Everything You Need to Know About American Airlines AAdvantage

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American Airlines AAdvantage is a frequent-flyer loyalty program that currently boasts the largest membership pool in the world. Members of the program earn points when they spend money with American, and those points can be redeemed for free flights and other perks. AAdvantage members can also earn points when flying on American's partner airlines and redeem points with American's partners.

What Is American Airlines AAdvantage?

The AAdvantage program rewards frequent flyers for their travel with American Airlines. As a member, you'll be able to earn points (also called "miles," interchangeably) and work your way toward elite status, which offers in-flight and service benefits like free checked bags and seat upgrades. To be eligible for elite status, you'll need to spend at least $3,000 with American in one calendar year.

As a standard AAdvantage member, the biggest benefit you'll get is the ability to earn miles on American Airlines tickets, as well as car rentals, hotel stays, cruises and vacation packages. For every one dollar you spend with the airline, or with their partners, you'll get 5 miles. Elite status members earn anywhere from 7 to 11 miles per dollar spent with American, depending on their status tier.

To join the program, you'll need to visit the AA website and enter your basic information. Once you're signed up, you will receive an American Airlines number that you can use when you book tickets on AA and partner airlines. If you meet certain spending and flying requirements with American and its partner airlines, you'll be able to earn AAdvantage elite status and receive free upgrades and other benefits.

How to Earn American Airlines AAdvantage Miles

As an American Airlines frequent flyer, you can earn points toward free travel by buying American Airlines tickets, using American Airlines' co-branded credit cards and shopping on the airline's online portal. Below, we've listed all of the earning avenues that can help you get the most mileage from your AAdvantage membership. If you're already knowledgeable about how airline loyalty programs work, you can jump to the advanced earning strategies section.

1. Buy plane tickets

The simplest way to American Airlines rewards points is to buy tickets on American Airlines or one of the carrier's partners. The airline uses a revenue-based points earning system, which means you earn points based on how much you spend. (This is in contrast to a distance-based system, which awards points for every physical mile you fly. Alaska Airlines is the last major airline to use a distance-based points earning system.) If you're a new AAdvantage member and don't have elite status, you'll have a base earning rate of 5 points per dollar on plane tickets.

AAdvantage membership levelBase points per dollar spent
General member5
Gold (Elite)7
Platinum (Elite)8
Platinum Pro (Elite)9
Executive Platinum (Elite)11

There are a few ways that you can increase the number of miles you earn per dollar. The first, shown in the table above, is to earn elite status. This takes time, and it's only feasible if you travel more than 30 times per year. To get status, you'll also have to be OK with consolidating your flights to one airline and sacrificing the freedom to shop among carriers for the lowest fare.

The second option to earn more than 5 base miles per dollar is to buy tickets in business class or first class. The more expensive the cabin, the higher the bonus miles. First class fares and some business class fares earn a 50% bonus, while basic economy fares earn 50% fewer base miles. Consider the example below, which illustrates how a $1,000 fare earns vastly different award miles depending on its fare class:

First ClassBusiness ClassEconomyBasic Economy
Fare class bonus50%50%0%-50%
Base miles at 5 miles per dollar rate5,0005,0005,0005,000
Bonus miles2,5002,5000-2,500
Total miles earned7,5007,5005,0002,500

The third and final way to increase your AAdvantage earnings rate is to pay for American Airlines flights with one of the airline's co-branded credit cards. The pros and cons of using this method to earn miles are discussed below.

2. Spend with an American Airlines credit card

Second to buying American Airlines plane tickets, the most effective and consistent way to earn AAdvantage points is to open an American Airlines credit card and use it for your everyday purchases. On all of the airline's cards, you'll earn at least 1 point per dollar on every purchase you make. The premium cards earn 2 points per dollar on AA purchases, and some also earn 2 miles per dollar in bonus categories like gas, grocery and restaurants. The table below illustrates the rewards possibility at the flat rewards rate of 1 AAdvantage mile per dollar spent.

Annual spendMiles earnedPossible redemption
$10,00010,000One-way ticket to destination with contiguous U.S.
$30,00030,000Round-trip fare to Caribbean
$50,00050,000Round-trip fare to Hawaii

The credit cards with the most attractive rewards rates have annual fees that range from $95 to $450 per year, so they may not be the best option if you're a moderate spender. Consider what makes sense for your budget and spending habits—and whether it's worth it to pay hundreds in annual fees each year. If opening a new card works for your finances, and you're interested in earning AA miles, you can learn more by reading our guide to the best American Airlines credit cards.

