The Ultimate Guide to American AAdvantage Miles

The Ultimate Guide to American AAdvantage Miles
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Over the past few years, there have been many changed to the AAdvantage program, including a merger, devaluation of the awards chart, and a complete change to how flyers earn points and miles. Even if you were once familiar with this program, it's probably time to take another look.We thought we'd help you reeducate yourself, so we'll go over the basics of the program, its status structure, ways to earn miles, and how to maximize using those miles on your next vacation!

The basics.

Here's a fun fact: American Airlines started the first frequent flier program 1981. Since then, there have been hundreds of changes in the travel industry, but American remains steadfast. If you haven't signed up for an account yet, you can do so at AA.com, and this number can be used to earn AAdvantage miles whenever you fly on American Airlines or its partners, which then accrue and eventually can be redeemed for award travel.

How to earn AAdvantage miles.

You can earn miles by flying, with credit card sign-ups, transfer partners, and promotions and partnerships. Let's break all of these ways down.

Earning miles on credit cards

There are five American Airlines co-branded American Express cards out there, each with its own unique benefits. The most elite and most expensive card out there is the Citi Executive / AAdvantage Card, which comes with Admiral's Club membership, American's network of airport lounges. With this card, you'll receive 50,000 miles for spending $5,000 in the first three months of card membership. You'll get a free checked bag, 25 percent off in-flight purchases, 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles for spending $40,000 in a calendar year on the card, and no foreign transaction fees. This card earns two miles per dollar on American purchases, and one mile per dollar on everything else. The annual fee is steep, though, at $450. I would recommend this card for only the most dedicated American Airlines flyers.

The Citi Platinum Select / AAdvantage World Mastercard earns you 30,000 miles for spending $1,000 in the first three months of card membership. You'll also get a free checked bag for you and four travelers, Group One boarding, 25 percent off in-flight purchases, a $100 discount every year for American flights, 10 percent off all American award flights in the form of a dividend, and two points per dollar on all American purchases. The annual fee of this card is $95, which is waived for the first year.

The CitiBusiness / AAdvantage World MasterCard. You'll earn 30,000 miles for spending $1,000 in the first three months of card membership, a free bag, and two times the miles for purchases on American and on office supplies, car rentals, and telecommunications. You'll also get a five percent mileage bonus at the end of the year on eligible purchases. Furthermore, you'll receive a companion certificate if you spend $30,000 or more on the card each year.

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Gold World Elite Mastercard® earns 25,000 miles for spending $750 in the first three months of card membership. You'll also get a 25 percent savings on eligible in-flight food and beverage purchases.

New to the game is the AAdvantage® Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard, which rewards you with 40,000 miles when you make a first purchase. You'll also earn two times on all American purchases, and one mile per dollar after that. Ten percent of your redeemed miles are returned to you, up to a 10,000 mile maximum per calendar year, and you'll receive preferred boarding and one free checked bag.

There are other ways to earn American miles from credit cards. Consider applying for the Starwood Preferred Guest Card by American Express. It earns up to 35,000 SPG points for $3,000 in spend in 3 months. These transfer at a 1:1 ratio into American Airlines, but if you transfer 20,000 at a time, you receive a 5,000 mile bonus, making 20,000 SPG points equal to 25,000 American Airlines points!

Now that Marriott owns Starwood, you can also transfer your Marriott points earned from the incredible points sign up bonus into Starwood at a 3:1 ratio. So, that sign up bonus is worth 38,333 American Airlines miles after two transfers (one from Marriott to SPG, and another from SPG to American Airlines), and no fees are involved in the transfer.

If you're curious what the best credit card for airline miles is on the market today, we have a post for that!

Earning miles in the sky.

Unfortunately, American has followed its competition and switched to a revenue-based earning chart for miles. You'll now earn miles based on how much your ticket costs, rather than how many miles you've flown. To complicate things further, if you fly a partner airline of American, you'll have to calculate the miles you'd earn differently. Keep in mind, we're going to first talk about earning redeemable miles, which are used to book award travel. We'll talk about elite-qualifying miles, which are used for earning elite status, a little later.

I mention "fare class" a lot in this section. Fare class is a letter-code that describes the type of fare being sold. To find what fare class your ticket falls under, first click "details" when you search on AA.com:

aafareclass1

And then on the pop-up screen, you'll see "booking code."

aafareclass2

It may be more difficult to find on OTAs like Expedia and Priceline, but it's important to find if you want to know exactly how many miles you'd be earning.

Here's a rundown of earning, airline by airline.

Earning American miles flying American Airlines.

The most common way that American Airlines flyers will earn American miles, is by flying American! You'll earn miles based on your elite status:

  • AAdvantage® member – five miles for every U.S. dollar
  • Gold member – seven miles/U.S. dollar
  • Platinum member – eight miles/U.S. dollar
  • Platinum Pro member – nine miles/U.S. dollar
  • Executive Platinum member – 11 miles/U.S. dollar

Keep in mind, the maximum amount you can earn per ticket is 75,000 AA miles, and the miles you earn are based on the base fare, not the total price you pay for your ticket. So any taxes, fees, or surcharges won't be used to calculate the miles that you earn.

As a AAdvantage Platinum member who likes to pay low fares, I'm earning fewer miles than before with this change to this system. However, those of you who travel on expensive business tickets will likely earn more miles under this new system.

Earning American miles flying Air Berlin.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner Air Berlin are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

airberlin

Notice that most economy fares will earn 25% of miles flown, but you'll get 150% of miles flown in business class.

Earning American Miles flying British Airways.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner British Airways are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

britishairways

Notice that most economy fares will earn 50% of miles flown (with some earning only 25%), but you'll get 150% of miles flown in business class.

Earning American Miles flying Cathay Pacific.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner Cathay Pacific are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

cathaypacific

Notice a bulk of economy fares earn no miles at all! You're better off crediting to Cathay's partner Alaska, in my opinion.

Earning American Miles flying Finnair.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner Finnair are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

finnair

Notice most economy fares will earn only 25 percent, but you'll earn 300 percent of miles flown in full-fare first class!

Earning American Miles flying Iberia.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner Iberia are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

iberia

Earning American miles flying Japan Airlines.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner Japan Airlines are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

japanairlines

You'll notice that the lowest percentage you'd make on Japan Airlines is 30 percent of miles flown, which is the most generous of American's oneworld partners.

Earning American miles flying LAN Airlines

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner LAN are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

lanairlines

Earning American miles flying Malaysia Air.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner Malaysia are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

malaysian

Beware! N, O and Q-classed fares earn zero percent!

Earning American miles flying Qantas.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner Qantas are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

qantas

Earning American miles flying Qatar.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner Qatar are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

qantar

Earning American miles flying Royal Jordanian.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner Royal Jordanian are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

royaljordanian

Notice again that N, O, and G-classed fares earn zero percent.

Earning American miles flying S7.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner S7 are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

s7

Notice how many fares earn zero percent!

Earning American miles flying SriLankan.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner SriLankan are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

srilankan

Earning American miles flying TAM Airlines.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner TAM are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

tam

Earning American miles flying other partner airlines.

Miles earned by flying partner Air Tahiti Nui, Cape Air, Interjet, and Seabourne are earned only if it's a codeshare flight with American Airlines.

Earning American miles flying Alaska Airlines.

Miles earned by flying partner Alaska are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

alaska

Earning American miles flying Etihad.

Miles earned by flying partner Etihad are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

etihad

Earning American miles flying Fiji Airlines.

Miles earned by flying partner Fiji are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

fiji

Earning American miles flying Gulf Air.

Miles earned by flying partner Gulf Air are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

gulfair

Earning American miles flying Hawaiian.

Miles earned by flying partner Hawaiian are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

Earning American miles flying Jet Airways.

Miles earned by flying partner Jet Airlines are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

jet

Earning American miles flying WestJet.

Miles earned by flying partner WestJet are earned based on the fare class booked, and the distance flown.

westjet

Earning miles through transfer partners.

American has a great transfer partner program to help you top off your mileage account, including a partnership with SPG. You can transfer these points to miles at a 1:1 ratio, but if you transfer points in 20,000 point increments, you'll receive a 5,000 mile bonus (so 20,000 points becomes 25,000 miles when it lands in your American account).

