How bad (or good) are American Airline’s AAdvantage miles?

In yesterday’s post about the changing fortunes of points and miles, I wrote this about American Airline’s AAdvantage miles:

AA only gets an upward arrow because they were subjectively in the toilet not long ago.  AA saver award space had completely dried up in almost all markets.  Recently, though, there have been confirmed sightings of useful AA saver awards.  It’s easy to get an up arrow when you start from the bottom.

This topic generated passionate reader responses at both ends of the spectrum.  Some argued that AAdvantage miles are the best, and others argued that they are the worst.  The best part is that the arguments included information about the program that could be helpful for those trying to decide whether to acquire AA miles or to those looking for best uses of those miles.  Below I’ve summarized the top points from each side of the debate and sprinkled in a few of my own thoughts on both sides…

AAdvantage miles are great

Here are some of the reasons that AA miles really are terrific…

Reduced Mileage Awards

Those with AA credit cards are eligible for reduced award prices for flights to or from select cities within the US and Canada.  With most AA cards, flights under 500 miles are eligible for a 5,000 mile award discount (2,500 one-way), and those over 500 miles are eligible for a 7,500 mile award discount (3,750 one-way).  Some of the no-fee AA cards limit cardholders to lower discounts.  Full details of this program can be found here.

It is worth checking the Reduced Mileage Awards page before booking an award to see if either your origin or destination city is on the list.  If so, book your award by calling reservations, and make sure to state that you want to book a reduced mileage award.

10% Rebate on AAdvantage awards

Simply by being a cardholder of any of several cards, you’ll automatically earn a 10% rebate on all AA awards that you book, up to 10,000 AA miles per year (that is, for your first 100,000 AAdvantage miles spent each year, you’ll get back 10,000 miles).  Qualifying cards include:

And before you ask… no, you won’t get more miles back by having multiple AA cards.  AA makes sure that the 10K limit is enforced at your frequent flyer account level rather than per card.

Free Award Changes

This is a really special feature of the AAdvantage program when compared to the United or Delta.  After booking an award, you can make many changes to the award for free, including:

  • Dates and times
  • Routing
  • Airlines
  • YMMV: Upgrading class of service.  One Mile at a Time says that AA generally doesn’t charge for upgrading awards (e.g. from economy to business, or business to first class).

But the following changes do incur a fee ($150 for first passenger, and $25 for each additional passenger):

  • Change origin or destination
  • Change award type (e.g. change from first class to business class, or from an AAnytime award to a Mile SAAver award)
  • Cancel award and redeposit miles

Great partner awards are possible

Even when American Airlines doesn’t offer many saver level awards on their own flights, many of their partners still do.  And, in some cases, American Airlines offers very good award prices.  One good example is that they charge only 75,000 miles for one-way business class from the US to Africa.  And their partner Qatar Airways not only often has great award availability, but they are also known to offer top notch business class seats and service.  Note: to find Qatar award availability, use BA.com to search, then call AA to book your award.

AAdvantage miles are the worst

And, here are some reasons that AAdvantage miles are the worst…

Limited SAAver award space

Years ago, American Airlines used to be one of the most generous airlines with respect to offering saver level awards (e.g. 25K round-trip economy), but in the past few years they have arguably become the worst.

That said, in the past month or so, AA really does appear to have increased their award availability so it is worth checking again.  For example, to pick a random time period and city pair, I found nearly every day available for business class awards in January 2018 from New York to Los Angeles (but most of these involve connections):

Fuel Surcharges on partner awards

While AA doesn’t charge fuel surcharges on awards booked on their own flights, they do pass along fuel surcharges imposed by partners.  As a comparison, United never passes along fuel surcharges, but Delta often does (depending upon how they feel about certain partners at any given moment).

With AA, passing along fuel surcharges is particularly problematic since their biggest transatlantic partner is British Airways, and British Airways really loves to stick it to you.

For example, here’s an AA round-trip business class award on British Airways (Chicago to London):

Your Trip Price:

115,000 miles

+$1,327.36 USD

But if you can find award space on AA’s own aircraft, you’ll pay the same number of miles but far fewer dollars:

Your Trip Price:

115,000 miles

+$355.16 USD

British Airways charges nearly $1,000 in surcharges, And AA happily passes along those fees.

Bottom Line

Even when AA offers no award space at all, AAdvantage miles are far from worthless thanks to the ability to book awards on partner flights.  That said, British Airways’ unforgivably high surcharges tend to cloud one’s view of the usefulness of AA miles on partner flights.  The key is to look for flights on other partners, especially those that can’t be booked online via AA.com.

And, I’m coming around to kind-of liking AA miles again.  For flights on AA, award space definitely has opened up on many flights.  And if you have any of a number of AA credit cards, you can save miles through the 10% rebate (which works on partner flights too) and/or Reduced Mileage Awards (which are for AA flights only).

