Best Uses Of American Airlines AAdvantage Miles

Best Uses Of American Airlines AAdvantage Miles

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When it comes to the loyalty programs of the “big three” carriers in the United States, I tend to think that American AAdvantage offers the most value when redeeming miles for international premium cabin travel, both in terms of partner airlines and redemption rates.

There are plenty of markets where American AAdvantage has the best pricing for award travel among oneworld programs, while I’d argue the same can’t be said for Delta SkyMiles for SkyTeam awards, and United MileagePlus for Star Alliance awards.

Admittedly international travel has become significantly more complicated since the start of the pandemic, though we’re generally seeing a trend of more international destinations open up, and I imagine that progress will continue.

In this post I wanted to share some of my favorite uses of American Airlines AAdvantage miles, for travel originating in the United States. While American historically isn’t great about making saver level award seats available on its own flights, there are some fantastic partner airline award opportunities, which are my favorite ways to use AAdvantage miles.

Best uses of American Airlines miles

Unlike Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus, American AAdvantage continues to publish an award chart for travel on partner airlines. Here’s what American AAdvantage’s award chart looks like for first & business class redemptions originating in the continental United States on partner airlines (and you should generally be redeeming your miles on partner airlines whenever possible anyway, given that they often have superior inflight products):

Contiguous 48 U.S. To:
Business Class
First Class
Contiguous 48 U.S. States
25,000
50,000
Canada & Alaska
30,000
55,000
Hawaii
55,000
80,000
Caribbean
25,000
50,000
Mexico
25,000
50,000
Central America
25,000
50,000
South America Zone 1
30,000
55,000
South America Zone 2
57,500
85,000
Europe
57,500
85,000
Middle East / India
70,000
115,000
Africa
75,000
120,000
Asia Zone 1
60,000
80,000
Asia Zone 2
70,000
110,000
South Pacific
80,000
110,000
American Airlines AAdvantage Premium Cabin Award Chart

While we’re at it, I should also mention:

With that out of the way, below are my favorite uses of American AAdvantage miles, in no particular order.

Business class to the Middle East & India (70,000 miles)

One area where American AAdvantage miles continue to be among the most valuable is for travel to the Middle East & India. Per American’s award chart, this region includes everything from India to the Maldives to Oman to Sri Lanka. There’s so much beauty in this area, and it’s somewhere that’s otherwise tough to get to on miles.

Best of all, American partners with both Etihad and Qatar, and both of them have excellent business class products. You can also fly Royal Jordanian, but the carrier’s business class isn’t quite as good.

Royal Jordanian 787 business class

All three airlines release a good amount of award availability, especially if booking in advance.

I’d note that Etihad and Qatar are inconsistent about releasing award space. Sometimes they open up tons of space in advance. Other times they don’t have any space for months at a time, and then suddenly there’s availability most days. There’s definitely value in locking in awards in advance, especially since you can cancel them for free.

Etihad Airways 787 business class

Business class to Africa (75,000 miles)

This is an extension of the above concept of going to the Middle East. Africa is one of the toughest continents to get to using miles, and with Etihad and Qatar you potentially have some great access.

While you could fly to Africa on British Airways or Iberia, that would mean you’d have to pay fuel surcharges. Instead I recommend flying Etihad and Qatar, which have great products and fly to lots of points in Africa.

Whether you’re flying to South Africa or Tanzania or Kenya or Rwanda, there are excellent options. Personally my favorite choice is Qatar Airways, and a couple of years ago I redeemed 75,000 miles to fly one-way from Cape Town to Dallas.

Qatar Airways A350 business class

Royal Air Maroc is now also a oneworld member, so you can use American miles to fly to Morocco and beyond on the national carrier. Fortunately American considers Morocco to be Europe for the purposes of award pricing, so you’d pay only 57,500 AAdvantage miles for a one-way business class award between the United States and Morocco (which is fair, given what a short flight it is).

Royal Air Maroc 787 business class

Business class to Asia 2 (70,000 miles)

Two of my favorite oneworld airlines are Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines, and both are pretty good about releasing business class award availability. For just 70,000 miles one-way you can fly business class between the United States and Asia 2, which includes China, Singapore, Thailand, etc.

Cathay Pacific A350 business class

Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines are both great about making award seats available as soon as the schedule becomes bookable. Both airlines also release more award seats as the departure date approaches, assuming there are unsold seats.

