Best sweet spots in the American Airlines AAdvantage program
Over the past few years, the American Airlines AAdvantage program has seen its fair share of devaluations, from increasing mileage requirements for flights to introducing dynamic pricing and the elimination of reduced mileage awards.
However, even with the recent devaluations, the program has continued to publish an award chart for both its own flights and for flights on partner airlines — something its biggest competitors — Delta and United — have abolished.
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This has made it possible for AAdvantage members to have a baseline value for award redemptions and, contrary to what some may believe, there are still plenty of great opportunities to redeem AAdvantage miles for flights.
Here’s a look at some of the best sweet spots in the American Airlines AAdvantage program, and how to redeem your miles for them.
Business class to Middle East, India or Africa
The best way to take advantage of a healthy stash of American miles is to use them to fly on one of American’s partner airlines. My favorite way to redeem AA miles for these flights is booking Qatar Airways Qsuites business class on flights to the Middle East or India for 70,000 miles. You can even extend your trip to Africa and pay just 75,000 miles one way.
These enclosed suites are often considered the best business class seats in the world. Plus, using AA miles to book is a great value considering the low number of miles required and the fact that no fuel surcharges are added when you book with AAdvantage.
You can use this sweet spot to book over 20 hours of flight time in Qatar Airways’ business class on flights from Chicago-O'Hare (ORD) to Male, Maldives (MLE) via Doha (DOH) for just 70,000 American AAdvantage miles and $41.80.
And it will be the same number of miles from anywhere in the U.S. as long as there is availability. Qatar flights can be booked with American miles directly on aa.com.
Off-peak economy flights to Europe
Another gem in the American Airlines award chart is that it has off-peak rates for economy MileSAAver awards.
While most of these are only 2,500 fewer points than the standard MileSAAver award, off-peak flights to Europe receive an excellent 7,500-point discount off the standard award rate.
This drops the saver level cost from 30,000 miles down to just 22,500 for off-peak saver awards to Europe. That’s 25% off and just 45,000 miles round-trip, which is a pretty excellent deal considering award flights will book as a Main Cabin ticket. This allows you to choose seats in advance and bring a checked bag.
For 2022, the MileSAAver off-peak travel dates to Europe are Jan. 10 to March 14, and Nov. 1 to Dec. 14. If you want to check out the Christmas markets in Europe, you'll find wide-open award space from St. Louis (STL) to Frankfurt (FRA), but rates go up to the standard saver level after mid-December.
At the time of writing, TPG values AA miles at 1.77 cents each, which makes the 15,000 miles you’d save on a round trip worth around $265. Always make sure to compare the cash rate before you book — sometimes, transatlantic flights can be booked on the cheap, even in Main Cabin.
Connecting business class flights to Europe
American also has pretty decent saver rates for business class flights to Europe — especially if you plan to take a connecting flight.
While you can utilize the Etihad Guest program to book nonstop AA-operated flights to Europe for just 50,000 miles in business class, Etihad charges per segment. This means you would have to book a separate award if you need to make a connection to one of American’s hubs.
For just 57,500 American miles one-way, you can book business class seats to Europe from anywhere in the U.S., regardless of the distance or if you need to make a connection or not. This is lower than both Delta and United’s typical rates for business-class travel to Europe, and even comes in lower than Avianca’s excellent rate of 63,000 LifeMiles one-way.
It’s worth noting you’ll want to avoid long-haul flights operated by British Airways since fuel surcharges can be ridiculously high. Instead, look for AA-operated or other Oneworld partner flights, such as Finnair, across the Atlantic.
For example, fly business class from Phoenix (PHX) to Helsinki, Finland (HEL) via Dallas (DFW) for just 57,500 American miles and $5.60.
You may even get lucky and score a lie-flat seat on both flights if you’re able to schedule one of the few domestic routes where American flies these aircraft, such as the example above on the flight between Phoenix and Dallas.
First class flights to Japan
Flying first class is incredibly expensive if you’re paying for a cash ticket. And redemption rates have started to rise for many programs. However, one solid deal you can still book with AA miles is first class flights to Japan for 80,000 miles one-way.
Japan Airlines has a top-notch first class product, so look for flights that route through a JAL city, which include Los Angeles (LAX), San Francisco (SFO), Chicago-O'Hare (ORD), and New York-JFK. Availability can be sparse, but if you find seats, you’ll be in for a treat.
This first-class ticket from New York (JFK) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND) for 80,000 miles is worth $1,416 based on TPG’s current valuations. That’s well worth it for a $15,000+ flight.
