Travel expert, Jason Steele, offers tips on how to book a flight with AAdvantage miles and how to maximize your miles.
American Airlines is not just one of the world’s largest carriers – its AAdvantage frequent flyer program is also one of the most popular in the world. Every month, tens of millions of AAdvantage members earn miles from traveling on American Airlines, as well as from AAdvantage’s numerous travel, shopping and credit card partnerships. But, while earning AAdvantage miles can be easy, sometimes it can be a challenge to redeem miles for award flights at the lowest levels.
AAdvantage fees and restrictions
- Hold and waitlist options – Hold a reservation for up to five days if a flight is 14 days away, up to one day if a flight is 1-14 days away and up to two hours for reservations within 24 hours of departure.
- Booking restrictions – No blackout dates or restrictions on AAnytime awards. MileSAAver awards have blackout dates and strict capacity controls.
- Fuel surcharges – No fuel surcharges on American Airlines flights, but fuel surcharges on many partner flights.
- Booking fees – No fee for online bookings. $30-$40 fee if you book travel through a reservation office in the U.S. and $35 fee for phone reservations.
- Ticket changes – Change an award ticket at any time for no fee, as long as origin and destination remain the same. $150 fee for changing origin or destination for MileSAAver awards.
- Cancellation policy – $150 cancellation fee for first award ticket on a reservation. $25 fee for each additional ticket.
- Routing rules – You can’t book an award ticket between two zones that crosses over another zone. Also, stopovers aren’t permitted. However, one-way and open-jaw tickets are permitted.
Searching for American Airlines AAdvantage award flights
The easiest way to search for American Airlines AAdvantage award flights is by visiting AA.com or by using their mobile app. American is part of the oneworld Alliance, which includes 12 other airlines. American Airlines also partners with 11 additional carriers that you can redeem your AAdvantage miles with. (Visit our page on AAdvantage partners for a full list of partners.)
Start at the AA.com homepage
You can start booking AAdvantage award flights at the AA.com homepage by specifying your origin, destination, number of passengers and dates of travel. You can also choose to redeem your miles for a one-way or a round-trip ticket. Be sure to check the box that indicates that you wish to redeem miles, otherwise you’ll be shown fares in dollars.
View the flight schedule
Next, you’ll be shown a “Select Dates” screen that indicates award availability and cost for the week surrounding the date you chose. If you want to see more than just a week’s worth of availability, you can choose to “Show Full Calendar.” Either way, there are two levels of award prices: SAAver and AAnytime. SAAver awards require fewer miles, but have less availability, while AAnytime awards have nearly unlimited availability, but can require many more miles.
Depending on availability, you may also be able to choose between “Economy MileSAAver,” “Economy AAnytime,” “Business/First MileSAAver” and “Business/First AAnytime” awards. If international first class on a three-class aircraft is an option, it will also appear as a MileSAAver and AAnytime option.
Choose your flight
Once you’ve selected an available class of service and a date of travel, you’ll then continue to the “Choose Flights” screen. Here, you can sort the available flight options by number of stops, arrival time, departure time or total travel time. You can also uncheck boxes to remove flights on specific airlines or flights to and from specific airports.
Next, you’ll be asked to confirm the total number of miles as well as any taxes and fees, while listing the passengers and trip contacts. You’ll then be able to select seats on any American Airlines operated flights, with additional charges for preferred seats or those with extra legroom.
Finally, you’ll be asked for payment information to complete the transaction.
How American Airlines AAdvantage awards are priced
As mentioned, there are several pricing tiers to AAdvantage awards. At the lowest level are MileSAAver Off Peak awards, which AAdvantage offers to some destinations during certain times of the year. These awards can be ticketed only with flights operated by American Airlines. For example, the off peak dates for Europe are Jan. 10 through March 14, and Nov. 1 through Dec. 14. In all cases, awards are priced by one-way segments, and there’s no requirement to ticket a round-trip award.
Next up the tier are peak MileSAAver awards. The American Airlines flight award charts includes MileSAAver pricing for economy, business and first class cabins. All available partner awards are at MilesSAAver rates.
Finally, there are the AAnytime awards, which have Level 1 and Level 2 pricing that is much higher than MilesSAAver awards. Similar to MileSAAVer awards, AAdvantage offers AAnytime awards in economy, business and first class.
Miles plus Cash and Pay with Miles options
Unlike some other frequent flyer programs, the American Airlines AAdvantage program doesn’t offer any way to pay for the current price of a ticket directly with miles, or to split the one reservation between miles and cash. However, there is an option to book vacation packages with miles, including flights. Otherwise, you can pay for a one-way ticket and use miles for the other half of a round-trip flight, but you would have to make two separate reservations.
Hold and waitlist options for American AAdvantage award flights
Once you’ve found the AAdvantage award flights that you want, you have the option to hold the reservation for five days without paying to ticket it, so long as the flight is at least 15 days in the future. There is a one-day hold option for flights one to 14 days before departure, and a two-hour hold option for flights within 24 hours of departure.
You must confirm the ticket within that time, or the hold will expire and the seats will be released. This option is available for any award booking with any combination of American Airlines and partner carriers. There is no waitlist option for AAdvantage award flights.
