American Airlines is one of the oldest US based carriers, starting operations in the 1930s. Following its merger with US Airways in 2015, it is now the largest carrier globally (by both revenue and passenger numbers). This alone though does not guarantee a good loyalty program! It’s mileage program, known as AAdvantage is, however, one of the best around. There is good value in mileage, especially when earning and redeeming with partner airlines. And status brings strong benefits across the Oneworld alliance.
AAdvantage has changed significantly in recent years. Most notably it has switched to a revenue based mileage and status earning system. Whilst this has hurt some flyers (most notably those using lower priced tickets with American), similar changes have been made with all US legacy carriers. It is now the new norm – and there is still good value there – you just need to understand the system!
The AAdvantage Program
As with all airlines, signing up for an AAdvantage account is free. The introductory basic membership offers few real benefits though, just the ability to start earning miles and status!
Earning status with American Airlines
The AAdvantage program offers five increasing membership levels – Basic, Gold, Platinum, Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum. A member’s status is determined based on their flying and spend with American and partners over the course of a calendar year. This is measured in three ways:
- Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM)
- Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS)
- Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD)
These terms are not as complicated as they sound, and understanding them is key to getting started in the AAdvantage program!
- Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM) are based on the actual miles you fly each year, with American Airlines and all partners. A multiplier is applied to the base miles flown depending on the fare class booked. Economy flights with American earn 0.5 or 1 or EQM per mile flown, premium economy earns 1.5 and first or business class earn 2 or 3. Rates differ for each partner airline, and can be checked in detail on the AAdvantage website. Note that some partners do not award EQM (or others) for certain booking classes – this is clearly shown in the tables.
- Elite Qualifying Segments (EQS) are simply the number of flight segments flown that qualify to earn miles. These are based on each flight, so one ticket with a transfer between two flights would earn 2 EQS.
- Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD) are based on actual dollar spend on tickets. For American flights this is simply the ticket price (fare and carrier charges but not government taxes and fees). For partner flights (and some other “special fares” where AA cannot access the base fare) EQD is calculated based on the distance flown and the booking class. Again, full table for all partners are on the AAdvantage website.
Status is awarded based on a combination of achievements in all three of these over a calendar year. For each level you can either qualify based on total EQD and total EQM, or you can qualify on total EQD and total EQS. The table below shows these amounts.
You don’t just earn status for the fun of it! Each level brings additional benefits when flying with American and with Oneworld partners.
Gold level status offers the following benefits:
- A mileage bonus of 40% (on flights with American and a number of Oneworld partners)
- Free upgrades on American flights up to 500 miles
- Upgrades confirmed 24 hours prior to departure
- Preferred seats free, 50% reduction for Main Cabin Extra seating
- 1 free checked bag
Platinum improves this offering:
- A mileage bonus of 60%
- Upgrades confirmed 48 hours prior to departure
- Preferred and Main Cabin Extra seats free
- 2 free checked bags
Platinum Pro adds the following:
- A mileage bonus of 80%
- Free upgrades on all domestic American flights
- Upgrades confirmed 72 hours prior to departure
Top level Executive Platinum status adds:
- A mileage bonus of 120%
- Free upgrades on all domestic American flights, including award tickets
- 4 systemwide upgrades per year, with the ability to earn 6 more for continued earning. These can each be used to upgrade a one way international flight by one cabin.
- Upgrades confirmed 100 hours prior to departure
- 3 free checked bags
AAdvantage does in fact have one elite level above this – the elusive Concierge Key status. This is not a formally published status program, and instead is offered by invite only to frequent high earners / spenders.
Upgrades with American Airlines
One of the main benefits of elite status for US frequent fliers are complimentary upgrades to the next cabin. As shown above, these are complimentary on flights up to 500 miles for Gold and Platinum members, and on all flights for Platinum Pro and Executive Platinum.
In addition, Gold and Platinum member earn 500 mile upgrade coupons. These are awarded at a rate of 4 x 500 mile upgrades for every 12,500 EQMs earned. To upgrade a flight one 500 mile coupon is needed for each 500 miles flown.
These upgrades apply to all flights within the US and to / from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. Of course, upgrades are subject to availability, and are prioritized for higher level members. In general, availability is often good on off peak leisure routes, but Gold and Platinum member stand a low chance of receiving upgrades for peak time business routes.
Only Executive Platinum members can upgrade for free on international flights. Four one way upgrades are awarded each year, with two more upon reaching 150k, 200k and 250k EQMs (alternatively 40,000 bonus miles can be taken at each milestone). Depending on availability upgrades may be possible at time of purchase, or can clear at any point up to departure. Availability can be checked online by Executive Platinum members. Each upgrade is for a one way route, but up to three sectors on the same ticket.
Oneworld status benefits
Of the strong points of American Airlines and AAdvantage is its membership in the Oneworld Alliance. Status members with any one airline receive benefits across all members.
Oneworld member airlines include :
- British Airways
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
- LATAM Airlines Brazil (formerly TAM)
- LATAM Airlines Chile (formerly LAN)
- Malaysia Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Jordanian Airlines
- S7 Airlines
- SriLankan Airlines
AAdvantage Gold status is equivalent to Oneworld Ruby status and offers the following benefits:
- Access to Business Class check-in desks
- Some access to preferred seating (varies by airline)
- Priority wait-list and standby
AAdvantage Platinum and Platinum Pro are equivalent to Oneworld Sapphire status, offering in addition:
- Business class lounge access (except on domestic US itineraries)
- Priority boarding
- Priority luggage handling
- Additional baggage allowance
And AAdvantage Executive Platinum is equivalent to Oneworld Emerald status, offering:
- First class lounge access (again excluding US itineraries)
- Use of first class check-in desks
- Fast track security lane access
- Enhanced seat access with many airlines (including exit rows)
American Airlines offer a very good lifetime status benefit known as “Million Miler Program.” This works as follows:
- At 1 million miles: member receives AAdvantage Gold status (for the life of the program). In addition, there is a bonus of 35,000 miles.
- At 2 million miles: member receives AAdvantage Platinum status (for the life of the program). Four systemwide upgrades are also awarded.
- At each additional 1 million miles: 4 systemwide upgrades are awarded.
Earning AAdvantage miles
There are plenty of ways to earn AAdvantage miles. As a member of the Oneworld alliance, miles can be earned on flights across the world. And in addition, American has built up a strong presence and earning opportunities in many other areas over its long history.
In summary, there are four main ways to earn miles in the AAdvantage program. For more details on these earning areas and ideas for many more – see our full guide to the best ways to earn AAdvantage miles.
1. Earning on flights with American Airlines
Miles earned on American flights depend on the price of the ticket (fare and carrier-imposed fees in USD) and status with American miles. Another advantage of elite status, is higher status earn more miles for their dollar!
- AAdvantage basic member – 5 miles per USD
- Gold member – 7 miles/ per USD (40% bonus)
- Platinum member – 8 miles per USD (60% bonus)
- Platinum Pro member – 9 miles per USD (80% bonus)
- Executive Platinum member – 11 miles per USD (120% bonus)
2. Earning on partner airline flights
Mileage earning on partner flights is not based on amount spent (in any case this information would not be able to American Airlines). It is based on the cabin and inventory / booking class of the ticket.
AAdvantage publish comprehensive tables for each partner airline on their website. This differ for each airline, but in general offer 25% or 50% of miles flown for lower priced economy tickets and 100% and above for full price economy and premium cabins. Long term members will note that these rates have lowered over the past few years (it used to be common to earn at least 100% miles for all tickets, including discount economy). This change is not unique to American Airlines and represents a shift in the whole industry to better reward higher spending.
Remember that in addition to this, elite status members receive a status bonus of 40% to 120% with many Oneworld airlines.
3. Earning miles from credit cards
American Airlines has credit card partnerships with a number of providers in several different countries. This is a great way to pick up plenty of miles on everyday spending.
In the United States, the main card is the Citi / AAdvantage Airlines Miles Credit Card. This awards 2 miles per dollar on certain spend (including with American Airlines and at gas stations) and 1 mile per dollar on all other spend. There is also a generous sign up bonus (usually for a certain spend target within the first three months). There are several options for card types, best checked on the AAdvantage website.
There are AAdvantage mileage cards in a number of markets across the Americas and in Asia. For more details, see our guide to the best ways to earn AAdvantage miles.
4. Other “non-flying” earning options
American has many industry partnerships in place to earn miles from other activities. Some of the main ones include:
- The AAdvantage eShopping mall. Miles can be earned for online spend at over 950 retailers.
- AAdvantage Dining Program. Miles are earned for dining spend at over 11,000 participating US restaurants.
- Hotel Stays. Partnerships are in place to earn miles with stays at many hotel brands – including Marriott / SPG, IHG Hotels, Hyatt Hotels, Wyndham and Best Western. Miles are either earned per dollar spent, or at a fixed rate per stay.
At some other brands (including Hilton) it is possible to transfer earned hotel points into AAdvantage miles, although this generally is less value than using within the hotel scheme.
- Car hire. American has partnerships to earn miles with rentals at most major companies, including Avis, Budget, Hertz, Payless, Alamo, National, Dollar, Thrifty, Europcar and Sixt. Miles are generally awarded per rental (and Avis offer higher rates for higher level AA members), though a few credit per day or per dollar spent.
Miles do not expire as long as there is activity in the AAdvantage account every 18 months. Any earning or redeeming activity (including earning from credit cards) counts and will extend mileage validity for another 18 months.
Spending AAdvantage miles
Again, with its long history and development AAdvantage has plenty of reliable and good value ways to redeem miles. As with most programs, best value is usually achieved when flying, but there are other options.
Flights with American Airlines
There are 2 types of award offered on American flights – MileSAAver awards and AAnytime awards.
- MileSAAver awards have very restricted availability, and pricing starts from 7,500 per one way trip. These are great value when they are available, but all too frequently you won’t find them on popular routes and closer to departure. On longer routes also operate variable peak and off peak pricing.
- AAnytime awards offer much greater availability, but at a significantly higher price. That lowest priced 7,500 MileSAAver award would be up to 40,000.
Flights with partners
With the full range of Oneworld partners to choose from, there are great options for putting together an international award. In addition, American adds a number of other airlines where miles can be used – including Etihad, Fiji Airways, Air Tahiti Nui, Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines. This is a very useful addition! (Full details are on the AAdvantage website)
Awards are priced by region, with any partner route between regions priced the same. Full tables are best viewed on the American website. For example a ticket from North America to Asia could include a domestic American flight connecting to a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong and a further regional Asian flight.
There are some routing rules to be aware of, but in general AAdvantage is very flexible to let you put together a route that works – either based on availability or your preference of flights / connection locations.
- Routing must be continuous direction, no backtracking (e.g. you can’t fly Hong Kong to New York to Los Angeles)
- Total distance must be with a limit of the point to point distance
- 4 segments in total can be included per each way award (this is a new rule from 2018)
- No stopover allowed, only connections of less than 24 hours. This is the same as all other main US carries (Alaska Airlines is the only exception).
American has several fees to be aware of when issuing airline awards.
- A telephone ticketing fee of $30. This does not apply when booking partners where online booking is not possible.
- A fee of $75 when ticketing within 21 days of departure. This is waived for all elite members (Gold and above) and is a great bonus of status!
- A cancellation / change fee of $150 (pure date, no routing, changes are free). This is waived only for Executive Platinum members.
- And of course, all tickets will add taxes and surcharges. In general, AA charges surcharges for its own long haul and for BA flights, but with most other partners will only add taxes. This changes often (as with all airlines!) and is best changed when tickets are quoted.
Using miles for upgrades
Using miles for premium cabins is another great value option.
On American Airlines flights, upgrades are for one cabin and are generally possible on all but the very lowest economy fares. If upgrading from a discount fare (i.e. not full fare Y, W, J, D or R class fares) then a higher amount of miles and a cash co-payment are needed.
Upgrading is also possible with British Airways and Iberia airlines. This is more restrictive though and only possible from full fare (Y, B, W, C, J, D or R class fares). For full details of upgrade options see our guide to redeeming AA miles.
Other non-flying redemption options
American, like other US airlines, does not offer lounge access to its members when traveling in the United States. Instead it sells membership to its Admirals Clubs, but this can also be purchased with miles. Pricing is based on AAdvantage status – ranging from 50,000 to 85,000 miles per year for one person.
Away from American Airlines, there are plenty of other options to use miles! Miles can be redeemed for hotels and car rental throughout the world. AAdvantage has its own booking portal for this. Pricing can be in miles or a combination of miles and cash. In general, this is not as good value as redeeming for flights, but it can work for some. It is also possible to buy gift cards, AA holiday package and magazine or newspaper subscriptions with miles. Or gift them to a friend or worthwhile charity.
American Airlines AAdvantage program is a highly recommended scheme for any regular flyer with Oneworld airlines. For the domestic American flyer earnings can be low as they are related to ticket price. Status benefits though of generous upgrades (domestic and international) and increased baggage make it worthwhile for the heavy user who can reach Executive Platinum.
Things get much better for the international (or non-US based) flyer! As with other US airlines schemes, more value is obtained when flying and redeeming with partner airlines. Long haul and premium cabin earnings are very attractive and the bonuses offered on many airlines for higher tier members are excellent (other Oneworld airlines do not offer this). Likewise redemption options are good, clearly priced by region and allow multiple sectors. Oneworld global connectivity is excellent and many frequent fliers rely on AAdvantage as their main airline program.
A final summary of the some of the pros and cons of AAdvantage
- Status that is much easier to earn when flying with Oneworld partner airlines (especially in premium cabins)
- Strong benefits, including additional luggage and lounge access, guaranteed with all partners
- Elite status mileage bonuses apply to many Oneworld partners, not just American.
- Good value redemption, especially internationally / long haul and with partners
- Ability to upgrade with miles on American plus British Airways and Iberia
- Strong set of partners for earning and redeeming miles. American adds more to the already excellent Oneworld members
- No free lounge access in US on domestic itineraries. This contrasts with excellent international lounge options with all partners. This is unfortunate, but it is common for US airlines to charge for this regardless of status
- Status is hard to achieve for the economy AA flyer
- Good value MileSAAver availability with AA can be hard to find