Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage

May 21, 2020

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American Airlines’ AAdvantage program has the potential to be very lucrative, and it’s looking even more attractive after United’s recent partner award devaluation. That being said, you really need to know what you’re looking for in order to get the maximum value out of your AAdvantage redemptions. 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 always as simple as logging on, searching and booking the exact award you want.

That being said, more and more partners have been added to AA.com and the American Airlines app 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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Redeeming 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.)

Perhaps the simplest and most straightforward way to redeem your miles is on flights operated by American Airlines. While AA technically still publishes an award chart for flights on its own metal (unlike Delta and United which have both switched to fully dynamic pricing), AA’s ever-growing Web Specials discount awards mean that the chart rarely reflects reality anymore. These awards start 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 (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.

Related: Beginner’s guide to award searches on ExpertFlyer

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 a number of the world’s best five-star airlines:

American Airlines still uses a fixed award chart for partner flights, and you’ll pay the same amount of miles on a given route no matter which partner airline you choose to fly with. 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.

That being said, there are a number of truly aspirational redemptions you can book with your AAdvantage miles. 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 booking 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.

Related: Spa at 35,000 feet: A review of Japan Airlines in first class from New York to Tokyo

(Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)
Japan Airlines first class. (Photo by Samantha Rosen / The Points Guy)

Flights to the rest of Asia are a little pricier 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 especially given the carrier’s massive route network.

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 Qsuite on both legs of your flight!

Related: The ultimate guide to Qatar Qsuite

Explore non-alliance partners

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

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 lately, 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.

Related: Here’s how one flight attendant can make or break a flight

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 reports 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 is operated by a new 787.

You can book a one-way award for 40,000 miles in economy, 65,000 miles in premium economy or 80,000 miles in business class. Best of all, you can book these awards directly on the American app and website without having to call in.

Related: The best sweet spots with American Airlines AAdvantage

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

Consider alternate programs for flights on American Airlines

If your travel plans mean that you need to fly on American Airlines, both for short domestic hops and even some international premium cabin redemptions, AAdvantage might not be the cheapest program to book with. You might come out ahead booking with a cheaper partner program instead of directly with AA.

While AA charges 12,500 miles for most domestic flights in the U.S. (except those under 500 miles or those discounted by Web Specials awards), British Airways uses a distance-based award chart. The sweet spot here is redeeming for flights that are 1,151 miles or less; you can book these one-way tickets for only 9,000 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.

Related: Book American Airlines awards with British Airways Avios

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 11,000 Avios for these award trips, which is a great deal when you think about how easy it is to earn Avios: You can transfer points to British Airways from Chase Ultimate Rewards, American Express Membership Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy, and you might even get lucky and score a transfer bonus.

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.

Related: Book this, not that: Oneworld award flights

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 card, CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum card, AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard, AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard, AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Choosing the best credit card for American Airlines flyers

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.

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. (Photo by Zach Honig/The Points Guy.)

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 recoup that with its ongoing benefits including Admirals Club lounge access.

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®

The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® is currently offering 65,000 AAdvantage miles after making $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening.

The 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®

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® currently offers a bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $2,500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. It has a $99 annual fee. It’s definitely worth a look for boosting your account balance.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card is a solid option for those who prefer a card with no annual fee. It offers a bonus of 10,000 miles and a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening. You’ll also earn 2x miles at grocery stores and on eligible American Airlines purchases, and 1x on everything else.

Related: The best airline credit cards

Note that Citi has implemented a limited-time extension to meeting minimum spending requirements due to coronavirus. New cardholders who applied / apply for a Citi credit card between Dec. 1, 2019, and May 31, 2020, will get an additional three months to hit the spending requirement.

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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