American Miles Are Worth Less, Not Worthless

I’m as frustrated as anyone by the changes that have been made to American AAdvantage the past couple of years. Actually, I’m probably more frustrated than most. I’ve been loyal to AAdvantage for years, and have witnessed cut after cut after cut, with no innovation. Combine that with American’s sub-par onboard product, and there’s not much reason to be loyal to them anymore.

However, there’s an important distinction that needs to be made. While I’m frustrated with AAdvantage, I’ll still gladly collect their miles if the price is right. Any time I write about an AAdvantage promo, someone comments something along the lines of “why would you want to collect AAdvantage miles, they’re worthless?”

I think that’s unfair. American miles are worth less than before, but are far from worthless.

Why AAdvantage has gotten worse

There are so many reasons that the value proposition of AAdvantage has decreased:

American-Business-Class
American 777-300ER business class

The list goes on and on, but those are the basics. There’s nothing that differentiates AAdvantage from the competition anymore, so the only reason to be loyal to American is if their route network best suits your travel needs.

Why AAdvantage miles have become less valuable

Last year American AAdvantage horribly devalued their award chart. Some of the most popular award redemptions increased in price by almost 70%. International first class redemptions were most adversely impacted in terms of price.

To make matters even worse, American has among the least saver level award availability I’ve ever seen on their own flights. They’d rather let a first class cabin go out empty than open award seats at the saver level last minute.

There’s nowhere this is more evident than between New York and Los Angeles. Last year they raised the cost for a one-way first class award ticket from 32,500 miles to 50,000 miles, and despite that, they still make virtually no seats available, even last minute when the cabin is wide open.

However, there are some other factors that have caused my valuation of AAdvantage miles to go down:

  • With the electronics ban in place, redeeming miles for Etihad and Qatar from the Middle East to the US is less tempting than before, especially in markets where flying through other regions is also practical
  • Airberlin has a lot less business class award availability on transatlantic flights than they used to, which was one of the few ways to redeem on transatlantic flights without fuel surcharges
  • Alaska Mileage Plan now also partners with Japan Airlines, and across the board redemptions are a better value than through AAdvantage, so that eliminates a potential sweet spot of AAdvantage miles

Japan-Airlines-First-Class-01
Japan Airlines 777 first class

There are more examples, but I think those are some of the main factors that impact my valuations.

How much are American miles worth now?

In my latest valuation I suggested that AAdvantage miles were worth 1.5 cents each. This already represented quite a decrease in my valuation, because prior to American’s devaluation last year, I thought American miles were worth ~1.8 cents each.

Well, I’m now ready to declare that I think AAdvantage miles are worth less than that, though again, certainly not worthless. My new valuation of AAdvantage miles is 1.3 cents each. There’s no science to valuing miles, though I consider both relative and absolute factors.

Why the drop in my valuation of American miles? Primarily because the lack of space on American metal, which was both valuable for international flights and for taking domestic flights to international gateways. Furthermore, redemptions on Japan Airlines used to be a sweet spot for redeeming American miles, while now I’d rather redeem through Alaska, as they have lower rates and also allow stopovers, even on one-way awards.

But I can’t really in good conscience value American miles less than 1.3 cents each. Redeeming 70,000 miles for one-way business class to Asia, the Middle East, India, etc., is still a very good value. That’s like valuing a roundtrip redemption from the US on Etihad, Qatar, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, etc., at ~$1,800, which seems fair.

Qatar-Airways-A350-Business-Class-30
Qatar Airways A350 business class

At the end of the day, business class award redemptions on the above airlines are still pretty wide open, so I can’t really drop my value much below that.

Anyway, regardless of how some of you feel about American miles, I’ll continue posting about the deals I see, because American miles certainly not worthless. And if anyone truly thinks they are worthless, I’m sure there are plenty of us who would gladly take them off your hands. 😉

What’s your valuation of AAdvantage miles nowadays?

