How To Use American Airlines Miles

While many long-time OMAAT readers are familiar with the ins and outs of redeeming miles with an assortment of programs, there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t get a question about how to redeem miles with one airline or another.

I wrote a post right after the merger with US Airways with the details of redeeming American AAdvantage miles, but it’s been a few years, and some things have changed, so I figured it was worth an update.

Once you know the rules, it’s pretty easy to use American miles, so I thought I’d go through the main points of the program, at least on the redemption side.

Redeeming AAdvantage miles for travel on American

If you’re traveling exclusively on American, AAdvantage does offer increased availability for their “AAnytime awards,” which start at double the cost of “SAAver” awards.

AAdvantage-award-types

AAnytime awards require a downright excessive number of miles, in my opinion, and don’t make sense unless you have a ton of miles and extremely limited flexibility.

So for the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to assume that you’re only interested in saver awards.

As far as the other rules are concerned, AAnytime and SAAver awards are equivalent, but I thought this was a good distinction to clarify up front.

Redeeming AAdvantage miles on oneworld and other partner airlines

One of the main tricks to finding saver level award space is to leverage partners as much as possible. American’s award availability has been incredibly stingy to the point of being embarrassing the past few years. They’re not even good about releasing unsold space to award inventory just prior to departure anymore, so it’s generally pretty depressing in premium cabins.


American international business class 

Fortunately, AAdvantage miles can be redeemed on all oneworld carriers, which gives you a good chunk of airlines to choose from:

airberlinFinnairMalaysia AirlinesS7 Airlines
American AirlinesIberiaQantasSriLankan Airlines
British AirwaysJapan Airlines (JAL)Qatar Airwaysoneworld affiliates such as:
Cathay PacificLATAMRoyal JordanianCathay Dragon, Comair, NIKI, Jetconnect, & OpenSkies

As well as the following partner carriers (with some caveats that we’ll get into later):

Air Tahiti NuiEtihad AirwaysHawaiian Airlines
Alaska Airlines/Horizon AirFiji AirwaysJet Airways
Cape AirGulf AirSeaborne Airlines

How to find AAdvantage award availability

While you can use your American miles for any of the above partners, not all these carriers show up on aa.com.

It’s also worth noting aa.com won’t show complicated routings. You’re allowed to make multiple connections, and can have very long layovers on international itineraries (up to 23 hours and 59 minutes), but the website won’t display those options by default.

You can still redeem your miles for flights that don’t display on the website, you just need to search elsewhere, and then call reservations with your preferred flights.

My favorite places to search for award space on oneworld carriers are as follows, though many of these will also display on ExpertFlyer:

For flights on:Search for space on:
airberlinAmerican*
British Airways
American AirlinesAmerican
British Airways
British AirwaysAmerican
British Airways
Cathay PacificBritish Airways*
JAL
Qantas
FinnairAmerican
British Airways
IberiaBritish Airways
ExpertFlyer
Japan Airlines (JAL)British Airways
LATAMBritish Airways
Malaysia AirlinesBritish Airways
QantasAmerican
British Airways
Qatar AirwaysBritish Airways
Royal JordanianAmerican
British Airways
S7 AirlinesBritish Airways
SriLankan AirlinesBritish Airways

For non-oneworld partners it’s a bit trickier, and in many cases you’ll need to call:

For flights on:Search for space on:
Air Tahiti NuiExpertFlyer
Alaska AirlinesAmerican
ExpertFlyer
Saver space on Alaskaair.com
Etihad Airways"Guest" space on Etihad.com
Fiji AirwaysExpertFlyer
Hawaiian AirlinesDifferent availability for all partners.
Use partner site or call.
Jet AirwaysCall reservations

Fortunately, AA agents are competent for the most part (at least at searching space), so calling shouldn’t be too painful.

