I often receive questions about the amount of miles that the AAdvantage program requires for American Airlines award tickets. I’ll explain why the redemption price you’re seeing when running a search for an award ticket may not match the redemption price that is published on American Airlines AAdvantage’s award chart.
I originally wrote this post after I received a message from a friend who was looking for flights to and from Brazil. Her question was about how to get flights on American Airlines without redeeming over 100,000 miles for a round trip ticket in economy. According to the AA award chart, that route requires 30,000 AAdvantage miles each way for a milesAAver ticket. The reason there were no tickets for 30,000 AAdvantage miles each way was because no saver level tickets were available.
In this post, I’ll explain why saver level tickets (and web specials, sometimes) are the only award tickets you should be booking with AAdvantage miles*. I’ll also explain why AAdvantage miles may not be the best award currency to collect even if you only fly American Airlines. This post will specifically address the AAdvantage program, but several other airline programs have the same method of pricing award tickets.
*Update: AA now has an additional type of award ticket called a web special. Redemption prices for Web specials may be priced even lower than a milesAAver ticket. Web specials can only be booked with AAdvantage miles. You cannot use a partner program’s miles to book a web special. More on that a little later.
Overview of American Airlines AAdvantage program
How to earn AAdvantage miles
- Welcome bonuses on AAdvantage co-branded credit cards
- Spend on AAdvantage co-branded credit cards
- Making purchases through the AAdvantage shopping portal
- You can earn miles the old fashioned way which is actually flying on a paid ticket (also known as butt-in-seat miles)
- AA is not a direct transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards or American Express Membership Rewards BUT you can still book AA flights indirectly. Bonus: depending on the route, you may use less miles and points by booking using British Airways Avios and other partners.
- American Airlines is part of the Oneworld Alliance
- In addition to Oneworld Partners, AA partners with Air Tahiti Nui, Cape Air, Etihad Airways, Fiji Airways, Gulf Air, Interjet, Jet Airways, Alaska Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines*. This means you can use AAdvantage miles to book flights operated by these airlines. Likewise, you can use these airlines to book American Airlines flights.
*You cannot use AAdvantage miles to book flights from the US mainland to Hawaii on Hawaiian Airlines. You can use AAdvantage miles to book flights between Hawaii and Asia or the South Pacific, or for Hawaiian inter-island routes on Hawaiian Airlines
Using American Airlines AAdvantage miles to book award tickets
- AA has a zone-based award chart, meaning redemptions require a fixed number of miles for different travel zones. This means that the amount of miles required is the same for a MilesAAver ticket from Seattle to Mexico as the amount of miles required for a MilesAAver flight from DFW to Mexico even though the DFW to Mexico flight is a much shorter distance. Click here for more information about the different types of award ticket pricing.
- AA offers two different types of award tickets for each class. In the AAdvantage program, these are called “milesAAver” awards and “AAnytime” awards in economy, business, or first (on 3 cabin planes) class. The AAnytime awards are almost always available to book on any given route that is operated by American Airlines. As you will see below, it could cost a ridiculous amount of miles.
- Recently, AA has introduced a new type of award ticket called web specials. Web specials are award tickets that are priced differently than what is published on AA’s award charts for milesAAver and AAnytime tickets. Sometimes web specials are great deals and they are often priced lower than a milesAAver ticket on the same route. Web specials are exclusive to AAdvantage. You cannot use partner miles (such as British Airways or Iberia) to book web specials unless the seat is also available as a milesAAver ticket.
In addition to American Airlines flights, AAdvantage miles can also be used to book the following on AA.com
- Air Tahiti Nui
- Alaska Airlines
- British Airways
- Cape Air
- Cathay Pacific
- Etihad Airways
- Fiji Airways
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Japan Airlines
- Malaysia Airlines
- Qantas Airways
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Jordanian Airlines
- S7 Airlines
- Seaborne Virgin Islands
- SriLankan Airlines
Award tickets using AAdvantage miles on these carriers must be booked over the phone, but AA has plans to add more partners to AA.com in the near future:
- LATAM Airlines*
- Gulf Air
- Jet Airways
*Note that in May of 2020, LATAM is leaving the Oneworld alliance.
Fees that you may have to pay for American Airlines AAdvantage award tickets:
- Phone booking fee: $25-35, but if you are booking a ticket with a partner that cannot be booked online, this fee is waived.
- Changing an award ticket: no fee as long as the origin, destination, and ticket type (economy, etc) remain the same
- Canceling an award ticket: The charge to reinstate miles is $150 per account for the first award ticket. Additional award tickets reinstated to the same account at the same time will have a $25 charge per ticket.
Can I upgrade from an economy milesAAver ticket to a business milesAAver ticket if it becomes available?
