first year. It’s definitely worth a look for boosting your account balance.

Bottom line

There are plenty of great ways to use your AA 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, but if you’re set on flying on AA metal, you might be better off using a partner program to book your award.

Featured photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy.

Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh, Richard Kerr and Joseph Hostetler.

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