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:
Contiguous 48 U.S. States
Canada & Alaska
South America Zone 1
South America Zone 2
Middle East / India
Asia Zone 1
Asia Zone 2
While we’re at it, I should also mention:
- There are no carrier imposed surcharges on any of the awards that I outline below
- All of the partner awards mentioned below can be booked directly on aa.com, making the booking process super easy
- American AAdvantage awards can be changed and canceled for free, which gives you tons of flexibility to speculatively lock in award tickets
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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
- There are several co-branded American Airlines credit cards with huge welcome bonuses, including the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® (review) and the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® (review)
- You can buy American AAdvantage miles directly, often at a discount
- You can earn American AAdvantage miles with all kinds of non-travel partners, including SimplyMiles, AAdvantage Dining, Bask Bask, and more
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?