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Update: Some offers mentioned below are no longer available. View the current offers here – Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
Not all airline mileage devaluations come in the form of award chart changes like United’s recent announcement. American Airlines announced it would be eliminating an underrated yet key benefit of some of its cobranded credit cards. As of May 1, a 10% mileage refund on award redemptions worth up to 10,000 miles per calendar year will no longer be in effect.
This is currently a benefit of the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, as well as the Barclays AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard and AAdvantage Aviator Silver World Elite Mastercard. According to TPG’s current valuations, 10,000 AAdvantage miles are worth up to $140, making this benefit one of the compelling reasons to have gotten one of these three cards.
While the mileage refund will be gone, all three cards will continue to offer the usual array of airline-specific benefits such as bonus mileage earning on American Airlines purchases, free checked bags, priority boarding and inflight purchase discounts. However, all three cards are also introducing new benefits to compensate. Many flyers might not find the new perks quite as useful, though.
For its part, those who carry the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard will have the chance to earn a $125 American Airlines flight discount after spending $20,000 a year. The card also now earns double miles at restaurants and gas stations in addition to American Airlines flight purchases. It is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 60,000 AAdvantage miles when you spend $3,000 in the first three months, and it carries an annual fee of $99.
Among the new Barclays benefits, the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard will offer up to $25 in inflight Wi-Fi credits ever year, a $99 economy companion ticket each account year a cardholder spends $20,000 or more on purchases, and an interesting perk called Flight Cents that essentially allows card holders to purchase AAdvantage miles at a discount.
The more premium Silver version will offer up to $50 in Wi-Fi credits per year, a daily $25 statement credit toward inflight food and beverages, the same Flight Cents perk as the Red and two economy companion tickets for spending $20,000 in a cardmember year.
Book Your Awards Now
As noted, the 10% refund on award tickets is being dropped from all three cards effective May 1, 2019, so if you carry one of them you have until April 30 to redeem your AAdvantage miles at a discount. You also might want to book something now given the changes that might be coming to American Airlines, including a possible switch to dynamic award pricing.
The good news is that when you redeem miles for an award, the 10% in bonus miles are credited to your account immediately. For instance, I recently used 75,000 AAdvantage miles to travel from South Africa to the US and received 7,500 miles back when I booked my award.
Likewise, I used 30,000 miles for two upgrades at the end of last year and got 3,000 miles back immediately.
There are some things to keep in mind to maximize your 10% mileage refund. Double-check your redemption activity to see if you have received any mileage refunds this year. You don’t want to redeem 100,000 AAdvantage miles and then realize you will only receive a few thousand back.
AAdvantage members can only receive a maximum refund of up to 10,000 miles each year, whether they have one or all three of these cards. So the most you can expect to get back is 10,000 miles, whether you redeem 100,000 or 500,000. Another important consideration is that only the primary card holder can receive the 10% mileage refund. Authorized users on the card account do not, even if they are booking awards from their own AAdvantage account.
So think strategically. Depending on what travel you have to book, aim to get as close to the 10,000-mile refund as possible. That might mean booking several cheap economy tickets or a premium cabin.
Finally, if you’re an Executive Platinum elite, remember that award ticket change and redeposit fees are waived, so if you have the miles, you might as well book a few awards speculatively and cancel them at a later date if you change your mind.
Maximizing the Refund
As mentioned, it looks like the AAdvantage program might shift award redemptions to a dynamic pricing model. That likely means that saver-level economy awards will probably get cheaper, and redemptions on partners will likely remain the same. However, business- and first-class awards on American flights will probably go up in price. So it would be wise to book your American Airlines premium awards first, and then think about economy flights and partners.
Below are a few sample awards where you’ll get the most bang for your buck. Most of these are premium awards on either American Airlines or its partners.
For instance, a business-class award on American from Hong Kong (HKG) to Dallas (DFW) via Los Angeles (LAX) around Christmas currently costs 70,000 miles (63,000 after your refund). If dynamic pricing happens, it will likely go up in price dramatically.
Be aware that the AA search engine is doing something wonky on this route where when you search for flights from Hong Kong to Los Angeles, you get award availability on the Hong Kong to Dallas flight. Likewise, if you search Hong Kong to Dallas, you’ll find award availability on the Hong Kong to Los Angeles flight. All awards seem bookable, though, so you might just have to call in to get the specific combo you want.
My own redemption refund above is another instance of some great potential savings. Instead of spending 70,000 miles (63,000 with the discount) to fly in business class just from Doha (DOH) to Los Angeles (LAX) on a mix of Qatar Airways and American Airlines, I spent an extra 5,000 miles (4,500 after my refund) to tack on another nine-hour Qatar Airways flight from Johannesburg (JNB) to Doha and connected from there.
Here’s a similar itinerary from Johannesburg to Doha, and then on to Washington, D.C. (IAD) in Qsuites, all for 67,500 miles after the 10% mileage refund.
For another option, consider booking your flights to or from Europe on American and partners. Here’s an award on Finnair’s new Los Angeles (LAX) to Helsinki (HEL) nonstop in September in business class aboard an A350. Normally, it would cost 57,500 miles each way, but with the refund factored in, it’s only 51,750 miles.
Some of the hardest award tickets in the world to book are in Qantas business and first class between Australia and the US. But there are a few floating around. I found this one on April 25 from Melbourne (MEL) to Los Angeles (LAX) on a Qantas A380 in first class for 110,000 miles. You’d get 10,000 miles back so you’d only end up paying 100,000 miles.
Below is an award in business class from Brisbane (BNE) to Los Angeles (LAX) aboard one of Qantas’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners with its new business-class seats. Instead of 80,000 miles, you’d end up paying only 72,000.
If you’ve been wanting to explore Fiji, there is a phenomenal amount of business-class award space on Fiji Airways between Los Angeles (LAX) and Nadi (NAN) over the next several months, so now might be the time to use your miles to book a tropical beach vacation. Business class each way will cost you 80,000 miles, or 72,000 after the refund.
And don’t forget about American’s new premium economy awards. They’re not the best deals, but if business and first-class fares are outside your mileage budget, you can consider spending just 72,000 miles round-trip from the US to Europe, or 90,000 to much of Asia factoring in the 10% mileage refund.
Above is a sample round-trip award in premium economy aboard the airline’s Boeing 787-9 from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo (NRT) in May. It normally costs 100,000 miles, but would only be 90,000 miles if you’re a card holder and can lock it in before May 1.
You should not go booking tons of award tickets speculatively until we know more about what’s going on with American Airlines’ award pricing. But if you do have one of these three credit cards and you are planning to use your AAdvantage miles in the next few months, you might as well save up to 10,000 miles by booking your award ticket before the benefit disappears.
Featured image by Scott Olson/Getty Images.
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