Technically, this is a redeposit ($150 fee), but some agents will allow you to change from an economy milesAAver ticket to a business milesAAver ticket without making you pay the fee. Some agents will charge only the difference in miles. This is only possible IF a milesAAver ticket becomes available.
If you switch from a milesAAver to any AAnytime ticket or vice versa, you will most likely be charged the redeposit fee. Again, agents have some discretion, so you could try to hang up and call again if you don’t like the first answer 🙂
You can book award tickets on American Airlines flights with the partner airline loyalty programs listed above
You do not necessarily have to have AAdvantage miles to book an American Airlines flight. Frequent flyer miles with partner programs, such as British Airways and Etihad, can be used to book flights operated American Airlines flights as long as milesAAver award tickets are available.
Why I generally do not use credit cards that earn American Airlines miles
I fly American Airlines quite a bit since DFW, an AA hub, is my home airport. I generally do not use AAdvantage co-branded credit cards for everyday spending, though. Here are my main reasons:
- I prefer flexible (transferable) points such as American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards. That way, I have several airline transfer options when I am ready to redeem my points.
- I can book AA flights by transferring American Express Membership Rewards or Chase Ultimate Rewards to partner airline programs. Neither of these directly transfer to American Airlines, but they transfer to programs that I can use to book AA flights.
- American Airlines is stingy with ‘SAAver’ award ticket availability, particularly in international business and first class. If the only miles I have are with American Airlines and there is no availability on AA or its partners for my date and routes, I have no other options. But with transferrable points such as Chase UR and Amex MR, I can check other airlines for availability.
- When award tickets are available on American Airlines, some of their routes require less miles if you book the flight with miles from a partner. For example, AAdvantage requires 57,500 AAdvantage miles each way in business class from the US to Europe. Etihad, a non-alliance partner of American Airlines, currently requires 50,000 Etihad miles each way on the exact same American Airlines flight. I can transfer 50,000 Amex MR points to Etihad and then use the Etihad miles to book the American Airlines flight.
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Are you an American Airlines AAdvantage loyalist?
I get it, I am too, but it doesn’t mean you should only collect AAdvantage miles. Overall, the American Airlines AAdvantage program and award chart is decent (for milesAAver tickets). There are some great routes for AAdvantage miles if you can find saver availability. For example, you can book a roundtrip award ticket to Italy for 45,000-60,000 miles (depending on peak and off-peak dates).
As I stated above, I prefer to earn flexible points that can be transferred to several different airlines and hotels. If you only use an AAdvantage credit card to collect miles, you are limited to American Airlines and its partners when it’s time to redeem.
With that said, AAdvantage credit cards should not be overlooked when it comes to the best cards for benefits, especially if you frequently fly AA.
Is an AAdvantage credit card right for you?
If you fly AA more than twice a year, it may be a good idea to open an AAdvantage card. First of all, the welcome bonus on American Airlines co-branded credit cards is often 50,000-60,000 AAdvantage miles. After the first year, keeping an AAdvantage card provides benefits that may outweigh the annual fee, even if you do not use it for everyday spending.
There are two banks that issue AAdvantage credit cards, Citi and Barclay. Since neither of these are issued by Chase, you should make sure you have the Chase 5/24 cards you want prior to opening one of the AAdvantage cards. You can read more about that here.
I keep an AAdvantage co-branded credit card open year after year despite the fact that it has a $99 annual fee. I rarely use it for purchases. In fact, I don’t even use it for American Airlines tickets. Instead, I use my Chase Sapphire Reserve for the trip protection benefits. My AA card sits in a folder in our safe with my other “sock drawer credit cards.” I only keep it for the perks.
- First of all, it allows free checked bags for up to 4 people on my reservation. American Airlines raised its baggage fees for travel in the US and Caribbean to $30 each way (up from $25). If Ryan and I fly once a year and each check a bag, that would cost $60 roundtrip for each of us or $120 total. We usually try to carry on our luggage, but for some trips such as a ski trip or a trip with our kids, it’s nice to check bags for free.
- By having this card, we also get a higher boarding group. This means that if we do not check bags, we will be able to board the plane while there is still room in the overhead bins for our carry on baggage!
- I get access to reduced mileage awards.
Let’s talk about American Airlines award tickets
American Airlines offers 2 types of award tickets in each class (economy, business, and first). In the AAdvantage program these are called MileSAAver and AAnytime awards. When you are looking for award space on the AA website, you will see Economy MileSAAver, Economy AAnytime, Business/First MileSAAver, Business/First AAnytime, and then if it is a plane with 3 cabins you will see First MileSAAVer and First AAnytime.
