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American Airlines AAdvantage Program Review

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American Airlines AAdvantage program: The basics

AAdvantage miles can be used for a multitude of rewards, including free flights, gift cards and membership club dues. Mile values will vary based on which redemption option you choose. In general, we recommend redeeming for free flights, especially when you can redeem your miles at a rate of 1 cent each or higher.

The program has three elite status levels — AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum and AAdvantage Executive Platinum. To qualify for Gold, you need to earn 25,000 elite-qualifying miles or fly 30 segments. For Platinum, you need 50,000 elite-qualifying miles or 60 segments, and for Executive Platinum, you need 100,000 elite-qualifying miles or 120 segments.

No elite program is complete without perks:

  • As an AAdvantage Gold member, you’ll enjoy complimentary auto-requested upgrades on short AA flights, 1 free checked bag, a 25% elite mileage bonus, 50% off main cabin extra seats and more.
  • As an AAdvantage Platinum member, you’ll get a 100% elite mileage bonus, complimentary main cabin extra and preferred seats, two free checked bags and more.
  • And as an AAdvantage Executive Platinum member, you’ll get eight one-way systemwide upgrades, complimentary auto-requested upgrades, three free checked bags and more.

Credit cards that earn AAdvantage miles

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

  • 2 miles per dollar on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on other purchases

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

  • 2 miles on every dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 2 miles on every dollar spent on telecommunications services, car rental merchants and gas stations.
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®

  • 2 miles on every dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else

Citi® / AAdvantage® Gold World Elite™ Mastercard®

  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all purchases

AAdvantage® Aviator Silver Card: Not accepting new applications

AAdvantage® Aviator Red Card: Not accepting new applications

How to get more AAdvantage miles

There are a several ways to get more AAdvantage miles. Go to the American Airlines Deals & Offers page to score extra miles on certain flights, hotel stays, car rentals and more. You can also check out the eShopping portal to get bonus miles when you shop at your favorite online retailers.

You can purchase AAdvantage miles at a rate of 2.95 cents each. Occasionally, there are promotions that give you more miles for your money, bringing your cost per mile down. Because the Nerds value AAdvantage miles at 1 cent each, buying miles isn’t likely a good deal.

How to redeem AAdvantage miles

Good redemption options

AAdvantage miles are redeemable for free flights with American Airlines and oneworld partner airlines. We value AAdvantage miles at a rate of 1 cent each on average. Our calculations suggest that you’ll get the best value out of your miles if you redeem them for international business-class flights, where you can often get greater than 1 cent worth of value.

Nerd note: For purposes of these calculations, we used AAnytime mile rates, which can be used on all available flights. But if you can find MileSAAver rates for your flight and seat of choice, you can get an even better deal out of your miles. Check out the American Airlines award chart for comparison. And check whether your card and destination are eligible for reduced mileage awards — you could get 5,000 or 7,500 miles off your MileSAAver round-trip rates.

Bad redemption options

As a general rule, rewards with lower than 1 cent per mile values aren’t considered a good option. When you use AAdvantage miles for domestic flights, we estimate average values of 0.7 cents. Therefore, you may want to save your miles for international flights, if you fly overseas. That said, if you aren’t concerned about optimizing your miles and/or you don’t travel internationally, you can book a domestic flight with your AAdvantage miles.

Other redemption options include Admirals Club membership fees, hotels, car rentals and gift cards. These options tend to offer a lower than 1 cent per mile value, so we’d recommend skipping them. Use your miles to book international flights for the best value.

The fine print

Your miles won’t expire as long as you’ve either earned or redeemed miles in the past 18 months. When you use your account, your expiration date is automatically extended by 18 months.

Top cards that earn AAdvantage miles

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® offers 1 mile per dollar spent and double miles on eligible American Airlines purchases. It also has a sign-up bonus: For a limited time, earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*.

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® comes with American Airlines perks, such as a free checked bag for you and up to four companions, priority boarding, a 25% discount on in-flight food and beverage purchases, and 10% of your redeemed miles back, up to 10,000 miles per year. The card has an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95.

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® offers 2 miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, and 2 miles per dollar spent at gas stations, telecom service companies and car rental merchants. For all other purchases, the card offers 1 mile on every dollar you spend. Want more miles? There’s a sweet sign-up bonus: For a limited time, earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*.

The CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard® has an annual fee of $0 for the first year, then $95. It also has some great perks for your upcoming business travel, including priority boarding, a free checked bag for you and up to four of your travel companions, and a $99 companion certificate each year you spend more than $30,000.

Methodology

The calculated value of these points is based on an estimated redemption rate, not a credit card rewards earn rate. Therefore, you may notice that these numbers don’t match the rewards rates on our credit card finder tool. Read on for how we estimated these points values.

For our calculations, we sampled 10 popular airline routes — five domestic and five international — for both economy and business/first class flights. These are the routes we used:

  • LGA to MIA
  • SFO to LAX
  • ORD to LGA
  • LAX to JFK
  • MIA to ATL
  • JFK to LHR
  • HNL to NRT
  • LAX to ICN
  • MCO to LGW
  • MIA to YYZ

For domestic flights, the miles value ranged from 0.4 to 1.0 cents apiece for economy, and 0.5 to 1.0 cents each for business/first class. For international flights, the miles value ranged from 0.6 to 1.0 cents each for economy, and 0.8 to 1.6 cents each for business/first class.

To determine the value of your miles for specific flights, divide the cash value of the ticket (less any applicable taxes/fees if you redeem miles) by the number of miles required for the flight. So if the ticket would cost either $100, or 15,000 miles + $10 in taxes/fees, the math would be as follows:

($100 – $10) / 15,000 = 0.006, or 0.6 cents per mile

Last updated on Sept. 20, 2017.

Erin El Issa is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: erin@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @Erin_Lindsay17.


Image via iStock.