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Following significant changes to American’s award chart in 2016, sweet spots within AAdvantage have become harder to find. Similar to recent overhauls of Delta and United, the 2016 changes saw American raise the number of miles required across a large number of destinations while reducing a few awards with modest decreases.
The adjustments to American's award chart and a switch to revenue based earning across American and partner airlines has made it harder to extract top value from AA miles. The silver lining is that American remains a founding member of oneworld® alliance, providing AAdvantage members access to fantastic partner airlines that offer superior hard products and access to every region of the world.
Earning American Airlines AAdvantage Miles
American offers many ways to earn AAdvantage Miles. Members can earn miles on flights and related purchases, via spending and signup bonuses on co-branded credit cards, promotions, at hotel partners, the AAdvantage mall and much more.
The fastest way of building a usable balance of AAdvantage miles is to leverage the AA co-branded credit cards offered by Citi and Barclaycard. Much like the Hilton co-branded cards provided by Citi and Amex, having a Citi AA card doesn’t prevent you from acquiring the Barclays AA cards, opening up earning potential not found in many other programs.
Citi/AA co-brand cards include:
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Visa®
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® American Express®
Barclays offers four AA co-brand credit cards:
- AAdvantage® Aviator® Blue Mastercard®
- AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver World Elite Mastercard®
- AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®
- AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard®
Taking advantage of the offer on the AA Executive Card, you could earn 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening, and then double down by acquiring the Aviator Red, which offers 60,000 points when you make the first purchase inside three months.
An alternative to the Citi and Barclays options is via Marriott Bonvoy. Points transfer from Marriott to American at a 3:1 ratio, so you can transfer points earned via cards that earn Marriott Bonvoy points like the Marriott Bonvoy™ American Express® Card or the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.
Unfortunately, Marriott is the only flexible rewards currency that transfers to American while maintaining any tangible value.
AAdvantage® Reduced Mileage Awards
Reduced Mileage Awards are one of the best benefits of holding an eligible AAdvantage co-branded card, providing access to discounted round-trip or one-way travel on MileSAAver® awards to select destinations every other month. Reduced Mileage Awards can provide discounts of up to 7,500-mile round trip or 3,750 one-way on MileSAAver awards greater than 500 miles. One-way awards under 500 miles can be eligible for a discount of 1,000 miles.
The discounts are dependent on the card you hold and the route flown. You can find a complete list of destinations and all the details on the Reduced Mileage Awards page of American’s website.
Fly Qantas from LA to Sydney for 40/80/110
One of our favorite AA redemptions is flying Qantas to Australia and New Zealand. Qantas operates non-stop flights from Los Angeles and San Fransisco to Sydney with one-way awards pricing at 110,000 miles in first, 80,000 in business, and economy awards priced at 40,000 miles. Qantas offers a fantastic premium class product and top-notch service to boot.
Tip: When searching for Qantas award availability, you can use AA.com, but be sure to select an origin and destination that Qantas serves non-stop. It'll help you quickly identify what your options are when it comes to flying Qantas.
The Middle East to Asia Regions 1 + 2 in First for 50,000 Miles
Following the changes to American’s award chart, this is one of the best sweet spots still available. You can fly first class on oneworld® partners Qatar and Cathay Pacific, and also on Etihad between the Middle East and Asia Regions 1 + 2 for 50K miles one-way. All three airlines offer standout first-class products, and although Cathay has clamped down on releasing first class award availability to partners, there is still space to be found if you put in the legwork.
Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America Off-Peak for 12,500 Miles
One of the few award sweet spots to come out of AA's 2016 award chart changes, MileSAAver rates from the lower 48 states to the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America dropped from 17,500 miles in economy to 15,000, with off-peak dropping to 12,500 miles one-way. These are fantastic fares. Flying roundtrip to the Caribbean for 25K is a great price and opens up options for a quick romantic getaway for 2 to the tropics for 50,000 American miles.
Domestic Flights Under 500 Miles for 7,500 AA Miles
While these are not going to be the most popular flights for many frequent flyers, hops under 500 miles on American cost only 7,500 AA miles. These shorter flights provide an economical way of jumping to your local gateway airport if you aren’t based near an AA hub, and also for those travelers that don’t like driving distances. Perfect for repositioning flights.
Reduced Mileage Awards for eligible AA co-branded cardholders can wipe another 1,000 miles off these awards.
35% Points Back When Using the Business Platinum Card
While not available using AA miles, this option is one we consider a sweet spot in AAdvantage due to the guaranteed value it provides. Note that Amex recently dropped this benefit from 50% to 35% and introduced a points cap of 500K per year. See our breakdown of the changes for all the details.
One of the perks of The Business Platinum® Card from American Express is the 35% points back when using Membership Rewards Pay with Points for First and Business Class tickets through American Express Travel, or on any class ticket with your selected airline. American is one of the airline's cardholders can choose as their designated carrier with Amex, and the points rebate means you can extract top value even on economy fares. Don't forget, you're eligible to earn award and elite qualification miles for these tickets!
Be Aware of Fees When Booking American Awards
There are some fees to be aware of when booking award tickets on American. Phone bookings taken by the AA reservation line that can be booked online will come with a $30 fee for domestic travel and a $40 fee for international flights. It is often possible to have these fees waived if you ask nicely, and if the award cannot be booked on AA.com, be sure to inform the rep that the fees shouldn’t apply. These fees are waived for Executive Platinum members.
American charges a close-in booking fee of $75 for awards booked within 21 days of departure, and these fees are also applied to ticketing changes inside that 21-day window. Fees are waived for Executive Platinum, Platinum, and Gold members using miles from their account.
While extracting maximum value from American awards is not as easy as it used to be, there is still good value to be found, mainly when flying American to Central and South America, and when flying partners in the South Pacific, Middle East, and Asia.
Holding a card like the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard® is a great way of compounding the value in AAdvantage, providing access to benefits like Reduced Mileage Awards which can save you thousands of points.
It is also worth investigating transfers from Marriott. You gain an instant 25% in bonus points when transferring Marriott points in chunks of 60,000. One thing about Marriott points that you shouldn't forget is that you can transfer points to other members of your household at no cost — a great way to allow them to transfer points into their AA account if needed.
If you have a favorite AAdvantage redemption we’ve missed, let us know in the comments! If you need a hand with a booking, reach out to our award booking experts.
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