When American Airlines devalued its award chart in 2016, many were distraught. Gone were the days of a competitive award chart that made you want to earn American Airlines AAdvantage miles. It was time to move onto other programs such as Alaska Mileage Plan or maybe even British Airways Executive Club — just kidding.
I totally understood that feeling. I still remember using 60,000 American miles to book the Etihad Apartments from Abu Dhabi to Melbourne. That’s about 13 hours in one of the best first class cabins on the planet! Now, you’d need 100,000 American miles to book that award — well, Etihad no longer flies an A380 to Melbourne, but it’s the same to Sydney.
However, even with the devaluation, American AAdvantage is still a popular program in the U.S. and there are some compelling reasons to earn American miles. I just think you need to know how to use them so you don’t get left feeling frustrated when trying to book award flights.
With that in mind, let’s dig into all the things you need to do about how to use American miles.
American AAdvantage Award Rates
American Airlines uses simple region-based award charts which means the mileage required will be determined by your departure and arrival regions. The award chart you use will be determined by whether the flights are operated by American itself or one of its partners. There aren’t a ton of differences between these charts but there are a couple important ones.
The image above shows the economy class — or main cabin — award chart for flights operated by American Airlines. There are two things that stick out about it.
First, you will notice a number of off-peak rates that are great if you want to fly economy and use as few American miles as possible. Second, you’ll see AAnytime rates. These AAnytime rates are brutal so, unless you earn TONS of American miles regularly, it’s best to avoid booking these awards and stick to saver level (MileSAAver).
Now, if you’ve ever searched for award flights on American Airlines, you’re probably used to award space being garbage. You’re not alone in thinking that. In fact, it’s pathetic. However, I disagree that this makes American miles useless. It just means you need to take advantage of partner awards.
Oneworld And Other Partner Flights
If you book a partner award, you won’t have access to AAnytime rates but that shouldn’t be an issue for most of us. However, you can only book off-peak economy awards on partners to Europe. This can be useful in that British Airways often has economy award space but “fuel” surcharges can ruin those awards — we’ll discuss this more later.
Additionally, you’ll notice that the Oneworld and other partner award chart includes a few more regions such as Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian Subcontinent. This is because American Airlines doesn’t fly to these regions while it has partners that do.
With partners such as Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways, you can book some fantastic experiences across the world in first and business class. You might even get to try Qatar’s famous Qsuites.
How To Find Award Space
This is one of the tricky parts to using American miles as its own online search function will not show you award space for all of its partners. With this in mind, we’ve put together this handy little chart for you to make it easier. Just use the indicated airline sites to search for award space.
|Partner Airline||Where To Search|
|Air Tahiti Nui||American|
|Cathay Pacific||British Airways/Qantas|
|Etihad Airways||Etihad (Guest level)/American Airlines|
|Japan Airlines (JAL)||American|
|Jet Airways||Call American|
|S7 Airlines||British Airways|
British Airways has often been my go-to spot for checking Oneworld award space. Occasionally, I’ve run into issues with search results showing phantom award space but I haven’t had issues with that lately.
Alternatively, you can use Qantas to search for Oneworld space. You can see a calendar of availability but you won’t know the specific airlines until you select a specific date. If the operating carrier doesn’t matter to you, this can be quite useful. You just have to watch out for routings that could be operated by Emirates which is a partner of Qantas but not American.
American added the ability to search online for Etihad award space in early May 2019. However, business and first class space between Abu Dhabi and the US will only show up to a month from departure so you’ll still have to search on Etihad’s site for space if you want to book ahead of time. You can see economy class award space on Etihad beyond 30 days out, though.
How To Book Award Tickets With American Miles
If you’re booking an award ticket on American or one of the partners that will show in the search results on American’s site, it’s as simple as selecting the flight, entering the passenger info and paying the taxes/fees.
However, please make sure you check itineraries with connections if you’re booking business or first class awards. American regularly shows mixed-cabin awards in which the short connecting segment is in domestic first class while the long-haul segment is in economy.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen people search find a first class award to Australia, get excited then realize things aren’t always what they seem. Can you imagine thinking that you’ve booked Qantas first class only to find out you only had a domestic first segment on American while the 15-17 hour Qantas flight was in economy. Ouch!