Comments

  1. I dumped American for Delta. Delta is a far better airline especially when stuck in coach and they have a great technology interface. Their miles suck bad but they do have a few sweet spots and some very good partners. K agree no matter what unless your forced to be loyal to American, they give the least reason to be out of the big 3. By the way. United has the worst onboard product (their Slimline seats are the thinnest of them all) but their award availability rocks. Maybe time to increase the value of MP

  2. US to Japan in Biz is still a marginally better deal on AA imo since it’s 60k miles on each but slightly less surcharge on AA. I’m flying a cheap paid J ticket to Shanghai next month, and I’ll be crediting to Alaska like you said – I’d rather have 25k redeemable Alaska miles than 20k redeemable AA miles and useless status.

  3. “redeeming miles for Etihad and Qatar from the Middle East to the US is less tempting than before”

    Dunno, that may be but I found it very tempting to redeem AAdvantage miles for Royal Jordanian in August from Qatar (with stopover in Amman) to JFK. Availability was wide-open and I am guessing that since planes have a LOT of empty seats these days it will be quite a nice experience.

  4. The problem that I have isn’t just that the redemption rates have risen to devalue their FFP currency. The reason that the miles are nearly worthless is that it’s really quite hard to redeem them in a useful fashion without knuckling down for their AAnytime rates. When I’ve had a chance to redeem them, I’ve had redemptions in the last year anywhere from 1.0 to 2.3 cpm. But the opportunities to use them have been few and far between compared to previous years, without any reciprocal improvement in the program’s other dreadful areas.

    TL;DR = Certainly not worthless, but worth a lot less than 1.3 in my estimate since the opportunities have dried up.

  5. @Ryan Delta’s award booking engine blows. I tried booking 3 J one ways to Asia last month it showed 3 tickets available so I transferred 240k AMEX MR points into the program and tried for half a day to book tickets that were listed as available on their website but could never ticket. In the end I transferred 465k Chase UR points to book with KE for 3 round trip tickets instead. They got a ways to go before I would say they have a great technology interface. All because CA canceled one leg that screwed up my NH bookings last minute :-/ Now what to do with 240k sky pesos and 285k NH miles.

  6. Again what a nonsense discussion this is! You bloggers need to write this to AA AAdvantage president instead! Talking among ourselves about how horrible AAdvantage has become is waste of time . Everyone please email or tweet AAdvantage . I never even find any saver awards to any destination or any clsss. AA is horrible and a scam!

  7. I still find value in AA miles. For instance, I just booked a R/T award ticket for a girlfriend on CX HKG-YVR-JFK in First, 110K each way. There was some availability on our preferred dates, though we booked only 4 weeks in advance.
    Much better than paying at least $4000 for a R/T ticket in business class.

  8. What you call the basics are mostly for elites, so kinda the opposite. While I’m sure there’s a ton of AA elite readers visiting your blog, I’d bet big money that there’s even more readers with no AA status at all. This might alter what you consider the basics in the future. No harm or hate, just my opinion.

  9. @lucky try finding any AA award availabliloty on Etihad in any guest economy or first class from JFK to AUH and I’ll buy you executive platinum status for life.

  10. I know you didn’t mention BA in today’s entry, but using AA “miles” on their metal might result in a negative value per mile when factoring in their incredibly ridiculous fuel surcharges(or however they term it now).
    What is it, over $1000 now upfront to and from LHR?
    yYeah, I’m being a bit facetious, but not really…
    I bet AA is darn proud of that.

  11. Actually I calculated wrong – since I don’t have AA status, I’d only earn ~10k AA miles versus ~24k Alaska miles. That’s pure insanity.

  12. @ Jerry — Every single date (without exception) through the end of July has economy JFK-AUH. At that point I got bored and stopped looking. Are you sure you’re looking at space correctly?

  13. I no nothing about AAdvantage and have nothing to add to this topic. So my apologies for briefly hijacking this thread.

    I just read that Uzbekistan Airways is commencing its 787 service to JFK in a couple of weeks.

    Ben, I have been a long time reader and supporter. I guess I fall into the ‘fanboy’ category. Yet, I have asked so little in return. But now–in exchange for my love and support–I respectfully ask that you pay an outrageous amount of money to fly a mediocre airline to a really boring city in central Asia, and then write a review about the experience.

    That’s all I ask.

    Well that, and to try the Truffle Chicken on your Etihad flight.

  14. @ Imperator — ROFL! Yes for sure on the truffle chicken, and let me see what I can do about Uzbekistan Airways. It’s most definitely on my radar, and the nonstop flight does sound interesting. Thanks for the support!

  15. When your option for credit card is to get $2.00 in CASH (which earns a return) for every $100 spent or $1.30 dollar’s worth (according to your valuation) as 100 AAdvantage miles (which you know will be worth less in the future), yeah, AAdvantage miles are pretty much “worthless”.

    And you never price in the hours and hours needed to try to redeem the AAdvantage miles (no, I’m not part of the 0.00001% whose job is to travel — my free time is more valuable than spent searching for award flights)!

  16. @R B

    > I still find value in AA miles. For instance, I just booked a R/T award ticket for a girlfriend on CX HKG-YVR-JFK in First, 110K each way. There was some availability on our preferred dates, though we booked only 4 weeks in advance. Much better than paying at least $4000 for a R/T ticket in business class.

    Congratulations. You got 1.8 cents per mile. If you had gotten a 2% cash-back credit card, you would have been ahead. So you’re actually worse off.

  17. I have to agree with Lucky. I just booked a RT award to Japan in JL biz that would have cost about $7k for 110,000 miles (120k -10k from having a Barclay AA card.) While I have started to credit AA flights to Alaska, it is still worth it to me to redeem with AA to get a free connection to a JL/CX gateway as I am on the east coast in a city with no flights to Asia (PHL). Of course, the downside is I cannot book a stopover. The scale will tip to Alaska once Virgin resumes service to LAX/SFO and they get a SOC, but for now they still can’t be combined with other partner awards, so AA still works for me.

  18. @Jake – “A” girlfriend, eh? Most guys have their hands full with just one. I’m suitably impressed.

  19. Dump em – they are only going to get worse – does no good to write or call. AA now a fossil – can’t even simultaneously issue a ticket at time of purchase. 75k miles ONE WAY for 1st class from VT to Florida tells u all u need to know. Better than 50% chance they will change your flight times or aircraft. Approaching Aeroflot levels.

    JetBlue folks – they actually care about their customers and airline.

    Former Long time AA loyalist – happy to have jumped ship

  20. Prediction on when they have two tiered pricing for partners? Seems the likely way they can devalue there partners since they probably don’t want to block partner award space.

  21. Jerry – I also ran into a problem not finding any partner availability on aa.com. It turns out that if you select “redeem miles” on the home page, you only see AA award space. You need to select “advanced search”, scroll down to “options”, and select “all airlines” to see partner space.

    I find some of the AAnytime awards for off-peak days (20K domestic, 47.5K US to Europe) attractive for their flexibility. I value my AA miles at 1.0-1.1 cents each. They are definitely among the hardest miles to get good value from.

  22. Hi Lucky;

    1.3 cents might be reasonable for someone who lives at an AA gateway.

    Are you factoring in the cost of a positioning flight for those that don’t.

    If it wasn’t for the EQMs, I’d cut up my Citi Exec and Barclays silver cards.

  23. At the time of the big devaluation, obviously I wasn’t happy, but you could look at other airlines and see that AA’s rates went from being well below average to middle-of-the-pack. The reason they have become significantly less valuable to me is the truly pathetic availability on their own metal. I know the defenders of AAdvantage happily point to the excellent values that remain in their partners’ premium cabins. However, I’m among the 250 million Americans that don’t actually live in a major international gateway. Without saver space domestically, that 70k redemption for CX business just became 30k more for a connecting aanytime flight in economy or 55k up front. Putting random dates in Delta’s engine shows numerous options to Asia for 80k miles and they’re the ones that get derided as “skypesos?”

    I guess the bottom line is that it’s about time people recognize that AA points are at the same level as DL — 1.3 cents sounds about right. I’d be pissed if I were Citi.

  24. They’d rather let a first class cabin go out empty than open award seats at the saver level last minute.

    You’re a force in the industry any chance you could get a comment from an AA spokesman or executive?

    You could mention that I’ve stopped using my AA credit cards and now use my Hyatt card as I’ve never had a problem with Hyatt rewards but AA rewards have been almost impossible. With more people doing that it’s going to be a huge revenue loss.

  25. @ John — I’ve reached out to ask if they have a statement regarding the situation, and they haven’t had anything to add. I’ll certainly keep sharing my “feedback.” 😉

  26. I’m retired now, but I signed up for FF programs starting in 1981. I acquired plenty of miles from frequent domestic and international travel, but when the credit card sign-up bonuses came along, I got serious. The redemption requirements for business class have nearly doubled at the saver level, but the hard and soft product improved considerably and the earning opportunities have increased exponentially. I don’t manufacture spend. I get a new card only when I’m certain I can make the dollar amounts required through anticipated purchases. The points made by others here are valid, but I’ve used “work-arounds” to try to get value from my miles. How so? Well, international destinations, including cruises, are usually determined by what dates I can redeem for awards for two travelers. Last year a southeast Asia cruise had to be in December but I was able to get there on QR, return via CX, effectively going around the world in pretty decent accommodations. Next year it’s the Med in the dead of winter-outbound to Rome on DL, return from BCN on IB & AA on IB. But even for a wedding in Ireland in July I found availability on AA (before the US-AA integration) in J for three, but had to shell out more miles plus $1,500+ returning in BA first. Yes, it took a very long time to put these trips together, but I’ve got time now. For others, I think one of the plethora of on-line booking service could be well worth the fees. No, I don’t own one or promote any!

  27. @ Jake:
    Who said I earned those AA miles through Credit-Card? Assume I earn those miles ‘butt in seat’, it is still a better return than your 2% cash-back.

    @ Christian: ever heard of Tinder? 😉

  28. I am not sure if your value is STILL to high. Lets look at what is available.

    About 5 years ago, I used to value AA miles at about 2cpm. At that time I could find domestic business class at about 50K round trip, and Europe at about 100K round trip with great availability (say 10 days per month) at that level.

    Today, if I look at typical flights (Coast-Coast) or North America – Europe, there is no saver. OK, lets look at the lowest Anytime that has some good availability (say 10 days in the month like saver used to be) domestic business class is 90-110K, and N.A. Europe on AA metal (10 days in a month) is 220-250K.

    So although AA now feels it can charge ANYTIME (200K domestic business, 400K international) typically a few days a month it is often at the lower ANYTIME rate of 100K domestic, and 200ish International.

    So if it used to be 50 –> NOW (100) Domestic
    if it used to be 100K –> NOW (220) Europe, that is about half.

    So I value the miles, about half 1CPM Also I look at the fares at 1CPM $1000 domestic business class- sure, $2200 Europe, sure priced about that too

  29. “They’d rather let a first class cabin go out empty than open award seats at the saver level last minute.”

    Lucky, good post, but you misspelled DisAAdvantage. 🙁

    I used to be a total AA fanboy, but now won’t even spend more than the minimum needed on my no fee AA card, twice a year, to keep it from being cancelled for non use. Would I buy AA miles on “sale” (sic)? Sure, just at soon are pigs fly, and hell freezes over. Just to be clear, both of those, not just one or the other. 😉

  30. @lucky I would love for you to tell me how you were searching, because at the Etihad site shows no guest economy whatsoever from JFK to a AUH for the remainder of the year. And AA website only shows redemptions on RJ and BA

  31. @Jerry

    I just picked a week in June and kept going — every day indeed has Guest Saver on Economy for 2 people, on both flights

  32. If CX ever leaves 1W, then any remaining value AA miles have is just went down the shitter. My interest in miles redemption is for overseas travel in J, so partner availability is what matters most to me. The interesting this is that AAdvantage is generally a terrible program for DC residents like me. Neither CX nor JL serve a DC airport, and for European trips, you’re stuck with BA’s fuel surcharges.