American has a zone-based award chart

Programs with a “zone-based” chart charge a given number of miles for awards between two regions. American defines their regions as follows:

AAdvantage Award Zone:Countries Included:
North America U.S. (including Hawaii and Alaska), Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, The Bahamas and the Caribbean
Central America or
South America Zone 1
Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Venezuela
South America Zone 2Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile (excluding Easter Island), Paraguay, Uruguay
EuropeAlbania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovinia, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Yugoslavia
Middle EastBahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates
Indian SubcontinentBangladesh, India, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
AfricaAlgeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Melilla, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Reunion, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Asia Zone 1Japan, Korea, Mongolia
Asia Zone 2Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam
South PacificAustralia, Easter Island, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Tonga, Republic of Vanuatu, American Samoa and Samoa

So if you’re wondering how many miles it will cost you to travel between Nashville and Shanghai, just look at the chart for flights between the US and China.

We get a surprising number of questions about this, but your domestic and short-haul flights are including in the mileage cost of a zone-based award (pending availability, of course).

There is one huge exception with AAdvantage though:

American generally doesn’t allow you to transit via a third region

This is honestly the most maddening and, in my opinion, stupid rule out there.

American already has rules about Maximum Permitted Mileage on award tickets, and AAdvantage requires the “significant” carrier in an itinerary to publish a fare in order for a routing to be valid.

The “no third region” rule grinds my gears because it seems to mainly be based on old relationships, and doesn’t take into account the current route network. So you can’t connect in Asia on the way to Australia, for example, even though every other legacy carrier would allow the routing.


JAL business class

Want to travel between the two oneworld hubs of Santiago and Hong Kong? You literally can’t on a single award.

There are, however, a few exceptions to the rule:

Traveling Between:And:Third-Region Connection Allowed In:
North AmericaCentral America or
South America Zone 1
North AmericaSouth America Zone 2
North AmericaEurope
North AmericaMiddle EastEurope
North AmericaIndian Sub Continent Europe
Hong Kong*
Middle East
North AmericaAfricaEurope
Doha*
North AmericaAsia Zone 1
North AmericaAsia Zone 2Asia Zone 1
North AmericaSouth Pacific
Central America or
South America Zone 1
South America Zone 2
Central America or
South America Zone 1
Europe
Central America or
South America Zone 1
Indian Sub Continent /
Middle East
Europe
Central America or
South America Zone 1
AfricaEurope
Central America or
South America Zone 1
Asia Zone 1
Central America or
South America Zone 1
Asia Zone 2
Central America or
South America Zone 1
South PacificSouth America Zone 2
South America Zone 2Europe
South America Zone 2Indian Sub Continent /
Middle East
Europe
South America Zone 2AfricaEurope
Doha*
South America Zone 2Asia Zone 1
South America Zone 2Asia Zone 2
South America Zone 2South Pacific
EuropeIndian Sub Continent /
Middle East
EuropeAfrica
EuropeAsia Zone 1Asia Zone 2
Doha*
EuropeAsia Zone 2Doha*
EuropeSouth PacificAsia Zone 1
Asia Zone 2
Doha*
Indian Sub Continent /
Middle East
Asia Zone 1Asia Zone 2
Indian Sub Continent /
Middle East
Asia Zone 2
Indian Sub Continent /
Middle East
South PacificAsia Zone 2
AfricaAsia Zone 1Asia Zone 2
Doha*
AfricaAsia Zone 2Doha*
AfricaSouth Pacific
Asia Zone 1Asia Zone 2
Asia Zone 1South PacificAsia Zone 2
Asia Zone 2South Pacific

The “Doha” exception is specifically for flights on Qatar Airways, and you must both arrive and depart Doha on Qatar to take advantage of this rule.


Qatar Airways first class lounge, Doha

Similarly, the “Hong Kong” exception is specifically for flights on Cathay Pacific, and you must both arrive and depart Hong Kong.

It’s also worth noting you can’t double dip — a routing from the US to Europe to Doha to South Africa won’t price as a single award.