As you can see in the image above, you won’t know which flight is in economy unless you expand the flight details to confirm. Make sure you do this! As long as you keep an eye on those pesky mixed-cabin awards, you’ll avoid serious disappointment.
Now, booking with partners that don’t show when you search with American take a little effort but it’s really quite simple. Once you’ve searched for award space in the appropriate place, make a note of flight dates, class of service, flight numbers/times. With that info in hand, you can call American Airlines (800-433-7300) and provide all the details to a phone agent who can book the ticket for you.
If you want to book an Etihad premium cabin award, you’ll want to call the Australia call center (+61-2-91011948) since the U.S. call center generally cannot see business and first class award space. You’ll want to hold the award then call the U.S. call center to pay the taxes/fees and have the ticket issued. Sometimes, even the Australia office won’t see space but the New Zealand office will. Welcome to the game.
While booking awards over the phone typically incur a phone booking fee, this should not be charged if you are unable to book online. Listen closely to the phone agent when he or she tells you the total taxes/fees. If you’re unsure, it doesn’t hurt to politely ask about the phone booking fee to ensure it won’t be charged.
Hold Award Space
If you don’t have quite enough American miles in your account or you’re still finalizing dates, American does allow you to hold award space for up to 5 days. With partners that are bookable online, you can do this on your own. If booking the award will require a phone call, you’ll need to call to put it on hold.
This is an especially useful tool if you know you have miles that will post to your account in the next few days. Personally, I’ve done this when I know miles I earned with a co-branded American credit card would be posting soon. You could also do this if you’re transferring Marriott points which can take a couple days to transfer or you’re waiting for miles to post from flights you’ve taken recently.
If you happen to buy American miles – hopefully, during a great promo – with a specific award in mind, please, make sure you hold the award. I would hate to see you buy miles only to be stuck with them.
Avoid Surcharges (Except On British Airways)
Fortunately, American does not pass on carrier-imposed – “fuel” – surcharges on almost all awards. This makes it a great way to book its own flights and flights with partners without incurring a steep cash cost. Unfortunately, you’ll still have to pay some nasty surcharges on British Airways flights and, of course, you’ll be on the hook for the Air Passenger Duty (APD) fee if you’re flying out of the U.K. – no way around that!
American AAdvantage Routing Rules – Brace Yourselves
Beyond the fact that finding award space, especially international premium cabin, on American Airlines can feel a bit like searching for a needle in a haystack, the big knock on American AAdvantage is the routing rules.
In many cases, you are not allowed to transit a third region on the way to your final destination and when you can there are sometimes restrictions as to which city in a third region you can transit. Here’s a breakdown of the allowed third-region connections based on your origin and destination:
|Africa||Middle East||South Pacific|
|Asia 1||Asia 2||Indian Subcontinent|
|Asia 1||Asia 2||South Pacific|
|Asia 1||Asia 2/Indian Subcontinent||Middle East|
|Asia 1||Asia 2/Middle East||Africa|
|Asia 2||Indian Subcontinent||Middle East|
|Asia 2||Middle East||Africa|
|Central America||Europe/Middle East/North America||Africa|
|Central America||Europe/Middle East/North America||Indian Subcontinent|
|Central America||Europe/North America||Middle East|
|Central America||North America||Europe|
|Central America||South America 2||South Pacific|
|Europe||Asia 1/Asia 2/Middle East||South Pacific|
|Europe||Asia 2/Indian Subcontinent/Middle East||Asia 1|
|Europe||Indian Subcontinent/Middle East||Asia 2|
|Europe||Middle East||Indian Subcontinent|
|Indian Subcontinent||Asia 2||South Pacific|
|Indian Subcontinent||Middle East||Africa|
|Middle East||Asia 2/Indian Subcontinent||South Pacific|
|North America||Asia 1||Asia 2|
|North America||Europe||Middle East|
|North America||Europe/Hong Kong/Middle East||Indian Subcontinent|
|North America||Europe/Middle East||Africa|
|North America||South America 1||South America 2|
|South America 1||Europe||Middle East|
|South America 1||Europe/Middle East||Indian Subcontinent|
|South America 1||South America 2||South Pacific|
|South America 2||Europe/Africa||Middle East|
|South America 2||Europe/Middle East||Indian Subcontinent|
Nowhere does this bother me more is in trying to book awards to Australia/New Zealand. Your options are flights on American or Qantas and that’s it. Since they won’t let you connect in Asia 1 or Asia 2, you can’t fly Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong or Japan Airlines via Tokyo. Personally, I think those connections are more than reasonable and hope American will reevaluate this at some point.
