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American Airlines AAdvantage Program: The Complete Guide

Dec. 14, 2018
Loyalty Programs, Travel, Travel Credit Cards
American Airlines AAdvantage Program: The Complete Guide
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  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
  • American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card

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Tracing its history back to 1930, American Airlines is one of America’s three “legacy” carriers and one of the most visible brands in aviation. In 2015, US Airways merged with American’s former holding company to create the world’s largest carrier based on fleet size, destinations served and revenue.

  • Based on our most recent analysis, NerdWallet values AAdvantage miles at an average of 2.6 cents each.
  • The best value comes from using miles for international travel: On travel to other nations, miles are valued on average at 5 cents each, compared with the domestic route average of 1 cent each.
  • Depending on how you redeem, domestic awards values range from 0.7 cent to 1.7 cents per mile, while international awards range in value from 0.8 cent per mile to as much as 14 cents per mile.
  • See how we arrived at these figures

American is the dominant carrier at its home airport of Dallas-Fort Worth and also operates hubs in Charlotte, Chicago (O’Hare), Los Angeles, Miami, New York (LaGuardia and JFK), Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. (Reagan National). Today, the airline operates an average of 6,700 flights every day, serving 350 cities across 50 countries.

Because of its size and reach through the Oneworld alliance, our latest research suggests American AAdvantage miles are best used for international trips. When used for international airfare, miles are worth an average of 5 cents each. Overall, AAdvantage miles are valued at 2.6 cents each, making them the most valuable among all U.S.-based carriers.

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 AAdvantage frequent flyer program.


In this article

How to earn AAdvantage miles

American Airlines’ frequent flyer program uses a currency called AAdvantage miles. You earn these miles when you fly on American or one of its partner airlines, and you can redeem them for award flights, upgrades, car rentals, hotel stays, airport lounge access and more. Although they’re called “miles,” you earn them based on how much money you spend on tickets, not how far you fly.

There are three primary ways to earn AAdvantage miles:

  • Spending money on American Airlines airfare.
  • Spending money on airfare with American’s partners.
  • Using an American-branded credit card that earns AAdvantage miles.

In general, AAdvantage miles will expire if you go 18 months without earning or redeeming miles on American or one of its partner airlines. But 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 flight depends on how much you spent on the ticket (in base fare and carrier-imposed fees). If you have AAdvantage elite status, you will earn additional bonus miles for your trip.

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.

Earning on other airlines: American’s partner airlines in the Oneworld alliance distribute frequent flyer miles based on which class your tickets are booked in. The cheapest economy tickets may only earn 25% to 50% of flown miles, while premium economy, business-class and first-class tickets can earn 100% base miles and a cabin bonus between 10% and 50%.

However, not all routes or flights may qualify. If you purchase a flight on a booking code not listed as eligible for awards, you will not earn any award miles for your flight. In addition, some routes or affiliate airlines may not earn miles. To better understand how many miles you could earn with American’s Oneworld partners, visit the American website.

Earning AAdvantage miles with a credit card

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

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 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after $2,500 in purchases within the first 3 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 relatively 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 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

Purchasing miles through American’s website can work to your advantage, particularly if you have certain international awards in mind. But in most cases, we recommend you stay away from buying miles, as it’s an expensive way to accrue them.

Miles generally cost 2.95 cents each, although American regularly offers sales that work out to a somewhat better value.

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 can redeem by booking through American’s website. Choose a flight, and you’ll see what the price is in cash or in miles.

Two types of award seats

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

  • MileSAAver award seats are bookable for as little as 7,500 miles on certain one-way trips in North America. MileSAAver awards may be available in all classes, but the price you’ll pay for business or first-class award seats is often more expensive than economy seats. 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 indicates 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 up to 7,500 miles on round-trip MileSAAver awards, depending on the card and your destination. These discounts are available only if you book by phone. See American’s page on reduced mileage award seats.

