Which Miles Should I Use? Part 4: American Airlines AAdvantage

This is the fourth post in our series titled, “Which Miles Should I Use?” Here I will go over details of American Airlines’ award program, AAdvantage, as well as the best uses of American Airlines miles and how to earn them with credit card sign up bonuses.

American Airlines

American Airlines miles are easy to accumulate, and can be used to fly all over the world at reasonable rates! The plane pictured here has American Airlines’ old logo before it was changed in 2013.

Partners

American Airlines is part of the Oneworld alliance, the smallest of airline alliances with 14 current members. However, American Airlines also has several other partners outside of Oneworld: Alaska Airlines, Air Tahiti Nui, Cape Air, Etihad Airways, Fiji Airways, Gulf Air, Hawaiian Airlines, Jet Airways, and Seabourne Airlines. AAdvantage miles can be redeemed on any of American’s partners, both inside and outside Oneworld. In addition, any number of airlines can be included on the same award. For instance, you could have a single award ticket with flights legs on American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Fiji Airways, and Qantas (a Oneworld partner).

Another great thing about American Airlines is they almost never charge fuel surcharges on award tickets- with the exception of flights on Oneworld partners British Airways and Iberia.

Many of American Airlines’ partners can be booked on their website, aa.com, although some may require calling in.

Best Routes to Redeem

American Airlines AAdvantage has a couple of award charts: one for flights exclusively on American Airlines itself, and another for flights which include partner airlines. For the most part, the award charts are the same for flying in economy.

There are a few situations where American Airlines miles shine. First, if you are booking a flight with layovers to Central America, Mexico, or the Caribbean, American Airlines miles are usually best to use (British Airways Executive Club holds the trophy here for nonstop flights, if they exist from your city). The catch? You have to be flying on American Airlines itself rather than any of their partners like Alaska. Fortunately, this is not too hard since American has plenty of destinations within Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean. American Airlines only charges 12,500 miles each way to these areas in the off-season (April 27 to May 20 and September 7 to November 14) and 15,000 each way outside of those times.

Europe is also a good bet for using American Airlines miles, with off-peak awards priced at 22,500 miles each way (January 10 to March 14 and November 1 to December 14). With American’s partners in Europe, you can travel to many destinations. Redemption opportunities are especially good in Russia and Eastern Europe since American partners with Russian airline S7 (however, note that you will probably have to call in to book, and destinations in Siberia are not bookable with American Airlines miles).

Geghard Monastery

You could wander through Armenia and see the oldest monasteries and cathedrals in the world for only 45,000 miles roundtrip, the price of one credit card sign up bonus! Pictured: Geghard Monastery

Getting to the Indian Subcontinent (India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bangladesh, or Pakistan) is also a great use for American Airlines miles. Flights from the lower 48 states and Canada cost 40,000 miles each way, which is less than what most other programs charge. The notable exception is flying to Delhi on Japan Airlines using Alaska Airlines miles, which is only 35,000 each way. However, since Japan Airlines only flies to Delhi, other areas on the Indian Subcontinent are best accessed with American Airlines miles. And American Airlines has two partners based in the area, Jet Airways and Sri Lankan Airlines, so you’ll have a wide variety of choices for where to go.

Sigiriya

You could explore Sri Lanka and visit Sigiriya and its rock fortress for 80,000 American Airlines miles roundtrip.

A quirk about the American Airlines award chart is that it places both Bolivia and Manaus, Brazil in the less expensive “South America Region 1” whereas other programs place them in a “South America Region 2” equivalent, bundled with countries like Argentina and Chile. This makes redeeming American Airlines miles for flights to these places a steal at 17,500 to 20,000 miles each way.

One last thing I’ll mention about American Airlines is that they have great intra-country flight awards on their partners. For instance, flights within Chile only cost 6000 miles each way, so you could fly from Arica in the north to Punta Arenas or the Falkland Islands in the south for only 6000 miles. That is a pretty good deal. Other intra-country awards include flights within Ecuador or Fiji for 5000 miles each way; within Argentina, Colombia, or Peru for 6000 miles each way; within Brazil, Japan, or Jordan for 7500 miles each way; and within Australia, India, Russia, Germany, Finland, Spain, or the UK for 10,000 miles each way.