Additionally, while American doesn’t stick to maximum permitted mileage (MPM) restrictions, it only allows you to exceed the MPM between two cities by up to 25%. You also need to be trying to take the most direct path between the city pairs. If necessary, you can include up to four segments per direction on an international award ticket — or three on a domestic ticket.
Before you start piecing together an award ticket, keep in mind that American AAdvantage requires that a fare is published by the primary carrier on your route.
American Award Regions
American Airlines has pretty straightforward region definitions unlike some programs such as Air France-KLM Flying Blue.
|Africa||Algeria, Angola, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Melilla, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe|
|Asia Zone 1||Japan, Korea|
|Asia Zone 2||Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam|
|Central America||Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama|
|Europe||Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom|
|Indian Subcontinent||Bangladesh, India, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan|
|Middle East||Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates|
|North America||U.S. — including Hawaii and Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, The Bahamas and the Caribbean|
|South America Zone 1||Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Manaus (Brazil), Peru|
|South America Zone 2||Argentina, Brazil (excluding Manuas), Chile (excl. Easter Island), Falkland Islands, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela|
|South Pacific||American Samoa and Samoa, Australia, Easter Island, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kirbati, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Tonga, Republic of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu|
Changes And Cancellation Fees
One thing I really do like about American AAdvantage is that you can change your flight date/time and routing (and thus airline) if you keep the same origin/destination pairing. Two simple things that will force you to pay a $150 change fee are if you switch from a saver to AAnytime award (or vice versa) or if you change the class of service.
However, if you’re changing from an economy to business or first class award or business to first class award, you won’t have to fork over the $150 change fee.
Unfortunately, there is one last potential hiccup. As we’ve discussed, American Airlines has one award chart for its own flights and one for partners in addition to having different types of partners — Oneworld and other. Every combo of these three options — American, Oneworld and other — is considered a different award type as well. This could easily force you to pay a change fee so keep an eye on it.
How To Earn American Miles
Unlike Delta and United, American does not partner with any of the major transferable points programs — Amex Membership Rewards, Capital One, Chase Ultimate Rewards, or Citi ThankYou Points. However, American has partnered with both Barclays and Citi to offer co-branded cards that earn American miles directly.
Additionally, Marriott points can be transferred to American at a 3:1 ratio. You can earn more Marriott points with any of its co-branded Chase or Amex cards (Learn More). The welcome bonuses that come with the co-branded Marriott cards — as well as the co-branded American cards — fluctuate, so try to time your application appropriately.
If you don’t have access to these cards or just need to top off your account, it might be worth buying miles during when American runs a promotion. Unlike some airlines, American sells miles directly from its website so make sure you pay with a card that earns bonus points.
Since you don’t want to leave any miles on the table, make sure you link your go-to dining credit card to AAdvantage Dining so you can earn bonus miles when going out to eat at select restaurants. Similarly, you can use the American AAdvantage shopping portal to earn bonus miles when you shop online.
I know the popular thing to do is knock American for its annoying routing rules and the lack of award space on its own international flights. Honestly, I have nothing positive to say on those subjects. However, if you go into earning American miles with the expectation that you’ll use them for international flights on partners or short domestic economy flights, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
It’s unfortunate that we have to temper our expectations with the American AAdvantage program but I don’t want you to trash the program altogether when there are still opportunities to use your miles for some aspirational travel.
For now, I have my eye on booking Qsuites. What’s your favorite redemption with American miles?