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TravelBest uses of American Airlines AAdvantage miles

Best uses of American Airlines AAdvantage miles


Over the past few years, the American Airlines Advantage program has seen its fair share of devaluations — from increasing award redemption rates to eliminating reduced mileage awards to ending some valuable partnerships.

However, despite these gut punches, there are still some great redemptions — you just need to know where to look. Here are some of the best sweet spots in the American Airlines AAdvantage program (and how you can book them yourself).

Best uses of AA miles

The AAdvantage program operates according to dynamic pricing for flights operated by American Airlines. If you’re hoping to travel on American Airlines flights during peak periods, you can expect to pay sky-high redemption rates.

Fortunately, there are still award charts for flights operated by partner airlines, as well as off-peak deals to be found.

Related: American Airlines delays big changes to earning miles and Loyalty Points

Off-peak AA flights to Europe

If you can travel in the quieter winter months, you can lock down some great deals on American Airlines-operated flights to Europe. While you can also redeem flights on British Airways, you’ll be hit with huge fuel surcharges if you travel on BA rather than AA.

It’s not terribly difficult to find economy award flights for 20,000 miles (or less) each way if you’re flexible with your travel dates. For example, here are prices from John Glenn Columbus International Airport (CMH) to Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) in November: 19,000 miles for just about every day of the month.

AA.COM

You’ll pay just $5.60 in taxes and fees each way for these flights.

Related: The best ways to travel to Europe using points and miles

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Connecting business-class flights to Europe on partner airlines

American also has pretty decent saver rates for business-class flights to Europe on partner carriers, especially if you plan to take a connecting flight.

For just 57,500 American miles one-way, you can book business-class seats to Europe from anywhere in the U.S., regardless of the distance or if you need to make a connection. This is lower than both Delta Air Lines’ and United Airlines’ typical rates for business-class travel to Europe and even comes in lower than Avianca’s excellent rate of 63,000 LifeMiles one-way.

You’ll want to avoid long-haul flights operated by British Airways since fuel surcharges can be ridiculously high (think $700-plus each way!). Instead, look for flights operated by American Airlines or a Oneworld partner, such as Finnair.

Here’s an example of a really good deal: You can fly business class from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD) via London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) for just 57,500 American miles and $60.10. You’ll fly American Airlines to London and Iberia to Madrid.

AA.COM

This exact itinerary costs over $5,000 in cash, giving you a value of over 8 cents per point. That’s exponentially higher than TPG’s valuation for AA miles at 1.6 cents each.

First-class flights to Japan

Paying cash for a first-class flight may be out of the question for 99.9% of travelers. Award redemption rates have also continued to increase for many programs. However, one solid deal you can still book with AA miles is first-class flights to Japan for 80,000 miles one-way.

Full disclosure: These are very hard to find. But Japan Airlines has a top-notch first-class product, so it’s worth the effort. JAL serves San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW), O’Hare International Airport (ORD) and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) from its hub in Tokyo’s Haneda Airport (HND).

The below first-class flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo costs 80,000 miles and $11.20 in taxes and fees. The same ticket costs over $12,000, which translates to a value of 15 cents per mile.

AA.COM

Related: Using points and miles for a birthday trip to Japan

Short-haul economy flights on AA

Dynamic pricing for award travel is not always a bad thing. Short-haul flights on American Airlines can be good value at the lowest levels, which you can find for as little as 5,000 miles for a Main Cabin seat. You can even find availability during peak summer dates.

The below flight from Tulsa International Airport (TUL) to Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) costs 5,000 miles and $11.20 in taxes and fees. The same seat costs $284 — giving you a value of more than 5 cents per point.

AA.COM

Mileage upgrades on American

It’s generally a better value to book the class of service you want from the start when redeeming miles. However, there are many cases where you may not have the required miles to redeem for a business-class ticket. In these cases, you may purchase a cash economy ticket and upgrade your flight using miles or a combination of miles and cash.

First, understand that basic economy and award tickets are not eligible for upgrades. You must also fly on a plane operated by American Airlines, British Airways or Iberia to upgrade with AAdvantage miles. It’ll cost fewer miles to upgrade if you’ve purchased a full-fare ticket than if you’ve purchased a discounted ticket. Full details on which exact fare codes are eligible for upgrades and the different costs can be found on American’s website.

The sweet spot in this chart is for upgrading discount economy tickets to business class when traveling to Asia, Europe or South America. You can move from the coach cabin to a lie-flat seat for 25,000 miles plus $350 in each direction. Given how expensive business-class cash fares are right now, it can be a savvy investment to buy a cheap fare in a lower cabin and upgrade using miles.

Your upgrade would be subject to availability, which can be tricky. However, you can check upgrade inventory for your flight by logging in to ExpertFlyer (which is owned by TPG’s parent company, Red Ventures) and searching for “C” fare availability, which corresponds to business-class upgrades.

Business class to the Middle East, India or Africa on Qatar Airways

One absolutely stunning AA miles redemption (which has of late become extremely difficult to book) is for Qatar Airways’ award-winning Qsuite business class on flights to the Middle East or India (even to the Maldives) for 70,000 miles.

These enclosed suites are often considered among the best business-class seats in the world. Booking through the AAdvantage program offers a great value considering the low number of miles required and the fact that no fuel surcharges are added. You can use this sweet spot to book over 20 hours of flight time in Qatar Airways’ business class on flights from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to Velana International Airport (MLE) in the Maldives via Doha’s Hamad International Airport (DOH) for just 70,000 American AAdvantage miles and $41.80.

Best of all, you will need the same number of miles when traveling from the U.S., no matter which departure city you choose. Qatar flights can be booked with American miles directly on aa.com — as long as there’s saver-level award availability.

Related: The best websites for searching Oneworld award availability

How to earn AAdvantage miles

If you’re hoping to book any of the above awards, there are several ways to earn American Airlines miles.

The only rewards currencies that transfer to American Airlines are Marriott Bonvoy points (which transfer at a 3:1 ratio) and Bilt Rewards Points. However, Bilt and American’s transfer partnership will end in June.

Unfortunately, transfers from Marriott to American no longer qualify for the 5,000-mile bonus for every 60,000 points you transfer.

Of course, you’re not stuck earning with just Marriott. You can also open an American Airlines cobranded credit card and earn miles on your everyday spending. Plus, you can earn a lucrative sign-up bonus. Here’s a look at the current American Airlines card lineup:

The information for the AAdvantage Aviator Red has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Bottom line

There’s still a lot of value in American’s AAdvantage program. The trick is to redeem your miles for the sweet spots on partner airlines and not waste your miles on low-value redemptions.

After you’ve decided on the best ways to use your AA miles, take steps to find award availability. Before you know it, you’ll be taking off on an (almost) free flight.

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