The Pros and Cons of American Airlines’ Loyalty Program

American Airlines offers some discounted award flights, but miles can be hard to earn if you take cheap flights.
Natasha GabrielleAug 25, 2021

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American Airlines offers flights to 350 destinations throughout 50 countries. It’s a popular and well-known brand, and you may be wondering if its loyalty program is worthwhile.

The American Airlines frequent flyer program, also known as AAdvantage, is free to join and offers some notable perks, especially if you regularly fly with the airline. We’ll share the pros and cons to help you decide if this is the right airline loyalty program for you.

The pros of the American Airlines loyalty program

American Airlines has several hubs

Whether or not AAdvantage membership is worth pursuing largely depends on where you're based and where you like to fly. Choosing an airline that has a hub near you or in your city can be beneficial. You can then assume the airline will have flight availability for your travel needs.

American Airlines has several hubs throughout the U.S., including:

  • Charlotte.

  • Chicago-O'Hare.

  • Dallas-Fort Worth.

  • Los Angeles.

  • Miami.

  • New York-JFK.

  • New York-LaGuardia.

  • Philadelphia.

  • Phoenix.

  • Washington-Reagan.

The large number of hubs increases the likelihood of American Airlines flights being widely available where you're based.

Award redemptions begin at 7,500 miles for domestic tickets

You can redeem your miles for one-way domestic flights for as little as 7,500 miles through the American frequent flyer program. This fare is available for MileSAAver flights with a distance of under 500 miles.

Other MileSAAver journeys within the contiguous 48 U.S. states and Canada can be redeemed for 12,500 miles. Even when you don’t have tens of thousands of miles saved, you'll likely have some award ticket options.

You may also be able to find award redemptions for even less than 7,500 miles. These opportunities, known as Web Special awards, vary greatly by date and flight and are available starting at 5,000 miles. Members can find some great deals this way, but these deals aren’t available publicly — you'll have to find them by performing an award flight search. These flights also don’t typically allow changes and may have other restrictions in place.

Multiple ways to earn miles

American Airlines gives you several ways to earn miles. For starters, you can fly and earn, and the number of miles you’ll earn on a flight depends on your status level.

Nerdy tip: The AAdvantage loyalty program has four elite status levels, each with numerous benefits. The higher the status you have, the more miles you’ll earn when flying with American Airlines. You’ll earn anywhere from 5 to 11 miles per $1 spent on American Airlines flights.

You can also earn miles by getting and using an AAdvantage rewards credit card. The amount of miles you can earn depends on your spending habits and the card that you choose. Plus, you can earn a welcome offer like the one from the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®: Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after you spend $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. Based on our valuation, 50,000 miles is worth about $600 (1.2 cents x 50,000 = $600).

Another way to earn miles is by shopping. You can go to the AAdvantage eShopping mall and shop through select retailers to earn miles on your spending. The AAdvantage eShopping mall currently has 950+ participating stores, and earning rates vary by store. If you’re already shopping online and are part of the American Airlines rewards program, you might as well check the shopping portal to see if your favorite retailers are listed.

Finally, you can also earn miles by booking rental cars, vacation packages, hotels, cruises and when taking partner airline flights.

Members can redeem miles through partner airlines

Another benefit to the American Airlines AAdvantage program is you can redeem your miles for flights on partner airlines, including the Oneworld alliance airlines. Some partner airline flights can be booked online, while others require members to make reservations with an AA booking agent. Having this availability gives you even more options when using your miles to book flights to destinations around the globe.

American Airlines has an extensive list of partners. You can use miles to book flights with the following airlines:

  • British Airways.

  • Cathay Pacific.

  • Finnair.

  • Iberia.

  • Japan Airlines.

  • Malaysia Airlines.

  • Qantas.

  • Qatar Airways.

  • Royal Air Maroc.

  • Royal Jordanian Airlines.

  • S7 Airlines.

  • SriLankan Airlines.

  • Air Tahiti Nui.

  • Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air.

  • Cape Air.

  • China Southern Airlines.