You can earn SPG points by staying at Starwood hotels, or with the Starwood AmEx, which we have detailed in a post in the past. Explore those options if this interests you! It's a great way to reach that award trip a little faster.

Other lucrative partnerships.

Like many other programs, American has partnered with hotels, rental car agencies, and vacation booking to allow you to earn AAdvantage miles instead of that brand's points. You can earn miles at the eShopping mall, in American's dining program, or by spending money at a host of other merchants. But beware, these often aren't the best prices for products available, and the miles earn don't outweigh the costs.

Buying miles outright is also an option, though I would wait for a sale (which tends to happen semi-annually) before doing so. It can sometimes be a 100 percent bonus, which makes it a pretty good deal if you can redeem them for business or first-class travel.

Why collect American miles?

American Miles are good to collect for several reasons. For one thing, American allows one-way redemptions on its flights and its partners, which allows for more flexibility when traveling and more opportunities to optimize. Furthermore, the breadth of partners and award availability at your disposal for award travel is amazing. For example, I love to redeem AAdvantage miles for Etihad business class flights, which are a large step up in terms of service and amenities, while flying to the Middle East.

American elite status levels.

The first level of AAdvantage Status is the Gold Level. To earn this, you must fly 25,000 miles or 30 segments in a calendar year, plus spend $3,000 in elite-qualifying dollars. With this, you'll receive complimentary upgrades on full-fare tickets (Y or B fare class), but the upgrade window is only 24 hours before your flight. Companions receive upgrades as well, subject to availability. You'll receive access to the 'premium' seating like exit rows and preferred seats (at check in), priority check-in, security, boarding, and one checked bag for free.

The second level of status in the AAdvantage program is Platinum. You'll receive the same benefits as Gold status, but with some great upgrades. To earn, you must fly 50,000 miles or 60 segments, plus spend $6,000 in the year. Your upgrade window is now 72 hours instead of 24. You'll receive two checked bags free on every flight, and oneworld partner lounge access, which is crucial when flying abroad on long itineraries.

A new level, Platinum Pro, was added in 2017. It has similar benefits to Platinum, but has a larger mileage bonus and receives complimentary auto-requested upgrades. You'll need 75,000 miles, 90 segments, and $9,000 in spend yearly to qualify.

The top-tiered status is called Executive Platinum, earned when you fly 100,000 miles or 100 segments with American, plus $12,000 in spend. You'll have unlimited complimentary upgrades, given up to 100 hours before your flight. You'll also receive four one-way system-wide upgrades, which allow you to automatically be upgraded at time of booking to the next best class on international itineraries operated by American Airlines. Plus, you'll have waived ticketing service charge, and three checked bags and round out the special treatment.

How to redeem your AAdvantage miles.

Before you redeem your miles for anything you need to understand how many miles are needed to fly to your dream destination. American makes it easy to follow, but here are the highlights:

  • One-way trips are allowed, and start at 7,500 miles for domestic travel for under 500 mile trips.
  • Off-peak awards are a great way to save on flights, like only 45,000 miles to Europe round trip. See below for off-peak dates.
  • AAnytime awards are more expensive, and feature three levels.
  • See below for region definitions.

aa1

aaoneworld

Like most other airlines, American also utilizes an award chart for its oneworld and other airline partners:

aaoneworld

Ready to redeem your miles?

Redeeming American miles for American flights is pretty straightforward. Just go to AA.com and search for award bookings. But, what if you want to search for partner flights? AA.com often doesn't show partner availability, so you'll have to search on several other sites to find it.

For most oneworld partners, British Airways is a good search engine to find availability. You'll find which flights are available for you and then call into American at 1-800-822-8880. Qantas is another good option to check, as well as Japan Airlines' website. Hawaiian Airlines can be searched on its site, but only "super saver" award fares qualify.

A more "pro" way to find award seats is through ExpertFlyer.com, but that requires a paid subscription.

Do you have any AAdvantage miles racked up? Let us know in the comments, and leave any questions you might have about American's program there too!