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Guide to the American Airlines AAdvantage program

Last Updated, May 7, 2019
American Airlines AAdvantage Program

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With major hubs in Dallas and Charlotte, American Airlines sends off nearly 6,700 flights each day to almost 350 destinations worldwide. As one of the nation's legacy carriers, the airline has a long history and is a top choice for many travelers.

If you're going to fly on American Airlines though, make the most of it by enrolling in the company's frequent flyer program, AAdvantage®. As an AAdvantage® member, you'll not only earn miles on American Airlines flights but also on those operated by any of 13 Oneworld alliance carriers and nearly a dozen non-alliance partners.

This American Airlines AAdvantage® program guide will cover everything you need to know about earning and redeeming miles, but first, let's take a quick look at a few pros and cons of the program.

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, and here are some of the cons of the AAdvantage® program:

  • Elite status has a minimum spending requirement
  • Miles expire if your account is inactive for 18 months
  • Stopovers are not permitted on award flights
  • Miles cannot be pooled or shared with family members for free

HOW IS THE AMERICAN AIRLINES AADVANTAGE® PROGRAM STRUCTURED?

Like most other airline loyalty programs, the American Airlines AAdvantage® program is anything but simple. However, it provides lucrative perks so it's worth spending some time to understand how it works.

First, there are two types of miles offered by American Airlines:

  • Elite qualifying miles: These are a percentage of your actual miles flown and depend on your airline and booking code. They are used to earn elite status, which we discuss in further detail below.
  • Award miles: Other miles earned through bonus promotions, credit cards or online spending which can be used for award travel but don't qualify toward elite status.

Achieving elite status can significantly increase the value of AAdvantage® miles. There are four levels of elite status, and you can earn them in two different ways:

Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) + Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM)

Or

Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) + Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS)

Either way, you have to spend a certain amount of money to gain status, and you have to either travel or earn a certain number of miles to qualify. Once you do, here are some of the perks that will be available to you:

Gold Status (qualifying levels: 25,000 EQMs, 30 EQSs, $3,000 EQDs)

  • Auto-requested complimentary upgrades on flights fewer than 500 miles
  • Priority through the airport at check-in, security and boarding
  • 40% elite mileage bonus
  • One free checked bag
  • 24-hour upgrade window
  • Complimentary preferred seats
  • Confers Ruby status with Oneworld alliance partners
  • Special discounts on hotel and car awards

Platinum Status (qualifying levels: 50,000 EQMs, 60 EQSs, $6,000 EQDs)

Gold status benefits, plus:

  • 60% elite mileage bonus
  • Two free checked bags
  • Priority bag delivery
  • 48-hour upgrade window
  • Confers Sapphire status with Oneworld alliance partners

Platinum Pro (qualifying levels: 75,000 EQMs, 90 EQSs, $9,000 EQDs)

Gold and platinum benefits, plus:

  • 80% elite mileage bonus
  • 72-hour upgrade window
  • Confers Sapphire status with Oneworld alliance partners
  • Complimentary same-day flight change

Executive Platinum (qualifying levels: 100,000 EQMs, 120 EQSs, $15,000 EQDs)

Gold, platinum, and platinum pro benefits, plus:

  • Four system-wide upgrades good for one way
  • 120% elite mileage bonus
  • Three free checked bags
  • 100-hour upgrade window
  • Guaranteed availability in the main cabin
  • Waitlist priority for purchased first or business class
  • Complimentary alcoholic beverage and snack in the main cabin
  • Expanded award seat availability on American Airlines flights
  • Confers Emerald status with Oneworld alliance partners

Those who reach 150,000 EQMs get additional system-wide upgrades. Once you hit a million miles, you gain Million Miler status and gold status for life. Those who make it to two million miles receive platinum status for life. Additional bonus miles and upgrades come with these levels as well.

HOW DO YOU EARN AMERICAN AIRLINES AADVANTAGE® MILES?

If you think you have to fly a mile to earn a mile, think again. There are actually a number of ways to rack up AAdvantage® miles.

Flying

This is the most straightforward way to earn miles. Basic members of AAdvantage® receive 5 award miles per dollar spent on airfare. Those with elite status earn more based on their level. As for EQMs, members earn a base of 500 EQMs for flights fewer than 500 miles or 250 EQMs for those flights taken in basic economy. EQMs for longer flights are awarded at the following rates:

  • Basic Economy - 0.5 EQMs per mile flown
  • Economy - 1 EQM per mile flown
  • Premium Economy - 1.5 EQM per mile flown
  • Discount Business or First Class - 2 EQM per mile flown
  • Full Fare Business or First Class - 3 EQM per mile flown

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.

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 dollar 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 with every purchase. You may even be able to earn EQMs or EQDs through your credit card purchases.

HOW MUCH ARE AMERICAN AIRLINES 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 would cost as low 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, such as the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard® (This card is not currently available on CardRatings) (Citi is a CardRatings.com advertiser), provide access to reduced mileage awards. These 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.

CREDIT CARDS THAT EARN AMERICAN AIRLINES AADVANTAGE® MILES

Before we wrap up this American Airlines AAdvantage® review, 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. Here's how their benefits stack up.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

(This card is not currently available on CardRatings)

  • Two miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Two miles per dollar spent on dining and gas purchases
  • One mile per dollar spent on other purchases
  • No cap on the miles you can earn
  • Earn 60,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after making $3,000 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: $99, waived for first 12 months*

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

  • Two miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Two miles per dollar spent with telecommunications merchants, cable and satellite providers, car rental merchants and at gas stations
  • One mile per dollar spent on other purchases
  • No cap on the miles you can earn
  • For a limited time earn 70,000 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: $99, waived for first 12 months*

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp Card

  • Two miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • Two miles per dollar spent at grocery stores
  • One mile per dollar spent on other purchases
  • 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

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

  • Two miles per dollar spent on eligible American Airlines purchases
  • One mile per dollar spent on other purchases
  • No cap on the miles you can earn
  • Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening
  • Earn 10,000 EQMs after spending $40,000 within a year
  • Complimentary membership to the Admirals Club which provides lounge access at 50 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: $450

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 limited liability for fraudulent 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. As you're likely aware, you don't earn rewards on flights you "purchase" using your AAdvantage® miles; however, if you redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards® points, for instance, for your American Airlines flight, you can still earn AAdvantage® miles for that flight.

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

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Earn two points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide and one point per dollar spent 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: $95 


Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

  • Earn two miles on every purchase made
  • 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 50,000 miles (equal to $500 in travel) once you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months of opening an account
  • Earn 10x miles on thousands of hotels when booking at hotels.com/venture
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✔®
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $0 intro for first year; $95 after that

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

  • With two miles earned on every purchase made you'll earn miles whether you're spending money with American Airlines or not
  • Option to redeem miles for travel statement credits, meaning you can redeem rewards for flights or hotel stays with any brand, including American Airlines
  • Enjoy 70,000 bonus miles once you spend $5,000 on purchases within 90 days of opening an account
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $89 (waived first year)

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

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