Stopovers, open-jaws, and one-ways

American no longer allows stopovers on award tickets. Period.

You can have connections of less than 24 hours on international itineraries, but that’s it.

However, you can have open-jaws to your heart’s content, given AAdvantage prices all awards as a series of one-ways.

Holding AAdvantage award tickets

American will allow you to hold award tickets for five days, which is incredibly helpful if you’re transferring in points from SPG.

The exception (with AAdvantage there’s always an exception), is for travel involving Malaysia Airlines. American still has a manual ticketing process that can result in awards not being issued for up to 24 hours after you’ve provided payment. This doesn’t play nicely with the ticketing deadlines Malaysia imposes on their award inventory, so it’s not uncommon for Malaysia flights to fall out of the record, even when you think you’ve ticketed your award.

Many AAdvantage agents are aware of this, and won’t hold flights on these carriers for more than 24 hours. Until about a week ago this situation also applied to tickets on Iberia, but longer holds seem to be working on Iberia at the moment.

The good news is that both Malaysia and Iberia consistently return seats to award inventory, and if for some reason the flights are pulled after ticketing but prior to final issuance, it’s a pretty easy fix.

Changing AAdvantage awards

American doesn’t charge any fees to change award tickets as long as the origin and destination and award type remains the same. You can change the routing, dates, times, airlines, and so forth.

If you do change the origin, destination, or award type (like switching from an AAnytime award to a SAAver award, downgrading, etc.), the change fee is $150.

It’s also worth noting that changing the combination of carriers can equate to a change in award type. This isn’t really published, so you’d think that the award types just consist of “AAnytime” and “SAAver,” but the SAAver awards are broken down a bit more beyond that:

  • American only
  • American + oneworld
  • American + non-oneworld partner
  • oneworld only
  • non-oneworld partner only
  • oneworld + non-oneworld partner
  • American + oneworld + non-oneworld partner

So if you have an award from say, Phoenix to Hong Kong, there are several possible combinations (depending on availability). As an example:

Phoenix to San Diego (American) to Tokyo (JAL) to Hong Kong (JAL)

is a different type of award than:

Phoenix to Dallas (American) to Hong Kong (American)

But you could change the first award to this with no penalty:

Phoenix to Los Angeles (American) to Hong Kong (Cathay Pacific)

Clear as mud, right?

For Asia it’s relatively straightforward, as there are only so many options, but this becomes more relevant for awards to Africa and the Middle East where there’s more potential to mix partners.

Canceling American awards

In order to redeposit an AAdvantage award ticket, American charges $150 for the first passenger, and $25 for each additional passenger on the same record locator.

In other words, if you need to redeposit an award ticket and have three people on the same record locator, you’d pay a total of $200 in cancellation fees, which is comparatively reasonable.

The policy for making a change from one award type to another is that you must reinstate the award ticket, which will cost $150 (though this generally isn’t charged if you’re upgrading the class of service).

Getting more American miles

Outside of flying, which is honestly probably the worst way to accumulate AA miles nowadays, there are several other ways to rack up miles on American.

You can also technically transfer points between accounts, but it’s not a good value, so I don’t really recommend it unless you’re in a pinch and just need a few thousand for a certain redemption.

Bottom line

Despite the quirks, American miles are still incredibly valuable.

And once you understand the general rules and guidelines you’ll find many more opportunities to use your miles.

How have you used your AAdvantage miles? Any favorite redemptions?

Comments

  1. Thanks, I found out something new. Please write a detailed article on how to use How To Use Delta Miles. Also want to read.

  2. If you are looking for Qantas space you pretty much need to search the Qantas site. For some reason aa.com seems to show about 5% of the true availability, so search Qantas and then call AA to book.