3. Do your online shopping on the AAdvantage eShopping Portal

AAdvantage members can get extra points for online shopping by making purchases through the AAdvantage eShopping portal. Through the portal, you can shop at hundreds of hotels, booking companies, clothing companies and other retailers and earn up to 15 miles per dollar on each purchase. There are also one-time bonus offers that reward you with a few thousand points for making a purchase at a select retailer.

If you want to earn points for shopping without going to the portal, American Airlines offers a browser extension that you can install to shop and earn miles directly at 950 online stores. The extension lets you bypass the AAdvantage portal and shop as you normally would, alerting you when there are points available on a website.

4. Sign up for AAdvantage Dining

Another way to earn points for your everyday purchases is to sign up for AAdvantage Dining. The program allows you to get points for every qualifying purchase you make at an affiliated restaurant. You can check for restaurants in your area at the AAdvantage Dining website.

To join AAdvantage dining, all you have to do is sign up for an account and link your debit and credit cards. You'll automatically earn points each time you spend at an eligible restaurant. Regular members earn 1 point per dollar, and members who sign up for AAdvantage Dining emails earn 3 points per dollar. Once you complete 11 transactions in a calendar year, you'll earn 5 points per dollar.

5. Buy AA miles

Buying points should be a last resort option, as purchased points are often priced unfavorably compared to their value. However, if you need a few more points in order to redeem a trip, then buying them may your best option. On the American Airlines website, you can buy anywhere from 2,000 miles to 150,000 miles. Keep in mind that they don't come cheap; the current going rate for 10,000 points is $265.95.

If you need a few hundred more points to redeem an award flight, consider earning through one of the other options on this list. For example, you could make your next big retail purchase on the AAdvantage eShopping portal, or you could have your next expensive meal at a restaurant eligible for AAdvantage dining.

Advanced Earning Strategies

Rewards credit cards are a good option if you're looking for an easier way to earn points than using AAdvantage eShopping and Dining. With a general rewards credit card, you can earn points on everyday expenses and redeem them for flights on a variety of airlines.

General Rewards Credit Cards

Most of the major credit card rewards programs have a path to transfer points to American Airlines, but it's easiest to do so with a program that lets you directly transfer points to AAdvantage. However, you might lose the value of your miles if you have to transfer at an unfavorable ratio.

The best credit card rewards strategy for you depends on whether you're interested in getting free flights, regardless of airline, or you're specifically interested in earning AAdvantage points and redeeming them for American Airlines flights.

If you're less concerned about staying loyal to one airline, a general rewards credit card is likely the fastest way to earn a free trip. The best rewards cards come with sign-up bonus points worth hundreds of dollars, which you can earn by meeting a spending minimum within the first few months of account opening.

Marriott Rewards

Marriott Rewards is currently the only major credit card program that directly transfers points to AAdvantage. The transfer ratio is about three to one, meaning that your Marriott Rewards points will lose roughly two-thirds of their value when you convert them to AAdvantage points. If you transfer over 100,000 points, the conversion rate is slightly more favorable at 2.15:1.

Marriott Rewards pointsAAdvantage points

Unless you already have a Marriott card and need a few more points to redeem a trip, it's not advisable to use this method of earning AAdvantage points. Using an AA credit card or AAdvantage eShopping and Dining are much better ways to earn points—without losing value in an unfavorable transfer.

How to Use Your AAdvantage Miles

Once you've accumulated AAdvantage miles, you can use them on award travel, upgrades, lounge access, hotels and rental cars, plus a variety of nontravel-related redemptions like magazine subscriptions and gift cards. An annual magazine subscription can cost as few as 300 miles, while a first class flight to Asia can cost upward of 200,000 miles.

1. Book American Airlines award travel

One of best options for redeeming miles is on American Airlines tickets. You can do this online at American Airlines' award booking portal. The number of miles needed for a flight redemption changes depending on award type, time of year, cabin and destination. American has four award ticket options that provide different levels of ticket change flexibility. The cheapest award option is MileSAAver Off Peak, which has limited region and date availability. You can visit the AA award chart to see the full list of redemption possibilities.

