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Guide to the American Airlines AAdvantage program

Last Updated, December 1, 2021

WHAT IS THE AMERICAN AIRLINES AADVANTAGE® PROGRAM?

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 AAdvantage®, 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:

  • Earning miles is based more on how much you spend rather than how much you fly
  • 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

IS THE AMERICAN AIRLINES AADVANTAGE® PROGRAM FREE?

Yes, the American Airlines loyalty program is completely free.

It's understandable why some people might think it isn't free. Some warehouse club stores make customers pay a membership fee. Some credit cards that offer generous rewards to their cardholders have annual fees. But in this case, you pay nothing to sign up.

For good reason. It isn't like airline tickets are cheap. In any case, by joining the American Airlines AAdvantage® program, you're going to get something back for your hard earned dollars. When you spend money on American Airlines or with its partners, you can earn perks and even earn your way toward free flights, upgrades, car rentals, hotel stays and more.

In other words, the program rewards your loyalty to the airline, kind of a "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" approach to making sure its flights remain full of happy, satisfied passengers. If you pay American Airlines or its partners a lot of money for flights, hotel rooms, rental cars and vacation packages, the American Airlines AAdvantage® program pays you something back for your loyalty.

And the more you spend with American Airlines, the more perks you end up getting.

HOW IS THE AMERICAN AIRLINES AADVANTAGE® PROGRAM STRUCTURED?

For years, American Airlines AAdvantage operated under a confusing system that required members to navigate terms like elite qualifying miles, elite qualifying dollars and elite qualifying segments.

The good news is that, starting in 2022, American Airlines has significantly simplified its program. Under this new system, members will earn status based on Loyalty Points, and one point is equal to one mile earned.

There are three ways to earn miles and Loyalty Points:

  • Traveling on status-qualifying airlines: This includes flights on American Airlines, Oneworld members and partnering carriers.
  • AAdvantage credit card purchases: Starting on January 1, 2022, every mile earned with purchases on an AAdvantage credit card will earn a Loyalty Point.
  • Shopping programs: Members can also earn Loyalty Points by spending through programs such as eShopping, AAdvantage Dining and SimplyMiles.

Achieving elite status can significantly increase the value of AAdvantage® points. There are four levels of elite status, and you can earn status based on the number of Loyalty Points you accrue during each 12-month period from March to February.

These four levels and their benefits are:

Gold Status (qualify with 30,000 Loyalty Points)

  • 40% bonus on base flight miles earned when traveling on American Airlines or with a partner
  • Complimentary upgrades on North American flights fewer than 500 miles, when available
  • 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

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
  • 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

Platinum Pro (qualify with 125,000 Loyalty Points)

Gold and platinum benefits, plus:

  • 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

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
  • 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. 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 five award miles per dollar 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.

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.

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  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 MileSAAver awards, once you start redeeming them, you can earn free flights (or at least lower the cost of the flight) to nearly 1,100 destinations around the world. You can redeem your awards 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 the 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 miles with the American Airlines AAdvantage® program, you can request a lot of those upgrades for free, and so that's a big selling point.

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

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® does what it can to help make flying fun again.

AMERICAN AIRLINES CREDIT CARDS

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®

  • 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 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: $99, waived for first 12 months

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® 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
  • 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: $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
  • 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: $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 $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. 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 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: $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 60,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within three months from account opening, equal to $600 in travel.
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Annual fee: $95

  • 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:

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 - or hotel rooms and car rentals. (You will likely save more money if you redeem towards flights, though.)

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