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If you're planning to travel by air soon, you have a lot of airline options available. Choosing which airline brand to book a ticket with is a big decision, and your choice can impact your entire trip experience. The booking process, the type of customer service you encounter and your comfort level during the flight can significantly vary depending on the airline you choose.
If you're thinking of flying, you may be wondering, is American Airlines a good airline? We'll help you better understand what to expect from this flight operator to decide if you want to book one of its flights.
NerdWallet’s airline analysis
When choosing a particular brand to fly with, comparing its offerings to other airlines in the industry is one way to make a more informed decision. What is American Airlines like? NerdWallet has analyzed important factors across major airlines, and here’s where American Airlines stands.
A good loyalty program will reward you for frequent travel. When compared to other airlines, NerdWallet rates American Airlines' overall loyalty program lower than some. With a score of 3.0, American ranked 5th, after Alaska, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Southwest, but higher than Delta, United and Frontier. Overall, it’s not a bad program.
NerdWallet also compared airline loyalty programs to find the best program for frequent fliers. We rated the American Airlines program 2.8 out of 5. Alaska, Hawaiian, JetBlue and Southwest all ranked higher, while United received the same score. Delta and Frontier ranked even lower.
Airline fees are another important consideration. NerdWallet compared average add-on fees between carriers — including fees for checked bags, overhead carry-on bags, and seat selection. We found that American Airlines has an average add-on fee of around $49 for a one-way fare. This is higher than many other airlines, but Frontier and Spirit had the highest fees.
American Airlines’ baggage fees are typical. NerdWallet found that the average fee to add both a checked and carry-on bag for a one-way journey was $30 — the same for several other carriers. JetBlue, United, Frontier and Spirit had higher average fees.
When it comes to seat selection fees, NerdWallet found that American Airlines charges an average fee of $19 for a one way fare. This is higher than Alaska, Hawaiian, Delta, United and JetBlue. On average, American Airlines charges less than Spirit, Frontier and Southwest.
What is American Airlines like?
American Airlines flies to 350 destinations around the globe. While the airline has many destination choices, you should still consider other important factors before booking your flight.
Making reservations: You can make reservations online or by phone by calling 800-433-7300. Both of these options are available 24/7. You can also make reservations at most reservations offices, travel centers and ticket counters, but there may be a fee to do this depending on where you’re located.
Check-in: Usually, you can check-in for your flight online or from the airline's mobile app between 24 hours and 45 minutes before your flight’s departure (90 minutes for international flights). At most airports, you can also check-in at an airport ticket counter, curbside check-in counter or self-service kiosk. When checking in or checking bags at the airport, make sure you do so at least 45 minutes before departure for domestic trips and at least 60 minutes before international trips. Some international airports may require an even earlier check in time, so make sure to double check the requirements in advance.
Boarding: For most American Airlines flights, boarding begins 30 to 50 minutes before departure and ends 15 minutes before departure. Customers who need assistance and families with children under two can ask to board early. Airline status and ticket type typically determine boarding order, with exceptions for active duty U.S. military members and certain credit card members, such as with the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® or the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®.
In-flight experience: Is American Airlines comfortable? Your flight experience will greatly depend on the ticket purchased. First class and business class seating vary but typically offer more comfort and space. Some long-haul routes even offer lie-flat seats. Paying for a Main Cabin Extra seat will get travelers a seat pitch from 33 to 39 inches, a bit more spacious than the 30 to 32 inches in economy class. Regardless of ticket type, flights with WiFi access offer passengers a free library of movies, music and TV shows that can be streamed from personal devices.
Loyalty program: The American Airlines AAdvantage program is a solid loyalty program. NerdWallet values AAdvantage miles at 1.2 cents per mile. Basic members will earn 5 miles for every $1 spent with American Airlines. Achieving elite status will offer travelers more perks and higher earning rates (up to 11 miles per $1 spent). American Airlines offers three award redemption options — MileSAAver, AAnytime, and Web Special — with MileSAAver and Web Special awards providing great miles saving opportunities.
» Learn more: The best airline credit cards right now
Other things to consider
AirlineRatings.com rates American Airlines with a 7/7 for safety. Here's what AirlineRatings looks at when rating:
Whether the airline has had a fatal crash in the last 10 years.
Whether the airline has suffered numerous serious pilot related incidents.
Whether the airline and its country of origin passed major audits.
Whether the airline is complying with international COVID-19 standards.
As for health safety, American Airlines has a GBAC STAR™ Accreditation from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council. This means that the airline has a cleaning, disinfection, and infectious disease prevention program in place. If you have concerns about flying amid the pandemic, this may help you feel more comfortable about booking travel.
Overall, you can feel confident with safety when flying on an American Airlines flight.
When it comes to being on time, American Airlines has some improvements to make. The Bureau of Transportation collects important data about commercial airlines. We used some of their data to evaluate the reliability of American Airlines.