Japan Airlines 787 business class

First class to Asia 1 (80,000 miles)

American Airlines last devalued the partner AAdvantage award chart in 2016, and with that, the program largely adjusted the redemption “sweet spot” from first class to business class. Prior to these changes I almost always redeemed American miles for international first class, while that’s not the case anymore. The way I see it, many first class redemptions aren’t as worthwhile anymore:

  • Redeeming 85,000 miles for first class to Europe is hardly worth it, since American historically doesn’t release much space, and award travel on British Airways is subjected to huge carrier imposed surcharges
  • Redeeming 110,000 miles for first class to Asia 2 on Cathay Pacific is steep, especially when you can book that same award with a stopover through Alaska Mileage Plan for 70,000 miles
  • Redeeming 110,000 miles for first class to Australia on Qantas is expensive, not to mention the award is one of the toughest to snag; when I see Qantas award availability I prefer to book through Alaska Mileage Plan, as the program charges just 70,000 miles for the same award, and allows a free stopover

With that in mind, the one international first class redemption originating in the United States that I consider to be a really good deal nowadays is flying to Asia 1 (which includes Japan) on Japan Airlines. The airline has an excellent first class product, and redeeming 80,000 miles for first class on a 13 hour flight is quite a good deal.

Japan Airlines 777 first class

The catch is that Japan Airlines isn’t consistent about releasing award availability in first class. The airline sometimes releases a seat when the schedule opens, but otherwise your best odds are to book closer to the departure date, as JAL often opens more availability. I realize that’s not ideal for those hoping to book in advance, or those traveling as a couple.

Japan Airlines first class

AAdvantage Web Special awards (prices vary)

Historically American Airlines hasn’t released much saver level first and business class award availability on its own flights, though that’s something that has improved considerably.

In particular, American has “web special awards,” where the program makes award seats available at prices that are lower than the published costs on the award chart. Not only that, but availability is sometimes better than it would be for saver awards.

For example, while first class between the United States and South America 2 would ordinarily cost 85,000 miles, I currently see some web special awards that allow you to fly to New York to Sao Paulo in first class for just 60,000 miles (in fairness, manage your expectations).

American Airlines 777 first class

There’s potentially value on the other end of the spectrum as well, including for short haul flights, even in economy. This is especially useful out of Miami, given all the Caribbean destinations that can be reached for a reasonable number of miles, below what’s published on the award chart.

The best ways to earn American AAdvantage miles

If you’re looking to earn American AAdvantage miles for oneworld redemptions, there are lots of ways to acquire these miles, beyond crediting flights to the program:

Bottom line

Of the “big three” carriers in the United States, I tend to think the American AAdvantage program has the most valuable award redemption opportunities, especially for someone with a diversified mileage portfolio. There are all kinds of awards where American has the best redemption values, especially for travel to the Middle East, Africa, India, etc.

On top of that, American has no change or cancelation fees for awards, which gives members lots of flexibility when locking in awards. Hopefully the above is some inspiration for the next time that you’re planning an adventure.

What are your favorite ways to redeem American AAdvantage miles?

Conversations (22)
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  1. Elmahdi Oummih Guest

    I booked award travel on Royal Air Maroc. I booked with 30000 miles on December 18th for a one way flight on January 7th. Initially RAM changed the flight to the 8th of January. Then they cancelled it. I never even got a notice from RAM nor from AA. It was not until I was calling in on the 4th of January to confirm what I thought was the flight on the 8th that I...

    I booked award travel on Royal Air Maroc. I booked with 30000 miles on December 18th for a one way flight on January 7th. Initially RAM changed the flight to the 8th of January. Then they cancelled it. I never even got a notice from RAM nor from AA. It was not until I was calling in on the 4th of January to confirm what I thought was the flight on the 8th that I found out by having to call in and remain on hold for 4 hours with AA that the flight was cancelled. What is the use of using miles when the other carrier simply cancels your flight. I called in to RAM and was told that I could have a flight on the 8th, but could not use miles and could only purchase the flight directly from RAM. It would seem that this one world alliance is not what it is cracked up to be. AA gave me ZERO relief and RAM did nothing for me either. I am still stuck without a flight. Very disappointed in both airlines. It seems criminal to cancel a miles flight booked so far in advance and demand cash payment for the same ticket on the same flight you have already booked. Unfortunately, I am without recourse unless if someone has any ideas on how to stop RAM from joining One world alliance and doing this to other people in the future.

  2. Carol Cooper Guest

    I need 2 tickets Aril 2 to 9 from Myr in South Carolina and use points. No over night . Regular seats. How many points round trip do I need for 2, Thank you

  3. Randy Gold

    Of course - you need to be able to travel to these destinations per Covid restrictions.

  4. HYL Guest

    Virtually no business/first class cabin seat available for the coming months. Not worth to loyal customers. United offers many more business seats. Additional seats are nicely available for Mileage Plus credit card holders. Highly appreciated. I recommend United Airlines highly!

    1. Abby Guest

      I've also been looking for biz/first award seats with AA and there's basically nothing from DFW (headquarters!) through June to any city in Europe with fully flexible dates. Making my AA miles pretty much useless. I'll just pay cash for Economy. I want to spend miles on premium seats. Their award chart showing 85k miles to Europe is just a lie if they don't actually release any seats.

  5. Michael M Guest

    I've seen no recent award availability on CX between HKG and North America or Europe with any partner miles in recent weeks. Any ideas why?

    1. Peking Duck Guest

      Cathay is on the verge of ceasing to exist as an airline. You can forget award availability for a long time.

  6. Andrew Barron Guest

    It is almost impossible to get anywhere using AA miles for Business or First these days, unless you want to pay 2/3 times milage.
    Try booking a flight from the West Coast to London. Booked out from April thru September, at regular rates.
    unless you want to use 200,000 miles one way.
    BA flights which offer 57,500 mies one way totally booked out.
    Every unfair by One World Airlines

  7. harry hv Guest

    Dont mention these things, they will be devalued

  8. DenB Diamond

    My oddball "Best uses": living in AC's biggest hub and avoiding AC. Ben gives AC a lot of puff since Aeroplan 2.0 but from YYZ to anywhere in USA AA's Web Specials for "Domestic" First are half the price of similar itineraries on AC. YYZ-PSP, YYZ-ONT, YYZ-LAX are cheaper in AA J than in AC J (with or without AC status and eUpgrade coupons). Such trips on AC are invariably "mixed cabin" because AC has...

    My oddball "Best uses": living in AC's biggest hub and avoiding AC. Ben gives AC a lot of puff since Aeroplan 2.0 but from YYZ to anywhere in USA AA's Web Specials for "Domestic" First are half the price of similar itineraries on AC. YYZ-PSP, YYZ-ONT, YYZ-LAX are cheaper in AA J than in AC J (with or without AC status and eUpgrade coupons). Such trips on AC are invariably "mixed cabin" because AC has no advance access to UA J space. An hour in AC J followed by 3 hours in UA Y, no thanks. on AA, I spend fewer miles and I get confirmed J for all segments. AA's Web Specials are, as Ben says, better than their competitors' offerings.

    1. Brodie Guest

      So Cal based, so good to know.

  9. Walt Guest

    I always found Alaska MP booking on partner--especially AA--to be the most generous. For example, MIA-LAX in Flagship Business on B777-300 for 27.5K MP points (as part of a return from the Caribbean) instead of 45K on AA. Also, 80K MP on HND-JFK-SFO on JL First and AA Flagship First instead of 70K+45K (min) on AAdvantage.

  10. James Guest

    I recently booked YYC-DFW (Calgary) for 16.5k miles in business using web flyer pricing. Excellent use of miles in my book, normally would have been 55k.

  11. Mak Guest

    Unfortunately favorite AAdvantage CX and JL redemptions aren't worth much today, but I'm finding other uses. Was just able to book JFK-TLV on AA nonstop in J for only 130K miles, roundtrip. I consider that a good deal considering that this is an expensive ticket, and very difficult to find redemption availability on UA or DL nonstops -- and when available its for much higher redemption rates. El Al has a terrible program and their...

    Unfortunately favorite AAdvantage CX and JL redemptions aren't worth much today, but I'm finding other uses. Was just able to book JFK-TLV on AA nonstop in J for only 130K miles, roundtrip. I consider that a good deal considering that this is an expensive ticket, and very difficult to find redemption availability on UA or DL nonstops -- and when available its for much higher redemption rates. El Al has a terrible program and their availability and rates are even worse - though arguably the best product on the nonstop route on their newest 787s. Given AA's operational problems on JFK-DEL I had hoped to find some bargains on that route (who would pay to fly a nonstop that so often has to stop for fuel?) but there are absolutely none that I've found.

