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If you’re a fan of American Airlines or considering opening an airline credit card, it can pay to learn the ins and outs of this major airline’s frequent flyer program, AAdvantage.
What Is the American Airlines AAdvantage Program?
AAdvantage is the frequent-flyer program for American Airlines. Members earn AAdvantage miles for each dollar spent on airline purchases, and those miles can be used to book flights, other travel reservations, and more.
American Airlines is one of the largest commercial airlines, operating about 6,700 daily flights to 350 destinations in 50 countries with its regional partner airline, American Eagle.
AAdvantage is the first airline loyalty program and was introduced on May 1, 1981. American Airlines is much older, dating back to 1926 when Charles Lindbergh flew the first flight, which carried U.S. mail instead of passengers.
How Can You Enroll in the American Airlines AAdvantage Program?
You can enroll in the AAdvantage program for free online, through the American Airlines mobile app, or by opening an American Airlines-branded credit card. Once enrolled, you’ll get a membership number (also called your AAdvantage number) that you’ll add to your flight reservations and other American Airlines purchases going forward.
What Are the American Airlines Hubs?
The American Airlines corporate headquarters is near Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) airport, which is American’s primary hub. Nine other U.S. airports are considered American Airlines hubs.
Valuable airline miles
Many ways to earn extra miles
A lot of partner airlines
Published award charts don’t always match actual award flights costs
Unlike the United MileagePlus program, miles cannot be transferred to hotel partners
How To Earn American Airlines AAdvantage Miles
Once you’re enrolled in the American Airlines frequent flyer program, you can earn miles in a lot of different ways.
American Airlines waived change and cancellation fees on flights booked between March 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021. When you rebook a changed or canceled trip arranged between those dates, you’ll pay the difference if your new flight is more expensive than your changed or canceled flight.
Fly American Airlines
If you fly on eligible American Airlines or American Eagle flights within these regions, you’ll earn AAdvantage miles:
- United States
- Central America
- South America
- South Pacific
Eligible flights refer to those purchased with a qualified booking code (those are listed in the award charts on the American Airlines website), or that you’re flying on a route that earns miles. Some flights don’t earn miles, including companion and infant tickets, certain tickets purchased through a travel agency, and award tickets.
The number of miles you earn per trip is based on the main parts of each ticket price: the base fare plus any carrier-imposed fees for things like seat selection or checked-bag fees. You can’t earn miles on taxes and other government fees.
As a standard AAdvantage program member, you’ll earn 5 miles for every $1 spent on the base cost of a booked flight—more if you have elite AAdvantage program status. (More about this below)
You can earn up to 75,000 AAdvantage miles per American Airlines ticket.
Fly Partner Airlines Such as British Airways or Qantas
American Airlines has more than 20 partner airlines that you can earn AAdvantage miles with, many of which are part of the oneworld airline network:
To earn AAdvantage miles by flying on a partner airline, book the flights directly with that airline and provide your AAdvantage number upon checkout, or log in to your AAdvantage account on the American Airlines website and book a partner flight through the travel portal.
How many miles will you earn per partner airline flight? Short answer: It varies.
On most flights with partner airlines, you’ll earn AAdvantage miles based on a percentage of the flight distance and the fare class of your ticket (e.g. first or premium economy).
In most cases, economy tickets on partner airlines will earn you less than you’d earn on an American Airlines Flight. For example, on British Airways, for most economy fare codes, you’ll only earn on 25% or 50% of the base miles. You’ll earn more by booking eligible premium tickets.
Some partner flights are excluded from earning AAdvantage miles, but it depends on the route, region, and which airline affiliate is operating the partner flight. For example, you can’t earn AAdvantage miles on Hawaiian Airlines flights operated under the Ohana brand.
American Airlines has earning charts online for most of its partner airlines, even those that aren’t part of the oneworld alliance.
Use American Airlines Credit Cards
Opening an American Airlines-branded credit card offers ways to earn miles on non-travel expenses and even more miles on American Airlines purchases. Citi issues a handful of such cards:
- American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Mastercard: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and groceries, and 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else.
- Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, gas, and restaurant purchases, plus 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else.
- Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, and 1 mile per $1 spent on everything else.
- CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select Mastercard: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines, telecommunication, cable and satellite providers, car rentals and gas station purchases, plus 1 mile per $1 spent on other purchases.
Barclays also offers a handful of AAdvantage credit cards, including:
- AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases, and 1 mile for every $1 spent on all other purchases.
- AAdvantage Aviator Business Mastercard: Earn 2 miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines, office supply, telecom, and car rental merchant purchases, and 1 mile per $1 spent on all other purchases.