Fees

There are fees associated with redeeming AAdvantage miles, but they can be avoided:

  • Fuel Surcharges (usually $100+) – A “fuel surcharge” is added when you book awards with British Airways or Iberia. Since American Airlines has plenty of other partners you can book for free, avoid using these partners.
  • Close-in booking fee ($75): This fee will be charged if you book a ticket within 20 days of departure. To avoid it, book your ticket at least 3 weeks in advance!
  • Phone booking fee ($30-40): One great thing about American Airlines is that they only charge a phone booking fee if you are unable to book the ticket online. To avoid this fee, make sure you are unable to book your award ticket online before calling in. If an agent still tries to levy the fee, politely explain that you could not book the award online and they will waive it.
  • Change/cancellation fee ($125 + $25 extra for each additional person on the reservation): American Airlines charges this fee for most award changes or cancellations. However, they will not levy it for changes where the origin, destination, and airline(s) flown on the award remain the same. In addition, thanks to US law, you can cancel up to 24 hours after booking for free. So if you are unsure if you want to take a flight, you can still book it, ponder for 23 hours, and cancel for free!

Routing Rules

Stopovers and Open Jaws

One of the biggest drawbacks to booking with AAdvantage miles is that you can never have stopovers (remember that stopovers are defined as being over 24 hours). Never. There are no exceptions.

Since one ways are allowed, as with most airlines, you can have open jaws on either side of your ticket. So you could fly from Seattle into Guatemala City and then back from Liberia, Costa Rica to Portland. This would be a great use of American Airlines miles (and is strikingly similar to a trip I am taking next month)!

Sample American Routing 2

You can have open jaws on either side of an American Airlines award ticket, but no stopovers are allowed. This itinerary would cost 25,000 AAdvantage miles in the off-season. Layovers are not pictured for simplicity.

Routing Limitations

Unfortunately, American Airlines does not have very much routing flexibility. When you book an award from one region (as defined on American’s award charts) to another, generally it cannot have layovers in a third region. For instance, if you are traveling from the United States to Australia, you cannot route via Tokyo because it is in a third region (Asia 1). However, you could route through San Francisco because it is also in the United States, or through Fiji or New Zealand since they are in the same region as Australia (Southwest Pacific). Note that for the purposes of transiting third regions, North America is considered one big region rather than being split up into the Lower 48, Mexico, Hawaii, etc, so you could also route through Honolulu or Vancouver.

Sample American Routing 2

Some possible routings from Los Angeles to Sydney. The red routings are allowed but the black one via Tokyo is not since Tokyo is in the Asia 1 region.

There are a few exceptions where third region layovers are allowed. Here are the exceptions for awards departing North America:

  • Awards to the Middle East can route via Europe
  • Awards to the Indian Subcontinent can route via Europe or Hong Kong
  • Awards to Africa can route via Europe, or Doha on Qatar Airways
  • Awards to Asia 2 can route via Asia 1

Another limitation with using American Airlines miles is that only relatively direct routes are allowed. If you wanted to fly from Chicago to the Dominican Republic, it wouldn’t work to route the trip through Seattle. This limitation is a bit more reasonable in my opinion.

Sample American Routing 3

The black routing is not allowed since it is too indirect!

On the other hand, American Airlines, unlike United, is very helpful with piecing together award segments over the phone. If you search all of the award segments separately, and then call up and book over the phone, American Airlines agents should be able to splice them together as long as each layover is less than 24 hours. For instance, if you are having trouble finding a ticket from Dallas to Munich, you could first search a segment from Dallas to Fort Myers, Florida, then a segment from Fort Myers to Dusseldorf, Germany, and then a final segment from Dusseldorf to Munich (note that all three of these routes exist). If the layover times between flights are less than 24 hours in Fort Myers and Dusseldorf, then you can call up and have an agent manually piece together the award over the phone. So you are not limited by the website’s inability to search complex awards.

Earning AAdvantage Miles

As with all mileage programs, the best way to quickly accumulate American Airlines miles is by getting credit card sign up bonuses. You can read how to do this responsibly on my credit cards page. The following credit cards will give you AAdvantage miles:

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

The AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard by Barclaycard is great because it has no spending requirement. You only need to make a single purchase (of any size) and pay the first year’s annual fee of $95 to recieve 40,000 American Airlines miles in your account.