  12. LSP New Member

    Great article, Ben! Could we ever see a "Best Hyatt Awards" or "Best Hilton Awards" version? Thanks!

  13. Brodie Guest

    I have nabbed some awesome web specials since they rolled out. Just today I booked SNA-MBJ via JFK in F for 30,000 miles one way. Lie flat on the first segment with Flagship dining on the layover.
    Last week I booked DXB-DOH-LAX for 70,000 miles for two of us. With Simply miles promo that was a $600 investment.
    Add in AA’s liberal redeposit rules, ability to leverage the website instead of having to...

    I have nabbed some awesome web specials since they rolled out. Just today I booked SNA-MBJ via JFK in F for 30,000 miles one way. Lie flat on the first segment with Flagship dining on the layover.
    Last week I booked DXB-DOH-LAX for 70,000 miles for two of us. With Simply miles promo that was a $600 investment.
    Add in AA’s liberal redeposit rules, ability to leverage the website instead of having to call in, and a responsive Twitter team instead of calling, adds a far better experience than anyone else currently. Also, if you do have to call in no need to wait on hold, they will call you back when an agent is available.

  14. Aaron B Guest

    Would using this method also contribute to getting loyalty points in the current AA loyalty program?

  15. Andre Guest

    Ben —
    Your post should come with a lot more caveats than this. Getting Qatar business class for 75K from major US cities to Africa is getting tougher (oftentimes it combines an Alaska air leg in economy to make it happen). And Cathay Paciifc — please! Much easier to book through Alaska than AA This is an incomplete post at best.

  16. anon Guest

    AA miles have an informal devaluation due to inability to book CX and QF....

    or at least thats what i tell myself in consolation for not getting in on the simplymiles deal

  17. MRL Guest

    This is somewhat of an aside given the content of the article, but do you have any idea how Cathay is today (during Covid)? I realize that entering Hong Kong is not possible for most without a lengthy quarantine, but how is the connection experience in Hong Kong and Cathay's in flight product currently?

    1. eponymous coward Guest

      Currently? Hong Kong is suspending flights to the US for at least the next two weeks. The schedules have been fictional throughout COVID. You might as well be redeeming miles for the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge.

    2. Peking Duck Guest

      How is Cathay today? There is no more Cathay today.

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Walt Guest

I always found Alaska MP booking on partner--especially AA--to be the most generous. For example, MIA-LAX in Flagship Business on B777-300 for 27.5K MP points (as part of a return from the Caribbean) instead of 45K on AA. Also, 80K MP on HND-JFK-SFO on JL First and AA Flagship First instead of 70K+45K (min) on AAdvantage.

1
Abby Guest

I've also been looking for biz/first award seats with AA and there's basically nothing from DFW (headquarters!) through June to any city in Europe with fully flexible dates. Making my AA miles pretty much useless. I'll just pay cash for Economy. I want to spend miles on premium seats. Their award chart showing 85k miles to Europe is just a lie if they don't actually release any seats.

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Elmahdi Oummih Guest

I booked award travel on Royal Air Maroc. I booked with 30000 miles on December 18th for a one way flight on January 7th. Initially RAM changed the flight to the 8th of January. Then they cancelled it. I never even got a notice from RAM nor from AA. It was not until I was calling in on the 4th of January to confirm what I thought was the flight on the 8th that I found out by having to call in and remain on hold for 4 hours with AA that the flight was cancelled. What is the use of using miles when the other carrier simply cancels your flight. I called in to RAM and was told that I could have a flight on the 8th, but could not use miles and could only purchase the flight directly from RAM. It would seem that this one world alliance is not what it is cracked up to be. AA gave me ZERO relief and RAM did nothing for me either. I am still stuck without a flight. Very disappointed in both airlines. It seems criminal to cancel a miles flight booked so far in advance and demand cash payment for the same ticket on the same flight you have already booked. Unfortunately, I am without recourse unless if someone has any ideas on how to stop RAM from joining One world alliance and doing this to other people in the future.

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