    So AA saver space does matter to me, because I need to get to ORD or JFK to get catch my CX or JL flight.

    OTOH, IAD is very well served by *A, I don’t remember the last time I set foot on UA metal for a repositioning flight. NH and AC provide Asian service, and numerous partners (LH, TK, SN, among others) provide plentiful European service.

  33. How can you possibly say there is no science involved in estimating the value of miles? You don’t just pick a number out of thin air. If you calculate something, that’s science. If you didn’t calculate anything, then the value you’ve assigned is totally worthless.

  34. @lucky and @James I don’t know if you’re clicking all the way through. But once you see the 40k Saver one way availability, it brings u to the airline choices of which the only choices are BA, AB, RJ and AA only !
    If you can take a screenshot and show me where EY is a choice ????

  35. @ Jerry — Etihad awards have to be booked by phone if using AA miles. They can’t be booked online.

  36. AA is running the program to the ground. John is right, the co-brand cards must be feeling the pinch also.
    AA, what are you doing to fix the lack of saver award space?

  37. Definitely agree with your valuation. It is all going downhill with AA and AAdvantage. I have been really frustrated with AA as of late.

  38. I have been looking for AA saver C class from SFO to EZE in December, January or February. Not a single seat below 220K round trip. Most date combinations are 300K or more round trip. Any suggestions?

  39. I’ve said this a few times on this blog and have been attacked for it, but I often redeem AAnytime for domestic flights when I have to travel. For example, I recently used 40,000 miles to get two, one-way tickets that cost about $450 each to travel for a wedding ($900 total). So about 2.2 CPM, which is solid. I also try to use miles when traveling for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I earn AAdvantage miles only by flying BIS, and I earn at a pretty good rate as I often fly paid business transcons. So the program is working decently for me. I have Alaska miles for more aspirational travel.

  40. Agree, this is very sad. My family has used AAdvantage Citi credit card for many years, and they recently changed contracts from Citi to Santander bank, and were getting issued new cards without the AAdvantage program. American has been our main airline of choice for most of our travels since theyre the only one with direct flights LAX-GRU, but youre right, their Saver awards is non existent. Very sad.

  41. I redeem AA miles for QR Y to Africa and every flight on QR I have been upgraded due to oversold Y and OWE. 80k for roundtrip QR J to South Africa isn’t bad.

  42. There are two factors to measure the program by:
    (1) How many miles (and how much co-pay) does it take for a desired itinerary?
    (2) Is that itinerary available for redemption on a reasonable choice of dates?
    You can calculate a value using (1), but if there are no seats available where you want to go, that value is reduced to zero. And coach seats don’t count, as I can afford to pay for those. I want to redeem miles to fly J or better from Chicago to Manchester, England, and there are literally no sAAver seats available in the next 6 months. Precious few to London either.
    Miles are an artificial currency, but if there’s nothing to buy I might as well be shopping in a North Korean department store with worthless won.

  43. All the AA FF program bad changes started happening when Suzanne Rubin was at the helm of the AAdvantage program. She was trying to squeeze out of blood from an ant! Even though she is fired/gone (thank god), her replacement is no better..
    AADisadvantaged so-called “hub” of DFW is a joke let alone getting to DFW. No saver award to and from DFW.
    I am not spending any $$ on AA revenue ticket to earn miles until AA releases more saver award space.

  44. @CabinChief – You definitely got my attention! I’m heading to Africa on QR with AA miles in less than two weeks. Hope you’re right! (Of course I had to book paid positioning flights each way to DFW since there are no AA Saver award seats out of my local airport. I’m probably getting about 1.1 cpm after figuring in the positioning flights as part of the cost. Unless the retention incentives wipe out the annual fee entirely, my Barclay and Citi cards are headed to the dumpster when they’re due.

  45. I emailed Aadvantage and really feel like it’s time to stop being an AA loyalist. I flew countless times on AA with $9000 spent from a travel addiction alone last year mostly in Y. Going to be canning my Citi platinum aadvantage and Citi executive cards and settling just for my thank you premier card. DFW to ORD on my birthday (6-22) in economy would be 50k miles… I was just going to fly up on an award to fly back down on a paid fare to meet my dad and sister in the admirals club. that’s a damn transatlantic business award. I’ve spent more to fly AA than delta or united was even in just regular economy even when the competitors first or MCE’s were cheaper just out of pure loyalty and chase status. There’s no reason to earn miles anymore with the zero saaver award availability and even worse costs for anytime awards. I told them I sure hope they don’t lose sight of the customers who don’t need to worry about what airline they fly or where they go or a time schedule. Chasing profits like this is a great way to lose loyalty and turn into losses. I spent 68k on my cobranded cards last year and don’t intend to really anymore

  46. @Jim – I think a lot of people post their comments here in the hope that someone in charge at AA wll actually read them. Based on the tone deaf robo responses you get making comments directly to AA, these don’t seem to get beyond the lowest level of the company.

  47. I definitely agree that there is value to American Miles. I think for the casual flyer, having a plan for the miles makes the most sense. Over the past several years we acquired a lot of miles through travel and credit card spend and recently used a chunk for JAL biz to Tokyo. The reward availability is very consistent and a great use of the miles. However, I’d rather spend on my CSR since our next trip will most likely be to Europe and there is much more availability on United.

    If you are planning a trip to Asia or the Middle East, gaining miles through credit card spend makes sense. There still is excellent value – it just takes some work since the flights aren’t booked through AA.com.

    If you really want to make the airline feel it, stop spending money on your cobranded card and switch to something like the CSR or CSP. However, stop saying that miles are worthless b/c you can earn more on one of these cards… plenty of people earn miles via travel.

  48. @Lucky

    When I look on AA: plan travel>flights>book with miles>milesaaver/all airlines, the only options shown are AA,AB & BA. How are you getting to see other partner availability? I’ve never seen RJ, CX,JL etc. space on the AA website.

    Or is it like Alaska, where you have to go to the BA site to find CX, then call AS?

  49. @ Karl — I search space through British Airways’ website, and they should have access to the same space. Then you have to call American to book.

  50. I value aa miles at under a penny, but I value them higher than Alaska despite Alaska being cheaper on the Asian partner flights that I try to get. Often Alaska comes up empty, especially if I want more than one seat , on the flights that I want (330 or so days in advance).

  51. I’m not a regular AA flyer, so I’m not an authority on the consistency of the airline’s produce. Judging by industry observer metrics, they seem to have significant reliability problems compared to domestic competitors, and aren’t in the same ballpark as the better foreign airlines. But, they do have the best business class seats of any domestic airline, bar none. Their fleet is the best, bar none. This airline is recenly post merger. I think if people give American a little breating room, it could become something great.

  52. I think 1.3 cents is overall fair. The problem with valuation is with AA (and other airlines), there is HUGE disparities in mileage value from ticket to ticket. If you find the rare and best domestic redemptions and book months in advance while sAAver seats are still available, you might do as good as 1.7 cents per mile, on international trips, you may do slightly better in the best case, but if you take a random sampling of trips and compare to the cash price to the mileage price, you probably would get closer to 0.3 cents per mile. I’ve seen tickets as bad as 0.003 cents per mile (one way SWO-DFW on the first Saturday of spring break, cash price is $250, mileage price is 75,000 miles).

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