You can book JAL award space directly on the American Airlines website so there is no need to call and wait on hold to book this amazing award redemption.
Dynamic pricing for award travel is not always a bad thing. Case in point: American Airlines' Web Special awards.
These are special redemption rates for American-operated flights that can sometimes be well below what American lists on its award chart. These are mostly found on domestic routes, which can be as low as 5,000 miles one-way in economy. Plus, you can often find good deals on international tickets too, even in business class.
I like to use American’s award map tool to seek out Web Special awards. I just input a departure city, choose a region and a departure date. Then, I enter a number of miles below what the award chart lists for that region.
It will then show a map and a list of where you can fly for that number of miles. Pins on the map will be colored blue if they fall within the threshold. In this example, I see I can fly from Boston (BOS) to places across the country for just 6,000 miles in September, including all the way to West Coast airports like Santa Rosa (STS).
You can then click through to get the calendar view to find more dates available for the low rate.
The 6,000-mile Web Special for a Main Cabin ticket is more than half-off the 12,500 MileSAAver rates listed on American’s award chart for domestic flights.
Web Specials can also be found for international flights and in premium cabins. For example, business class MileSAAver awards to the South America 2 region, which includes Argentina, Brazil and Chile, typically cost 57,500 miles one-way. But, this Dallas (DFW) to Santiago, Chile (SCL) flight can be booked for 45,000 miles in business class as a web special.
The only restriction on Web Special awards is they cannot be changed once ticketed. However, this is really a moot point, because if you need to make a change, you can just cancel the ticket, reinstate your miles at no charge, and then rebook a new flight.
Miles upgrades on American
It’s generally a better value to book the class of service you want from the start when redeeming miles. However, there are many cases where you may not have the required number of miles to redeem for a business class ticket. In these cases, you may be able to purchase a cash economy ticket and then upgrade your flight using miles or a combination of miles and cash.
First off, understand that award tickets and basic economy tickets are not eligible for upgrades. You also must be flying on an AA-operated flight to be able to upgrade using American miles. It will cost a lower number of miles to upgrade if you’ve purchased a full-fare ticket than if you’ve purchased a discounted ticket. Full details on which exact fare codes are eligible for upgrades and the different costs can be found on American’s upgrade with miles page.
The sweet spot in this chart is for upgrading discount economy tickets to business class when traveling to Asia, Europe or South America. For 25,000 miles + $350 (about $800 based on TPG’s valuations), you can move from the coach cabin to a lie-flat seat.
Business class fares have fallen recently but it can still sometimes cost $3,000 or more to purchase a one-way business class flight. While you may be able to get a substantial discount for purchasing a round-trip ticket, there are times when it’s only necessary to book one-way and that’s where this deal can shine.
For instance, if you’re low on miles but want to fly business class on a one-way flight from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Haneda (HND), you could book a Main Cabin economy ticket for $331 and then upgrade your seat to business class for 25,000 + $350 for a total valuation of around $1,131. That’s a savings of $1,635 compared to what it would cost to pay for a $2,766 business class ticket with just cash.
Of course, your upgrade would be subject to upgrade availability, which can be the tricky part. You can check how many upgrades your flight has by logging into ExpertFlyer (which is owned by TPG) and searching for “C” fare availability, which corresponds to business class upgrades.
How to earn AAdvantage miles
Right now, you can only transfer points from Bilt Rewards and Marriott Bonvoy to AAdvantage. Bilt transfers process at a 1:1 ratio, while Marriott points transfer to AAdvantage at a 3:1 ratio. All Marriott point transfers of 60,000 points earn a 5,000-mile bonus, which means 60,000 Marriott points are worth 25,000 AAdvantage miles.
Of course, you're not stuck earning with these two programs. You can also open an American Airlines cobranded credit card and earn miles on your everyday spending. Plus, you may earn a lucrative sign-up bonus at the same time. Here's a look at the current American Airlines card lineup:
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: Earn 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening ($99 annual fee that’s waived the first 12 months)
- AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 miles after making your first purchase and paying the annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days ($99 annual fee)
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 miles after making $2,500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening ($99 annual fee that’s waived the first year)
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening ($450 annual fee)
The information for the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select, AAdvantage Aviator Red and the AAdvantage Aviator Business 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.
There’s still a lot of value to be had with American’s AAdvantage program. The trick is to redeem your miles for the sweet spots and not frivolously spend your miles on low-value redemptions. After you’ve decided where it’s best to use your AA miles, just take the steps to find award availability, and before you know it, you’ll be taking off on an (almost) free flight.
All screenshots courtesy of aa.com.
Feature photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.