American Airlines Mileage Redemption Sweet Spot: How Far Can You Go?

If you are a U.S. based flyer, you probably have flown on either American, Delta, or United – The big three legacy airlines. They all have frequent-flyer schemes that most of us are familiar with. Even for infrequent flyers, they could still earn and collect miles through credit card sign-up bonuses and spending.

AAdvantage is the American Airlines’ frequent-flyer program. I am an Executive Platinum member for many years and quite familiar with it. In this post, I’d like to share with you the best way to redeem your AAdvantage miles. Let’s cut to the chase.

Oneworld Airline Partners:

  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • LATAM Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

Other Airline Partners:

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air
  • Cape Air
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Etihad Airways
  • Fiji Airways
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Interjet
  • Seaborne Virgin Islands

The Myths

You can only fly American Airlines with your miles.
Wrong. You can fly any Oneworld and other airline partners, without flying on any American Airlines flight.

There is no direct flight available.
While we all know that American Airlines is very stingy with releasing an award space, you can typically find availability on their partner airlines. If it’s a domestic flight, you can generally find a space on connecting flights through their hubs.

Economy class is the best redemption value
Wrong. While economy class redemption is cheaper than premium cabin redemption, this doesn’t map 1-to-1 when comparing with how much the revenue ticket costs. The below chart illustrates why redeeming miles in the premium cabin makes more sense.

For example, I randomly searched for a one-way non-stop flight from New York to Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways on November 20, 2019:

EconomyBusinessFirst
Miles required:40,00070,000115,000
Revenue ticket cost:$434$6,397$16,651

When redeeming miles, business class ticket only costs 75% more than economy class, and first-class only requires 187.5% more than economy class.

In contrast, if you purchase a revenue ticket, business class ticket costs 1,374% more than economy class, and first-class costs 3,737% more than economy class.

Looking at the ratio, redeeming miles for a premium cabin is more than justifiable because the revenue ticket cost in the premium cabin is exponentially more expensive.

Routing Rules and Restrictions

AAdvantage is a region-based program, which means the number of miles required depends on the region of your origin and destination.

There are two main categories: redemption on American Airlines and redemption on their partner airlines. The best way to redeem your AAdvantage miles is for flying partner airlines. You can find the detail award chart here.

Each frequent-flyer program has unique routing rules. AAdvantage routing rules are not as generous as it used to be, but there are far worse frequent-flyer programs out there. As a general rule of thumb:

  • A stopover is not permitted.
  • A one-way ticket or open-jaw is allowed.
  • Maximum connection time: 24 hours for international, and 18 hours for domestic (new).
  • One-way award redemption allows up to three (the U.S. and Canada) segments, and four segments for all other destinations.
  • 125% of Maximum Permitted Mileage (however, based on my recent experience, it may not be enforced).
  • Segments must be on any Oneworld carriers and/or partner airlines.
  • Mixed carriers and cabins are allowed. The number of miles charged is based on the highest ticketed cabin.
  • Award redemption is subject to taxes and carrier-imposed fees.
  • Information about award changes and cancelation can be found here.
  • Travel date and routing changes are permitted free-of-charge as long as the origin and destination remain the same.
  • Information regarding fees can be found here.
  • When you are traveling from one region to another, generally, you are not allowed to transit in the third region. However, there are some exceptions where the third region transit is allowed:
Origin (from)Destination (to)Third Region (via)
AfricaAsia Zone 1Asia Zone 2
Doha*
Abu Dhabi**
AfricaAsia Zone 2Doha*
Abu Dhabi**
AfricaSouth PacificAbu Dhabi**
Asia Zone 1South PacificAsia Zone 2
Central AmericaIndian Sub Continent /Middle EastEurope
Central AmericaSouth PacificSouth America Zone 2
Central America 
AfricaEurope
EuropeAfricaDoha*
Abu Dhabi**
EuropeAsia Zone 1Asia Zone 2
Doha*
Abu Dhabi**
EuropeAsia Zone 2Doha*
Abu Dhabi**
EuropeSouth PacificAsia Zone 1
Asia Zone 2
Doha*
Abu Dhabi**
Indian Sub Continent /Middle EastAsia Zone 1Asia Zone 2
Indian Sub Continent /Middle EastSouth PacificAsia Zone 2
North AmericaAfricaEurope
Doha*
Abu Dhabi**
North AmericaAsia Zone 2Asia Zone 1
North AmericaIndian Sub ContinentEurope
Middle East
Hong Kong***
South America Zone 1AfricaEurope
South America Zone 1Indian Sub Continent /Middle EastEurope
South America Zone 1South PacificSouth America Zone 2
South America Zone 2AfricaEurope
Doha*
South America Zone 2Indian Sub Continent /Middle EastEurope

* Traveling from/to via Doha on Qatar Airways.
** Traveling from/to via Abu Dhabi on Etihad Airways.
*** Travel for the transpacific sector to Hong Kong is permitted only on Cathay Pacific or American Airlines. Travel from Hong Kong to the Indian Subcontinent allowed on Cathay Pacific and SriLankan Airlines.

  • Etihad Airways Business Class
  • Etihad Airways Business Class Dinner Service

Sweet Spots

Business Class

Between Routing ExampleMiles Required
Asia 2 Middle East Bali – Doha – Amman 40,000
South PacificAsia 2Christchurch – Nadi (Fiji) – Hong Kong40,000
Indian Sub-ContinentNorth AmericaMalé (Maldives) – Doha – Los Angeles70,000
North AmericaAfricaChicago – Doha – Cape Town75,000

First Class

BetweenRouting ExampleMiles Required
South PacificAsia 2Melbourne – Singapore – Hong Kong50,000
Asia 1Middle EastTokyo – Kuala Lumpur – Singapore – Abu Dhabi50,000
EuropeSouth PacificLondon – Abu Dhabi – Sydney – Auckland115,000

How to Search the Availability

American Airlines recently made some improvements to its website. Currently, you can search for an award space book directly on aa.com. These airlines include:

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airways
  • British Airways
  • Cape Air
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Etihad
  • Fiji Airways
  • Finnair
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas Airways
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

Keep in mind. Sometimes, you need to use a multiple-award search tool to build a complex itinerary. I would recommend to search each segment and stitch them together. You may need to call the American Airlines reservation to book your trip.

I also recommend to sign up for British Airways’ frequent-flyer program. Using your B.A. account, you are able to search for space that occasionally does not appear on aa.com. Additionally, you can also sign up for an ExpertFlyer account- it’s a tool that gives you travel-related information, including award space availability. I will write separate posts to explain how to search for award availability using these tools.

Conclusion

There are many creative ways to maximize your American Airlines AAdvantage miles. Of course, my valuation may be different than yours. But your miles will stretch even further when redeeming for international flights in the premium cabin.

Travel has been my passion for a long time. That’s why we are here to answer all of your questions. I will be more than happy and excited to guide you, maximizing the value of your miles!

Happy flighting!

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