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 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.
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.
Surf to American’s award charts
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. Better yet, see NerdWallet’s easy AAdvantage miles estimator here. Just enter a cabin class and a region to see an estimate of how many miles you’ll need.
Get to know 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 than the value-priced MilesSAAver and Web Special seats. 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.
If you’re lucky, you’ll see MilesSAAver seats for the same flight at 12,500 AAdvantage miles, and if you’re super-lucky, you’ll see off-peak and Web Special options for even less.
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.
» Learn more: American Airlines Web Special awards explained
Search for flights
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 on 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.
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.
» Learn more: 34 Ways to Earn American Airlines AAdvantage Miles
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. If you see a redemption you want, don’t assume it will still be there tomorrow. 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.
Beware of hefty fees on international partner award flights
Your AAdvantage miles are good for more than just American Airlines flights. You can also use them on the AA.com website to book flights on a number of partner airlines, including Iberia and British Airways. But watch out: Fees on these partner airlines, especially BA, can be hefty. A recent search for a seat from Los Angeles to London found some award seats on a British Airways flight for 57,500 AAdvantage miles each way, but the fee was $258.
For two people traveling round-trip, that’s over $1,000 in fees alone. Worse, different airlines have different policies for seat selection. If you want to choose your business class seat on a British Airways award flight well in advance, it could cost you another $140-plus per person, each way.
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. Then just redeem your miles for that award flight and enjoy your travels.
How to Maximize Your Rewards
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Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card
Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice: Find the best travel credit card for you Which American Airlines credit card should you choose? American Airlines bag fees: How they work, how to avoid them