Airline loyalty programs can be difficult to understand. There are several different systems in place for earning and redeeming miles, and these can change frequently. Every program is different, though, and understanding the details can take time.
With American Airlines AAdvantage, there are plenty of “sweet spots” that can help you maximize the way you use the program. This guide takes a quick look at some of the principal “best” mileage earning and redeeming opportunities and some useful things to know about elite status earning opportunities. We will share a series of tips for each of these areas.
Ways to earn AAdvantage miles
Beware of revenue based versus distance based earning. The new earning system based on ticket price will generally offer much lower earnings for cheaper tickets. Traveling domestically with American Airlines or JetBlue, you have no choice, but when traveling internationally, it is worth looking at other airlines if you want to maximize mileage earnings.
The system has been “simplified” to award miles based on ticket price – this is not always the best value option. Photo: Getty Images
Earning from discount premium economy fares with partner airlines can be the best “value.” These fares are often low during promotions or sales, but even the discount fares earn higher levels of mileage. Earning rates can be similar to business class (with 100% miles and a slightly different cabin bonus common), but fares, of course, are much lower.
Flying premium economy with airlines such as British Airways is a great way to earn. Photo: British Airways
Look out for AAdvantage promotions and offers. AAdvantage regularly runs generous promotions for bonus mileage. This can be on all American Airlines flights, specific routes, or certain partners. Promotions can be seasonal offers or just put in place to support a new addition to the program. To take part, you usually need to register for the specific promotion.
Credit card bonuses can be very generous. Ongoing earnings from credit cards are quite predictable, but initial signup bonuses can be exceptional. Offers vary between cards and change regularly, but signup bonuses of 50,000 AAdvantage miles or more are common. This is enough for an international award in a premium cabin. Make sure you check the terms and conditions for bonuses, as these have become stricter in recent years (particularly with regard to existing and repeat card customers).
Ways to spend AAdvantage miles
Fixed-rate redemptions are an advantage. Miles redemption is still based on fixed tabled amounts for all airlines (including American Airlines flights to a certain extent). Many other airlines, including Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, have switched to redemption amounts based solely on ticket price. Although AAdvantage offer this as well, fixed mileage is still available. This makes American Airlines generally better value for its own flights – especially when booking on peak dates or last-minute flights.
Rates for upgrades on American Airlines are excellent value. The lower economy and premium economy fares can be upgraded by paying a relatively small additional payment. This is especially good value from premium economy to business class. There are often reduced or sale-priced premium economy tickets available that can then be upgraded. This is unfortunately not the case with partner upgrades on British Airways or Iberia, as the lower booking classes are exempt.
Upgrading is a good use of miles with American Airlines. Photo: American Airlines
There are several particularly good value award rates within the program. Some of our favorites include:
- Off-peak economy class from the US to Europe is just 22,500 miles. With low taxes and the ability to add additional connecting flights for the same rate, this can represent excellent value.
- Business class awards from the US to Asia. These tickets can be excellent value compared to what are usually very expensive routes.
- Business class awards to the Middle East, India, or Africa. From either Europe or the US, these represent great value compared to cash prices. If using a Middle Eastern airline to connect to India or Africa, this is offered at only a small increase from the initial flight.
- Economy or business flights within Asia. These are personal favorite awards. With airlines including Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, and Malaysian Airlines, there are many possibilities for intra-Asia connections. Awards are priced at just 17,500 miles in economy class and 22,500 miles in business class. With very low taxes as well, these can be great value.
Cathay Pacific is a great airline, with connection options across Asia. Photo: Getty Images
oneworld partners offer some great aspirational awards possibilities. Qatar Airways QSuite is among the best business class products available. It can be booked for standard amounts of miles with no surcharge. Cathay Pacific as well is highly regarded as having a great long-haul product and service, with both business and first class. It offers flights from Hong Kong to several European and US destinations – the less obvious ones can have much better award availability.
Awards are changeable and cancelable for no fee. American Airlines changed its policy during COVID to allow free cancelations (it used to charge $150 for this), and the policy seems set to remain. With this policy in place, you can book awards far in advance when availability is better, safe in the knowledge that you can cancel for free if your plans change.
AAdvantage is very flexible with award itineraries and routings. All partner airlines can be combined, and routes do not need to be the most direct (although you cannot backtrack). This opens up many creative ways to book an award when the most obvious flights are not available.
AAdvantage elite status tips
AAdvantage is one of the most generous programs for free upgrades for higher-tier members. All elite members now receive complimentary upgrades on domestic flights. On peak business routes, these will be hard to obtain (although the most frequent flyers will be prioritized). On off-peak and typical leisure routes, upgrades can be easier to obtain – and for free!
Internationally, it offers Systemwide Upgrades. You need to fly a lot to earn them, but Systemwide Upgrades represent great value. They can be used to upgrade out of any booking class (including the lowest economy and premium economy class), and can cover up to three segments (so covering domestic connections or international routes via the US). Availability may be limited initially, but American Airlines has a long-established process of waitlisting and releasing more seats closer to departure.
Systemwide Upgrades can also be used on British Airways transatlantic flights. Photo: Justin Hayward / Simple Flying
Get status for longer. AAdvantage status is based on points earned within a fixed year period based on March 1st (and valid immediately upon reaching the threshold). There is an opportunity to enjoy the status benefits for up to two years if you plan qualifying flights early in the membership year.
WIth such a complex and wide-ranging program as American Airlines AAdvantage, there is no limit to the different ways to use and redeem miles. There are some stand-out perks and sweet spots, but many will differ for different people. Feel free to share the areas that appeal most to you with the program in the comments.