Ultimate Guide: How to Use American Airlines Miles [Updated July 2018]

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It’s time for a refresh!  We’re updating our old series on American Airlines and making one guide with everything you’ll need to know!  Check back often as we add new sections to this post!

For a limited time, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard has an increased offer of 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.  And the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard comes with 70,000 bonus American Airlines miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 4 months of account opening.

American Airlines are one of the best mileage currencies to earn because there are a large number of great ways to use them!  American Airlines is part of the oneworld alliance, which means that you can redeem your American Airlines miles for flights on any other oneworld alliance member and American Airlines’ other partners that aren’t part of oneworld!

American Airlines miles aren’t always the easiest to redeem anymore, but do offer incredible value especially for fancy flights like Cathay Pacific or Etihad First Class.  Of course, you can also redeem for reasonable award prices in other classes of service when there are available award seats.

What a Way to Fly to Asia! Japan Airlines First Class Is One of Our Favorites.  And You Can Book It With American Airlines Miles!

In this guide, we’ll show you how to use American Airlines miles for nearly free flights and travel all over the world!

Introduction:   How to Use American Airlines Miles

You can book one-way awards which gives you terrific flexibility.  For example, you can fly to Europe using American Airlines miles and fly back using United Airlines miles.  And you can redeem American Airlines miles, but fly on American Airlines’ partner airlines.

Redeeming miles for flights with American Airlines’ partners is one of the best ways to access ultra-premium First Class seats with airlines like Etihad and Japan Airlines.

In our experience, American Airlines has some of the best telephone booking agents and some of the most available award seats for both domestic and international destinations, at least when you consider partner flight options.  Lately, it’s been a bit tough to find low-level SAAver award seats for travel on American Airlines planes, but if you’re flexible with your travel dates and / or destination you shouldn’t have too much trouble.

oneworld and Other Airline Partners

As mentioned above, you can redeem your American Airlines miles for travel not only on American Airlines (this is very important!), but ALSO on oneworld partner airlines and other (non-oneworld) partner airlines which have partnered with American Airlines.

American Airlines Has Many Partners, so You Have Quite a Few Flight Redemption Options! Note That You Cannot Redeem Miles for All Other Airlines Partners

The oneworld alliance is a group of 13 full member airlines (American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LATAM, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Royal Jordanian, S7, and Sri Lankan Airlines) which together fly to over 1,000 destinations in 150+ countries.

American Airlines has also partnered with other airlines (outside of the oneworld alliance) including Air Tahiti Nui, Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air, Etihad Airways, Fiji Airways, and Hawaiian Airlines.  You can also redeem your American Airlines miles for travel on these other partner airlines!

This is a BIG deal (no, it is a huge deal!), because between oneworld and other partner airlines you can use your American Airlines miles to fly to places where American Airlines doesn’t fly themselves.

Some airline award tickets can be booked on AA.com including:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • American Airlines (including American Eagle)
  • British Airways
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Qantas
  • Royal Jordanian

Unfortunately, to book all other partners you have to call American Airlines (NOT the partner airline) to book the award.  We’ll cover how to find available award seats on partner airlines later on so that you don’t have to rely on the phone agent to find the seats you want.

Where Can American Airlines Miles Take Me?

Short answer:  Almost anywhere in the world!

There Are a Lot of Places You Can Fly With American Airlines Miles!

Your American Airlines miles can take you to places where:

1)  American Airlines fly themselves

2)  American Airlines’ oneworld partners fly

3)  American Airlines’ other partner airlines fly

The easiest way to see where American Airlines and their oneworld partners fly to is to use the oneworld online tool.

A more time consuming, but more thorough way, is to individually visit the oneworld partner and other partner airlines’ websites and see where they fly.

Use Miles to Fly Where American Airlines Doesn’t

Let’s take 3 out of many possible examples of how to use American Airlines miles:

1.  Bangkok, Thailand.   You can redeem American Airlines miles for travel on Cathay Pacific from the US to Hong Kong and from Hong Kong to Bangkok.

American Airlines doesn’t fly its own planes (sometimes referred to as “AA metal”) from the US to Thailand, but you CAN redeem American Airline miles to fly on Cathay Pacific (a oneworld partner) from the US to Hong Kong, and then connect to another Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok.

Cathay Pacific Offers a Wonderful Business Class With Destinations All Over Asia!

You won’t be able to search for Cathay Pacific award seats online at AA.com, because you can only search for flights on American Airlines and the partners listed earlier in this post online.

Currently, you have to call American Airlines (NOT the partner airline) to book awards on partner airlines such as Cathay Pacific.  Alternatively, you can look for Cathay Pacific award seats online at BritishAirways.com.  You will need a British Airways account in order to search for flights, but it’s free and easy to sign-up! 

Just remember, if you find award seats for flights that you want, you will still need to call American Airlines to book (NOT British Airways OR the partner airline).

This might sound a little complicated, but don’t worry!  We’ll show you in detail how to find available award seats on many of American Airlines’ partners before you call later on in this post and we’ll walk through how to call American Airlines and get the agent to book your $15,000 First Class seat using miles and only a few hundred dollars in taxes & fees.

2.   Anchorage, Alaska.   American Airlines has limited service on its own flights to Alaska.  But because Alaska Airlines is an American Airlines partner airline, you can use your American Airlines miles to fly on Alaska Airlines routes to Alaska.

For example, American Airlines doesn’t fly from Seattle to Anchorage directly.  You would normally have to fly from Seattle to Dallas and then from Dallas to Anchorage during the months when American Airlines flies from Dallas to Anchorage.  And that’s a lot of extra flying!

But because Alaska Airlines (an American Airlines partner) flies from Seattle to Anchorage, you can redeem your American Airlines miles, but fly on an Alaska Airlines plane from Seattle to Anchorage.

As an added bonus, you can easily book Alaska Airlines flights online with American Airlines miles.  There’s no need to call in!

3.  Cairo, Egypt.  American Airlines not only doesn’t offer any service to Cairo, but does not offer a single flight to any country in the Middle East.  But since Qatar Airways is a member of the oneworld alliance, you can use your American Airlines miles to fly Qatar to Cairo, with a quick layover in Doha.

Enjoy the Massive Pyramids After You Fly to Egypt With Your American Airlines Miles!

Another option would be to use American Airlines partner (that is NOT in oneworld), Etihad.  With a quick layover in Abu Dhabi, you can also redeem miles to travel to Cairo.

You have to book both airlines over the phone and not on AA.com.  But these are still great options for booking travel to the Middle East.

Award Types & Charts

American Airlines has 2 different award charts for redeeming miles and 2 award charts for upgrades. Here are some tips we have for reading and understanding the American Airlines award charts.

American Airlines Travel Award Chart

The American Airlines travel award chart is for travel only on American Airlines and American Eagle.

You’ll be able to find rates as low as 7,500 miles each way plus taxes and carrier imposed fees for flights within the US. If you’re traveling internationally on American Airlines only, this award chart also applies.

If you’re traveling on airlines other than American Airlines, you’ll have to check out their other award chart.

New Offer 50000 American Airlines Miles 200 In Credits
With 60,000 American Airlines Miles, You Could Book a Round-Trip Coach Flight to Paris

oneworld and Other Airline Award Chart

Thw oneworld and other airlines award chart shows prices using American Airlines miles for award travel on oneworld and partner airlines.

You can book awards with the following airlines:

a) American Airlines
b) oneworld partner airlines including:

c) Other American Airline partner airlines which include:

You Can Redeem American Airlines Miles for Business Class Award Flights on Japan Airlines and Enjoy a Delicious Traditional Meal

While you can book all of American Airlines’ flights with miles on AA.com, many of their other partners can NOT be seen online.

For example, if you search for flights from Chicago to Bangkok on AA.com, you’ll only see options for American Airlines (and maybe some partners like Royal Jordanian’s unusual flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok). But you can also fly on Cathay Pacific (oneworld partner airline) to Hong Kong and then connect to Bangkok.

In some cases, you may have to do some digging to find out which oneworld airlines fly between cities. An easy way to do so is using the oneworld Interactive Network Map.

You can book some oneworld and partner award flights on AA.com, including:

  • Alaska Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Finnair
  • Hawaiian Airlines (except flights between Mainland US and Hawaii)
  • Iberia
  • Qantas
  • Royal Jordanian

However, other airline awards can only be booked by calling 800-882-8880. This may seem like extra work, but it’s totally worth it because of the vastly increased flight options.

If you want to try to check for available partner awards before you call into American Airlines, you can check sites like British Airways or Qantas. If you can find your desired flights, you can simply provide that to the American Airlines booking agent who answers your phone call at the number listed above.

Upgrades

American Airlines Upgrades

This chart lists the co-pay and miles required to upgrade flights on flights operated by American Airlines and American Eagle.

Upgrades are only possible to the next higher class of service, so you can’t upgrade from coach to First Class, but you can upgrade from coach to Business Class or from Business Class to First Class. Upgrading from coach to Premium Economy isn’t currently possible, but you can upgrade from Premium Economy to Business Class. You may not want to do so, however, because upgrading from Premium Economy to Business Class costs the same as upgrading from coach to Business Class.

We’re not big fans of using miles to upgrade flights because it is usually a poor value when upgrading from the cheapest discount coach ticket.

You Can Upgrade Yourself to Business Class With Your American Airlines Miles, but We Wouldn’t Recommend It

For example, it costs 25,000 miles PLUS a $350 co-pay to upgrade a one-way discount coach ticket to Europe from coach to Business Class.

So if you were to book a discounted coach ticket to Europe for $750 and wanted to upgrade to Business Class, this would cost an additional 25,000 American Airlines miles and a co-pay of $350!

However, it costs only 57,500 American Airlines miles for a Business Class ticket to Europe.

That said, using miles to upgrade could make sense if your company has purchased your ticket for you, you regularly purchase Business Class tickets, or if you just want to save your American Airlines miles.

Upgrades on British Airways and Iberia

This chart lists the amount of miles required to upgrade flights on British Airways and Iberia.

However, this is a pretty meaningless option, because your ticket has to be booked in full fare coach, Premium Economy, or Business Class. More often than not, coach tickets are at the discounted rate.

Since these full fares are almost always higher than the discounted fares, this is usually not a great value unless you are forced to buy a ticket at full fare or your company buys the ticket for you.

Now we’ll go into more depth about the different types of awards American Airlines has and how much you can expect to spend on your award redemption.

American Airlines Has a Couple of Different Award Types and How Much You Pay Will Depend on What Award Type You Book!

American Airlines has 4 different types of award rates, but most folks will use either the off-peak or the MileSAAver rate.

Types of Awards

1.   Off-Peak MileSAAver Awards

These awards let you travel for less than the regular (MileSAAver) number of miles to certain destinations.  The catch is that you have to travel during “off” or low season.  Off-peak awards only apply to coach bookings.

Here are the off-peak award costs.

DestinationTo Destination Off Peak Period1-Way Off Peak Award (Miles Required in Coach)1-Way MileSAAver Award (Miles Required in Coach)1-Way Off Peak Savings (in Coach)
HawaiiTo Hawaii: 12/29 - 3/12, 8/11 - 11/18, 11/24 - 12/10
From Hawaii: 1/7 - 3/19, 8/18 - 11/27, 12/3 - 12/25
20,00022,5002,500
Caribbean, Mexico and Central America 9/7 - 11/14, 4/27 - 5/2012,50015,0002,500
Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Manaus (Brazil)1/16 - 6/14, 9/7 - 11/1417,50020,0002,500
Argentina, Brazil (excluding Manaus), Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela1/10 - 3/14, 11/1 - 12/1422,50030,0007,500
Europe1/10 - 3/14, 11/1 - 12/14 22,50030,0007,500
Japan and South KoreaTo Japan/Korea: 1/1 - 4/30, 7/1 - 11/30
From Japan: 1/16 - 4/19, 5/2 - 5/31, 9/1 - 12/31
From Korea: 1/16 - 5/31, 9/1 - 12/31
To Korea: January 1 to April 30, July 1 to November 30
32,50035,0002,500
China and Hong KongAsia Region 2 To China/Hong Kong: 1/1 - 4/30, 7/1 - 9/30, 10/11 - 11/30
From China/Hong Kong: 2/1 - 5/31, 9/1 - 9/19, 10/2 - 12/31
32,50035,0002,500

Key points about off-peak awards:

  • Off-peak awards are valid only in coach
  • You can’t use off-peak awards on partner airlines with the exception of flights to Europe.  If you have a partner flight, you’ll automatically be subject to the higher award price, except on flights to Europe
  • Off-peak awards can’t be used to fly within the US and Canada (except Hawaii)
Sailing Around Greece Would Be the Trip of a Lifetime! For More Than 3 Months of the Year, You Can Visit for Even Fewer Miles With American’s Off-Peak Prices!

Off-peak awards are still a good value because you’ll save miles when traveling to certain regions.  Europe has 3 and a half months of off-peak awards at 45,000 American Airlines miles round-trip, and you’re still allowed to fly on partner airlines!

However, if there are no available off-peak award seats, the next level of awards in coach are not the regularly priced MileSAAver awards, but the more expensive AAnytime awards.

Before paying double price (AAnytime awards) for coach awards, you should always search for Business Class MileSAAver awards because they may be cheaper than a AAnytime award in coach.  Before we get into that, let’s talk about MileSAAver awards a little more.

2. MileSAAver Awards

These are regular priced awards, but are capacity controlled.  This means that it may be extremely challenging to get awards during peak times and for more than 2 people, and may even be somewhat difficult at non-peak times.

You can book MileSAAver awards with both the American Airlines Travel Award Chart (for travel only on American Airlines and American Eagle) and with the oneworld and Other Airline Award Chart.  For more details, check out our post on American Airlines’ different award charts.

However, if you’re flexible (can leave early or later, or stay overnight in a hub airport, or break up your large travel group), you should be able to find awards to your destination.  Just remember to check for available partner airline award seats as well (which we’ll cover later on in this post).

If you are traveling on a oneworld partner (like British Airways) or other partner airline (like Etihad), you have to book your award using either the MileSAAver rate (unless you’re booking an off-peak flight to Europe). You can’t book partner flights with the more expensive, and also more available AAnytime rate.  This means that there must be low-level award seats available on the partner airline in order to book it.

Every airline has a different name for these low-level seats.  Etihad calls these low-level awards “GuestSeats”, while British Airways would show up as the MileSAAver price on AA.com.

3. AAnytime Awards

These awards give you the most flexibility and if a seat is available on the flight, you can book it.  AAnytime awards can be used with ONLY the American Airlines Travel Award Chart (for travel only on American Airlines or American Eagle).

However, they cost significantly more than a regular MileSAAver Award. There are 2 types of AAnytime awards – Level 1 and Level 2.

The rules aren’t specific to show which award goes in which level, but generally awards booked in advance and during non-peak travel times (not during major holidays like Christmas and New Years) are Level 1, while seats that aren’t will be Level 2 awards.

For example, it costs 110,000 miles on a Level 1, one-way AAnytime award to London in Business Class instead of 57,500 miles if you used a regular MileSAAver award.  If you book too close to departure or around a holiday and have to book the Level 2 rate, it’s even more expensive at 135,000 miles one-way!

Pricing Varies Significantly Between MileSAAver, AAnytime Level 1, and AAnytime Level 2!

Tip:   Before paying the AAnytime rate for a coach or Business Class award, check the MileSAAver availability for the next highest class of service (Business or First Class).

For example, before paying 65,000 miles for an AAnytime award to London in coach, check to see if there are MileSAAver (regular) awards for 57,500 miles in Business Class.

Sometimes, you will find a MileSAAver award in the next class of service which would cost the same (or less) amount of miles as the AAnytime award, so you’ll get to save miles and flight a higher class of service!

Note that AAnytime awards are ONLY for flights on American Airlines.  You can NOT book oneworld and other partner airlines at the AAnytime rate.

So if your flight involves partner airlines (say, British Airways from London to Dubai), you won’t be able to pay more miles and get last seat availability.

4. American Airlines Reduced Mileage Awards

American Airlines AAdvantage credit card holders have access to reduced mileage awards which save you either 5,000 or 7,500 miles for round-trip flights within the US and Canada.  The exact amount varies based on which type of American Airlines card you have.

On round-trip flights, you’ll receive a 7,500 mile discount if you have one of the cards below and your flight is more than 500 miles.  If you book a short flight 500 miles or less, you’ll receive only a 2,000 mile discount:

If you don’t have any of the cards above, you can still receive a 5,000 mile discount with one of the cards below (but if your flight is 500 miles or less, you’ll receive only a 1,000 mile discount):

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Gold World Elite Mastercard
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Gold World Elite Visa
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Gold World Elite American Express
  • Barclays AAdvantage® Aviator™ Blue Mastercard

If you’re booking a one-way flight, you’ll get half the discount.

However, the catch is that you have to call American Airlines reservations (800-882-8880) to book this deal.

The list changes monthly, and these awards must also be used on flights operated by American Airlines themselves.  This means that you can search for available award seats online at AA.com (which will show you American Airlines options) and then call to book the award.

There Are Many Great Destinations to Visit Within the US and Canada for Even Fewer Miles with American Airlines Reduced Mileage Awards!

These awards are subject to the same capacity restrictions as MileSAAver awards.  In other words, if you find a MileSAAver award online to a destination on the quarterly reduced mileage award list, you can call American Airlines reservations, give them the award code from the Reduced Mile Award page, and book your award for fewer miles.

The reduced mile awards to Canada are an especially good deal because tickets to Canada can be quite expensive.

The American Airlines website states that reduced mileage awards are only eligible if you are traveling to the listed destination cities.  There were reports in the past from folks who were able to have the discount applied on flights both to and from the listed airports, but that may no longer be possible as the most recent report we could find of this happening was in 2017.  Your mileage my vary if you are trying to fly from one of the cities listed on the reduced mileage awards list.

You can find out more details through our post on American’s Reduced Mileage Awards.

Award Fees

1.   Telephone Booking Fee. American Airlines charges a $30 telephone booking fee for domestic award flights which includes the US, Canada, Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, and Hawaii, and a $40 telephone booking fee for international flights, which are waived only for Executive Platinum members. This fee does not apply to awards that can’t be booked online, such as oneworld partners Cathay Pacific and Qatar Airways.

However, if a flight can be booked online and you choose to book over the phone, such as a seat on British Airways, you will have to pay the $40 fee, unless you are an Executive Platinum member.

2.  Close-In Ticketing Fee. American Airlines charges a $75 fee if you book your ticket within 21 days. This fee is waived for Gold, Platinum, Platinum Pro, and Executive Platinum members.

3.  Cancellation / Redeposit Fee. There is no fee to cancel your award, but you have to pay a $150 fee to have the miles redeposited into your account (waived only for Executive Platinum elites). However, the fee is only $25 for additional awards after the 1st if you redeposit the miles at the same time. Therefore, it may be worth it (if possible) to book award travel from the same account so that you pay lower fees if you have to cancel and redeposit the award.

4.  Taxes and Fees. You will have to pay taxes and fees on your award ticket. These fees are usually pretty reasonable, except if you travel on British Airways or travel to / from countries (think UK & France) with higher than usual fees. These fees will be even higher if you choose to fly in Business Class or First Class. That’s why it’s often best to consider flying other partners instead.

For a One-Way Flight From New York JFK to Paris on British Airways in Coach, You’ll Pay 22,500 American Airlines Miles (Off-Peak) Plus ~$208 in Taxes and Fees! That’s Pretty Steep for a One-Way Flight

American Airlines collects fuel surcharges when you use your American Airlines miles on British Airways flights, so it’s best to stay away from redeeming miles on British Airways when you can.  However, there are often lots of award seats available on British Airways and there are often even 4 seats in First or Business Class!  If flying Business or First Class is the way you want to go and you aren’t flexible with your dates or destination, British Airways may be your best bet, even with the fuel surcharges.

Bottom Line

The American Airlines AAdvantage program has numerous opportunities to score great award tickets around the world.  Whether it is flying Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, or British Airways to London, or any other partner destination, you have the chance to take great trips for a mere fraction of the cost of a normal ticket!

Don’t forget, for a limited time, the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard now comes with 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles, and the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard comes with 70,000 bonus American Airlines miles, both after meeting minimum spending requirements.

Over the coming weeks, we will be adding to this post to give you even more details about how to use American Airlines miles, where to find available award seats, and more!

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