  3. Some mistakes here.

    1) you cannot use AA miles for travel on West Jet

    2) you cannot use AA miles for travel on HA to/from mainland US

    3)You can search for Fiji award space on Alaska site
    4) you can search for Jet space on Delta site

  4. Thanks! Love this detailed explanation and outlining the quirks.

    One thing I’m curious is for places like the NYC area, does changing the destination from say JFK to LGA or EWR count as changing the origin/destination? Or are all 3 airports treated as “NYC” and interchangeable as far as avoiding change fees is concerned?

  5. @ echino @ High end hobo — In re: WestJet, I didn’t think so either, but saw it when I was double-checking things on AA.com last night. I had assumed I was missing something, but I am leaning back towards my first inclination now. Thanks 🙂

    As far as FJ goes, AA has access to more space than Alaska does, so you don’t want to rely on that.

  6. For my RTW17 trip I used AA miles for Etihad Apartment SYD-AUH. Took 100,000 but w AA cc get 10,000 back. Couldn’t find availability for AUH-IAD on AA, so transferred into Etihad guest program and booked direct with Etihad (123,000 miles ). But on a Dreamliner-9 with enclosed suites First half of trip on Korean JFK-ICN-SYD. A 747-8i & 380. For 1st class just 120,000 miles this is a deal! ✈️

  7. To Lucky’s point about expensive Aanytime award tickets, just today I tried to book a one way from Cancun to Philadelphia on Jan 1 using AA miles. Now I will grant you that Jan 1 is a very busy travel day, but a minimum of 80,000 miles for a coach one way. Really American ????

  8. Well, for AA awards, I use Award Nexus and I usually search the BA method on Award Nexus. It is a paid site that searches specified airline sites. It charges for searches. When I find availability on BA I call American to book.

    So, for example, I have a First Class ticket on Sunday, 9-10-17, But I want to fly earlier. I want fly to First Class or Business from 9-5-17 to 9-8-17 (4 days) BKK-NYC. I set an email search, it searches BA every day and sends me an email every morning. Right now there is availability, but I have not made the change yet.

    Suppose I do a search BKK-JFK (on BA) and don’t find anything. I to on Award Nexis and search BKK-SAN, BKK-LAX, BKK-SFO, BKK-Ord, and BKK-BOS. It that does not show anything then I do a daily email search. Eventually, I find something. Once I have booked, I have a trip. I try to add on a connector. Also, I then start searching direct BKK-NYC.

    This has several advantages over searching BA directly, like I sometimes do. (1) Saves hours every week I am doing a search. (2) In my experience, when I do too many searches on BA, the website gets sticky (maybe it is my imagination). Award Nexis has some sort of better access, so that is not a problem.

    Anyway, that is how I do it. Just though I would let everyone in on it. For the record, I am a customer of the site, and nothing more. Except as a customer, I so have not any relationship with Award Nexus.

  9. Thank you so much for this – it is quite helpful. However, I have two questions regarding award tickets that combine AA and other oneworld partners.

    First, does the flight routing need to be a ticketed route for the oneworld carrier? (For instance, let’s say I was trying to use my miles to book a J ticket from BUF to HKG. So long as AA has sAAver award space from BUF to ORD and CX has space from ORD, does it not matter that there is no CX service from Buffalo? [what I mean, is that one cannot use the CX website to search a flight from Buffalo to HKG – so I wasn’t sure if it needs to be a “ticketable” route to be possible?]

    Second, provided sAAver ability is there, is the MPM the only/main limitation on domestic AA flights to one’s international gateway. (Using an example again, let’s say I was flying DEL-AUH-JFK on EY and found space on AA from JFK – DCA – BUF. Could this be all on one award ticket from the Indian subcontinent to the US?)

    Thanks!

  10. @ ktide — An airline can “publish a fare” without necessarily offering that origin/destination city on their website. You can check published fares on ExpertFlyer, but neither of the examples you gave would be a problem.

  11. Tiffany, I’m pretty sure all available HA space shows up on AA.com (interisland flights, Asia, S. Pacific).

  12. @ brteacher — I’ve seen both false positives and false negatives show up on aa.com when it comes to Hawaiian, so I don’t really trust it. In theory it does display online though, yes.

