You can fly far on AAdvantage miles, but only if you’re able to work around limited award space.
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If you are someone who loves to decipher complicated charts, jumps for joy at discovering special deals and has a lot of flexibility in your travel calendar, AAdvantage miles may be the airline currency you’ve been searching for.
AAdvantage miles are one of the most valuable rewards currencies in existence due to the sheer size of the American Airlines flight network and the large number of sweet spots within the AAdvantage rewards chart.
However, the AAdvantage program is not for the casual traveler – the value of miles varies drastically and, while you can find some incredible deals, the value of miles can also veer below average, particularly if you don’t have the flexibility to pick times and destinations that qualify for MileSAAver awards.The AAdvantage program ranks near the top of our list for point values. We estimate AAdvantage miles to be worth 1.9 cents per mile, far exceeding our value estimates for its similarly-sized competitors, United and Delta:
American Airlines miles value
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Why AAdvantage miles are worth far more than average
The key behind AAdvantage’s high valuation is its MileSAAver awards. MileSAAver awards can be a fantastic value, requiring as few as 7,500 miles for a one-way fare within the U.S. When we look at MileSAAver awards over a variety of locations for economy level fares, they average around 2.1 cents per mile. Business MileSAAver awards are an even better deal, averaging around 3.8 cents per mile:
|Fare type||Value per mile (cents)|
MileSAAver awards are plentiful enough in the AAdvantage flight schedule to push the overall value of AAdvantage miles high. But American Airlines restricts the availability of its MileSAAver awards, requiring you to have flexibility on times and destinations. There may not be a MileSAAver award available for every destination or time that you would like to fly, especially if you are aiming for a popular location or want to fly at a peak travel time.
As you can see from the chart above, if you don’t have the flexibility to book MileSAAver awards, the AAdvantage program loses most of its value. AAnytime awards for economy fares are worth only 1 cent per mile on average.
How to value your AAdvantage miles
We’ve told you how we value AAdvantage miles, but, really, the value of your miles comes down to your preferences for redeeming them and – ultimately – the value of the item that you redeem them for. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself in figuring out the value of your miles:
- Which redemption option do you prefer? The AAdvantage program offers many options for redeeming your miles, including flights, flight upgrades, other types of travel, gift cards and more. While the value of miles is high for flight awards and upgrades, most of the other options offer a terrible value. If you intend to redeem your miles for anything but flight awards, your miles are probably worth half as much as our estimate.
- What class do you prefer to fly in? Are you more of an economy flyer, or are you hoping to use your miles to boost yourself into first class? Our research indicates that your AAdvantage miles may be worth significantly more – even for AAnytime awards – if you book a business or first class ticket (and you can get a decent value on upgrades into first class, too).
- Where do you want to fly? We strongly suggest you know your intended destination before you start collecting points or miles. Not only does the number of required miles vary significantly by zone within the AAdvantage award chart, but the value per mile varies by destination (some destinations that are very expensive in cash don’t require as many miles). Also, it is difficult to find award availability to some destinations. You should visit the AAdvantage booking site to view flight availability and number of required miles around your preferred times and destinations.
- When do you want to fly? Do you want to fly at a peak time or can you fly off peak? You’re more likely to find MileSAAver awards for off peak travel. Also, awards may include lower, off peak pricing.
- How flexible are you? Flexibility is crucial to get the best value with the AAdvantage program. If you can adjust your schedule to fly in the middle of the week rather than the weekend, or if you can push a trip off for a month or two until you can find award space, then you are more likely to snag a MileSAAver award. Furthermore, if you are flexible on destinations, then you can find some great deals with AAdvantage, including reduced mileage awards, which allow you to shave a few thousand points off an award ticket to a select list of destinations each month.
- How far away is your flight? Booking flights at the last minute could actually swing either way for you with the AAdvantage program. More than likely, only the more expensive AAnytime award tickets will be left and you’ll get a poor value on your ticket. But – since MileSAAver awards have a set price – if you manage to find MileSAAver availability just before the flight date when the cash price of the fare is at its peak, you could get a better than average value on your miles.
Calculating the value of AAdvantage miles
Once you have a redemption option in mind, you can use a simple formula to calculate the value of your miles. Basically, you take the cash price of your intended redemption option (remembering to subtract any taxes and fees that you have to pay) and divide it by the number of miles:
AAdvantage Miles Value = Reward Value (in dollars)/Number of Miles
The value that you come up with will be a rough estimate. There are varying philosophies on valuing points and miles and a plethora of factors that can affect the value of a flight, such as the miles you lose out on earning by paying for a ticket with miles instead of cash, the lowest possible price you can get for a flight over time (which could vary by the minute and depends on how often you check the airline site), other promotions and discounts that you have to forego when you book an award ticket, the lowest possible price you could get by booking with a competing airline, and so on.
However, for a basic comparison to other airline rewards programs, this rough estimate should do the trick.
How flexible are AAdvantage miles?
One major drawback to the AAdvantage program is its lack of flexibility – you will have to deal with many restrictions in routing and limited award inventory. The AAdvantage program is, in fact, a mixed blessing with a lot of pros and cons:
- AAdvantage miles don’t expire as long as you earn or redeem miles every 18 months.
- American Airlines offers a huge flight network, with more than 14,250 flights per day to more than 1,000 destinations in more than 150 countries and 23 airline partners. You should be able to book an AAdvantage award ticket most places you want to travel.
- MileSAAver awards are a great deal – with redemptions starting as low as 7,500 miles each way, you can really stretch your miles with MileSAAver awards.
- Business and first class awards also tend to have a high value.
- AAdvantage awards can be booked as one-way tickets, allowing you to create an open-jaw itinerary, flying in from one city and departing from another.
- You can change your award reservation at any time with no charge, as long as the origin and destination stay the same.
- You can put a five-day hold on an award ticket before booking it.
- There are no fuel surcharges on American Airlines flights. (However, some American Airlines partners may include a fuel surcharge.)
- MileSAAver awards are limited. You need to have a lot of flexibility on your dates and times in booking awards tickets, and you may have trouble finding awards space for popular destinations.
- AAdvantage does offer flexible award tickets – AAnytime awards – but the value is poor, even compared to other airline’s flexible award tickets, such as Delta and Southwest.
- The routing rules for award tickets are very restrictive – you must take the most direct route possible and can’t cross through one zone to get between two zones. Also, stopovers aren’t permitted. This makes booking a complicated itinerary difficult.
- There is a $25 to $35 fee for booking phone reservations.
- The AAdvantage program recently underwent a devaluation, instituting peak pricing for its awards and raising the price of its award tickets overall. It’s possible that AAdvantage will undergo more devaluations in the future, so you should use your miles sooner rather than later.
- AAdvantage miles are revenue-based – they are awarded based on the cost of your fare rather than the distance of your flight – which means you can’t strategize your routing to get more miles.
Are AAdvantage miles worth it?
The value of the AAdvantage program largely boils down to your level of flexibility. If you can work with a wide range of dates and times to book your flights with MileSAAver awards, the AAdvantage program can be well worth your while. However, if you are restricted to traveling during peak dates and times, you will find that AAdvantages AAnytime awards will give you a very poor return on your spending.
If you need more flexibility in flight scheduling, you should look for a more flexible airline rewards program, such as Southwest Rapid Rewards. Or, you might check out a general credit card rewards program, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards – you can redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards points for any available flight on any airline through its travel portal.