Maximizing Redemptions With American Airlines AAdvantage

Jan 15, 2019

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American Airlines’ AAdvantage program has the potential to be very lucrative, but more so than other carriers, you often need to know what you’re looking for in order to get maximum value. The carrier has a frustrating way of releasing award space that can make it challenging to book award tickets, and with several partners only bookable over the phone, it isn’t as simple as logging on, searching and booking the exact award you want.

That being said, more and more partners have been added to over the last couple of years, so you can still get some solid value from your AAdvantage miles. Today we’ll take a look at some of the strategies you can use to maximize your American redemptions.

Utilize Top Oneworld Partners

American’s membership in the Oneworld alliance means that you can use your AAdvantage miles to book flights on some of the world’s best airlines. Carriers such as Cathay Pacific, JAL, Qatar and Qantas set the bar incredibly high no matter what cabin you book. As an added bonus, Oneworld is probably the easiest alliance for first class awards, as it doesn’t share the same restrictions as Star Alliance or pricing irregularities as SkyTeam.

Of course the exact price will depend on where you choose to fly, but there are some good deals to be had.

One of the best values is flights from the US to Japan or South Korea, which AA designates as a separate “Asia 1” region. These one-way flights only cost 60,000 miles in business class or 80,000 miles in first class.

Flights to the rest of Asia are a little pricey in first class at 110,000 miles one way, but you can fly Cathay Pacific business class to any Asian destination for only 70,000 miles, which is a solid deal.

Another great option is booking flights from the US to the Middle East or India for 70,000 miles each way in business class; booking flights to Africa instead will only set you back 75,000 miles each way. This is a great opportunity to try out Qatar’s industry leading Qsuite business class on its ever expanding US route network. Depending on your final destination, you might even get to enjoy Qsuites on both legs of your flight!

Explore Non-Alliance Partners

In addition to its Oneworld route network, American Airlines also partners with two non-alliance airlines that provide some incredibly valuable redemption options. These would be Etihad and Air Tahiti Nui. Etihad is best known for its flagship A380 apartments, which can be found flying between New York-JFK and Abu Dhabi (AUH). Availability has gotten much harder to find recently, but you can book this ticket for 115,000 AAdvantage miles each way. That’s certainly not cheap, with those miles being worth over $1,600 based on TPG’s most recent valuations, but for a $16,000+ ticket, it’s a steal.

If you’re struggling to find Etihad award space, you can use ExpertFlyer to search a whole week at a time and even set alerts if space opens up. Just note that there have been examples in the past where AA phone agents have had trouble seeing Etihad space, so you might need to call the Australian call center to actually book your award.

There are now more ways than ever to fly to Tahiti using points and miles, and AAdvantage is one of the best programs to do so. Air Tahiti Nui flies daily between Los Angeles (LAX) and Tahiti (PPT), with the flight continuing on to Paris (CDG) as part of a fifth freedom route. The route alternates between an older A340 and a new 787.

You can book a one-way award for 40,000 miles in economy or 80,000 in business class. Best of all, you can book these awards directly on the American app and website without having to call in.

Air Tahiti Nui also publishes business and economy award space on ExpertFlyer, yet another reason why a subscription to the service is incredibly valuable.

Consider Alternate Programs for Flights on AA

This last strategy applies only to flights operated by American Airlines. For short domestic hops and international premium cabin redemptions, you might be able to find cheaper awards by booking through a partner program instead of directly with AA.

While AA charges 12,500 miles for all domestic flights in the US (except those under 500 miles), British Airways uses a distance-based award chart. The sweet spot here is redeeming for flights that are 1,151 miles or less; these one-way tickets can be booked for only 7,500 British Airways Avios. This applies to a lot of city pairs, including New York-LaGuardia (LGA) to Miami (MIA), Chicago-O’Hare (ORD) to Washington-Reagan (DCA) and many more.

A slightly less lucrative yet still attractive option would be for nonstop flights that cover between 1,152 miles and 2,000 miles. British Airways would charge just 10,000 Avios for these award trips compared to 12,500 through American.

If you’re looking to fly in the forward cabins of the plane, consider booking through Etihad Guest instead. Etihad’s AA award chart mirrors what AA used to charge for its own flights before its 2016 devaluation and offers some attractive prices, especially for premium cabins.

One-way business class flights to Europe or Asia 1 only cost 50,000 miles, a much better deal than the ~60,000 or so miles AA would charge, and 55,000 Etihad Guest miles to Asia 2 beats the 70,000 miles American would charge on those routes by a wide margin. You can also find good deals on first class awards on AA’s flagship 777-300ER, which primarily flies to London-Heathrow (LHR), Hong Kong (HKG), Tokyo-Haneda (HND) and Sao Paulo (GRU). The product itself isn’t that much better than business class, but it may be worth splurging for access to AA’s flagship first dining facilities.

By knowing when it makes sense to not use the AAdvantage program to book American-operated flights, you can save your AA miles for more valuable redemptions.

Open a Cobranded Credit Card

One final strategy to make the most of your American AAdvantage redemptions is to open a cobranded credit card from Citi or Barclays. A couple of these cards will give you 10% of your miles back when you redeem them for flights (up to 10,000 miles per calendar year), including the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard. These rebates should apply automatically once you book your tickets. If you redeem at least 100,000 AAdvantage miles every year, this is an easy way to get 10,000 of those miles back, worth $140 based on TPG’s most recent valuations.

Unfortunately that this perk does not extend to the carrier’s premium Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard nor is it available on the CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard, so keep that in mind if you have either of these cards.

Bottom Line

There are plenty of great ways to use your AA miles, but it helps to have a good idea of how to get solid value even before you start searching. You’ll often get a much better value using your AAdvantage miles for partner flights, especially those to Asia and the Middle East, but if you’re set on flying on AA metal, you might be better off using a partner program to book your award.

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