These airline credit cards offer a heap of bonus miles to new cardholders who can meet a spending requirement. If you’re trying to quickly boost your miles balance, opening one of these cards may be a big help.
If you don’t have an American Airlines-branded credit card, the only other way to access desirable American Airlines loyalty perks (such as early boarding, free checked bags) is by earning elite status, which requires spending a lot of money with the airline first. If extra airline benefits are appealing, open an airline-branded credit card to access them more easily.
Stay at Hyatt, Marriott, or Other Partner Hotels
Supply your AAdvantage number or choose American Airlines as your rewards-earning preference when making a reservation directly with properties belonging to four hotel chains:
- Hyatt Hotels and Resorts
- InterContinental Hotels (such as Holiday Inn)
- Marriott Bonvoy Hotels
- Wyndham Hotels and Resorts
If you have unused rewards in your World of Hyatt, Marriott Bonvoy, IHG Rewards Club, or Wyndham Rewards account, you can turn those hotel points into AAdvantage miles. This may be a good option if you are trying to quickly accumulate miles for an upcoming vacation. Conversion rates vary among the hotel programs, so see the American Airlines website for details.
Other Ways To Earn AAdvantage Miles
- Take a Cruise with Royal Caribbean, Disney Cruise Line, or 28 other partners: Earn 1 mile per $1 spent on most reservations booked on the airline cruise portal or by calling a 1-800 number.
- Reserve a car with Avis, Budget, or another partner agency: Get a discount on your rental and at least 500 miles per reservation.
- Book an American Airlines vacation package: Earn miles on vacation packages with special bonuses for certain destinations.
- Join the AAdvantage Dining program: Connect debit and credit cards, and then use those cards at participating restaurants, bars, and clubs to earn miles.
- Shop using the American Airlines shopping portal: Log in with your AAdvantage account information and earn up to 30 miles per $1 spent at more than 950 participating stores.
- Keep tabs on American’s bonus offers page: It has opportunities to earn extra miles on hotel and rental car reservations, vacations, shopping, and more.
- Buy American Airlines AAdvantage miles: There are often incentives like bonus miles and discounts for purchasing large sums of miles. Still, buying miles is rarely worth the cost unless you need a small top-up to reach an award goal.
Do American Airlines AAdvantage Miles Expire?
AAdvantage miles don’t expire, not as long as you’re a regular account user. If you earn or redeem AAdvantage miles at least once every 18 months, the miles in your account are safe from expiration.
If your miles do expire, you can pay to reactivate up to 500,000 miles once every 18 months. Reactivation cost will vary based on how many miles you want back.
How To Use American Airlines AAdvantage Miles
There are several ways to redeem AAdvantage miles, but they are best used for—you guessed it—more airline flights.
Book American Airlines Flights
When AAdvantage miles are used to book award flights, The Balance found each mile is worth about 2.04 cents, on average, the most of any major U.S. airline. You may get even more value from your miles by using them to book international flights, too.
If you have a bunch of miles to use and want to get the biggest bang out of them, it may be worth splurging on a premium-seat ticket on an international flight, as your miles are worth an average 3.2 cents each when used this way, based on The Balance’s valuation research. However, if you’re traveling within the U.S., save your miles and fly coach.
If you’re looking for ways to stretch miles further, American Airlines also offers “web specials.” Web special tickets are limited-time offers that are often priced lower than what you’ll find in the published American Airlines award chart. Web special ticket availability will vary based on flight and travel dates.
American Airlines has award charts posted on its website, which is an uncommon practice among major U.S. airlines. However, The Balance found listed flight prices are classified differently than the award flight types identified on the charts (MileSAAver and AAnytime), and often don’t appear in flight search results; in some cases, the miles required to book the flight varies from what’s listed in the award charts.
American Airlines says that due to an increased number of web special offers and other pricing variables such as ticket demand during peak travel seasons, award flight prices are now more dynamic. That means they can change often, and do. These days, you’re also more likely to see award flights advertised based on seat class or as a web special rather than as a MileSAAver or AAnytime ticket, according to the airline.
“We’ll maintain the current award chart because customers have let us know it provides a helpful guideline for redeeming miles and, as customers continue to find web specials, the award chart may become less relevant over time,” an American Airlines spokesperson told The Balance in an email.
So for now, use the posted American Airlines award chart as a rough planning resource to estimate flight costs. If you want more precise cost information, search for flights directly.
Each award flight is subject to taxes and fees starting at $5.60 per person, per award. The final taxes-and-fee charge will be based on your trip origin and destination, which you’ll see while searching for your desired trip.