In 2020, in regard to all of American Airlines delayed flights, the average departure delay was 57.74 minutes. That same year, American’s on-time arrival percentage was 83.37 percent, with 6.01 percent of scheduled flights canceled.
As for lost baggage and baggage delays, American Airlines has even more work to do. In January 2020, American Airlines was responsible for 46,598 mishandled bags, or 7.81 bags per 1,000 enplaned. It ranked 16th out of 17 carriers for baggage mishandling. In October 2020, American Airlines had 20,310 mishandled bags, or 6.77 bags per 1,000 enplaned. Again it ranked 16 out of 17 when compared to other major airlines.
Recently, amid the pandemic, American Airlines canceled a large number of flights. While it’s not the only airline to do this, canceled flights can add to travel frustrations. The airline blamed severe weather for these cancellations.
There is a risk of delay or cancelation when you book with any airline. But based on the stats above, you may have more chances of this happening when flying with American Airlines.
The 2021 J.D. Power North America Airline Satisfaction Study examined customer satisfaction across major carriers in North America from August 2020 through March 2021. The study looked at satisfaction measures across three groups: first and business, premium economy and economy. Participants were surveyed on various topics, including boarding, check-in, costs, flight crew and in-flight services.
With a ranking of 791 points out of 1,000, American Airlines was near the bottom of the list and below the industry average of 820 points. The only airline to score worse was Air Canada. Delta and Southwest topped the list, while United Airlines was just above American.
American Airlines offers various ticket types at different price points. If your priority is a low-cost ticket, basic economy ticket options offer some of the lowest fares.
Travelers seeking a more comfortable flight experience may prefer first and business class tickets available for a higher price. While not known as a low-cost carrier, the airline does offer deals and discounts throughout the year. You can take a look at their current deals to find inspiration for your next trip.
The cost of award redemptions through the AAdvantage loyalty program varies depending on destination and distance of travel. You can find Web Special awards for as few as 5,000 miles and MileSAAver awards for as few as 7,500 miles. With limited availability, both of these options may require flexible travel plans. AAnytime award fares are available for travelers with less flexibility, but they are more costly. These award redemptions cost 20,000 to 90,000 miles each way for main cabin tickets, depending on the destination.
Unique American perks
American Airlines has some notable perks. NerdWallet found that American Airlines offers the best basic economy ticket when compared to basic economy tickets across major airlines. These tickets provide a more affordable solution for travelers who have limited funds. While basic economy tickets can't be changed or canceled, they're a good value, you’re able to fly standby, and you can pick your seat for a fee.
American Airlines also has some great deals when redeeming AAdvantage miles through their MileSAAver and Web Special awards. As noted above, MileSAAver fares can be redeemed for as few as 7,500 AAdvantage miles each way for flights within the contiguous 48 U.S. states and Canada with trip distances under 500 miles. Web Special awards are unpublished, offered exclusively online and are available for even fewer miles. Both of these options provide an excellent way to save miles while traveling.
» Learn more: Your guide to the American Airlines award chart
Who should avoid American Airlines?
While American Airlines is a popular airline choice, it may not be the right airline for all travelers. Should you avoid it? While that largely depends on your travel preferences, some travelers may want to consider other available options before selecting American Airlines:
Travelers who don't live in or near a hub: If you don't live near one of American Airlines’ hubs, you may find limited flight availability and may have to deal with more layovers to get to your destination.
Travelers who don't like bag fees: Depending on ticket type purchased, American Airlines may charge fees for checked bags and oversized bags. Choosing an airline that offers more baggage allowance may make sense for those who like to travel with more luggage.
Travelers who value reliability: American Airlines doesn’t offer the best reliability when it comes to on-time flights and baggage handling. If this is a crucial factor for you, you may want to think about flying with a different airline.
» Learn more: The beginner's guide to points and miles
If you're considering flying American Airlines ...
Is American Airlines a good airline? While it does have areas for improvement, no airline is perfect. American Airlines is a solid airline, and it’s worthwhile to consider flying with this brand. It offers flights to many destinations worldwide, has a variety of ticket types for travelers of all budgets, has some excellent mileage redemption options and is considered a safe airline.
Before booking a ticket, be sure to join the AAdvantage loyalty program for added benefits. Whether you're buying a ticket or redeeming AAdvantage miles for travel, make sure your expectations are realistic. If you know what to expect based on your chosen ticket type, you can have a comfortable and positive travel experience.
How to maximize your rewards
You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2021, including those best for:
Flexibility, point transfers and a large bonus: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
No annual fee: Bank of America® Travel Rewards credit card
Flat-rate travel rewards: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
Bonus travel rewards and high-end perks: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
Luxury perks: The Platinum Card® from American Express
Business travelers: Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card