Advertiser Disclosure

The Complete Guide To Redeeming American Airlines Miles

Jan. 10, 2020
Loyalty Programs, Travel
At NerdWallet, we strive to help you make financial decisions with confidence. To do this, many or all of the products featured here are from our partners. However, this doesn’t influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

American Airlines is among the largest airlines in the world in terms of passengers carried, fleet size and revenue. The airline operates approximately 6,700 flights across 350 cities in 50 countries every day.

American Airlines is one of the three legacy U.S. carriers (along with Delta and United), and is the only one out of the three to still publish a region-based award chart. The airline’s frequent flyer program is called American Airlines AAdvantage, and AA’s miles can be redeemed not only on its own flights but also on flights with Oneworld and other partner airlines.

All of this means that AAdvantage miles are very flexible. You can book some great awards whether you’re flying domestically or internationally, economy or first class. In this post, we’ll break down all the different ways to redeem your AAdvantage miles and show you how to get the maximum value out of every mile.

It is important to note that AA imposes a pesky 21-day close-in booking fee of $75, so if you’d like to avoid it, try to plan your AA award flight in advance. However, the fee is waived for elites using miles from their accounts.

Redeem for flights on American

One of the simplest ways to redeem your miles is on flights operated by American. The airline offer three types of award seats:

  • MileSAAver awards are discounted award seats that can be purchased for as few as 7,500 miles. They are available only on select routes, which change periodically. They may be available in all classes, but these seats can be difficult to find as many flights don’t offer them — and when they do, they sell quickly.
  • AAnytime awards are available on nearly all flights but come at a higher cost (sometimes several multiples more than a MileSAAver seat).
  • Economy Web Special awards are offered on select routes and dates for as low as 5,000 miles. There is no official list of currently available awards, but when you are searching for an award flight, you will see the reduced mileage level when booking your trip. These award tickets do not allow any changes.

American still uses award charts for its redemption options. In recent years we’ve seen other domestic airlines get rid of their charts — so who knows how long these award charts will be good. But for now, American’s charts still offer some pretty good value.

» Learn more: Your guide to the American Airlines award chart

Domestic flights offer a decent value for most American Airlines award options — especially if you can catch a MileSAAver seat. Flights under 500 miles can be redeemed for as little as 7,500 miles in economy and 15,000 miles in business/first class.

International flights are an even better value in most cases. You can get a round-trip economy ticket to Europe for as little as 22,500 in off-peak economy seats. Or if you want to travel more comfortably, you can get a first class ticket to Asia for as little as 80,000 miles.

American isn’t known for having tons of award seats available, but if you look far enough in advance, you should be able to take advantage of the AA award chart’s sweet spots.

Booking flights with your AAdvantage miles on American flights is simple: Just log on to the site and search for your award. It’s also worth mentioning that every few months American publishes reduced mileage awards that can help you get even more value out of your points.

Redeem for flights on partner airlines

In general, redeeming your miles for a flight on a partner airline will cost you the same amount of miles as redeeming them for a flight on American. However, you need to pay close attention to the fees and surcharges each individual carrier imposes. For example, British Airways is notorious for adding on high surcharges, which are passed on to flyers who use American Airlines to book BA flights.

Even with these fees, there are some great redemption options available through American Airlines’ extensive partner list. However, not all partner award flights are available through aa.com — for some you’ll have to call a booking agent. Here’s the breakdown:

PartnerAllianceBookable with miles?How to book
British AirwaysOneworldYesAA.com
Cathay PacificOneworldYesAA.com
FinnairOneworldYesAA.com
IberiaOneworldYesAA.com
Japan AirlinesOneworldYesAA.com
LATAMOneworldYesPhone
Malaysia AirlinesOneworldYesAA.com
QantasOneworldYesAA.com
Qantas AirwaysOneworldYesAA.com
Royal JordanianOneworldYesAA.com
S7 AirwaysOneworldYesAA.com
SriLankan AirlinesOneworldYesAA.com
Air Tahiti NuiPartnerYesAA.com
Alaska AirlinesPartnerYes, ending 2/29/20AA.com
Cape AirPartnerYesAA.com
China Southern AirlinesPartnerYesPhone
Etihad AirwaysPartnerYesAA.com
Fiji AirwaysPartnerYesAA.com
Hawaiian AirlinesPartnerYes, with exceptionAA.com
Horizon AirPartnerYes, ending on 2/29/20AA.com
InterjetPartnerNoAA.com
Seaborne Virgin IslandsPartnerYesAA.com

The list above includes 22 partner airlines. AA miles can be used to book award flights on all airlines except Interjet. Note that starting Feb. 29, 2020, you will no longer be able to use AA miles to book flights on Alaska Airlines or Horizon Air. Although this is a slightly disappointing development, you’re better off using Alaska Airlines miles to book flights on its own metal given that it has a more favorable award chart.

» Learn more: Guide to the Alaska Airlines award chart

For partner flights not redeemable on aa.com, you will need to call a booking agent at 800-433-7300.

American’s partnerships are especially valuable since these airlines offer some of the best premium flying experiences. Etihad, Japan Airlines, Cathay Pacific and others are all known for stellar first class service. Luckily, there are a number of sweet spots on American’s award charts that offer several ways to get the most out of your AAdvantage miles.

Upgrade your seats

Another option for using your AAdvantage miles is to upgrade your seats on flights operated by American Airlines, American Eagle, British Airways or Iberia. The number of miles you’ll use depends on where you’re traveling and which cabin you’re upgrading from/to. It can range from 5,000 to 25,000 miles with additional fees from $0-$550.

While this usually isn’t the best value for your miles, it can be useful in certain situations, especially for elite status members. American Airlines’ website hosts charts listing the upgrade costs for available flights on American Airlines, American Eagle, British Airways and Iberia.

Other ways to redeem

In addition to flights, there are a number of ways to redeem your AAdvantage miles, such as:

  • Rent a car.
  • Book a hotel.
  • Book a vacation package.
  • Buy or renew an Admirals Club membership.
  • Buy products such as magazines, newspapers or gift cards.
  • Donate to charity.

However, the redemption value of these options will virtually always be less than redeeming your AAdvantage miles for award flights, so they are hardly ever worth it.

The bottom line

AAdvantage miles are flexible and can score you some great award tickets on American and its partner airlines. Any other use will seriously devalue your miles, so award flights are the way to go with this loyalty program. Just be sure to book far in advance to be able to catch a seat that will get you the most value out of your miles.

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 2020, including those best for:

Planning a trip? Check out these articles for more inspiration and advice:
Find the best travel credit card for you
4 reasons to start collecting American Airlines AAdvantage miles
Earn more points and miles with these 6 strategies

 

About the authors