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American AAdvantage cheat sheet for using miles: Airlines, Fees, Alternatives, and More

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This article was last updated Aug 06, 2015, but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.

If you’re new to American AAdvantage® miles, or don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them, here is a cheat sheet with the least you need to know to get the most out of your miles.

You’ll be prepared for fees, know where to look, and where to get extra miles when you need them.

Airlines you can book and where to find award space

The list below shows all the airlines you can book with AAdvantage® miles and where to search for available award seats.

RegionAirlineWhere to check award space
AsiaCathay PacificBritish Airways, Asia Miles, or Qantas website
AsiaJapan AirlinesBritish Airways website
AsiaJet AirwaysJetAirways.com (registration required) or call AA
AsiaMalaysia AirlinesBritish Airways website
EuropeAir BerlinAA.com
EuropeBritish AirwaysAA.com
EuropeFinnairAA.com
EuropeIberiaAA.com
EuropeS7 AirlinesBritish Airways or Qantas site
EuropeSri Lankan AirlinesBritish Airways or Qantas site
Latin AmericaLATAM AirlinesBritish Airways or Qantas site
Middle EastEtihad AirwaysEtihad Airways website (look for 'Guest' award seats)
Middle EastGulf AirExpertFlyer.com (not free)
Middle EastQatar AirwaysBritish Airways or Asia Miles website
Middle EastRoyal JordanianAA.com
North AmericaAlaska AirlinesAA.com
North AmericaCape AirCall
North AmericaHawaiian Airlines (except to Mainland U.S. after 9/2015)AA.com
North AmericaSeaborneCall
PacificAir Tahiti NuiExpertFlyer.com (not free)
PacificFiji AirwaysQantas website
PacificQantasAA.com

One of the most frustrating things about AAdvantage® is that by default you won’t always see partner flights like those from Alaska Airlines or Iberia displayed when you search on AA.com. You need to follow these steps to make them show up.

You also won’t find some partner airline flights at all on the AA.com website, including Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. To get around that you can try doing an award search on the British Airways, Cathay Pacific Asia Miles, or Qantas websites. They are partners of American and their award search tools will display most of the partner airlines you can book with American AAdvantage miles.

Here are the airlines that you’ll find on each site that you won’t find on AA.com, and links to guides that explain how to search on each site:

  • British Airways.com – Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, S7, Sri Lankan Airlines, LATAM, Qatar Airways
  • AsiaMiles.com – Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways
  • Qantas.com – Cathay Pacific, S7, Sri Lankan Airlines, LATM, Fiji Airways
  • Etihad.com – Etihad Airways

When you find flights with award space available you can call AAdvantage® to make the reservation and pay the usual AAdvantage® mileage prices.

And if you don’t want to mess with those sites, AAdvantage® phone agents on 1-800-882-8880 can also help you search for space on the partner airlines, and there’s no phone fee to book flights that aren’t visible on the American Airlines website.

Tip: If you’re trying to book Etihad Airways flights, some people report having better luck using the AAdvantage® phone number for Australia on 02-9101-1948. Those agents sometimes see more award inventory than agents handling the U.S. phone lines

Tip: The Qantas site is easier to use than the British Airways site, since you can start an award search by choosing ‘Search Classic Flight Awards’ from the home page. Just note it doesn’t show Japan or Malaysia Airlines space. It also has a nice month long calendar view of availability that you can see below.

qantassearch

Award Charts: How much do awards cost?

American charges based on what regions you’re flying between, no matter what the distance or the number of stops along the way. Here are the award charts for flights to and from the mainland U.S.

Prices are one way, so a roundtrip will cost double the one way price.

MileSAAver awards are the lowest priced, but can be hard to find, so you’ll have to be flexible with dates, times, and connecting flights to take advantage of those prices.

The partner price applies when your trip includes a flight on one or more of American’s partner airlines like Alaska, Iberia, or Cathay Pacific.

Economy Class

DestinationAwards with a Partner AirlineAA Flights - Off PeakAA Flights - SaverAA Flights - Level 1AA Flights - Level 2
Contiguous 48 U.S. states12,500N/A12,50020,00030,000
Contiguous 48 U.S. states & Canada (nonstop, 500 miles or less)N/A7,50020,00030,000
Canada & Alaska15,000N/A15,00025,00040,000
Hawaii22,50020,00022,50040,00050,000
Caribbean17,50012,50015,00027,50037,500
Mexico17,50012,50015,00027,50037,500
Central America17,50012,50015,00027,50037,500
South America Region 120,00017,50020,00035,00050,000
South America Region 230,000N/A30,00055,00075,000
Europe30,000 (22,500 off peak)22,50030,00047,50065,000
Middle East40,000N/AN/AN/AN/A
Indian Subcontinent40,000N/AN/AN/AN/A
Africa40,000N/AN/AN/AN/A
Asia Region 135,00032,50035,00062,50080,000
Asia Region 237,50032,50035,00065,00085,000
South Pacific40,000N/A40,00070,00090,000

