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American Airlines AAdvantage miles can take you around the world, but redeeming them can be tricky. A flight you thought would cost 25,000 miles round-trip might turn out to cost 60,000 miles. Fees you thought would be around $5 are instead in the hundreds.
Simply put, redemptions can be hard.
That said, the sooner you learn how to redeem your American Airlines AAdvantage miles efficiently, the better equipped you’ll be to get the most value out of them. Here’s your guide to booking an award ticket with American Airlines.
How to find AAdvantage award tickets
Log in to your account
If you’re reading this, you probably already have an American AAdvantage frequent flyer number and password. If not, you can become a member in minutes by signing up for free at AA.com.
If you have an account but can’t find your password, follow the prompts to have American Airlines reset it. Then, log in to your account and take note of your mileage balance.
Search for your award flight on the American Airlines website
On AA.com, select “Redeem Miles” and then enter your destination and dates. You’ll see results displayed as a grid, with different redemption types for different flights in different cabins. You can refine your search by the number of connections, the airline or other variables.
You can also choose a calendar view, which shows you available redemptions for a whole month. Look closely at each option you’re considering. Sometimes that nicely priced award seat may be for a not-so-nice itinerary, with multiple connections or overnight stays at connecting cities — or an itinerary that requires you to drive across town to another airport to make a connecting flight.
» Learn more: The complete guide to redeeming American Airlines miles
Check seating charts
For AA-operated flights, you can see exactly which seats are available before you book. In the search results, click “Seats” to call up a map showing you which ones are already taken and which ones you can reserve.
It’s the best way to make sure you don’t get stuck in a middle seat 15 rows away from your travel companion.
Keep an eye out for quickly disappearing — or appearing — award seats
There’s no way to know when MilesSAAver award seats will be made available. And when they do, they can get snatched up fast.
Similarly, if you can’t find a good option for your travel plans, keep checking back. It’s possible new MilesSAAver seats could open up.
Use the cancellation policy on your award ticket to your advantage
American Airlines offers a 24-hour cancellation policy. So, if you see a redemption you like, book the award ticket knowing that you can cancel it and get a full refund of your miles as long as you cancel within 24 hours.
Things to know before booking American Airlines award tickets
There are a few points to keep in mind before booking your award so that you can get the best value from your miles.
There are different award types: AAnytime, MilesSAAver and Web Specials
You can find an AAnytime award flight almost (you guessed it) anytime. But these seats cost a lot more miles and should generally be avoided. For example, a one-way flight within the contiguous 48 states is priced at 30,000 miles at the AAnytime Level 2 tier and 20,000 miles at AAnytime Level 1.
In contrast, MilesSAAver seats for the same flight cost 12,500 AAdvantage miles. How do you know when you’ll be able to find the lower-priced seats? You don’t. American doesn’t announce when it will open up MilesSAAver seats, but you can bet that off-peak times will have better availability.
With plenty of opportunities to redeem your AAdvantage miles, get familiar with all the different ways you can earn American Airlines miles so you can be on your way to redeeming your miles for nearly free travel.
» Learn more: 34 ways to earn American Airlines AAdvantage miles
The airline's award chart is helpful
The number of miles you need to get a flight is shown on charts at American’s website — for now, at least. Other airlines that had award charts in the past have been eliminating them in recent years, moving to a less regimented and more opaque method of determining how many miles a flight will cost. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see American jump on this bandwagon.
But for now, AA’s award redemption charts are a good guide for knowing how many miles you’ll need to get where you’re going. NerdWallet values American AAdvantage miles at about 1.2 cents each. When considering redeeming your miles for award tickets, aim to extract a cent-per-mile valuation that meets or exceeds that valuation.
You might have to pay hefty fees on international partner award flights
Your AAdvantage miles can be used to book flights on Oneworld airlines and American’s code-share partners; however, keep in mind that fees on these partner airlines, especially on British Airways, can be hefty.
For example, a flight from New York to London on American Airlines costs 30,000 AAdvantage miles + $5.60 in taxes.
But the same route flown on British Airways costs 30,000 AAdvantage miles + $229.20 in taxes.
Avoid these fees if you can help it by flying on AA partners that don't pass on taxes and fuel surcharges.
With some diligence and flexibility, you should be able to find enough good options to get you where you want to go on an award ticket.
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