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that AAdvantage miles are the best.  I don’t think they’re anywhere close to that, but they are definitely useful under the right circumstances.

Which miles are the best?  What do you think?  Please comment below.

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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Comments

  1. I think it’s pretty much as you said, the value of AA miles completely depends on what your travel intentions are. If you want to fly from major US hub to major US hub direct, your options may be limited. However, the partners are hard to beat. I just booked HND-JFK in JAL F for 72k miles a person (after discount). Considering how easy AA miles are to get, I think that’s a pretty good deal. I’d personally rather use my miles for aspirational travel, so I’d say AA miles are worth more to me than some others.

  2. Good summary. The reason that AA rewards program get feedback at both ends of the spectrum might be that the availability is pretty bad, but once you can find the seat, the price is great. For the “fuel surcharge” part in your article, I am not sure if it’s correct. Yes, when you redeem AA miles on BA fleet to LHR, you pay tons of tax/surcharge. But it’s the same for redeeming BA miles on BA fleet. I don’t know how the tax will be if you redeem other miles (like CX, JL etc). If they all incur tons of tax, then it’s the problem of BA , not AA.

  3. Here’s where AA miles really shine: For a trip planned in advance, grab something at the 330 mark and then just monitor flights. For example, I had a trip to Prague with an AB connection. When AB went bankrupt I was able to change to an AA connection through PHL with terrible connecting legs and a return through LHR/JFK with tough connections. Since then I got a much better connection ORD-PHL (still monitoring for the non-stop) and a business SAAver opened up on an AA 77W LHR to DFW so I changed to those.

    • I wasn’t able to use my AA miles for several years because of no saver award availability. Finally, I booked one ways from Europe, but the flights were horrible — FCO-MAD-JFK (overnight)-DCA. I monitored availability for better flights and ended up with four changes to a much better itinerary. Too much work, though!

  4. Looks like they only show 4 months of availability of Reduced Mileage Awards, including last month. Any idea when they update that list?

  5. Like AA Advantage. But lately I’ve noticed when I’m researching a business award RT ticket (such as TYO, SYD, HKG & Euro), the flights come up mixed cabin. Only the domestic connecting flight is in business (domestic F) and the international leg is economy. Don’t understand why a business award ends up in economy.

  6. Thanks for the article. Good to know those reduced mileage award. Wished it could automatically show up when you search after logging in. United shows better award seat availability if you have their credit card and sign in before searching.

    The biggest complain for me is still the limited availability of their saver award seat. Unlike those who enjoy biz seats, I am only looking for coach seats for my whole family. AA really should be shamed about their award seat availability, particularly compared to UA. The should not advertise their award seats as if they were abundant when they are not.

    Anybody could suggest a strategy to secure saver seats, either domestically or internationally? I think I am an early bird and often start to search half a year or even a year ahead of time, but it is my impression that, even if I do so, I still can’t get good availability at AA if they ever release saver award seat at all.

  7. more award availability?….only at crazy prices or routings…after moving to an AA hub (DFW) I thought AA miles would be great for business saver to Hawaii…lol,…they only have a few saver awards, all run on small Alaska Airlines planes through SEA and if you want the good routes it costs 90-120K each way…there are a limited number of 67.5K flights on Fri or Sat, which is when most people take the overnight flight home, but only on 3 or 4 dates a year. They only had two nonstop routes with lie flat seats (coming back from Maui), and until recently were known to substitute equipment at without warning to a standard setup of ordinary recliners…(now they finally have upgraded equip, this might stop)..now they have some of those flights from HNL as well…so at best you can get a business class RT for 135K -10k if you have one of the credit cards…like the other airlines some availability magically opens up at last minute (when even award tickets get charged the $75 close in ticketing fee) I almost always use BA miles for AA domestic flights to avoid the fees….Lastly they are the worst about being delayed one year out of 36 flights with them they were late 27 times, that’s 3/4 of the time with mechanical being the most used excuse (not reassuring)…if this is the quality of flights out of their main hub, I hate to see what the rest of the country deals with…..the only good use we have found for them is flights to the Caribbean, which we also use BA miles to buy, because they have non-stop routes along with the stupid go north to fly south routings…want to go to Jamaica from DFW, sure…but first we will send you to Toronto, Chicago, or Baltimore….blah

    • You could book the same CX flight to SE Asia with Alaska Airlenes Mileage Plan for 50K and enjoy a stopover in Hong Kong too. I recently booked YVR-HKG//HKG-DPS in J for January and will be flying on the A350.

      CX J JNB-HKG/4 days/HKG-BOS in February was 62.5K.

      I did find one good use of my AA miles though. Found 2 AUH-SYD on Etihad in F Apartment on the A380. 90K with CC discount.

  8. Being able to make an award booking and then change it with no charge (dates, class of service) is great if you pair with expert flyer or some other monitoring service which will notify you if/when the desired seats become available.

