Guide to the American Airlines AAdvantage program

Written by
Geoff Williams
american airlines aadvantage program
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American Airlines is the nation’s and world’s largest airline if you measure in terms of daily flights and the passengers it carries. With major hubs in Dallas, Charlotte and several other cities around the nation, American Airlines sends off nearly 6,700 flights each day to almost 350 destinations in 50 countries worldwide. As one of the nation’s legacy carriers, the airline has a long history and is a top choice – or at least an airline option – for many travelers.

If you’re going to fly on American Airlines, you’ll want to make the most of it by enrolling in the company’s frequent flyer program, AAdvantage. As an AAdvantage member, you not only earn miles on American Airlines flights but also on those operated by any of 14 Oneworld alliance carriers and nearly a dozen non-alliance partners.

This American Airlines AAdvantage program guide will cover everything you need to know about AAdvantage, including the recent program updates (major changes launched March 1, 2022, for those who didn’t mark their calendars).

And now, with that brief foundation, let’s get into some details.

What is the American Airlines AAdvantage Program?

Put simply, the American Airlines AAdvantage program is a frequent flyer loyalty program. The more money you spend with American Airlines and its partners, the more miles you earn and, thanks to recent program changes, the more loyalty points you earn. Earning points helps you toward AAdvantage elite status.

Here are some reasons to love the American Airlines AAdvantage program:

  • Generous award chart with some short flights available for as few as 7,500 miles
  • No fuel surcharges on award flights except for those through certain Oneworld alliance carriers
  • Extensive list of American Airlines AAdvantage partners, including Oneworld members and non-alliance carriers
  • Multiple earning opportunities that don’t involve flying

However, no program is perfect Here are some of the drawbacks of the AAdvantage program:

  • Earning miles is based more on how much you spend rather than how much you fly
  • Miles expire if your account is inactive for two years
  • Stopovers are not permitted on award flights (though you can book one-way flights to create an open jaw-type situation)
  • There’s a fee to pool miles with family members or friends

Overall, the AAdvantage program offers a lot of bang for the buck, primarily because it offers reward flight options for relatively few miles. Recent changes to the program (more below) have also made earning status with the airline easier to achieve. Any frequent flyer knows that earning status – the higher the tier, the better – makes traveling more comfortable and, in some cases, less expensive.

Is the American Airlines AAdvantage Program free?

Yes, the American Airlines loyalty program is completely free. More than that, being a member could ultimately lead to reward flights or other cost-savings.

Flying is plenty expensive already without having to pay to join a loyalty program, so if you have to fly a lot anyway, American Airlines will reward you with perks and reward miles to go toward flights and other redemptions the more you fly with them.

What are the recent changes to the AAdvantage Program?

The biggest changes to the program have to do with how flyers achieve status tiers.

American Airlines admitted recently in a press release that the way their customers previously tracked rewards was “complicated.” So complicated is now out, and simplicity is in, although arguably nothing is simple with airline loyalty programs or flying in general.

Still, before the changes, there were Elite Qualifying Miles, Elite Qualifying Dollars and Elite Qualifying Segments. But that’s all gone.

There’s one status metric now: Loyalty Points.

And fortunately, that’s easy, too – one mile equals one point.

As you collect Loyalty Points, you’ll move close to status tiers while simultaneously earning miles toward reward flights.

There are three ways to earn loyalty points, or (same thing) miles.

  • Travel on status-qualifying airlines: This includes flights on American Airlines, Oneworld members and partnering carriers. Every time you spend money on airfare for these flights, for every $1 you spend, you’ll earn five miles; therefore, a $250 flight earns you 1,250 redeemable miles and 1,250 Loyalty Points as well. Furthermore, if you achieve an AAdvantage Elite Status, you’ll get more miles than five for every $1 spent. We’ll discuss the tiers later in this article.
  • Purchase things with your AAdvantage credit card: For almost every American Airlines credit card, one one eligible mile earned equals one Loyalty Point. Note that bonuses and accelerators don’t earn Loyalty Points; therefore, earning three miles per $1 spent on gas, for instance, with a co-branded card will still only earn you one Loyalty Point per $1 spent. By the way, the AAdvantage Aviator Mastercard isn’t quite so generous, earning one mile for every $2 spent. Some rewards credit cards, however, will give you two or more miles for every $1 you spend.
  • Shopping programs: Members can also earn Loyalty Points by spending through programs such as eShopping, AAdvantage Dining and SimplyMiles.

As you accumulate more miles, you progress through four levels of elite status. Remember, you earn status based on the number of Loyalty Points you accrue during each 12-month period from March 1 to February 28.

What are the AAdvantage Status Levels?

Gold Status (qualify with 30,000 Loyalty Points)

  • 40% status mileage bonus on base flight miles earned when traveling on American Airlines or with a partner. What does this mean? It means that when you achieve Gold Status and buy airfare, you’ll earn seven miles per $1 spent, a 40% bonus
  • Complimentary upgrades on North American flights of 500 miles or less. It’s automatic ; if there’s an upgrade available, you’ll get it without asking)
  • Complimentary preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats
  • Priority lane access through the airport at check-in, security and boarding
  • One free checked bag
  • Same-day standby priority
  • Access to Gold reservations agents
  • Confers Ruby status with Oneworld alliance partners
  • 24-hour upgrade window (if you want to make upgrades 24 hours before your flight, you can)

Platinum Status (qualify with 75,000 Loyalty Points)

Gold status benefits, plus:

  • 60% bonus on base flight miles earned when traveling on American Airlines or with a partner airline. This means, having Platinum Status, when you purchase a ticket, you’ll earn eight miles per $1, a 60% bonus.
  • Premium cabin upgrades on North American flights fewer than 500 miles, confirmed as early as 48 hours before traveling
  • Two free checked bags plus priority handling
  • Access to Platinum reservations agents
  • Confers Sapphire status with Oneworld alliance partners
  • 48-hour upgrade window

Platinum Pro (qualify with 125,000 Loyalty Points)

Gold and platinum benefits, plus:

  • If you spend enough to become an AAdvantage Platinum Pro member, you’ll earn nine points per $1, an 80% bonus.
  • Access to Loyalty Choice Rewards, including Admirals Club day-passes, system-wide upgrades, bonus miles and more
  • Unlimited upgrades for North American flights with confirmation as early as 72 hours before traveling
  • Three free checked bags plus priority handling
  • Free same-day flight changes
  • Access to Platinum Pro reservations agents
  • Confers Emerald status with Oneworld alliance partners
  • 72-hour upgrade window

Executive Platinum (qualify with 200,000 Loyalty Points)

Gold, platinum and platinum pro benefits, plus:

  • 120% bonus on base flight miles earned when traveling on American Airlines or with a partner airline. You’re now earning 11 miles per $1 (a 120% bonus).
  • Unlimited upgrades for North American flights with confirmation as early as 100 hours before traveling
  • Complimentary food and drink when traveling in the Main Cabin
  • Access to Executive Platinum desk with no reservation service fee

Once you hit a million miles traveled, you gain Million Miler status and gold status for life. So if you stop flying for a few years, no big deal, you’re still in the “club.” Those who make it to 2 million miles receive platinum status for life. Additional bonus miles and upgrades come with these levels as well.

Are there other changes to the AAdvantage Program?

Longer time for miles to expire

Yes. American Airlines AAdvantage miles can expire. The airline is apparently trying to prevent you from, say, flying and accruing miles in 1997 and then trying to use them again in 2022. They want you to show a little loyalty if they’re going to give you miles and free flights and all of that.

Well, it used to be that you had 18 months of inactivity before your miles expired. Now with this new program, you have two years. As before, as long as you earn some miles from an American Airlines flight – or a partner-operated flight – or you spend money with the airline’s hotel, car rental or some other service that offers AAadvantage miles, you can keep your miles from expiring.

Also worth noting – if you have an AAdvantage co-branded credit card, as long as the account is open, your miles won’t expire.

Lastly, if you happen to be an AAdvantage member under the age of 21, your miles won’t and can’t expire until you turn 21, and then you’ll have two years of inactivity before those AAdvantage miles would expire.

Earn miles/points more quickly

As an AAdvantage elite member, you earn miles more quickly. Remember that once you reach Gold Status, every $1 you spend nets you seven miles/points instead of five, helping you move toward the next status tier (and accumulate more redeemable rewards) more quickly. It’s a nice perk – the more you spend, the more points and thus miles you earn with eac purchase.

Later in the year, more changes with upgrades

By the way, later in 2022, American Airlines plans to roll out more changes. Eventually all AAdvantage status members will be able to enjoy a complimentary upgrade for one traveling companion who is on the same flight within North America. When that happens, American Airlines will convert all available 500-mile upgrades to 250 Loyalty Points each, which may sound confusing, but the airline says that will help you reach AAdvantage status faster.

Later in the year, there will also be an “enhanced upgrade experience” for status members at the airport. Upgrades will automatically clear 40 minutes before your flight, if seats are available, and you’ll be notified on the app or the gate monitor.

How do you earn American Airlines AAdvantage Miles?

If you think you have to fly a mile to earn a mile, think again. As we alluded to earlier, there are actually a number of ways to rack up AAdvantage miles.

Flying

This is the most straightforward way to earn miles. Basic AAdvantage members earn five award miles (and Loyalty Points) per $1 spent on airfare. Those with elite status earn more based on their level.

