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AAdvantage Members Redeemed $886 Million in Free Flights This Year. How Much Did You Get?

April 26, 2019
6 min read
AAdvantage Members Redeemed $886 Million in Free Flights This Year. How Much Did You Get?
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On Friday morning, American Airlines announced its financial results for the first quarter of 2019. It wasn't a great quarter, and it's not getting better anytime soon. Airline management warned of potential $1 billion reduction in earnings due to the 737 MAX grounding and rising fuel prices.

One of the bright spots pointed out by airline management was "higher loyalty revenue." But that's not (just) from selling more miles to airline members and credit card issuers. Due to a revenue recognition change effective January 1, 2018, airlines now actually want you to use your miles. That's because airlines have to defer revenue when miles are earned, whether through flying or earned through credit cards. This revenue can't be recognized by the airline until "mileage credits are redeemed and transportation is provided."

That's why airlines are working to fill airplane seats with passengers paying with miles, if they can't fill them with cash-paying passengers. We've seen new mileage initiatives from most domestic airlines:

  • American Airlines' Economy Web Specials (with 39 routes pricing at 5,000 miles each way last time we checked)
  • Delta's constant award flash sales
  • United's new 5,000-mile domestic award flights
  • Alaska's recent award flash sale from 5,000 miles one-way
  • JetBlue's recent award flash sale with flights from 400 points each way

And these efforts are showing. In the third quarter (July-September) and fourth quarter (October-December) of 2018, AA saw double-digit percentage growth in loyalty revenue travel. In the first quarter of 2019, American Airlines recognized $886 million in revenue from award redemptions. That's a record since the airline has started using this new revenue-recognition procedure.

But it's not just the revenue number that's increasing. The percentage of total passenger revenue that's from award travel has steadily ticked upward. In 2017, award travel made up 7.6% of total passenger revenue. In 2018, that number was up to 7.9%. For the first three months of 2019, as much as 9.2% of total passengers revenue is from award travel -- but that includes the seasonal bump usually seen in Q1.

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QuarterLoyalty revenue
travel (millions
of dollars)
Year-over-year
increase
% of total
passenger
revenue
(rolling
12 months)
Q4 20177287.6%
Q1 20188506.0%7.6%
Q2 20187975.8%7.7%
Q3 201877110.8%7.8%
Q4 201880110.0%7.9%
Q1 20198864.2%8.0%

Hopefully you were part of that record-setting $886 million in free flights flown in the first three months of 2019. Even if not, it's not too late to get into the game that airlines now want you to play more than ever. If you're looking for some inspiration on how to use your AA miles, here are some of my favorite ways to redeem AAdvantage miles:

Economy Web Specials: American Airlines' newest mileage discount program seems to be a step toward dynamic mileage redemptions, but it's also a way to get domestic award flights from 5,000 miles each way, Caribbean award flights from 5,000 miles each way and discounted awards to Hawaii, Europe and South America.

Business class awards to Japan: Another sweet spot in AA's award chart is business class from the US to Japan for just 60,000 miles each way in business class. American Airlines has a solid business class product on routes to Japan, but you could also redeem AAdvantage miles for Japan Airlines business class instead.

Business class awards on the world's best business class product: For the TPG Awards, we put the world's best airlines to the test to figure out which was the top. The winner: American Airlines partner Qatar with its Qsuite product. Here's where Qsuite is flying in the US in 2019 -- including how to search award availability. It'll cost 70,000 miles one-way from the US and the Middle East (e.g. Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE) or Indian Subcontinent (e.g. India, Sri Lanka, Maldives) -- or 75,000 miles each way between the US and anywhere in Africa (e.g. Seychelles, Mauritius, South Africa).

First class on Etihad's Apartments: If only first class will do -- and you can find award availability -- you can redeem AAdvantage miles for one of the best first class products in the sky: Etihad Apartments. In testing for the inaugural TPG Awards, Etihad Apartments ranked #2 in the world -- falling just short of Emirates first class. The world's second-best first class product doesn't come cheap at 115,000 miles each way, but that's reasonable compared to some award rates on AA flights.

If you need more miles to make your redemption goals a reality, there's a number of credit cards with sign-up bonuses:

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $2,500 on purchases in the first three months of account opening ($99 annual fee; waived for the first 12 months).
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®: 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $4,000 in purchases within the first 4 months of account opening. And again, the $99 annual fee is waived for the first 12 months.
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®: 50,000 mile sign-up bonus after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
  • The American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card doesn't have any annual fee and earns 2x miles on grocery stores and eligible AA purchases, but it's only offering a sign-up bonus of 10,000 miles plus a $50 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases in the first three months.

The information for the Citi AAdvantage Platinum card and CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum 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.

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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TPG featured card

Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site

Rewards

3 - 4X points
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.

Intro offer

60,000 bonus points
Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

Annual Fee

$250

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent/Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Apply for American Express® Gold Card
at American Express's secure site
Terms & restrictions apply. See rates & fees
Best for the well-traveled foodie
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S.
4XEarn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
3XEarn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.

    60,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $250
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent/Good

Why We Chose It

There's a lot to love about the Amex Gold card. It's been a fan favorite during the pandemic because of its fantastic rewards rate on restaurants (that includes takeout and delivery in the U.S.!) and U.S. supermarkets. If you're hitting the skies soon, you'll also earn bonus points on travel. Paired with up to $120 in Uber Cash (for U.S. Uber rides or Uber Eats orders) and up to $120 in annual dining statement credits at eligible partners, there's no reason that the foodie shouldn't add this card to their wallet. Enrollment required.

Pros

  • 4x on dining at restaurants and U.S. supermarkets (on the first $25,000 in purchases per calendar year; then 1x)
  • 3x on flights booked directly with the airline or with Amex Travel
  • Welcome bonus of 60,000 points after spending $4,000 in the first six months

Cons

  • Weak on travel outside of flights and everyday spending bonus categories
  • Not as useful for those living outside the U.S.
  • Some may have trouble using Uber/food credits
  • Few travel perks and protections
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you spend $4,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 6 months of Card Membership.
  • Earn 4X Membership Rewards® Points at Restaurants, plus takeout and delivery in the U.S., and earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per calendar year in purchases, then 1X).
  • Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com.
  • $120 Uber Cash on Gold: Add your Gold Card to your Uber account and each month automatically get $10 in Uber Cash for Uber Eats orders or Uber rides in the U.S., totaling up to $120 per year.
  • $120 Dining Credit: Satisfy your cravings and earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with the American Express® Gold Card at Grubhub, The Cheesecake Factory, Goldbelly, Wine.com, Milk Bar and select Shake Shack locations. Enrollment required.
  • Choose the color that suits your style. Gold or Rose Gold.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • Annual Fee is $250.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees