5 Sweet Spots in the New American Airlines Award Chart

Nov 20, 2015

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Although we’re saddened — but not surprised — by the American Airlines award chart devaluation, AAdvantage miles will continue to be a valuable currency. TPG Contributor JT Genter analyzed the new charts to find the “sweet spots” where AA miles will continue to deliver great returns.

Yes, yes. The American Airlines award redemption changes aren’t great. We’ll unfortunately be losing some of the current sweet spots, such as Cathay Pacific First Class to Hong Kong for just 67,500 miles (110,000 miles on the new chart) and three-cabin first-class transcontinental flights for 32,500 miles (now 50,000 miles). However, AAdvantage miles will continue to be valuable — especially for certain redemptions.

1. <500-Mile, Nonstop Economy Flights for 7,500 Miles

Fly short hops on American Eagle for 5,00 less miles than before.
Fly short hops on American Airlines for 5,000 less miles than before.

This is a new and welcome addition to the American Airlines award chart! However, it’s not very surprising that AA would add this. While British Airways has dropped the 4,500-Avios tier level for direct flights under 650 miles, the carrier continues to offer direct flights of up to 1,150 miles for just 7,500 miles. United has been offering 10,000-mile award redemptions for direct flights under 700 miles for years. Even the maligned Delta SkyMiles program is offering domestic award options starting at just 5,000 miles.

Prior to this new award chart, the cheapest you could book a one-way AA award flight was 12,500 miles — unless you had a Citi AAdvantage card such as the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard and your destination happened to be on the reduced mileage award chart for the month you were traveling. It’s really nice to have this new option available for short-haul flights.

Who this is most useful for: This is obviously great for travelers who live on expensive <500-mile routes served by American Airlines. If your airport is within 500 miles of New York City or Boston, you can redeem 7,500 AA miles to connect to one of these hubs. For example, I have a friend who lives in Richmond, Virginia and loves this new addition to the chart! Richmond is within 500 miles of NYC, Boston and Charlotte, and American flies a nonstop from Richmond to all of those cities.

2. Economy flights to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America for 15,000 Miles

Travel to the Caribbean for cheaper under the new chart than the old one! Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.
Travel to the Caribbean for less with the new chart! Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

When you compare American Airlines’ new award charts to United’s published charts and Delta’s hidden charts, you’ll find that the economy redemption rates are virtually identical, and the business-class charts are quite similar. However, one region where AA’s redemption levels are less than Delta and United for both economy and business are AA-operated flights to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.

These regions were some of the rare reductions from the current chart to the new chart, and they were the only reductions that caused AA awards to be lower than Delta and United for the same route. With that said, the reduction wasn’t massive; economy flights dropped from 17,500 miles each way to 15,000 miles — compared to 17,500 miles on Delta and United.

Considering that most flights between the US 48 states will be 2,500 miles cheaper each way (at 15,000 miles), you can really stretch your miles by traveling internationally to one of these regions. Use this sweet spot to book a getaway to further-away or typically expensive destinations, such as gorgeous Bridgetown, Barbados.

On the current chart, Canada and Alaska awards are 12,500 miles vs. 17,500 for the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America. So, make sure to book your Canada/Alaska trips before March 22 using the current chart, and then book your Caribbean/Mexico/Central America getaways after March 21 using the new chart.

Who this is most useful for: Travelers living on the West Coast may love the option of flying all the way across North America and down to the Southern Caribbean for just 15,000 miles. East Coast travelers can use this award to head the opposite direction and end up in Cabo San Lucas.

3. Economy to the Middle East/Indian Subcontinent for 40,000 Miles

Fly Etihad’s top-notch economy product through Abu Dhabi to destinations in the Middle East or India.

One of the few reductions in the new mileage chart is from the US to the Middle East and India in economy. These flights used to be the most expensive redemption option on the economy award chart, at 45,000 miles each way. With the upcoming changes, they’ll be reduced to 40,000 miles in each direction. While 80,000 miles for an economy round-trip isn’t cheap, you can get some great value out of this redemption.

Since American doesn’t fly to the Middle East or India, you’ll be relying on partner airlines, such as Etihad and Qatar. I flew Etihad for the first time this April as part of last year’s incredible Christmas Day mistake fares. Based on my experiences flying economy on 24 different carriers, Etihad easily lands in the top three — alongside my experience on Lufthansa and Turkish Airlines.

Who this is most useful for: Since American Airlines doesn’t allow you to fly transpacific for award travel to the Middle East and India, travelers living on the East Coast will likely find this to be a more manageable redemption. West Coast travelers may be able to book a much shorter transpacific flight through other means.

4. Northern South America in Business for 30,000 Miles

While you’ll still need a train and a bus to get to Machu Picchu, at least you can fly down to Peru in business class!

One of the few business-class awards that didn’t see an increase is to Northern South America (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Manaus, Brazil). While United charges 35,000 miles and Delta starts at 40,000 miles for business-class flights to this region, American awards cost 30,000 miles each way.

Who this is most useful for: Anyone looking to make a trip down to Peru can maximize the time and distance they can get from these 30,000 miles. While AA is currently flying an outdated 757 on the route from Dallas (DFW) to Lima (LIM), hopefully the airline will eventually upgrade the route to its signature 777-300ER — which includes a wonderful business class — or its new 787 Dreamliner, as it continues to phase out the 757.

5. First Class to Japan or Korea for 80,000 Miles

Japan Airlines first class remains a sweet spot on the AA chart.

The first-class award chart was certainly the hardest-hit, with prices increasing between 20-63%. Among all the six-digit award prices to Asia, one redemption sticks out: US to Asia Region 1 (Korea, Japan) for “just” 80,000 miles each way.

That may not sound cheap, but consider that a first-class award flight inside the US on a three-cabin aircraft will now be 50,000 miles one-way. So, you can see this as “tacking on” a first-class flight from the US to Japan or Korea for just 30,000 more miles.

Who this is most useful for: If you want to maximize your time spent in luxury, you might want to start this redemption on the East Coast. Enjoy AA’s excellent first-class transcontinental product from NYC (JFK) or Miami (MIA) to San Francisco (SFO) or Los Angeles (LAX) and then enjoy Japan Airlines’ first-class suite from there to Tokyo (HND).

Considering that JFK to Narita in JAL first class is currently running $19,000+ round-trip, you’d be getting nearly 12 cents per mile. Not bad for newly “devalued” miles!

Bottom Line

While we’re huge fans of the current American Airlines award chart, airline devaluations have proven to be an inevitable part of the mileage game. While some regions were hit hard — especially in first class — there will still be a few valuable redemptions with the new award chart.

What are your favorite sweet spots in the new AA award chart?

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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