Other travel

You can also earn miles for hotel stays, car rentals and cruises. Hyatt Hotels, Marriott Bonvoy and Avis Car Rentals are a few American Airlines AAdvantage partners that offer this option. American Airlines offers cruise and vacation booking services that can earn miles as well. Keep in mind this is likely not the most efficient way to earn miles as the travel partners earn at a lower rate than flights do.

Shopping and dining

AAdvantage offers an eShopping Mall in which purchases made at retailers such Home Depot, Staples and Lululemon earn miles. In addition to earning miles for every $1 spent, there may be bonus mile offers, free shipping or other promotions available through the mall. AAdvantage also has a dining program that will provide miles for meals at participating restaurants.

Credit cards

Co-branded credit cards are available through both Citibank and Barclays. We’ll talk more about them later, but they offer the chance to earn award miles and Loyalty Points with every purchase.

How much are AAdvantage Miles worth?

Currently, the consensus among travel websites is that an AAdvantage mile is worth 1.4 cents. However, the value of your miles will vary significantly depending on how you use them.

American Airlines offers MileSAAver awards, which provide travel options with lower redemption requirements, starting at just 7,500 miles each way (plus any applicable taxes and carrier-imposed fees). MileSAAver awards have no blackout dates, but these awards may have limited availability. More common are the AAnytime awards which are always available and start as low as 20,000 miles for a level one ticket.

You may get the most value from your miles if you can book a MileSAAver award in business or first class to an international destination. That redemption value will be significantly greater than choosing a domestic flight in economy at the AAnytime award rate; however, depending on your destination and travel dates, this option could still be considered a great deal. For example, a first class ticket to the Caribbean, Mexico or Central America could cost as little as 50,000 miles. First class tickets to South America start at just a bit more, 55,000 miles, and Europe, 85,000 miles.

You can get even more value out of your award travel if you have an AA co-branded credit card. These cards provide access to reduced mileage awards. They also allow cardholders to save up to 7,500 miles when redeeming for certain domestic flights. Eligible destinations change each month.

AAdvantage also allows members to redeem miles for merchandise such as newspapers and gift cards or lounge access through the Admirals Club. Miles can also be transferred to hotel and car rental programs for redemption or donated to charity. However, all these options usually result in lower value than redeeming miles for flights.

What are the benefits of the American Airlines AAdvantage Program?

As you rack up your AAdvantage miles, redeeming them can mean free flights (or at least lower cost flights) to nearly 1,100 destinations around the world. You can redeem your miles to bring the price down of vacation packages, car rentals and hotel rooms. You can redeem them for online shopping purchases. You also redeem points for newspaper subscriptions – or to purchase or renew your membership in the Admirals Club lounge (there are 50 of them in airports around the country and more than 60 partner lounges around the world).

Where the American Airlines AAdvantage program really shines, however, is in the world of upgrades. If you fly all the time, you know about upgrades. You have to generally pay for upgrades with airlines. That is, if you want more legroom, or you want to sit in a certain part of coach, you’re going to pay for it. This can be irksome for the passenger who just wants a little extra legroom or a slightly better seat, but on the other hand, if 20 people want to be in the front section of coach, so they can get out of the plane faster, you can kind of see – from a business standpoint – why airlines figure they might as well monetize that. Still, you can see why some people get discouraged with travel.

If you’ve been racking up Loyalty Points with the American Airlines AAdvantage program, upgrades are complimentary in certain situations, and that’s a big selling point.

You also may wind up with free checked bags and priority boarding.

Additionally, if you’re an elite member and on a flight that’s 500 miles or less, you’ll receive a complimentary cabin upgrade.

In a nutshell, flying can be fun, but it can also be a headache, especially for those who do it all the time, where the novelty has kind of worn off, and you’re starting to add up the price of flying along with the frustration of getting saddled with the worst seats. The American Airlines AAdvantage program does what it can to help make flying fun again.

Credit cards that earn AAdvantage Miles and Loyalty Points

Before we wrap up this American Airlines AAdvantage program guide, let’s take a closer look at some of the co-branded credit cards that can provide you with additional perks as an AAdvantage member. For instance, Citi offers several cards that can earn AAdvantage miles and now Loyalty Points. Here’s how their benefits stack up.