  • Etihad Airlines.

  • Fiji Airways.

  • GOL Airlines.

  • Hawaiin Airlines (with exceptions).

  • Interjet.

  • Seaborne Virgin Islands.

Enjoy added perks when you reach elite status

When you reach elite status through the American frequent flyer program, you’ll get to take advantage of extra perks. This includes free checked bags, complimentary upgrades and priority check-in. The perks available to you depend on your status level, but the perks can pay off if you travel frequently.

Your elite status carries over to Oneworld partners

When you have elite status with American Airlines, your status will carry over to Oneworld partners. That means you can get some of the same or similar perks when flying with Oneworld airlines. Here’s a look at how this status carries over when flying with Oneworld partners:

American Airlines elite status level

Oneworld elite status level

Gold.

Ruby.

Platinum.

Sapphire.

Platinum Pro.

Emerald.

Executive Platinum.

Emerald.

If you're just getting into the points and miles universe, you can consider optimizing your travels for elite status in an airline alliance a more advanced level of participation. For now, it's simply useful to know what perks could be available to you if you decide to join American's frequent flyer program.

The cons of the American Airlines loyalty program

Miles are earned based on the ticket price, not distance flown

Some airline loyalty programs, like Alaska Airlines, reward flyers based on flight distance. This is not the case for American Airlines. Instead of earning miles based on how many miles you fly, you’ll earn miles based on how much money you spend on your flights, plus your rewards program status level.

If you’re hoping to maximize the number of miles that you earn based on the fact that you fly far distances often, this may not be the airline loyalty program for you.

Miles are worth 1.2 cents each

We value American Airlines miles at 1.2 cents each, which is average among airline mile values. It’s important to know that several airline loyalty programs have miles worth more. If you’re hoping to get more value out of your miles, you may want to look into other airline loyalty programs.

Some airline loyalty programs that offer more value include the following:

  • JetBlue points are valued at 1.5 cents per point.

  • Southwest Airlines points are valued at 1.4 cents per point.

  • Delta Air Lines miles are valued at 1.3 cents per mile.

However, it may still make sense to join this program if you frequently fly with American Airlines and if you’re living in or near one of the airline’s many hub cities. You can maximize the value that you get by exchanging your miles for AAdvantage MileSAAver award flights. If your travel plans and dates are flexible, this is a great way to get more value.

You can’t use your miles to book free stopovers

Some airline rewards programs allow you to use your miles to book free stopovers, which can be a great way to maximize the value of your miles and see an additional destination while traveling. Unfortunately, the American Airlines rewards program doesn’t offer this capability.

If you prefer to have this capability, using an airline rewards program like United Airlines MileagePlus might make more sense for you. The program's Excursionist Perk allows for one free stopover to be added when booking award flights.

If you want to have the capability to do this with your miles, the American Airlines loyalty program is not the best choice for you.

Miles expire after 18 months of inactivity

If you’re someone who doesn’t fly often or who doesn’t usually book American Airlines flights, you’ll be at a disadvantage because American Airlines miles do expire. If you’re inactive for 18 months, your miles will be removed from your account.

Other airline rewards program points and miles don’t expire — like Delta, Southwest and United Airlines.

If you want to keep your miles, you'll need to ensure you have qualifying account activity within the last year and a half. Examples include earning or redeeming miles on an American Airlines or partner flight.

Note: Mile expiration is currently paused through Dec. 31, 2021. American Airlines announced this change during the pandemic.

Is the AAdvantage loyalty program right for you?

Joining the American Airlines rewards program can be beneficial. It costs nothing to become a member, and if you like to fly with American Airlines or live near a hub, it can make a lot of sense for you to join. You can fly to many destinations, redeem your miles for awards at low rates, earn and redeem your miles with other airline partners, and get access to great perks after you attain elite status.

But if you don’t live near a hub, don’t fly with American Airlines often, want to earn miles based on distance flown rather than dollar amount spent or are nervous about points expiry, then the AAdvantage program may not be the right airline loyalty program for you.


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