How to spend American Airlines AAdvantage miles

AAdvantage miles are the currency of the AAdvantage program. These are earned from purchased flights, credit card spending, and various other sources. The fun, of course, comes from spending them. Spending on flights, with American Airlines or its many partners, is the most obvious way to redeem miles. And, in general, it is the best value use. However, if you’re not really flying or have miles to use, there are other ways to spend them.


Spend AAdvantage miles on American Airlines flights

Just a few years ago, almost all airline mileage programs had fixed-price flight awards based on a price table. The airline would make a certain number of seats available for award redemption on each flight, and these would always cost the same fixed number of miles.

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Many airlines are now switching to dynamic award pricing, where the number of miles required changes based on the equivalent cash price of the ticket. All US legacy airlines have now done this to some degree. This can make the prizes of better or worse value. Apart from early booking with a lot of flexibility, this usually costs worse.

Awards at American Airlines are the most obvious choice. Photo: Getty Images

American Airlines is the only traditional US airline that maintains fixed prices for its own awards. It still offers fixed awards, known as Mile SAAver on all American Airlines domestic and international routes. Alongside this, it has also implemented dynamic pricing, through what it calls Economy Web Special awards.

The price of Advantage Awards changes between flights, often significantly. Image: American Airlines

This results in a somewhat complicated pricing system, where the number of miles required can vary between dates, routes and flights. Depending on the itinerary, the following award types are available for American Airlines flights:

  • Special economy website. This is the new dynamic price prize offer. Fares may be lower or higher than MileSAAver awards. It’s worth checking multiple dates or routes to see if there are any price differences, especially if you book well in advance.
  • Economy MileSAAver. These are fixed price prizes, with very restricted availability. Prices start at just 7,500 miles for the shortest domestic itineraries (less than 500 miles). There are also peak and off-peak dates for each region, with different rates.
  • economy at any time. AAnyime awards are priced higher (with two tiers reaching two to three times the MileSAAver rates). These offer much better availability and better terms, including priority access and fewer exchange restrictions.
  • Business/First MileSAAver. Fixed Price Restricted Availability Awards in International Business Class or Domestic First Class.
  • Business/First AAAny time. Same top-priced awards in Business Class or First Class.
  • First MileSAAver. American Airlines International First Class Fixed Price Restricted Availability Awards. American Airlines still operates international first class, although this is about to disappear.

The following table shows American Airlines flight prices for international flights in the main cabin. For complete details of the different cabins and routes, see the tables on the AAdvantage website.

Premium price for economy AA. Image: American Airlines

Spend AAdvantage miles on partner airline flights

One of the best ways to use miles is for flights on partner airlines. This is possible in all amembers of the global alliance, in addition to several other partners. These include JetBlue (not including transatlantic flights), Hawaiian Airlines, and Etihad Airways.

Award fares are based on zones and classes of travel. There are no fare differences like there are with American Airlines award flights. For a full breakdown of fees by region, see the tables on the AAdvantage website.

The status has benefits on all oneworld member airlines. Photo: Getty Images

A business class award, for example, between Europe and Asia is priced at 75,000 miles. Economy class would be only 35,000 miles, and first class is 90,000 miles.

This would be the same regardless of the airlines chosen; so for this example you could use Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Finnair or Qatar Airways.

Award miles from Europe with partner airlines. Image: American Airlines

Each award may use one or more partner airlines. Partner airlines can also be combined with American Airlines flights. The prize price is based on the route and will be the same even if multiple flights are included. This is a great advantage and useful for flying between hard-to-reach places. For Europe to Asia, this could involve a long-haul mainline flight from London to Hong Kong, with connecting flights from anywhere in Europe to London, and a subsequent flight from Hong Kong to another Asian city.

British Airways, as a member of oneworld, can be used for rewards. Photo: British Airways

There are a few routing rules to keep in mind, but overall AAdvantage is very flexible. Up to four segments can be included, routes must not go backwards, and must remain with a maximum (generous) total flight distance. No stopovers (all connections must be less than 24 hours). Also, be aware of taxes and fees as they can be high for some airlines (such as British Airways). The excellent booking tool will give you a quick price to compare.

Use of miles for upgrades

Upgrading the service cabin is another use of miles that is often a good value. Overall, this was a better value before the introduction of premium economy cabins, when direct upgrades could be made from low-priced economy airfares directly to business class.

Upgrading is a good use of miles with American Airlines. Photo: American Airlines

On American Airlines flights, upgrades are possible in one cabin. If you are upgrading from a discount fare (ie not full fare Y, W, J, D or R class fares), then more miles and a cash copay are required. The following table shows the current upgrade fares for American Airlines flights, based on destination and fare purchased (you can access this on the AAdvantage website). For now, American Airlines continues to operate international first class, and is the only major US airline to do so. There are plans to phase it out, but exactly when is unclear.

Upgrade rates for American Airlines flights. Image: American Airlines

Upgrading is also possible with British Airways and Iberia. However, this is more restrictive and is only possible with the full fare (class Y, B, W, C, J, D or R fares). Up to three flight sectors can be upgraded as a prize. An important restriction to note is that the ticket must be originally booked through American Airlines or include at least one American Airlines flight to be eligible for an upgrade. Check back for full details on the AAdvantage website.

Upgrade fees for British Airways flights. Image: American Airlines

Non-air redemption opportunities

Flight awards or upgrades are often the best use of miles. However, there are other options. These include the following:

  • Use of miles for hotel stays. AAdvantage offers a hotel reservation platform, in association with a third party. Hotels can be booked internationally, and options include private and chain hotels. You can choose to pay in full with miles or in part with cash.

AAdvantage operates a hotel and car rental reservation portal, which awards miles and loyalty points. Image: American Airlines

  • Use miles for car rentals. Again, this is possible in the US and internationally. AAdvantage has its own partner portal, offering deals with several of the top rental companies.
  • Access to Admirals Club lounges. American Airlines does not offer free lounge access to elite members on domestic itineraries. Instead, members must purchase an annual Admirals Club membership with cash or miles.
  • Gift miles to friends or charities. There is also a final option to gift your miles. To transfer to family or friends, there is a charge, and the value will depend on your intended use. Remember, you can also use the miles in your account to purchase tickets for someone else.

There are many ways to redeem miles. With so much flexibility in award flights, there are great value options and many possibilities. Feel free to discuss the ways you use miles, and your thoughts on the best value possibilities, in the comments.

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