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  • Two miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Two miles per $1 spent on dining and gas purchases
  • One mile per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Earn one Loyalty Point for every one eligible mile earned from purchases. NOTE: “Eligible miles” are base miles only and don’t include accelerators or bonuses
  • No cap on the miles you can earn
  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after making $2,500 in purchases within the first three month of account opening
  • Earn a $125 American Airlines flight discount after you spend $20,000 or more in purchases during your credit card membership year
  • One free checked bag for you and up to four traveling companions on domestic flights
  • Preferred boarding on American Airlines flights
  • 25% discount on in-flight food and beverage purchases
  • Access to reduced mileage awards
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: AnnualFees

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  • Two miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Two miles per $1 spent with telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and at gas stations
  • One mile per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Earn one Loyalty Point for every one eligible mile earned from purchases. NOTE: “Eligible miles” are base miles only and don’t include accelerators or bonuses
  • No cap on the miles you can earn
  • Earn 65,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after making $4,000 in purchases in the first four months of account opening
  • One free checked bag for you and up to four traveling companions on American Airlines itineraries
  • Preferred boarding on American Airlines flights
  • 25% discount on in-flight food, beverage and Wi-Fi purchases
  • Access to reduced mileage awards
  • American Airlines Companion Certificate after spending $30,000 in a year
  • 24/7 personal business assistant to help with travel arrangements
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: AnnualFees

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  • Two miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Two miles per $1 spent at grocery stores
  • One mile per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Earn one Loyalty Point for every one eligible mile earned from purchases. NOTE: “Eligible miles” are base miles only and don’t include accelerators or bonuses
  • No cap on the miles you can earn
  • Earn 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles and receive a $50 statement credit after making $500 in purchases within the first three months of opening your account
  • 25% discount on in-flight food and beverage purchases
  • Access to the Citi Concierge to help with your travel and planning needs
  • No annual fee

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  • For a limited time, four miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases (through Dec. 31, 2022)
  • Two miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases on an ongoing basis
  • One mile per $1 spent on other purchases
  • Earn one Loyalty Point for every one eligible mile earned from purchases. NOTE: “Eligible miles” are base miles only and don’t include accelerators or bonuses
  • No cap on the miles you can earn
  • Earn 80,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles after spending $5,500 in purchases within the first three months of account opening
  • Complimentary membership to the Admirals Club which provides lounge access at locations around the world
  • Dedicated check-in areas, expedited screening where available and priority boarding
  • One free checked bag for you and up to eight traveling companions on domestic American Airlines itineraries
  • 25% discount on in-flight food and beverage purchases
  • Dedicate concierge service
  • Access to reduced mileage awards
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: AnnualFees

If you plan to frequently fly with American Airlines, it’s probably worth having a co-branded credit card. Not only do they provide extra perks for AAdvantage members, but they also come with all the benefits standard on other cards such as $0 liability for unauthorized charges.

However, if you want a bit more flexibility with how you travel, while still having the opportunity to earn miles, you might want to consider a credit card with a transferable rewards program or one that allows you to redeem your travel rewards for any airline.

Additional Travel Rewards credit card options

For the exceptionally brand-loyal, branded credit cards offer perks and features that you will no doubt appreciate. If you find yourself shopping around for the cheapest price and best times rather than going for an American Airlines ticket no matter what, a general travel rewards credit card could be a better, more beneficial card for you.

With the cards below, you can redeem your miles for flights with American Airlines or any other airline, for that matter. One other major perk with a general travel rewards card is that you can “double dip” when it comes to your rewards. Buy your American Airlines flight with your Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, for instance, to earn Ultimate Rewards on that purchase and then earn AAdvantage miles for your flight as well.

Here are a couple of options you might consider if you’re in the market for more flexibility with your flights.

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  • Earn 5X total points on all travel purchased through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal; 3X points on dining, including eligible delivery services and takeout; 3X points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs); 3X points on select streaming services; 2X points on travel purchases; and 1X point on all other purchases
  • Option for 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs, including some Oneworld alliance airlines
  • Points are worth 25% more when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Earn 60,000 bonus points (worth $750 when redeemed for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards) after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months of opening an account.
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: AnnualFees 

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  • Earn two miles on every $1 spent
  • Redeem rewards for hotel stays or flights with any brand, including American Airlines, or transfer miles to a number of loyalty programs
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 75,000 miles once you spend $4,000 on purchases within three months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel.
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreChec
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: AnnualFees

For additional options, see our top picks for best travel rewards credit cards.

Is the American Airlines AAdvantage Program worth it?

Yes, it absolutely is, if you fly American Airlines often.

If your loyalty lies with Delta or United, it may not be as beneficial, but as it’s free to join, signing up can’t hurt.

One thing is for sure, though. If you are a frequent flier on American Airlines, and you somehow don’t sign up for its loyalty program, you’re going to, in the long run, pay more for your flights. You may not care about seating upgrades, but you surely would like some free checked baggage and the chance to lower the cost of your flights.

Disclaimer:

The information in this article is believed to be accurate as of the date it was written. Please keep in mind that credit card offers change frequently. Therefore, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information in this article. Reasonable efforts are made to maintain accurate information. See the online credit card application for full terms and conditions on offers and rewards. Please verify all terms and conditions of any credit card prior to applying.

This content is not provided by any company mentioned in this article. Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed here are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any such company. CardRatings.com does not review every company or every offer available on the market.

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