Award flights can be booked directly through the American Airlines website after logging into your AAdvantage account, by phone, or through the free AAdvantage app, which is available in the Apple App Store and Google Play.
Book Flights With Partner Airlines
American Airlines has 19 partner airlines you can book award flights with using your AAdvantage miles on aa.com, and two airline partners you can book award flights with by phone.
The pricing and availability of award flights with oneworld airlines and other partners are based on where you are flying to and from, and the type of seat: main cabin, premium economy, business/first, or first.
Similar to the American Airlines award chart, there are published charts for the partner airlines on the American Airlines website. The charts may be good resources if you want a general idea of what a flight might cost you, based on your travel plans, or what award flights will be available at different times of the year. We still recommend making specific flight searches on the American Airlines travel portal to see the most up-to-date flight information.
Just as with American Airlines award flights, each partner award flight is subject to taxes and fees, minimum $5.60 per person, per award.
Buy Ticket Upgrades
If you want a better seat on an American Airlines, British Airways, or Iberia flight, AAdvantage miles can be used to upgrade your ticket to the next level (e.g., you can use miles to go from premium economy to business) if there are seats available. You can see details on the partner upgrade page.
Other Ways To Use American Airlines AAdvantage Miles
Your AAdvantage miles can also be used for the following, but we don’t recommend using miles this way unless you need to (e.g. miles are about to expire or you’re closing a credit card), or the per-mile value is greater than what you’d get by booking an award flight.
- American Airlines Admirals Club airport lounge membership
- Hotel or rental car reservations
- Vacation packages
- Newspaper subscriptions
- Charity donations
AAdvantage miles cannot be redeemed for cash back or other cash-equivalent rewards, such as American Airlines credit card statement credits.
American Airlines AAdvantage Elite Status
There are four elite status tiers within the AAdvantage program: Gold, Platinum, Platinum Pro, and Executive Platinum, which come with airline perks such as free checked bags and seat upgrades.
How To Earn Elite Status
In a nutshell, you earn AAdvantage elite status by flying American Airlines and other oneworld airline flights a lot.
With each qualified American Airlines and partner flight you take, you earn elite qualifying miles (EQMs), elite qualifying segments (EQSs), and elite qualifying dollars (EQDs). Now, don’t let your eyes glaze over yet. Here’s what those acronyms stand for:
- EQMs: How many miles you’ve flown and the type of ticket you bought to fly them
- EQSs: How many qualifying flight segments you’ve flown
- EQDs: How much you’ve spent on flight tickets, minus government taxes and fee
American Airlines has charts detailing how to earn elite status on American Airlines flights and partner airlines posted on its website.
Each elite status level requires you to accumulate a certain number of EQMs, EQDs, and EQSs to qualify, as specified in the below chart. You’ll need the required number for two categories:
- EQDs + EQMs, or
- EQDs + EQSs
The qualifications you earn between January 1 and December 31 of any year you fly determine your status. Once you qualify, your membership is good for the next year. AAdvantage elite status equates to elite tiers in oneworld, which means you can access some oneworld status privileges, like lounge access and priority boarding, depending on the tier.
The following annual qualifications are good through 2021:
American Airlines has extended through Jan. 31, 2022, all elite statuses expiring this year. Anyone who gains elite status in 2021 keeps it through Jan. 31, 2023. Any flights you took from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, 2020, will count toward 2021 elite status qualification. Finally, through 2021, you can waive the EQD requirement for Platinum Pro, Platinum, and Gold status is waived if you spend $30,000 with eligible American Airlines credit cards.
Benefits of Elite Status
Once you’ve put in all the effort (and money) to earn elite status with the AAdvantage program, you’ll get priority check-in, security, and boarding, as well as a discounted Admirals Club membership if you choose to enroll.
The number of miles you earn on flight purchases (excluding taxes and fees) also increases with each status level:
- AAdvantage Gold: 7 miles per $1
- AAdvantage Platinum: 8 miles per $1
- AAdvantage Platinum Pro: 9 miles per $1
- AAdvantage Executive Platinum: 11 miles per $1
Other perks, such as free checked bags, automatically requested upgrades, and seat selection, are offered based on your status level. See the American Airlines website for more information about all the benefits elite AAdvantage members get.
The Bottom Line
Overall, the American Airlines AAdvantage program offers a wide variety of ways frequent flyers can earn high-value miles for their loyalty. If you open a co-branded airline credit card, you can earn miles on non-travel purchases each day and access airline perks that are only available to elite status members otherwise. Earning elite status without a credit card takes a lot of money, traveling, or both. When it comes time to redeem your AAdvantage miles, use them to book international flights to squeeze a bit more out of each mile.