The Ultimate Guide to the American AAdvantage Mileage Program

The Ultimate Guide to the American AAdvantage Mileage Program
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Over the past few years, there have been many changes 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, it's 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 in 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. 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, 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 cards out there, each with unique benefits. American is slightly unique in that there are two credit card companies issuing co-branded cards- Citi and Barclays.

The most elite and most expensive card out there is the Citi Executive / AAdvantage Card, which comes with:

  • 50,000 miles for spending $5,000 in the first three months of card membership
  • Admiral's Club membership
  • A free checked bag and preferred boarding for you and up to 8 companions
  • 25 percent off in-flight purchases,
  • 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles for spending $40,000 in a calendar year on the card
  • No foreign transaction fees.
  • Two miles per dollar on American purchases, one mile per dollar on everything else
  • $450 annual fee

Also from Citi is the AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard, which comes with:

  • 50,000 AAdvantage miles when you spend $2,500 in the first three months.
  • A free checked bag and preferred boarding for you and up to 4 companions
  • 25% savings on inflight food and beverages
  • Two miles per dollar on American purchases, one mile per dollar on everything else
  • $99 annual fee, waived the first 3 months

The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® is the business version of this card, with similar benefits, but offers 70,000 miles for spending $4,000 in the first 4 months of cardmembership.

Next is the AAdvantage® Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard®, which rewards you with:

  • 50,000 miles when you make a first purchase
  • Two miles per dollar on American purchases, and one mile per dollar on everything else.
  • Preferred boarding and one free checked bag for you and up to 4 companions.
  • $25 wifi credit per year
  • 25% off inflight purchases
  • Companion certificate good for 1 guest at $99 (plus taxes and fees) after spending $20,000 on purchases and your account remains open for 45 days after your anniversary date.

The business version of this card offers:

  • 65,000 miles after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days and 10,000 miles when a purchase is made on an employee card.
  • 2 AA miles per dollar on American purchases, office supply, telecom, and car rental merchants; 1 mile per dollar on everything else
  • 5% AAdvantage mileage bonus on the anniversary date of your card, based on the total number of miles you earned using the card.
  • Preferred boarding and one free checked bag for you and up to 4 companions.
  • Companion certificate good for 1 guest at $99 (plus taxes and fees) after spending $30,000 on purchases and your account remains open for 45 days after your anniversary date.
  • Earn $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars after spending $25,000 on purchases each calendar year.

Finally, the newest product from Citi is the American Airlines AAdvantage® MileUp Mastercard, which rewards cardmembers with:

  • 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.
  • 25% off inflight purchases
  • 2 AA miles per dollar spent at grocery stores, grocery delivery services, AA purchases, and 1 mile per dollar on everything else.

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

Earning miles in the sky.

Unfortunately, American has 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 later about elite-qualifying miles, which are used for earning elite status.

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, 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 – 5 miles for every U.S. dollar
  • Gold member – 7 miles/U.S. dollar
  • Platinum member – 8 miles/U.S. dollar
  • Platinum Pro member – 9 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 taxes, fees, or surcharges won't be used to calculate the miles that you earn.

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

Earning American Miles Flying Alaska Airlines

Alaska is the newest change to American's partner chart. Once very close partners, the two airlines were nearly ending their partnership when they announced reciprocal earning and elite benefits, as well as Alaska joining oneworld in the future!

Screen Shot 2020-04-14 at 9.17.23 AM

Earning American Miles Flying British Airways

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

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 8.24.07 AM

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 distance flown.

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 8.25.21 AM

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 distance flown.

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 8.26.08 AM

Notice most economy fares will earn only 25 percent.

Earning American Miles flying Iberia.

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

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 8.27.21 AM

Earning American miles flying Japan Airlines.

Miles earned by flying oneworld partner Japan Airlines are earned based on the fare class booked and distance flown. There's also two separate charts for international flights on JAL and domestic flights on JAL.

International Flights:

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 8.28.32 AM

Domestic Flights:

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 8.28.50 AM

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 Malaysia Airlines.

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

malaysian

Beware: N, O and Q-class 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 distance flown.

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 8.30.59 AM

Earning American miles flying Qatar.

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

royaljordanian

Notice again that N, O, and G-class 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 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 distance flown.

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 8.31.52 AM

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 China Southern.

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 8.35.11 AM

Earning American miles flying Etihad.

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

etihad

Earning American miles flying Fiji Airlines.

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

fiji

Earning American miles flying Hawaiian.

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

Screen Shot 2019-06-07 at 8.34.15 AM

Earning miles through transfer partners.

American has a great transfer partner program to help you top off your mileage account, including a partnership with Marriott Bonvoy. You can transfer these points to miles at a 3:1 ratio. If you transfer points in 60,000 point increments, you'll receive a 5,000 mile bonus (so 60,000 points becomes 25,000 miles when it lands in your American account).

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 earned 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 their flights and their partners, which allows for flexibility when traveling and more opportunities to optimize. Furthermore, the breadth of partners and awards available 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 (even though Etihad has downgraded services a bit in recent years).

American elite status levels.

The first level of AAdvantage Status is the Gold Level. To earn this, you must fly 25,000 elite-qualifying miles or 30 segments in a calendar year, plus spend $3,000 in elite-qualifying dollars (though check out our guide to 2020 status). With this, you'll receive:

  • Complimentary auto-requested upgrades on flights 500 miles or less (longer flight upgrades available with 500-mile upgrades certificates)
  • 24-hour upgrade window
  • 40% elite mileage bonus
  • Complimentary Main Cabin Extra Seats at check-in
  • Complimentary Preferred Seats at booking
  • 1 free checked bag

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 earn 50,000 EQM or 60 segments, plus spend $6,000 in the year (though check out our guide to 2020 status). Your benefits include:

  • Complimentary auto-requested upgrades on flights 500 miles or less (longer flight upgrades available with 500-mile upgrades certificates)
  • 48-hour upgrade window
  • 60% elite mileage bonus
  • Complimentary Main Cabin Extra and Preferred Seats
  • 2 free checked bags

A new level, Platinum Pro, was added in 2017. It has similar benefits to Platinum, but it has a larger mileage bonus and complimentary auto-requested upgrades. You'll need 75,000 miles, 90 segments, and $9,000 in spend yearly to qualify(though check out our guide to 2020 status).

  • Complimentary auto-requested upgrades (no certificates needed)
  • 72-hour upgrade window
  • 80% elite mileage bonus
  • Complimentary Main Cabin Extra and Preferred Seats
  • 2 free checked bags

The top-tiered status is called Executive Platinum, earned when you fly 100,000 miles or 100 segments with American, plus $15,000 in spend(though check out our guide to 2020 status). You'll receive:

  • 4 one-way systemwide upgrades
  • Complimentary auto-requested upgrades
  • 100-hour upgrade window
  • 120% elite mileage bonus
  • Complimentary Main Cabin Extra and Preferred Seats
  • 3 free checked bags
  • Additional rewards starting at 150,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs)

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. Flights now are priced on demand (not good for consumers, though could save you miles if you like to travel during off-peak times).

The current American system 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. However, a new "web-only" level has appeared in recent months- I've booked flights from as low as 2,000 miles from Phoenix to Las Vegas!
  • 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.

Economy:

Eco

Premium Economy:

PreEco

Business/First:

Bus

First Class:

First

Like most other airlines, American also utilizes an award chart for 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 has improved partner search online in recent years, including adding Etihad and Qatar to its booking engine. However, it's good to search multiple locations for award availability.

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 website is another good option to check, as well as Japan Airlines. Hawaiian Airlines can be searched on 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!