The American Airlines AAdvantage program doesn’t have blackout dates, aside from the fixed dates that MilesSAAver Off Peak awards are not available. However, all MilesSAAver flights have strict capacity controls and are often unavailable for a particular route on many dates.
More recently, the American AAdvantage program has begun using something called married segment logic that can make some non-stop flights unavailable. For example, you might not find a non-stop flight available from Chicago to Los Angeles, but that exact flight might be bookable as part of an award from Boston to Los Angeles, via Chicago. This can be very inconvenient for those based in American Airlines hubs that prefer to use their miles for non-stop flights.
One major plus to booking award seats on American Airlines is that it doesn’t charge a fuel surcharge on its own flights. This can save you a significant amount on overseas flights, since fuel surcharges can amount to hundreds of dollars with other awards programs.
However, you’ll need to look out for surcharges on some of American Airline’s travel partners. Flights operated by British Airways are notorious for having some of the highest fuel surcharges of any award flights.
For example, a business class, one-way flight to London can have a fuel surcharge (labeled as a “Carrier Imposed Fee”) of more than $500 each way. American Airlines also collects fuel surcharges for award flights operated by Iberia, but these charges are much less than those imposed on flights operated by British Airways.
Fees for booking, canceling and changing award reservations
American Airlines doesn’t charge a fee for making an AAdvantage award booking online or through the American Airlines mobile app. Tickets issued through reservations offices in the United States will have a $30 fee for travel within the U.S., and a $40 fee for travel outside of the U.S. If you book an award flight through American’s phone reservations line, then there’s a $35 fee for travel both within and outside of the U.S. (Note, a reservations agent will generally waive the phone booking fee for a flight with an American Airlines partner that can’t be booked online.)
The good news is that you can make changes to an award ticket for no fee, so long as the origin and destination airports are the same. However, there is a charge of $150 when changing the origin and destination airports on a MilesSAAver award. These fees are waived for AAnytime awards.
If you need to cancel your AAdvantage award ticket, then you can have your miles reinstated for a $150 fee per account for the first award ticket and $25 for each additional ticket. This fee will be waived for Executive Platinum members using miles from their account.
American Airlines AAdvantage award routing rules
The American Airlines AAdvantage program has complex and undisclosed routing rules that often prevent you from traveling between two regions via a third region. Sometimes these rules are appropriate, such as not being able to fly to Asia via Europe. Other times, these rules make little sense.
If an agent thinks that you are not flying the most direct route, he or she can split your ticket into two reservations, which will require more miles. This is true even when you are trying to fly the most direct route available. Furthermore, stopovers aren’t permitted on award tickets, so you can’t plan a visit to two different cities on the same booking.
On the plus side, you can book a one-way ticket with your AAdvantage miles. The one-way fare option enables you to book an open-jaw itinerary with different cities for arrival and return – you just need to book each way as a separate, one-way ticket.
Tips for finding the best award seats for the lowest miles
Book a reduced mileage award
American Airlines credit card holders are eligible for reduced mileage awards on certain domestic routes that change each month. The following credit cards offer savings of 7,500 miles on a round-trip award or 3,750 miles on a one-way award:
- Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard (This offer is no longer available through our site as of Oct. 18, 2018)
- Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard
- CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Mastercard
- CitiBusiness / AAdvantage Select Mastercard
- AAdvantage Aviator Red Mastercard from Barclays
- AAdvantage Aviator Silver Mastercard AAdvantage from Barclays
- Aviator Business Mastercard from Barclays
In addition, the following cards offer 5,000 mile discounts on round-trip awards and 2,500 miles on one-way awards.
- Citi / AAdvantage Gold World Elite Mastercard
- AAdvantage Aviator Blue Mastercard
To see the current list of eligible destinations, visit the reduced mileage awards page.
Check for space on AAdvantage partners through other sites
When it comes to international awards on American Airlines, the biggest challenge is finding award seats on partner airlines that don’t appear on the American Airlines website. American offers online access to awards for just eight of its partners. Travelers often give up after looking for international awards online, when they could find award space by calling a reservations center. This is especially true for flights to and within South America (LATAM flights), and flights to and within Asia (Cathay Pacific, JAL, Malaysia, Qatar, Jet Airways and Etihad flights).
To find these hidden award flights, it helps to search for them elsewhere before calling American to redeem your miles. Thankfully, other airline’s frequent flyer programs may show award seats for these airlines. For example, the British Airways and Qantas web sites show award seats for most oneworld partners, once you’ve created a free account.
And while there’s no guarantee that American Airlines representatives will be able to ticket the award flights found on other airline’s websites, there’s usually a strong correlation between the list of flights on those sites and what’s available to AAdvantage members.
Start your search early
As with most airlines, you are likely to find the most abundant award seats the further into the future you look. American and its partners tend to release award seats as far out as 331 days – approximately 11 months – before departure. When you are looking for multiple award seats, tickets to popular destinations or for flights during peak travel seasons, try to search for award flights as soon as the seats are released.
The AAdvantage program includes complicated routing rules and makes its partner awards difficult to find, so it can be tricky to book the routing with the best value. However, with some patience, knowing where to look for partner awards and by making handy use of the American Airlines phone reservation line, you can fly far with MileSAAver fares.
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