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American Airlines AAdvantage Program: The Complete Guide

Oct. 23, 2018
American Airlines AAdvantage Program: The Complete Guide
NerdWallet adheres to strict standards of editorial integrity to help you make decisions with confidence. Some of the products we feature are from partners. Here’s how we make money.
We adhere to strict standards of editorial integrity. Some of the products we feature are from our partners. Here’s how we make money.

American Airlines is the largest airline in the United States and, by many measures, the world. It’s the dominant carrier at its home airport of Dallas-Fort Worth and operates hubs at Charlotte, Chicago (O’Hare), Los Angeles, Miami, New York (LaGuardia and JFK), Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington (Reagan National).

  • Based on our most recent analysis, NerdWallet values AAdvantage miles at an average of 1 cent apiece
  • Depending on how you redeem, you could get a value of as little as 0.4 cents per mile or as much as 1.6 cents
  • See how we arrived at these figures

If your home airport is an American Airlines stronghold, or if you just choose to fly the carrier regularly, you’ll want to check out the airline’s frequent-flyer program, AAdvantage.

How to earn AAdvantage miles

American Airlines’ frequent flyer program uses a currency called AAdvantage miles, which NerdWallet values at an average of 1 cent apiece. You earn these miles when you fly on American or one of its partner airlines, and you redeem them for award flights. Although they’re called “miles,” you earn them based on how much money you spend on tickets, not how far you fly.

You can earn additional miles by spending money with American’s partners or using an American-branded credit card.

In general, AAdvantage miles will expire if you go 18 months without earning or redeeming miles on American or a partner. However, miles earned on an American Airlines-branded credit card will remain valid as long as you continue to use the card.

Earning AAdvantage miles when you fly

Earning on American: The number of miles you earn for a particular flight depends on how much you spent on the ticket and your status level within the AAdvantage program. All statuses above basic membership earn mile bonuses. For example, the basic rewards rate is 5 miles per dollar. But at Gold level, you earn a 40% bonus, which turns your rate into 7 miles per dollar. (We’ll have more on status levels in a bit — or you can jump ahead to that part now.)

Status level Miles earned Status bonus
AAdvantage (basic) 5 miles per $1 spentNone
Gold7 miles per $1 spent 40% bonus compared with basic
Platinum8 miles per $1 spent 60% bonus compared with basic
Platinum Pro9 miles per $1 spent 80% bonus compared with basic
Executive Platinum11 miles per $1 spent120% bonus compared with basic

NOTE: You earn miles only on airfare and airline fees. Government-imposed taxes and fees do not earn miles. The maximum you can earn on any ticket is 75,000 miles.

Earning on other airlines: In most cases, American’s partner airlines in the OneWorld alliance give out frequent flyer miles based on a calculation involving the price and class of the ticket and the distance of the flight.

If the partner says a given ticket is worth 1,500 miles, for example, then a basic AAdvantage member would earn 1,500 miles. For statuses above basic, the same mile bonuses apply. So a Gold member would earn 2,100 miles (1,500 + a 40% bonus), a Platinum member would earn 2,400 miles (1,500 + 60%) and so on.

Earning AAdvantage miles with a credit card

American Airlines offers co-branded credit cards through both Citi and Barclaycard.

NerdWallet’s favorite credit card for the AAdvantage program is the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®. It gives you:

  • 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at gas stations
  • 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent at restaurants
  • 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases

You also get a great sign-up bonus to start: Earn up to 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles: 40,000 AAdvantage® miles after making $2,000 in purchases in first 3 months and 10,000 after making a total of $6,000 in purchases in first 12 months of account opening*. The annual fee is $0 for the first year, then $99 — but the checked bag benefit on this card can make up for it rather quickly. The first checked bag is free for you and up to four others traveling on your reservation. You also get preferred boarding, so you can get on the plane early and find space for your carry-on.