  13. @ Matt — In theory: airberlin, Alaska, British Airways, Finnair, Hawaiian, Iberia*, Royal Jordanian, and Qantas. In practice, many of those show phantom space, or don’t display space that is available. I only rely on aa.com for flights on American, Alaska, or British Airways.

  14. Before chart adjustments, in Dec 15 I used AA mikes for F class BOS to BKK via HKG. BOS to HKG, 16.5 hours direct. On return, had 23.5 hour layover in HKG, so got to maximize a one day visit. Gave me chance to visit both Wing during 3.5 hour layover to BKK and Pier n return flight. Total cost $110 in taxes. Amazing.

  15. We were planning to print our AAdvantage miles and use them for kindling over the Winter.

    These *may* offer a little more value so thanks for the post.

  16. Cathay business HKG-LAX for 130k for 2 people (10% back due to Aviator card). Partner redemptions are the way to go!

  17. A little nugget on miles re-instatement fees when canceling an award ticket. i called AA to cancel a DFW-LAX-HKG-DFW award itinerary. I was fully prepared to pay the $150 to re-instate the miles to my account. The agent told me that AA had modified my itinerary. I was unaware of this change. My outbound from DFW was changed from a 1:00 pm departure to a 9:00 pm departure (still plenty of time to meet the 11:45 pm LAX-HKG segment departure). Since the change in departure time was more than 90 minutes and was initiated by AA, they waived the $150 change fee. Disappointed to cancel the trip, but fee waiver took a lot of the sting out of the transaction.

  18. I can no longer make an AAdvantage reservation from SFO to Curitiba (CWB) Brasil. I am told that now that TAM has been absorbed by LATAM that TAM no longer gives mile award seats. If I book a pay flight there is no problem. The connecting flight from Sao Paolo has an American flight number and is operated by TAM.
    Purchasing a separate ticket from GRU to CWB starts a new itinerary and I am limited to one bag of 50lbs. So I would have to pay an exorbitant charge for my two overweight (70 lbs for Brasil) bags.
    What is happening? Is there a solution? Are all my AA miles useless now?

  19. actually on the phone with an aa rep and manager now…says the doha rule is no longer…asking 70K PHL–>DOH and then another 40K DOH–>BKK in business…told them to go to hell…aa has seriously gone to complete sh*t

  20. My absolute all-time favourite was, barely a few months prior to their prior devaluation, booking a JFK-LAX-SYD-MEL. F with AA on their transcon A321T in 1A, F with QF on their A380 in 1A, followed by the short J on QF to my home port in MEL. All up? 72,500 Advantage miles! *sigh*

  21. You obviously have not flown through London much, perhaps because you rank higher than I do (gold level–lifetime million miler). Even just TRANSITING THROUGH HEATHROW you have to pay HUNDREDS of dollars in taxes! I have made it 90% of the way thru the redemption of business class ticket awards to a European city and been stopped in my tracks by a $1500–$2000 fee charge.
    Doug Parker and his gang use the insane British transit taxes to discourage booking AA awards to Europe, at least from Atlanta, by sending every passenger award flier through London.

  22. I tried to change my current booking of KUL-HKG-SFO-PDX on a J ticket in CX, to an Etihad business class availability of KUL-AUH-LAX-PDX , and the Australian agent (which you forgot to mention about the Etihad quirk) told me I’d have to cancel the ticket first ($150+ additional pax…there are 4 of us) and then rebook the new flight. HOWEVER, they sent me an email recently there was a change in the times…..the departing flight on CX out of HKG is now 6:45PM instead of 5:55PM…..so can I cancel and book the Etihad flight without incurring the fees?

  23. @ Evan M Torch — I fly through London all the time, but I think I understand the confusion here. There aren’t any extra fees for transiting London — the airport taxes are equivalent to other European airports.