Good redemption options

  • International flights: The best use of American AAdvantage miles is on international flights, primarily in business class or first class. In economy, we value AAdvantage miles at an average of 5 cents per point for international flights — so any premium-cabin flight where you can get at least that much value (or more) from your awards is a good redemption.
  • Domestic flights: Although you won’t get a great value on points for domestic flights, there are some situations where it makes sense to use miles. We value AAdvantage miles at 1 cent per mile for domestic flights, so anytime you can get a better return, it’s a good redemption. A particularly good use of AAdvantage miles is for the three-class transcontinental flights between New York and select West Coast cities.

Bad redemption options

  • Admirals Club lounge membership: When using your points to purchase an Admirals Club membership, your value decreases immediately. Redeeming miles for a lounge membership costs 85,000 miles for a new membership, or 75,000 miles to renew. By using points to get a yearlong lounge pass, your miles are only worth 0.8 cent each. Instead of using AAdvantage points, consider applying for the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, whose perks include Admirals Club membership, but note that there’s a $450 annual fee.
  • Hotels: An even worse use of AAdvantage miles is booking hotels with points. In one search for a hotel in San Francisco, the value of using the miles for a hotel room was around 0.5 cent per mile, roughly half the value of using the miles for domestic travel. A better bet would be to use hotel points or rewards earned from a cash-back credit card for hotel bookings.

AAdvantage program status levels

Anyone can sign up for the AAdvantage program, but basic membership only comes with a frequent flyer number and an account where your points accumulate. The real goodies come when you earn elite status.

AAvantage 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 three key terms: elite qualifying dollars, elite qualifying miles and elite qualifying segments.

Elite qualifying dollars, or EQDs for short, are earned based on how much you spend on tickets with American and its Oneworld partners (excluding government taxes and fees). Your earnings will change based on which class of service you book, and partner restrictions.

Elite qualifying miles, or EQMs, are the actual miles you fly every year aboard American and its Oneworld partners. 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.

Your earnings may vary on other partner airlines, based on what class of service you book. Visit the American website to learn more about what qualifies for elite status and how it may affect your plans.

Elite qualifying segments, or EQSs, are earned based on how many takeoff-to-landing flight segments you take. A nonstop flight from L.A. to New York would earn one EQS — but if you had a layover in Chicago, it’d be two 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$15,000
AND EITHER this many EQMs: 25,00050,00075,000100,000
OR this many EQSs: 306090120

American Airlines transfer partners

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

Oneworld alliance members

Oneworld partner airlines as of December 2018 are:

  • 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 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.
  • Hawaiian Airlines.
  • Interjet.
  • Seaborne Airlines.

Although you can redeem miles for most of these partners on AA.com, you will have to call the airline to book some awards. Awards not bookable online include:

  • Cape Air.
  • Cathay Pacific.
  • Etihad Airways.
  • Gulf Air.
  • Interjet.
  • Japan Airlines.
  • Jet Airways.
  • LATAM Airlines.
  • S7 Airlines.
  • Seaborne Airlines.
  • WestJet.

The flight award chart for partner airlines tells you how you can earn flights on carriers other than American for no cost.

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. 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 $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.
      • 2 miles on every $1 spent on telecommunications services, car rental merchants and gas stations.
      • 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else.
      • Annual fee: $0 for the first year, then $99.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

      • 2 miles on every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases.
      • 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else.
      • Annual fee: $450 — not waived in the first year.

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 $1 spent on everything else.
      • Annual fee: $0.

From Barclays

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 an 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.

To determine the estimated value of AAdvantage miles, we sampled prices in both cash and points between November 2018 and April 2019 on the most popular 24 one-way domestic routes flown by American, measured by passengers enplaned, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation. In addition, we sampled prices in both cash and points during the same time period on 15 randomly selected international one-way routes originating in the United States, selected from the carrier’s most recent route map.

For domestic flights, the average value was 1 cent per mile, with values ranging from 0.7 to 1.7 cents per mile in economy. For international flights, the average value was 5 cents per mile, with values ranging from 0.8 to 14 cents per mile in economy.

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 cent per mile

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