Airlines do not have an unlimited amount of award space on any given flight. In other words, just because you see that 50 seats are available on a flight, it does not mean that 50 award seats are available.
Different airlines release different amounts of award space. Also, every airline releases award seats at different times, so it is a little tough to predict when the best time is to search for availability. With that said, I always recommend starting your search as far out from your travel date as possible. It helps to be a little flexible on your dates, but I realize that is not always possible for everyone.
A good way to think about the American Airlines AAdvantage program is that the sAAver level is their award seat inventory. Not all airlines do this, some will just say no award tickets available. but American Airlines actually still lets you book a ticket on their own flights (it cannot be a partner flight) even if no award seats are available. These are the ‘AAnytime’ awards and as you can see below, they cost a lot of AAdvantage miles. Sometimes twice as much as sAAver tickets.
A mileSAAver ticket from the US to Brazil in economy is 30k each way. There is no milesAAver space on this particular route for these dates, so you are looking at the AAnytime award prices below. AAnytime awards generally cost so many miles that it’s a horrible value for your points/miles. So, when you see an AAnytime award, AA is basically saying ‘we have no award seats available but we will still give it to you if you’re willing to redeem a ridiculous amount of miles’. When you’re looking for award space on AA, it is generally only a good value for your miles if there is mileSAAver space available.
If you do not see the tickets you need at first, there is still hope. American Airlines will sometimes randomly release extra award space, but there’s no way to predict if and when it will happen.
A few tips for booking American Airlines award tickets:
Look for availability patterns. If you have a trip in mind, I suggest searching availability periodically even if you do not know your dates. This may give you a general idea of their availability patterns. For example, when I was searching for tickets to Brazil as mentioned at the beginning of this post, I noticed that there is generally good economy milesAAver award ticket availability any time of the year except for the months of December and January. Checking for availability patterns in the early phase of trip planning may help you figure out dates that work best for your schedule and for award ticket availability!
Don’t forget about partners that aren’t bookable on AA’s website. For example, LATAM (a South American carrier) is an AA partner, but those flights cannot be booked online with AAdvantage miles. If you do an award search on AA, LATAM will not show up as an option even if it’s available. The best way to check availability for LATAM flights is on the British Airways website. If you find award availability on LATAM on the British Airways website, you can call AA and book the LATAM flight with AAdvantage miles.
There is no magic trick to make American Airlines release more award seats. But here are a few more tips:
- If you have transferable points such as American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards, you aren’t limited to American Airlines and Oneworld partners. Check other airlines that partner with American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
- Start your search as early as possible. You’re a lot more likely to find tickets if you are 6 months out vs. 2 months out.
- Check alternate dates if possible
- Consider flying into/out of other cities. For example, if Dallas to Paris is not available, try Dallas to another European city. Then either take a train or a cheap intra-Europe flight to Paris.
- Wait it out. This is risky, but sometimes airlines open more space as the departure date approaches.
To book American Airlines tickets with miles from partner programs such as British Airways, there must be award space on American Airlines at the MileSAAver level
If you haven’t read my post about getting to Mexico on an American Airlines flight for half the amount of miles by booking with the frequent flyer program of British Airways, read it now! In order to book American Airlines flights via British Airways or partner airlines, American Airlines must have award space at the mileSAAver level. If you only see AAnytime awards, you will NOT be able to use a partner’s program to book the flight.
The easiest way to search for this is on the American Airlines website. Once you have found dates that work for you, you can then go to your account with whichever airline you’re trying to use to book the ticket (British Airways in this case). The British Airways site is occasionally glitchy with AA awards. If you find sAAver space on AA.com and the flight does not show up on BA.com, you will have to call BA to book. British Airways is aware of the glitch and will waive any phone booking fees. Here are instructions for booking American Airlines flights with British Airways Avios (miles).
As always, never transfer points from Ultimate Rewards, American Express, etc., until you have confirmed availability for your dates.
Important: AA’s web specials are exclusive to AAdvantage
If a ticket you find at aa.com is available to book as a web special, but not available as a milesAAver, partner airline programs such as British Airways are not going to be able to book that ticket.
Here are step-by-step instructions on searching for milesaaver availability. Award space availability at the saver level is essential for maximizing credit card miles and points. This is true for any airline program, not just AAdvantage.
Using an airline’s credit card may not be my favorite for everyday spending, but airline credit cards are great for welcome bonuses and benefits. Opening an AAdvantage card is a great way to earn a free flight to places like Europe and South America! For everyday spending, there are other cards to consider. Now is a great time to open the Chase Sapphire Preferred. The welcome bonus is currently 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points. I’d rather have 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points than typical bonus of 60,000 AAdvantage miles on AA cobranded products.
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