Award typePoints for one-way flight to Hawaii
MileSAAver Off Peak20,000
AAnytime Level 140,000
AAnytime Level 250,000

If your trip isn't eligible for MileSAAver Off Peak, the second best option is a regular MileSAAver award. These award tickets are cheaper than AAnytime awards because they are nonrefundable and come with a $150 ticket change fee. You can only change your MileSAAver ticket to another flight that has MileSAAver availability. In contrast, you can change your itinerary on an AAnytime awards ticket to any flight, regardless of awards space.

2. Book awards on oneworld alliance carriers and other partners

In addition to American Airlines tickets, AAdvantage points can be used to redeem award space on oneworld alliance airlines and other select partners. The process for booking an award on a partner airline depends on the carrier. You can book on American's website for the following carriers: Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Fiji Airways, Finnair, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas Airways and Royal Jordanian Airlines.

For other partners, like Etihad Airways and Japan Airlines, you'll have to call American Airlines' customer service in order to place an awards booking. To see how many points you'll need to visit a destination on a specific airline, you can visit American's flight award chart for oneworld and partner airlines.

3. Upgrade your seat

On most American Airlines flights, you can use your miles to move up to the next cabin. For domestic flights within the 48 contiguous states, an upgrade from discount economy to premium economy will cost 15,000 AAdvantage points plus $75. On long international flights, the same upgrade costs 25,000 points plus $350. Keep in mind that award tickets and basic economy fare tickets can not be upgraded.

OriginDestinationFrom economy to businessFrom full-fare business to first
Contiguous U.S.Contiguous U.S.15,000 + $7515,000
Contiguous U.S.Caribbean15,000 + $7515,000
Contiguous U.S.Hawaii15,000 + $7515,000
North AmericaCentral America15,000 + $7515,000
North AmericaColombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela15,000 + $15015,000
North AmericaAsia, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay25,000 + $35025,000
North AmericaEurope, Middle East25,000 + $35025,000

4. Book hotels and rental cars

American Airlines points can also be redeemed on the carrier's website for hotels and rental cars. Rates for the cheapest domestic properties start at around 10,000 points per night, while luxury resorts and other upscale properties can cost more than 50,000 points per night. Rental cars tend to cost between 5,000 and 30,000 points per day, depending on the location and car type.

5. Redeem for magazine subscriptions, newspaper subscriptions or gift cards

Magazine subscriptions are the cheapest redemptions available. Through American Airlines' Mags for Miles portal, you can sign up for an annual subscription from 300 miles (Parents magazine) to 1,900 miles (Barron's).

Newspapers are also a relatively cheap redemption, with an annual Financial Times Digital subscription priced at 3,960 miles. This is a value of 8 cents per mile, as a FT subscription usually costs $353.86. You can also exchange your points for gift cards on points.com. Most gift card redemptions start at about 1,500 to 2,000 points for $5.

Even though gift card redemptions cost fewer points than upgrade and award ticket redemptions, you don't get as much value for your points on those cheaper exchanges. In most cases, you'll get more cents per point on a ticket redemption.

Consider the 20,000 point MileSAAver Off Peak redemption on a one-way flight to Hawaii. The average cost of a flight to Hawaii is about $300 for a one-way in off-peak season. This is a value of 0.15 cents per point. In contrast a $5 gift card redemption for 2,000 points is a value of 0.025 cents per point.

6. Donate your miles

If you're looking to support a worthy cause, you can donate your miles to one of American Airlines' miles initiatives. The airline has military and children assistance programs to which you can dedicate your points. A minimum donation of 1,000 miles is required.

AAdvantage Partner Airlines

American Airlines is a founding member of the oneworld alliance, which has 13 member carriers. Every time you take an eligible flight on one of American's partners, you earn points toward elite status. You can also redeem your AAdvantage points for flights on any one of American's partners, who together fly to roughly 1,000 destinations. Here's the full list of partners.

  • American Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

Yowana is a former product analyst at ValuePenguin, specializing in credit cards, rewards programs and travel. He previously covered mortgages, banking and insurance for the website. Yowana graduated from Columbia University with a B.A. in Political Science.

These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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How We Calculate Rewards: ValuePenguin calculates the value of rewards by estimating the dollar value of any points, miles or bonuses earned using the card less any associated annual fees. These estimates here are ValuePenguin's alone, not those of the card issuer, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuer.

Example of how we calculate the rewards rates: When redeemed for travel through Ultimate Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred points are worth $0.0125 each. The card awards 2 points on travel and dining and 1 point on everything else. Therefore, we say the card has a 2.5% rewards rate on dining and travel (2 x $0.0125) and a 1.25% rewards rate on everything else (1 x $0.0125).