Fiji, Tokyo, Australia: Here’s where your American AAdvantage miles can take you now
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If frequent flyer programs are your hobby, you have to stay alert to changes that come down the pike. Lately, we’ve see quite a lot of those — and many have not been all that good.
For example, United is moving to a dynamic award chart on Nov. 15, and the airline has radically altered how travelers will attain elite status within its program.
With signs that American AAdvantage is also moving toward a dynamic award chart, I realized now might be the perfect time to start working down my AA balance. I began the process over the summer, when I took my extended family to Barbados. But then, I decided to lock in more aspirational awards before any additional program changes go into effect.
We normally use our AA miles to fly Cathay Pacific business class to Asia. We’ve also used them twice to visit French Polynesia in business class. The good news is, we can be fairly flexible about when we travel. The bad news is, we’ve gotten used to flying up front — so spending a long-haul flight in economy is simply a no-go for us. If we can’t find business class awards for a flight of nine hours or more, the trip is off the table.
So, as I fired up Chrome and surfed over to AA.com, I wondered if it would be doom and gloom, or if I’d find some well-priced award flights in premium cabins that would fit our travel desires. Here’s how it worked out.
I started by seeing if we could head to French Polynesia for a third time. As I said, we’ve been there twice before, and both times our dates were pretty fixed. We must have lucked out because, on both occasions, I was able to book round-trip business class tickets using AAdvantage miles. But I was hesitant to start searching this time around. That’s because TPG’s Points Lab just released a report illustrating the difficulty of snagging awards to Papeete.
American Airlines partner Air Tahiti Nui flies a Boeing 787-9 to Papeete (PPT) from Los Angeles (LAX) one or two times per day. With 30 business class seats on the aircraft, I didn’t think it would be that tough to find award seats. But the numbers in The Points Lab report tell a different story. In an experiment that included 126,881 data points over a two-month period, when looking at Air Tahiti Nui business class availability, only 2.95% of searches in that time span were successful.
I wasn’t able to find any available business class awards in either November or December. However, there were two dates in January. That trip would only be one week in length, though — a little short for such a long flight — so I kept looking. In April and May, there were a few dates that allowed for two-week-long trips. For example, we could depart Los Angeles on April 29 on TN111 and return May 12 on TN2.
Two round-trip business class tickets to Papeete on Air Tahiti Nui would cost 320,000 AAdvantage miles, plus an additional $111.30.
We’ve never been to Australia, and while I’ve heard horror stories about finding award availability in premium cabins, I thought, “Let’s just see what’s available.”
I had to sift through a few months, but managed to find availability in April. Departing April 16 from San Francisco (SFO) to Sydney (SYD) on QF74, and returning on April 28 on QF73, flying from Sydney to San Francisco and then connecting on AA1004 to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW).
Two round-trip business class tickets to Sydney on Qantas would cost 320,000 miles, plus an additional $235.70.
As I thought more about places we’d like to travel, Fiji came to mind. Maybe we’d ditch Papeete in favor of Fiji? I’d always considered the South Pacific archipelago a couples destination, but there’s actually a lot of things to do in Fiji with kids.
July seemed like a good time to visit, but I couldn’t find any availability. Then, I checked August and September, and there were quite a few dates available in business class on Fiji Airways. There’s a flight departing Aug. 30, for example, from Los Angeles to Nadi International (NAN). Travelers could return on FJ870 on Sept. 8 to San Francisco.
Note that Fiji Airways will soon take delivery of two new A350s and, by January 2020, the new plane will fly the Los Angeles route six times pre week.
Again, two round-trip business class tickets would cost 320,000 miles and the cash payment for taxes and fees would be $245.30.
For the past few years, we’ve spent springtime visiting China, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam and Borneo — but it’s been years since we’ve been to Japan. I looked for availability to Tokyo in April and came up empty, but I did find a nice route on March 22, flying Cathay Pacific from New York-JFK to Vancouver (YVR) and connecting on March 23 on Japan Airlines (JL17) from Vancouver to Tokyo Narita (NRT).
For the return trip, you’d fly back on April 1 out of Tokyo Haneda (HND) on JL2 to San Francisco, and continue on AA166 to New York-JFK.
Two round-trip business class tickets priced out at 240,000 miles and a cool $122.70.
I know what you’re thinking: It’s easy to find award availability when you can be super flexible with your travel dates and you have enough miles to book business class. But how is American’s award availability for the type of trips families might want to book? I checked into that, too.
First, I checked economy award flights for a family of four from Boston (BOS) to Orlando (MCO) for a trip to Disney World. The calendar was almost wide open, with one-way economy awards available for 12,500 miles per person. Finding a returning flight on a Saturday or Sunday doesn’t look promising, but it’s not totally impossible either.
A family of four, for example, could fly to Orlando on March 14 and return March 20 for 100,000 miles and just $44.80.
If your kids aren’t yet in school and you have more flexibility, you could go to Disneyland in early January. (Say, from New York-JFK to Los Angeles leaving Jan. 11 on Alaska’s nonstop AS1399, and returning Jan. 18 on Alaska’s ASK468, which is also a nonstop flight.)
Four tickets in the economy cabin would ring up to 100,000 miles and an additional $44.80.
And if you’re looking for a traditional spring break trip without the theme park magic, consider Cancun. I found availability for Easter week from Dallas/Fort Worth departing on April 11 and returning April 17. A family of four in economy would pay 120,000 miles plus $324.04.
Right now, there are definitely some good awards to be had using American Airlines AAdvantage miles. Can you go whenever you want whenever you want on whichever partner airline you prefer in whichever cabin you’d like?
But, I was happily surprised by the availability I did find for some pretty aspirational redemptions.
Need a few more miles for that dream flight? You can boost your AAdvantage balance with a few cobranded credit cards:
- American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card — 10,000 miles and a $50 statement credit after you spend $500 in purchases in the first three months
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® — 50,000 American AAdvantage miles after spending $2,500 in purchases in the first three months of account opening
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® — 70,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first four months of account opening
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® — 50,000 miles after you spend $5,000 in purchases in the first three months
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.
I haven’t locked in any new AAdvantage awards yet, but I will soon. Are you working down your AAdvantage balance now, or will you wait and hope whatever changes made to the award chart down the line aren’t all that bad? Sound off in the comments below.
Featured image by Kevin Song/The Points Guy.
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