» JUMP AHEAD to other credit cards that earn AAdvantage miles

Earning AAdvantage miles through partners

  • Hotels: You can earn AAdvantage miles at most major hotel chains. In some cases, you earn 1 or 2 miles per dollar spent; in others, you earn a flat number of miles per stay. See partner hotels and the earning rules here.
  • Dining: Register a credit card with AAdvantage Dining, and every time you use that card at a participating restaurant, club or bar, you’ll earn 1 to 5 miles per dollar spent. There are more than 11,000 participating locations.
  • Auto rentals: Most major rental agencies have an option to earn AAdvantage miles. See the rules here.
  • Shopping: When you shop online through the AAdvantage eShopping mall, you earn miles for every dollar you spend at more than 950 retailers.

Buying additional AAdvantage miles

You can purchase additional miles through the AAdvantage website, but this is not a good idea. You’ll pay about 2.95 cents a mile. NerdWallet values AAdvantage miles at an average of 1 cent apiece — so you’d be paying about three times what they’re worth.

How to redeem AAdvantage miles

AAdvantage miles are redeemable for flights through American Airlines and its partners in the OneWorld alliance. In most cases, you redeem by booking through American’s website. Choose a flight, and you’ll see what the price is in cash as well as in miles.

Two types of award seats

American Airlines offers two kinds of award redemptions: MileSAAver and AAnytime.

  • MileSAAver award seats can be had for as little as 7,500 miles (for certain one-way trips in North America). However, MileSAAver seats are available only on certain routes, which change from time to time, and there may be only a limited number of them available on a given flight. You may find that the flight you want has no MileSAAver seats, or that they’ve all been taken.
  • AAnytime award seats are available for almost any flight, but they’re considerably more expensive. A flight that costs 7,500 miles for a MileSAAver seat can cost as much as 40,000 miles for an AAnytime seat.

American’s flight award chart tells you how many miles you’ll need for a given flight.

Special discounts for credit card holders

If you have an American Airlines credit card, you can get a discount of 1,000 to 7,500 miles on MileSAAver award seats, depending on the card and your destination. So, for example, if the flight costs 20,000 miles and you qualify for a 5,000-mile discount with your credit card, you’d need only 15,000 miles to book the flight. These discounts are available only if you book by phone. See American’s page on reduced mileage award seats.

Good redemption options

Since we value AAdvantage miles at an average of 1 cent apiece, any redemption that gives you at least that much value is a good option. We found 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.

BAD REDEMPTION OPTIONS

As a general rule, redemptions at a value lower than 1 cent per mile values aren’t good. When you use AAdvantage miles for domestic flights, we estimate the average value of 0.7 cents. So you may want to save your miles for international flights, if you fly overseas. That said, if you aren’t too concerned about squeezing maximum value out of your miles or you don’t travel internationally, go ahead and 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.

NOTE: Because MileSAAver seat availability is hit-or-miss, NerdWallet’s assessment of the value of AAdvantage miles is based on AAnytime fares.

AAdvantage program status levels

Anyone can sign up for the AAdvantage program. It’s free to join. With basic membership, though, pretty much all you get is a frequent flyer number and an account where your points accumulate. The real goodies come when you earn elite status. First, we’ll look at what you get at AAdvantage’s four elite levels. Then we’ll look at what it takes to get there.

aadvantage Elite levels and benefits

 GoldPlatinumPlatinum ProExecutive Platinum
"Systemwide upgrades" allow you to reserve a seat at the next available service level — for example, you can reserve a business-class seat for the price of an economy ticket. "Upgrade requests," by contrast, are put in after you buy your ticket and are fulfilled only if space is available. No upgrades are available on Basic Economy fares.

Main Cabin Extra seats have up to 6 inches more legroom and are at the front of the main cabin. Preferred seats have standard legroom but are at the front of the main cabin.
Mileage bonus40%60%80%120%
Upgrade eligibility*• Free upgrades automatically requested on all flights of 500 miles or less.
• Can purchase or use miles to upgrade on flights over 500 miles.
• Free upgrades automatically requested on all flights of 500 miles or less.
• Can purchase or use miles to upgrade on flights over 500 miles.
• Free upgrades automatically requested on all flights.• 4 systemwide upgrades per year, with the opportunity to earn 4 more.
• Free upgrades automatically requested on all flights.
• Free upgrades available on award seats, too.
When upgrades confirmed 24 hours before departure48 hours before departure72 hours before departure100 hours before departure
Priority seating in main cabin**• Preferred seats for free.
• 50% discount on Main Cabin Extra.
• Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats for free.• Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats for free.• Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats for free.
Free checked bags per flight 1223

How to earn elite status in AAdvantage

To earn elite status, you’ll need to understand the terms EQD, EQM and EQS. Buckle up.