    The fees come into play if you’re flying British Airways, as they levy hefty “fuel surcharges” on award tickets — even when they’re ticketed by other carriers.

    The UK also has pricey departure taxes, but those only apply if you’re originating in the UK, not if you’re just connecting.

  24. @ The Value Traveler — You can certainly call again and see if you can cancel with no penalty given the time change (though as it’s less than an hour I don’t know if they will), but the info the agent gave you was correct.

    You were changing from an AA + oneworld award from Asia 2, to two new awards — one from Asia 2 to the Middle East on a non-oneworld partner, and one from the Middle East to North America on a non-oneworld partner + AA.

  25. Tiffany
    Yes. TAM has been difficult in the past but now they have completey stopped even though they are OneWorld partners. Is this a breach of contract with AA? Is there a work around? Otherwise AAMiles are only good to Rio and Paolo.

  26. TVT: looks like from above, the change in time has to be 90mins or more before you’d get the waiver

  27. @Hank
    Tam/JJ still is avaiable, but the brazillian market is quite big and the Multiplus currency (like Aeroplan to Canada or Asiamiles to HK) is easy to acquire for a regular non average brazilian flyer. What this means is that JJ is still the major and easy choice (albeit not always the cheap) for many brazilians who does not know anything about miles and other airlines companies.
    I recently redeemed the following award with AA : FRA-MAD with LA, MAD-BOG with IB and BOG-GRU with JJ.
    The avaiability is quite sarce, but it exists. And JJ provide just some of the awards for the other OW alliance.
    There will be changes, I think, when both Latam Pass (Lan) and Latam Fidelidade (Tam) merge in the future, but I doubt it will be good for the passenger.

  28. George,
    Thanks for the reply. I tried again today to get a connecting flight from GRU to CWB (Curitiba) on TAM (JJ) by calling LATAM in the US directly. They were unable to find any connecting miles award flights for me with JJ (the still semi-independent operator in Brasil).
    LATAM and TAM are still in the OneWorld system and the person on the phone didn’t understand why she couldn’t get a flight.

  29. thanks for such a timely article, i am trying to use all my AA pt this winter but was told by someone who ‘claimed to know all about FF Pt” that AA was not a good source for flights to Asia…..
    just not sure i can skillfully find the best fares.

  30. @hank

    You’re welcome. 🙂
    Lan is really making a shitty merger with Tam, which is very sad.
    If you go to http://www.pontosmultiplus.com.br and input the data you are looking for, you will see that there is award availability for pretty much all the flights and dates. And right now they are running a weekend special where a lot of flights cost around 3.500 points – PROMO fare (which is very cheap).

  31. Hi,

    How can one access the reward flights availability on other airlines information on the BA site if one is not a member of the BA FF program?

    It seems that the first thing you are asked is to log-in. I know I could register with BA but it is not enough. Apparently the info is only displayed if you have enough Avios for the trip you are considering. I have no Avios, just AA redeemable miles.

    Thank you.

  32. On several occasions American’s agents wouldn’t see availability on Iberia when Iberia’s own website show plenty of it. Is this possible or agents were not experienced enough?

  33. Any tips on qf?

    I found U availability on EF but doesn’t show on AA and Fiji call centre couldn’t see it either

  34. @ Gregory Vaysman — Iberia makes more space available to members of their own program. I’d check the British Airways tool or Expert Flyer to get the best sense of partner award space.

  35. Hi Tiffany,

    Thanks for the explanation. It’s all fairly confusing for someone like myself who has never booked using miles before…. If I understand what you wrote correctly, it might make more sense for me to fly to mainland Europe rather than London in order to not incur the BA fuel surcharge when using AA miles. Since my husband and I dont really care where we fly in and out of (just need to be in England mid June 2018 for a wedding), it seems like it would be much cheaper to fly to Spain or France or Italy from California……

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *