How to earn, redeem, and maximize American Airlines AAdvantage miles — even if you don't fly the airline

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  • AAdvantage is the frequent flyer program of American Airlines and it’s easy to earn and use miles.
  • You can earn AA miles from flying on the airline or its partners, or with co-branded credit cards.
  • Using American Airlines miles for flights on AA and partners typically gets you the most value.
  • Read Business Insider’s guide to the best airline credit cards.

Though there are dozens of airline frequent flyer programs around today, American Airlines AAdvantage is actually the oldest existing one, and was originally launched in 1981. By some estimates, it currently counts over 100 million members, which should be no surprise given American Airlines remains one of the world’s largest carriers.

Through the oneworld alliance and other agreements, American partners with over 30 different airlines, so AAdvantage members can earn and redeem their miles flying practically anywhere around the globe. The airline also has two credit card issuers, Citi and Barclays, with plenty of co-branded cards that can help you rack up extra miles on everyday spending while also enjoying elite-like perks such as priority boarding and free checked bags.

With so much potential for travel and other rewards, there’s no reason not to take advantage of AAdvantage. Here’s everything you need to know about earning, redeeming, and maximizing American Airlines miles.

How to earn American Airlines miles

There are myriad means of earning American Airlines AAdvantage miles. From the obvious, such as flying American and its partners, to the more arcane, like making purchases through its online shopping portal, opportunities abound. Here are all the ways you can earn American miles fast, and some strategies that boost your earning even further.

Earn miles with Barclays and Citi AAdvantage credit cards

The easiest and quickest way to rack up AA miles is by using an American Airlines AAdvantage credit card. The airline is unique in that it partners with not one, but two credit card issuers: Citi and Barclays. That means even more chances to earn bonus miles through sign-up offers and your day-to-day spending.

We’re focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won’t be worth it if you’re paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it’s important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.

Here are the best credit cards for American Airlines flyers.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

Citi Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

It earns 2x miles on eligible American Airlines purchases like airfare and vacation packages, and at restaurants and gas stations. As for day-of-travel perks, cardholders can enjoy preferred boarding (Group 5), a free checked bag for themselves and up to four companions on American Airlines domestic itineraries, and 25% back on inflight food and beverage purchases.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

Citi Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

What’s more, cardholders can bring immediate family or up to two guests with same-day American Airlines or partner boarding passes into the lounge for free, and even authorized users get this benefit. The card will also provide statement credits of up to $100 once every five years for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee.

Cardholders enjoy a free checked bag for themselves and up to eight companions on domestic AA itineraries, priority boarding (Group 4), and a 25% discount on inflight purchases. Those who spend $40,000 or more on purchases with the card in a calendar year earn 10,000 elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) toward status with American.

This card’s current introductory offer is 50,000 American Airlines miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. It earns 2x miles on American Airlines purchases, and 1x on everything else.

American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

Citi American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card

While not as lucrative as some of the other available American Airlines credit cards, at least the American Airlines AAdvantage MileUp℠ Card doesn’t charge an annual fee. It is currently offering 10,000 American Airlines AAdvantage bonus miles and a $50 statement credit after spending $500 on purchases within the first three months of account opening.

The card earns 2x on American Airlines purchases and at grocery stores, and 1x on everything else. It also confers 25% savings on in-flight food and beverage purchases.

CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®

CitiCitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard®

The card earns 2x miles on American Airlines purchases, at gas stations, on car rentals, and on cable and satellite providers, as well as on select telecommunications merchants. Cardholders and up to four travel companions get a first checked bag for free on domestic American Airlines itineraries and preferred (Group 5) boarding.

TheCitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Mastercard® offers 25% savings on American Airlines inflight Wi-Fi purchases as well as on food and beverage. If you spend $30,000 or more on purchases in a cardmember year, you can also earn an American Airlines companion certificate good for one round-trip domestic economy itinerary.

AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite Mastercard

Don’t forget about Barclays’ slate of AAdvantage cards, including this excellent entrant. The AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® offers 50,000 AAdvantage bonus miles after making your first purchase and paying the $99 annual fee in full, both within the first 90 days.

It earns 2x miles on American Airlines purchases and 1x on everything else. Cardholders get up to $25 back in statement credits on inflight Wi-Fi, and 25% savings as statement credits on inflight food and beverages when using their card to pay. Each anniversary year you spend $20,000 on purchases, you receive a companion certificate good for one guest at $99 plus taxes and fees for a domestic economy trip. Cardholders also get preferred boarding and a first checked bag free for themselves and up to four companions on American Airlines domestic itineraries.

AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard

Though the AAdvantage® Aviator® Silver Mastercard® is not available to new applicants, you can upgrade to it from the Red version. If you’re gunning for elite status, upgrading may be worthwhile since this card earns 5,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after spending $20,000 on purchases within a calendar year, and an additional 5,000 EQMs for hitting $40,000. You can also earn $3,000 Elite Qualifying Dollars (another requirement for elite status) after spending $50,000 on purchases each calendar year. The card accrues 3x miles per dollar on American Airlines purchases, 2x on hotels and car rentals, and 1x on everything else.

The Aviator Silver also confers up to $50 back as statement credits on inflight Wi-Fi purchases every anniversary year on American Airlines-operated flights, and up to $25 back per day as statement credits on AA inflight food and beverage purchases. Each anniversary year you make $20,000 or more in purchases with the card, you can earn a companion certificate good for two guests at $99 each (plus taxes and fees) for domestic economy travel.

Cardholders can also count on a free checked bag for themselves and up to eight companions on domestic American Airlines itineraries, preferred boarding, and up to $100 back for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee once every five years. The annual fee is $195.

AAdvantage Aviator Business

The main reason to sign up for the AAdvantage® Aviator® Business Mastercard® is a whopping bonus of up to 75,000 bonus American Airlines AAdvantage miles – 65,000 after spending $1,000 in the first 90 days of account opening and an additional 10,000 when a purchase is made on an employee card.

It earns 2x miles on American Airlines purchases, at eligible office supply, telecom, and car rental merchants; and 1x on everything else. Cardholders receive a 5% bonus on miles earned with the card every account year as well as a first checked bag free plus preferred boarding for themselves and up to four companions on domestic American Airlines flights.

Earn miles flying American Airlines and boost your earning with elite status

Aside from using co-branded credit cards, one of the best ways to earn American Airlines miles is to actually fly the airline and its partners.

On American Airlines flights, AAdvantage members earn a certain number of award miles per dollar spent on airfare (excluding taxes) based on their elite status. (Note: we’re only talking about redeemable award miles here, not elite-qualifying ones that are earned based on flight distance and ticket fare codes).

  • Non-elite member: 5x miles per dollar
  • AAdvantage Gold: 7x miles per dollar
  • AAdvantage Platinum: 8x miles per dollar
  • AAdvantage Platinum Pro: 9x miles per dollar
  • AAdvantage Executive Platinum: 11x miles per dollar

So the higher your elite tier, the more miles you can rake in.

Earn miles flying American Airlines’ partners

You can also earn American Airlines miles on over a dozen airline partners. Its partner carriers include the following oneworld members and others.

American Airlines oneworld partners:

  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Air Maroc
  • Royal Jordanian Airlines
  • S7 Airlines

American Airlines non-oneworld partners

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines (joining oneworld in March 2021)
  • Cape Air
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Etihad Airways
  • Fiji Airways
  • GOL Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Interjet
  • Seaborne Virgin Islands

The earning rates vary from carrier to carrier, and are usually based on the distance of flights and the fare code of the tickets you purchase. For example, flights on British Airways earn between 25% and 150% of the mileage flown, ranging from discounted economy up to full-fare first-class bookings. Those on Etihad earn between 25% and 400% depending on the ticket you purchase. Before reserving flights with partners, be sure to check the earning rates and take the carriers on whom you can earn the most (when it makes sense).

Buy or transfer American Airlines miles

It’s rarely a good investment to buy or transfer airline miles, even with discounts or bonuses. But if you’re in a pinch and need a few thousand extra for a specific and imminent redemption, you could consider this option.

Purchasing AAdvantage miles costs $35 per 1,000 (with a 2,000-mile minimum) and you can buy up to 150,000 per calendar year — so you’re looking at a cost of 3.5 cents per mile.

Transfers start at 1,000 miles and cost $10 per 1,000. You can transfer up to 200,000 miles from an account per calendar year. That’s just 1 cent per mile, but if you’re transferring a lot of them, you might as well save the fees, and just use miles from your own account to book an award for the person to whom you intended to transfer the miles.

Maximize American Airlines’ shopping, dining, and travel partnerships

You can earn American Airlines miles in a number of other ways including everyday activities like online shopping and dining, as well as with other travel partners.

AAdvantage members can register their frequent flyer account and a credit card with AAdvantage Dining to earn between 3 and 5 miles per dollar at thousands of participating restaurants nationwide. New enrollees can even earn 1,000 bonus miles by spending $25 in their first 30 days.

By making purchases through American Airlines’ online shopping portal, AAdvantage members can rake in multiple bonus points per dollar at participating retailers like Macy’s and Nike, too. While most of these deals tend to be around 1x to 3x bonus miles per dollar spent, in some cases, they can go up to 30x per dollar.

The airline fields a number of rental car partnerships, too, so AAdvantage members enjoy discounts on bookings and can earn bonus miles per day or per reservation. Some partner hotel nights and cruise fares also accrue bonus miles.

Convert hotel points into American Airlines miles

Thanks to American Airlines’ hotel agreements, AAdvantage members can convert certain types of hotel points, including Hilton Honors, World of Hyatt, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott Bonvoy, and Wyndham Rewards points, into AAdvantage miles, too. However, this is usually not a great deal thanks to dismal conversion ratios that typically require five or six hotel points to one airline mile.

The one exception is Marriott Bonvoy points. They convert at a ratio of 3:1 and when you transfer 60,000 to an airline partner, you end up with a 5,000-mile bonus. Put simply, if you transferred 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points to American Airlines, you’d end up with 25,000 miles — 20,000 from the 3:1 conversion plus 5,000 bonus miles on top.

Sign up for American Airlines AAdvantage promotions

You probably already get more emails — subscriptions, newsletters, advertisements, spam — than you know what to do with. However, signing up for American Airlines’ promotional emails could help you stay on top of any bonuses or other deals with which to earn bonus miles.

For instance, AAdvantage recently emailed all members a holiday “gift.” Some of these were lounge passes or upgrades to Main Cabin Extra seating. But other members got bonus miles. Plus, everyone who “unwrapped” their gift was also entered to earn one of six 500,000-mile prizes, so it never hurts to sign up and see what’s offered.

Leverage your World of Hyatt status

Back in 2019, World of Hyatt and American Airlines began a partnership to allow their elite loyalty members both to enjoy reciprocal benefits and earn bonus airline miles and hotel points on flights and stays. By linking your accounts, you can earn 1 bonus AAdvantage mile for every eligible dollar spent on qualifying Hyatt stays and experiences (on top of the Hyatt points you earn), and AAdvantage members with Platinum elite status and higher can accelerate their progress toward World of Hyatt status as well.

The best ways to redeem American Airlines miles

As with earning American Airlines miles, there are plenty of ways to use AAdvantage miles when the time comes. You can cash them in for award flights on American and its partners, redeem them for gift cards, convert them into hotel points, and more. The value of your miles will depend on exactly how you use them, and can vary a lot.

Redeem AAdvantage miles for American Airlines award flights

American Airlines is in the process of overhauling its award charts, which can be quite confusing for flyers. While there is still an overall award chart for American Airlines flights, the reality is that mileage requirements fluctuate from route to route and day to day. 

From cheapest to most expensive, you can redeem your miles for:

  • MileSAAver Off Peak awards to certain regions at specific times of the year, including Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Europe, among others. These tend to be 2,500 to 7,500 miles cheaper each way.
  • MileSAAver awards are generally what we think of as “standard” levels, where flights in the continental US and Canada costing 12,500 miles each way in economy, or 25,000 in business and first class, as an example.
  • AAnytime Level 1 and Level 2 awards can be astronomical. For instance, a one-way business class award on American Airlines to Europe can cost 57,500 miles at the MileSAAver level, but a whopping 135,000 miles at the AAnytime Level 2 tier.

In general, use the award charts as a guide for how much you should be paying, and aim for numbers that are closer to the off-peak or saver levels.

Web specials and reduced mileage awards

There are two special cases where your miles stretch a bit further. American Airlines recently began offering ultra-low Web Special awards starting at a mere 5,000 miles in economy. You can also find discounted business class tickets, including on some international routes. For instance, some business class awards between North America and Europe were discounted from 57,500 miles each way to just 46,000 — not a bad deal!

If you carry a Citi or Barclays AAdvantage card, you might be eligible for special reduced mileage awards, which are available to certain cities that change monthly. Depending on the card you have, these awards can save you up to 7,500 miles round-trip, so it’s always worth checking the list. The one hassle is that you’ve got to call customer service at 800-882-8880 in order to book these.

Redeem AAdvantage miles for partner flights

Of course, it can be fun to redeem your American Airlines miles for flights on excellent partners like Finnair and Japan Airlines, too. American’s partner award chart mileage values are more fixed in these cases since the airline only has access to saver-level award seats on other carriers. The number of miles you’ll need will be based on the specific regions of travel (e.g. North America, Europe, Asia, etc.).

Here’s the range of prices for a one-way award in each cabin class.

  • Economy: 12,500 to 40,000 miles
  • Premium economy: 22,500 to 65,000 miles
  • Business class: 25,000 to 80,000 miles
  • First class: 50,000 to 120,000 miles

With partner awards in general, you’ll get the most value from two specific strategies. Redeem miles for short-haul flights that would otherwise be very expensive — such as quick hops within Australia on Qantas or within Asia on Cathay Pacific — or look to long-haul international flights in business or first class.

Business class on Qatar Airways to the Middle East or Africa for just 70,000 or 75,000 miles each way, respectively, or Cathay Pacific business class from the US to Hong Kong at 70,000 miles are both steals. Avoid British Airways since taxes and fees on its flights, including award tickets, are exorbitant.

Redeem miles for upgrades and more legroom

It’s also possible to redeem AA miles for upgrades on American Airlines and American Eagle flights, although the value of doing so usually isn’t great and requires both miles and a cash co-pay in most cases.

If you’re flying from North America to Hong Kong, Japan, China, Australia, South Korea, or New Zealand, for instance, expect to pay 25,000 miles plus $350 each way to upgrade from discount economy or premium economy to business class, which is pretty steep. Partner upgrades may also be available from certain fare classes on British Airways and Iberia flights.

Finally, you might also be able to upgrade from a regular Main Cabin economy seat to a Main Cabin Extra seat with a few inches more legroom using miles. The cost of doing so will vary based on your specific ticket, fare, and flight.

Other ways to redeem American Airlines miles

There’s an assortment of other options for cashing in those hard-earned AA miles if you so choose. But before you do, be warned that none of them will yield a great value for your miles, so reconsider before clicking redeem.

Admirals Club membership

Rather than paying cash to join the Admirals Club (or getting the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®), you can redeem miles for it. Depending on your elite level and whether you’re just joining or renewing for a subsequent year, a membership costs between $500 and $650. Instead, you could cash in 50,000 to 65,000 miles — a value of 1 cent apiece, which isn’t that great.

Use miles for vacation packages, car rentals, and hotel bookings

Thanks to American Airlines’ travel partnerships, AAdvantage members can also use miles directly for some car rentals and hotel bookings as well as vacation packages. You tend to get less than 1 cent per mile in value via any of these avenues, too.

Newspapers and charitable donations

Among the various other non-travel redemption methods are newspaper subscriptions and charitable donations. As with the other non-flight redemptions on this list, these choices are usually best avoided since you don’t tend to get a lot of bang for your miles, and you generally need to redeem in increments of 1,000 miles.

Bottom line

Thanks to American Airlines’ various banking, airline, and other partnerships, it’s relatively easy to earn AAdvantage miles both traveling and on everyday purchases. Likewise, the airline makes it simple to redeem your miles for everything from nearly-free award flights to gift cards and magazine subscriptions.

As with any rewards-related calculation, though, do your math and make sure you get enough value from the miles you cash in to justify doing so. Otherwise, it might be better to hang onto them a little while longer in the hopes of scoring something better, like an award ticket in first or business class once you start traveling again.

In the meantime, you could consider signing up for an American Airlines co-branded credit card to rack up even more miles for when you’re ready to use them.

Citi Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®Chase Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit CardChase Chase Freedom Unlimited®

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. What you decide to do with your money is up to you. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.

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