Business Class (and First Class on planes with no Business Class)

DestinationAwards with a Partner AirlineAA Flights - Off PeakAA Flights - SaverAA Flights - Level 1AA Flights - Level 2
Contiguous 48 U.S. states25,000N/A25,00045,00055,000
Contiguous 48 U.S. states & Canada (nonstop, 500 miles or less)N/AN/A15,00045,00055,000
Canada & Alaska30,000N/A30,00050,00065,000
Hawaii40,000N/A40,00067,50090,000
Caribbean27,500N/A25,00050,00060,000
Mexico27,500N/A25,00050,00060,000
Central America27,500N/A25,00050,00060,000
South America Region 130,000N/A30,00065,00090,000
South America Region 257,500N/A57,500110,000150,000
Europe57,500N/A57,500110,000135,000
Middle East70,000N/AN/AN/AN/A
Indian Subcontinent70,000N/AN/AN/AN/A
Africa75,000N/AN/AN/AN/A
Asia Region 160,000N/A60,000120,000155,000
Asia Region 270,000N/A70,000140,000175,000
South Pacific80,000N/A80,000175,000195,000

Note that if you’re flying within the U.S. on a plane that has both Business and First Class, AA may add 7,500 miles to the price of the award because these planes have nicer international style seats.

First Class (only on planes with a Business Class)

DestinationAwards with a Partner AirlineAA Flights - Off PeakAA Flights - SaverAA Flights - Level 1AA Flights - Level 2
Contiguous 48 U.S. states50,000N/A50,00085,00095,000
Canada & Alaska55,000N/A55,00090,000105,000
Hawaii65,000N/A65,000107,500130,000
Caribbean52,500N/A50,00090,000100,000
Mexico52,500N/A50,00090,000100,000
Central America52,500N/A50,00090,000100,000
South America Region 155,000N/A55,000105,000130,000
South America Region 285,000N/A85,000160,000190,000
Europe85,000N/A85,000140,000175,000
Middle East115,000N/AN/AN/AN/A
Indian Subcontinent115,000N/AN/AN/AN/A
Africa120,000N/AN/AN/AN/A
Asia Region 180,000N/A80,000170,000200,000
Asia Region 2110,000N/A110,000180,000210,000
South Pacific110,000N/A110,000220,000260,000

Note that if you’re flying within the U.S. on a plane that has both Business and First Class, AA may add 7,500 miles to the price of the award because these planes have nicer international style seats.

Here’s the list of countries that apply to each region:

ZoneCountries Included    
North AmericaU.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii), Canada, Mexico
CaribbeanAnguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Vigin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts/Nevis
Central AmericaBelize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama
South America Zone 1Brazil (Manaus only) Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela
South America Zone 2Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil (excluding Manaus), Chile (excluding Easter Island), Falkland Islands, Paraguay, Uruguay
EuropeAlbania, 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, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom
Indian Sub ContinentBangladesh, India, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
Middle EastBahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates
AfricaAlgeria, Angola, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Melilla, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Asia Zone 1Japan, Korea
Asia Zone 2Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam
South PacificAustralia, Easter Island, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Palau, New Caledonia, Republic of Tonga, Republic of Vanuatu, American Samoa, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu

If you’re not flying to or from the U.S., here are additional price charts for award flights:

Tip: If you’re doing an advanced search using fare codes, Economy Class awards on American come from ‘T’ class, and Business Class seats come from ‘U’ class, while First Class seats come from ‘Z’ class.

What are fuel surcharges?

You won’t pay fuel surcharges for American Airlines flights, and most of its partners.

The exception is British Airways, and to a lesser extent, Iberia.

If you’re flying British Airways on a long haul flight to or from the U.S. expect to pay about $700 in taxes and fees on a round trip Economy Class ticket (about $500 of those are fuel charges) and $1,100 on a Business or First Class ticket.

You can still fly British Airways with your miles and pay fewer fuel surcharges with these tactics:

  • Book one way instead of roundtrip tickets, as the fuel surcharge on two one way tickets (like Chicago to Paris, Paris to Chicago) is often hundreds of dollars less than the fuel surcharge on a single round trip award ticket from the U.S. That’s because one way tickets from Europe have lower fuel surcharges than those from the U.S. to Europe. You’ll pay the same number of miles either way.
  • Fly on American across the ocean to London, then use British Airways flights onward. Surcharges are only about $30-$40 when you’re adding short British Airways flights within Europe.
  • Come back to the U.S. from airports with low taxes like Dublin or Tel Aviv, which even when flying British Airways all the way through have surcharges hundreds less than other European airports like Paris or London.

Awards on Iberia also have fuel surcharges, but they are more reasonable, around $100 for a roundtrip flight in Business Class across the Atlantic. You can read more about avoiding fuel surcharges here.

What are award change and booking fees?

  • Close-in fee: $75 when you book less than 21 days before departure (waived for Premier level fliers)
  • Change date: Free if 1) the new date is more than 21 days after the date you originally booked the award, 2) your origin/ destination cities stay the same, 3) the award level stays the same, and 4) you’re not removing a non-OneWorld airline like Etihad from your trip. This is one of the best benefits of using AAdvantage® miles. For all other situations you’ll pay a $150 change fee.
  • Change airlines: Free more than 21 days before departure as long as you’re not switching from a non-OneWorld partner like Etihad Airways and your origin, destination, and award level stays the same. Otherwise $150. For example you can switch from a British Airways flight to an American Airlines flight for free.
  • Change origin/destination cities: $150
  • Cancel and redeposit miles: $150

What are the best award values?

Some of the better values if you can find them are:

iberia

  • Business Class seats to Europe for 57,500 miles one way on American’s own flights as well as Air Berlin and Finnair, which don’t impose any fuel surcharges. Iberia is also the same price, with only around $100 in surcharges on a roundtrip flight. Here is a list of no fuel surcharge routes to Europe.

japanairlinesfirst

  • First Class to Japan and Korea for 80,000 miles one way on American or Japan Airlines with no fuel surcharges. You can’t book Japan Airlines online, but check the British Airways site for seats and call in to book.

cathay

  • Business Class to Asia for 60 – 70,000 miles one way on American, Cathay Pacific, or Japan Airlines with no fuel surcharges.

qatarbusinessclass

  • Business Class to India or the Maldives for 70,000 miles one way. You can fly Qatar or Etihad Airways and avoid fuel surcharges.

qatarafrica

  • Business Class to Africa for 75,000 miles one way. You can fly Qatar Airways via Doha and avoid fuel surcharges. British Airways also flies to Africa but you’ll get hit with big surcharges, and while Etihad Airways also flies to Africa there’s an arcane restriction that forces you to pay for two separate awards when you fly Etihad from the U.S. to Africa.

qantasbusiness

  • Business Class to Australia for 80,000 miles one way. Award space is very hard to find on Qantas or American, but Fiji Airways is another option via Los Angeles.

Can you upgrade with miles?

Yes you can, though you usually get more bang out of your miles by booking a First or Business Class award on its own, as American charges cash fees for upgrades.

The fees range from $75 for domestic flights to $350 for flights across the oceans and to Southern South America. Here’s a guide to upgrading with AAdvantage® miles.

Tip: Make sure you request an upgrade more than 21 days in advance if you’re not an AAdvantage® elite member. Otherwise you’ll get hit with a $75 close in fee on top of the upgrade fee.

Tip: If an upgrade isn’t available you can be placed on a waitlist to clear if upgrade space opens later on. Miles and the cash fee won’t be charged until your upgrade clears.

Warning: The cash fee for upgrades is non refundable once you’re upgraded.

Tip: AAdvantage upgrades come out of ‘C’ and ‘A’ fare inventory, and you can check availability online if you have a paid subscription to ExpertFlyer.com. Otherwise, just call AAdvantage® and they’ll check space and process upgrades over the phone.

Options when you can’t find MileSAAver award space

Unfortunately you can’t waitlist for award space if the type you want isn’t available. You’ll have to keep checking and book when you see space open up.

Tip: If you can’t find MileSAAver space on your flight, you might have luck calling American and asking if they can open up space. American has a computer system that will sometimes release award seats on request. It’s rare that it will help, but it’s always worth a call to try.

 

What stopovers are allowed?

American no longer allows stopovers on award tickets, though sometimes you can get an overnight stop in a city if there are no connecting flights available on the same day.

What routing is allowed?

AAdvantage® has some quirky rules governing where you can connect when you’re traveling internationally on an award. There’s a full rundown here, but some of the most important are:

  • To reach Africa you can only connect in Europe or use Qatar Airways via Doha. The Qatar Airways option is useful because it helps you avoid British Airways fuel surcharges.
  • To reach Australia you can’t go via Asia, which basically limits you to Qantas and American flights from the U.S., along with Fiji Airways flights via Fiji.
  • To reach Asia you must go over the Pacific Ocean. You can’t cross over via Europe or the Middle East. The exception is India, which is considered part of the Middle East region, and to reach India you can cross the Atlantic Ocean and connect in the Middle East or Europe, or you can cross the Pacific if you fly Cathay Pacific or American Airlines to Hong Kong, and then connect onward to India from there on Cathay, Dragonair, or Jet Airways.

If you really want to you can get around these rules, but you’ll need to pay for two separate awards. For example you’d have to book a U.S. to Asia award and then an Asia to Australia award if you want to fly to Australia via Asia, paying separate prices for each award.

The number of flights you take on an award is also limited.

For each one-way award redeemed for travel within the United States and Canada, a maximum of three segments are permitted. For all other destinations (including Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands), a maximum of four segments are permitted.

Can you hold an award seat?

Yes, you can hold awards for up to 5 days before committing to them at no charge. This generous option is available when you reach the payment page on AA.com or by speaking to an agent, and you can even do it if you don’t have enough miles in your account.

If you’re within a week of your flight, the hold is limited to one day, so you can hold it until 11:59pm Central the following day.

Alternative miles to book American flights

If you’re short on AAdvantage® miles, you can book American flights using miles other than American AAdvantage®.

Any OneWorld partner’s miles can access the basic MileSAAver level award seats, which opens up a few options to book American flights without using AAdvantage® miles.

Note: While you can book American flights with these partner airline miles, you can’t combine these miles with your existing AAdvantage® miles.

  • Alaska MileagePlan is a close partner with American and has award prices that are similar to what American charges.
  • British Airways Avios, which is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards® and American Express Membership Rewards® often has much better prices than American for short nonstop flights. You can fly for as few as 4,500 points one way. The catch is British Airways charges separately for each flight segment, so trips with connecting flights cost more than nonstops. Avoid using these miles for trans Atlantic flights as British Airways adds stiff fuel surcharges to American Airlines flights.
  • Etihad Guest, which is a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou®, has prices that are lower than American’s current award prices.
  • Asia Miles, which is a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou® and American Express Membership Rewards®, can sometimes cost fewer miles than using AAdvantage®. For example, you can fly from Los Angeles to Hong Kong for 120,000 miles roundtrip with Asia Miles, compared to 140,000 miles with AAdvantage®.

What hotel points can you transfer from?

You can convert your hotel points into AAdvantage® miles any time with no charge for the conversion. Every hotel program has a different conversion rate, and to make it easier to understand, we’ve calculated conversion rates needed for a single mile.

  • Marriott® Rewards (rate varies from 5 points = 1 mile to 2.8 points = 1 mile depending on how many points you transfer – conversion rates are here)
  • Starwood Preferred Guest® (1 point = 1 mile with an extra 5,000 miles when you convert 20,000 points)
  • Hilton HHonors (6.7 points = 1 mile)
  • IHG® Club (5 points = 1 mile)
  • Club Carlson: (10 points = 1 mile)
  • Hyatt Gold Passport (2.5 points = 1 mile; extra 5,000 mile bonus when you convert 50,000 points)
  • Choice Privileges: (5 points = 1 mile)
  • Wyndham Rewards: (5 points = 1 mile)

Note: Be aware that most of the time there’s a minimum number of points you can transfer, usually 5,000 points or more which are listed here, but the numbers above will give you a sense of how far your hotel points can go.

What credit cards earn AAdvantage® miles?

Direct

Personal: Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®*, Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®, Citi® / AAdvantage® Gold World Elite™ Mastercard®

Business: CitiBusiness®/ AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®*

via Transfer

The Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express* earns points you can transfer into American AAdvantage® miles any time at 1 point = 1 mile. You also get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer, though transfers can take a few days.

When do credit card miles post?

Generally they post shortly after your monthly card statement is generated. However, Citibank will advance you miles early for a fee of $35, with a 2-3 day processing time if you need them sooner. You can call the number on the back of your card to request this.

How do you transfer miles?

You have to pay if you want to transfer miles from your account to someone else, and American charges $12.50 for every 1,000 miles you transfer, or 1.25 cents each.

It’s not a terrible deal, but if you can, you’re better off booking an award for someone else from your own account, since you can use your miles to book tickets for anyone you’d like, even if you’re not traveling.

Do AAdvantage® miles expire?

AAdvantage® miles expire after 18 months of inactivity. Any earning or spending of miles counts as activity, so as long as you do that, it will extend the expiration date of your miles another 18 months. And you can extend the expiration as many times as you’d like.

To avoid hassle, if you plan to earn some miles to keep them from expiring, like through online shopping, try to make sure your earning activity happens about 2 months before your miles are set to expire, as it can take a while before partner miles appear in your account.

If your miles did expire, you can pay a fee to reactivate them, based on how many you’d like to reactivate.

*The information related to the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, CitiBusiness®/ AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®, Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express  has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card.


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