  • EQDs are elite qualifying dollars. You earn these based on how much you spend on tickets with American and its OneWorld partners (excluding government taxes and fees).
  • EQMs are elite qualifying miles. Unlike AAdvantage miles, EQMs can actually be considered miles … or at least distance-based. They’re calculated by taking the mileage of the flight and multiplying it by the fare class:
    • Full-fare first or business class: EQM = miles flown x 3
    • Discount first or business: EQM = miles flown x 2
    • Full-fare economy class: EQM = miles flown x 1.5
    • Discount economy: EQM = miles flown x 1
    • Basic economy: EQM = miles flown x 0.5
  • EQSs are elite qualifying segments. You earn them based on how many takeoff-to-landing flight segments you take. A nonstop flight from L.A. to New York, for example, would be 1 EQS. If you had a layover in Chicago, it’d be 2 EQSs.

To earn elite status, you need a minimum number of EQDs plus a certain number of EQMs or EQSs:

 GoldPlatinumPlatinum ProExecutive Platinum
To earn this status, you must have EQDs of at least:$3,000$6,000$9,000$12,000
AND EITHER this many EQMs: 25,00050,00075,000100,000
OR this many EQSs: 306090120

Your status level is updated every Feb. 1, based on your activity in the preceding calendar year.

American Airlines transfer partners

As of January 2018, the American Airlines website identifies these as its partner airlines.

OneWorld alliance members

In general, you can earn AAdvantage miles on flights with OneWorld partners and redeem your miles for flights on OneWorld airlines.

  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • LATAM Airlines Brasil (formerly TAM)
  • LATAM Airlines Chile (formerly LAN)
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

Other partner airlines

On airlines outside the OneWorld alliance, your ability to earn and/or redeem miles is more limited. You may be able to earn miles but not redeem them, for example, or you may be able to redeem only for certain flights. Other partner airlines include:

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air
  • Cape Air
  • Etihad Airways
  • Fiji Airways
  • Gulf Air (partnership ending April 30, 2018)
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Interjet
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • WestJet (partnership ending July 31, 2018)

The flight award chart for partner airlines tells you how you can earn free flights on carriers besides American.

Credit cards that earn AAdvantage miles

American Airlines is unusual among U.S. airlines in that it has credit card agreements with two different issuers — a legacy of its merger with U.S. Airways, which wrapped up in 2015. Cards that earn AAdvantage miles include:

From CITI

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

  • 2 miles for every $1 spent at gas stations
  • 2 miles for every $1 spent at restaurants
  • 2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $99

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
  • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $99

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
  • Annual fee: $450 — comes with complimentary Admirals Club lounge membership

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card

  • 2 miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 2 miles for every $1 spent at grocery stores, including grocery delivery services
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on everything else
  • Annual fee: $0

Citi® / AAdvantage® Gold World Elite™ Mastercard®

  • (This offer is no longer available on our site)
  • 1 mile per dollar spent on all purchases

From Barclaycard

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® 

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases
  • 10% of redeemed miles returned to you (up to 10,000 miles per year)
  • Annual fee: $95

AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard®

  • 2 miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • 2 miles per dollar spent at eligible office supply, telecom and car rental merchants
  • 1 mile per dollar on all other purchases
  • Annual bonus of 5% of your earned miles
  • Annual fee: $95

Need more help deciding?

We’ve covered all the basic details of the American Airlines AAdvantage program. But if you still aren’t sure whether a frequent flyer program is worth the effort, see our absolute beginner’s guide to frequent flyer programs.

Methodology

The calculated value of AAdvantage miles is based on the estimated redemption rate, not credit card rewards earning rates. 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

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