  9. “…but most of these involve connections”

    Yep, might get excited to see “availability” but always tends to be the shittiest routings – never nonstops. Want to get to Europe from West coast nonstop? Fuhgetaboutit. How does 2-3 stops and 6-12-18 hours wasted time for a 10-12 hour flight grab you? No thanks.

    That said, all the majors are like that. And why I almost never end up flying domestic airlines. Only once in 5 years has that happened (full “standard” rates SFO-NZ in F – a measly 390K r/t pp – and the only reason I choose UA was everything else took another 12+ hours to get there and this gave me my preferred travel dates).

    Delta used to be the shittiest, but AA is almost as bad now. Almost.

  10. So what are the best OneWorld miles? I keep stashes in Avios, Asia miles, and AA. For me each of these serves its purpose. AA means free routing and time changes. It provided me with many of those 27k economy flights to or from EU. It is perfect for long haul business Asian flights at 63k miles. I don’t even mind using some Southwest or Jetblue points to get to the getaway city as I understand the domestic AA availability is bad. However I had the opportunity to fly Cathay, Qatar, AA, and Japan Air business classes because of AA miles. One shall consider that for domestic flights there are plenty of other strategies including the now dying flex perks, merrill, AMEX credits, etc… The only worrisome part about AA miles is the absence of 1 way stopover…

  11. I’ve noticed this too when looking for direct flights. But I’m not flying to the West Coast from Kona for another six months and won’t likely book it until January. We will see how long these available award space last. I am quite certain they won’t last through the end of January in which case people should keep AAdvantage in their shit bucket for now.

  12. How often AA update their “Reduced Mileage Awards page”? Per month, Per quarter, or random? For example, right now it shows until Jan 2018 and I want to arrange a memory day vacation (May 28). When shall I check the page?

    • notice the webpage mentions, “Availability changes monthly, so make sure your destination is available”. So I assume it will be updated monthly. Now the question is when exactly? Beginning, middle or the end? I have to be very alerted to make sure I could book for the whole family. A tough job…

  13. AA points are getting better. I recently booked two non-stop flights from Chicago to San Jose Del Cabo in December for 30,000 points each. There was a time in the last couple of years that 55,000 miles round trip non-stop was the best I could do.

  14. A caveat on the “freely change routing on awards…” – although ‘AASaver’ awards might be available for coach short-haul destinations (e.g. bos-phl) at both 7500 (non-stop) and 12500 (1-stop, e.g. bos-mdt-phl, they are not treated as changeable in both directions: I was unable to change without a penalty a 12500 saver 1-stop to 7500 non-stopo saver, even willing to forgo the 5000 miles — they wanted $150 to redeposit the miles and reissue the ticket (so one could save 5000 miles by paying $150)… (I chose instead to pay another 2500 without a fee to ‘upgrade’ the award to a 15000 business award on the non-stop I wanted.)

  15. So at first glance it looks like they have a lot of award availability at saver level. Just look at all that blue in the picture Greg posted. But if you drill in and look at the actual flights, they are terrible. I laugh when I see connections in JFK that continue from LGA. Do they really think people are going to run across town to make a connecting flight??? Or the ones that are over 24 hours in travel time??? You need to drill in to see how terrible the availability is.

  16. It’s not always true that you can change partners without a fee. For example, I was told that adding or removing Alaska from an itinerary requires a $150 fee. YMMV.

    Also, with standard awards, date changes are not seamless. For example, if you are booked on a date requiring 30,000 miles, and want to change to a date that costs 20,000 miles, you must pay the $150 fee (or you may be able to forfeit the miles at no cost – not sure whether that is still allowed).

    Note that off-peak standard awards (such as 20,000 miles domestically, or 47,500 miles between US and Europe) can be decent deals under the right circumstances. Part of the value is that every flight with a revenue seat available can be bought using the standard award.

  17. FYI, I think the reduced mileage awards are only available when booking flights that have Saver award availability. You can book them for one-way flights, though, so you can still benefit even if you can’t find a 25,000 mile RT ticket.

    I laugh when I read the various opinions about the value of AA miles. People try to make it a black and white issue, when in reality, it depends. And it’s not just an issue of Saver award availability. There are many times when I have gladly booked an Anytime award ticket, because the cash cost of the ticket that I needed was so high. For example, my son went to college at the University of Missouri in Columbia, MO. They have a small regional airport and AA is the only good option for flying in and out. The problem is, flights are limited and tickets at holiday times often cost $1,000 or more. Rather than pay that out of pocket, I gladly used AA miles to book the flights, even when Saver awards were not available. I get it that it can be frustrating when American wants to charge you 50,000 miles for a $300 ticket. But that’s when I’m likely to be exploring other options (e.g., SWA). The same thing is true with Delta and United — there are good uses of their miles, even when Saver awards are not available.

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