This card also has a couple other benefits worth mentioning. The first is that when redeeming awards, you immediately (at the time of booking) get 10% of your miles back. In my opinion, this is one of the best card benefits in the industry.

The second benefit is that you have access to reduced mileage awards, which give you up to 30% off award prices for some destinations in the US and Canada. Instead of costing 12,500 miles each way, flights will cost 8750 miles each way. And on top of that, you get 10% of the miles back meaning the net cost is 7875 miles each way. Not a bad deal!

Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard

As an aside, sometimes I wonder why credit card companies give their cards such long names.

However, despite the long name, I think the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard is still worthwhile since it currently gives you 53,000 American Airlines miles after spending $3000 in the first three months, with the annual fee waived the first year. The current offer for this card is the highest I have seen, the usual bonus is only 31,000 AAdvantage miles after spending $1000 over 3 months.

This card has the same two benefits I mentioned with the AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard above, 10% of your miles back and access to reduced mileage awards.

Citibusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard

The Citibusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard is the business version of Citi’s card above. It also currently earns 53,000 American Airlines miles after spending $3000 in the first three months, with the annual fee waived the first year. This is also the highest offer I have seen on this card.

This card has access to reduced mileage awards, but does NOT give you 10% of your miles back.

For the purposes of applying for credit cards, any side hobby which generates extra income for you can be considered a business. Just enter your full name as the legal business name on the application, the legal structure of business as “sole proprietor/self employed,” and fill everything else out honestly and completely. Do not worry if your business income is very low, because your personal income (as the owner) will also be factored into your approval for the credit card. One great thing about business credit cards from Citi is that they do not appear on your personal credit report, assuming you make your payments on time! So that means that you do not have to worry about reallocating credit when you cancel since it will not affect your score.

Citi AAdvantage Gold World Elite Mastercard

The Citi AAdvantage Gold World Elite Mastercard offers 25,750 American Airlines miles after spending $750 in the first 3 months, with the annual fee waived the first year. This card may be a good option for those who do not spend very much and do not need many more AAdvantage miles, but the bonus is quite low compared to the competition.

This card has access to a watered-down version of the reduced mileage awards and does NOT give you 10% of your miles back.

Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard

The Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard gives 55,000 miles after spending $5000 in the first 3 months and paying a whopping $450 annual fee. The bonus has been up to 110,000 miles in the past after spending $10,000, but not for a long while. This card is probably not worth it because of the high spending requirements and the huge annual fee, and the fact that the bonus is not much higher than some of the other cards above. If you do choose to get it, it gives you access to Admirals Club airport lounges and refunds $100 for Global Entry membership.

This card has access to reduced mileage awards but does NOT give you 10% of your miles back.

American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card gains you 28,000 Starpoints after spending $3000 in three months, with no annual fee the first year. 28,000 Starpoints can be converted to 33,000 American Airlines miles. I have seen the bonus on this card as high as 38,000 Starpoints before so it could jump up even higher at a later time.

As this spending requirement is decently high and the card is an American Express, which is less widely accepted, make sure you can meet the spending before you apply for the card!

American Express Starwood Preferred Guest Business Credit Card

Confusingly enough, this card has two different sign up bonus offers. One is here and the other is here. The first offer only gives you 21,500 Starpoints (26,500 American Airlines miles) after spending $1500 and has an annual fee of $150. The second offer gives you 30,000 Starpoints (35,000 American Airlines miles) after spending a shockingly high $5000 in 3 months, with the annual fee waived the first year. In my opinion, both of these options are not very good, the first one has too high of an annual fee to justify the bonus, and the second one has too high of a spend requirement for an American Express. But if they suit your fancy, feel free to apply.

Final Thoughts

American Airlines has a solid award program. Miles are great for using in a variety of situations, and American never charges fuel surcharges except on British Airways and Iberia. American Airlines credit cards tend to award large amounts of bonus miles, which makes accumulating AAdvantage miles straightforward and easy.

Unfortunately American Airlines does not allow stopovers on awards, but does allow for piecing together awards over the phone so you may be able to get more value or availability with your miles by taking this extra step.

If you have any more questions on American Airlines AAdvantage that are not addressed here, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll try my best to answer it!

Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper – copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Posted in Free Travel, Frugal Travel.

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