How to Master the American Airlines AAdvantage Frequent Flyer Program

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Today’s subject is American Airlines AAdvantage frequent flyer program and finding out whether it is the right fit for you.

First we will present an introduction to the MileagePlus program, watch a video tutorial about the MileagePlus award chart, breakdown the dollar value of a MileagePlus mile and more.

We will seek to find a dollar value for a MileagePlus mile by using a sample data set of award flights across different geographic zones of the award chart and award levels to find an overall real life valuation.

This data set will also include travel date flexibility for discount awards and international awards to increase value and simulate realistic award flight searches.

But first, lets start at the beginning.

Introduction to American Airlines AAdvantage

In case you haven’t already, you can create an account by going to AA.com, hovering your mouse over the tab marked AAdvantage and click Join Now.

To get a good idea of how much it costs to go to all the destinations over the globe you have to understand how the award chart is structured.

The AAdvantage award chart is broken down into geographic regions and the cost is based on flying from one region to another.

Because the award chart is overwhelmingly complex here is an in-depth video that will simplify it for you:

Essentially there are three different types of AAdvantage awards:

MileSAAver Off-Peak: Which are subject to date range specified at the bottom of the award chart in addition to the normal capacity controls and Terms & Conditions of the program. This makes them rarer to find but they offer huge discounts of the already discounted MileSAAver award.

MileSAAver: These are the normal discounted awards offered by the AAdvantage miles that have no specific date range but they are fairly restricted by AA capacity controls. Not quite as easy to find as they used to be but they offer great discounted awards when you do get one.

AAnytime: These awards are available anytime, as their name suggest, and usually follow suit with huge markup in costs over their MileSAAver brothers.

With the basics of the award chart covered we can discuss how to use award fligh searches to derive a basic dollar value of an AAdvantage mile.

Dollar Value of an AAdvantage Mile

Read below to find out how we got to our 1.80 cents per AAdvantage mile valuation.

We already discussed How Much a Frequent Flyer Mile is Worth and found a baseline mile value of 1.46 cents.

The 1.46 cents is a non personalized view of a frequent flyer miles value for U.S. domestic flights by stripping away any variables that had to do with feelings or personal preferences and relied on hard data to find a true base value for all miles.

We also already reviewed the dollar values for the United Airlines MileagePlusDelta SkyMiles and USAirways Dividend Miles programs.

I compiled a sample of award flights to different international zones from the USA, with their award tiers and revenue fare prices to find what 1 AAdvantage mile could get me on the open market.

Fares were all looked for more than 90 day advance purchasing to stop last minute premium fares that would jack up the revenue fare and inflate the valuation of our miles.

I hope this award flight sampler will tell me how I can expect to value my frequent flyer miles when it comes to use them.

Route Award Tier R/T Miles Airfare Cost Value in Cents
US-EZE Off-Peak 40,000 $1,854 4.63
US-EZE MilesAAver 60,000 $1,854 3.09
USA-EZE AAnytime 120,000 $1,854 1.54
US-EURO Off-Peak 40,000 $875 2.18
USA-EURO MileSAAver 60,000 $875 1.45
US-EURO AAnytime 120,000 $875 0.72
US-CARIBE Off-Peak 25,000 $675 2.70
US-CARIBE MileSAAaver 35,000 $675 1.92
US-CARIBE AAnytime 70,000 $675 0.96
US-JAPAN Off-Peak 50,000 $1,285 2.57
US-JAPAN MileSAAver 65,000 $1,285 1.97
US-JAPAN AAnytime 130,000 $1,285 0.98
Off-Peak Average 3.02
MileSAAver Average 2.10
AAnytime Average 1.05
Overall Value 1.80

Average value of 1.80 cents per mile, a full 0.34 cents MORE than the base value, is boosted by the high returns of the off-peak award flights coupled with the great value that MilesAAver awards offer.

To discount for the fact that off-peak awards are not available any month of the way we used an average of off-peak and milesAAver awards and then I found the overall value by adding the AAnytime awards divided by 2.

That formula reflects 50% of  the low level awards would be off-peak and 50% would be regular MilesAAver; a safe estimate to have for anybody who only redeems for award flights  one or two times a year. \

Based on this award sampler, we would say any off-peak award, for flights to any geographic zone of the AAdvantage award chart would be a great way to maximize your miles program value.

From the award chart video you may have noticed the milesAAaver Off-Peak award was much cheaper than even their regular milesAAver awards.

This reinforces the idea that your travel dates are a big determining factor in not only airfare but the amount of your frequent flyer miles needed to reserve an award.

The off-peak awards are for the following regions and discount rates off regular milesAAver awards:

1. Mexico/Caribbean (Sep. 7-Nov. 14): 28% off
2. Hawaii (Jan. 12-Mar. 8 & Aug. 22-Dec. 15): 22% off
3. Central America, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela (Jan. 16-Jun. 14 & Sep. 7-Nov. 14): 14%
4. Deep South America (Mar. 1-May 31 & Aug. 16-Nov. 30): 33%
5. Europe (Oct. 15-May 15): 33%
6. Japan (Oct. 1-April 30): 23%

Off-peak travel gets you an average of 25.5% decrease in mileage needed to travel and is an increase in your mileage value by that same amount, sending your AAdvantage miles worth skyrocketing to 3.05 cents when used exclusively for off-peak awards.

But since you are not going to be traveling exclusively on off-peak dates you will not be seeing your AAdvantage miles astronomic valuation.

Instead I will assign a 50% success rate to my ability to travel on off-peak dates and then also find milesAAver off-peak award space and the other 50% will be for normal MilesAAver awards.

Example:
Most teachers would have to significantly adjust that success rate downward because most of your vacation time runs smack into the heart of peak travel periods whereas a doorman who likes to work for the peak holidays to earn overtime would have a good chance of scoring some off-peak awards.

Now that we have found the sample of award flights, I will look at some of the built-in features that subtract or add value to the miles program.

The last minute nature is another way that miles can save you time and money.

If you remember my first class award to Buenos Aires was booked only 7 days out from travel and it saved me from having to use $2000 in cash, a much preferred asset to frequent flyer miles, for a necessary flight.

Unfortunately when you book an award with AAdvantage miles within 21 days of your departure you are charged a $75 fee.

This does not mean I got a bad deal for my last minute award but it may mean I should have tried to use my miles from an airline that would not charge a fee but has the same route available.

Overall Value: 1.80 cents

 

AAdvantage Elite Status

There are three different elite tiers in the AAdvantage program that we can qualify for by either earning the requisite amount of Elite Qualifying Miles, Elite Qualifying Points or Elite Qualifying Segments.

Qualifying Method Gold Platinum Executive Platinum
Elite Qualifying Miles 25,000 50,000 100,000
Elite Qualifying Points 25,000 50,000 100,000
Elite Qualifying Segments 30 60 100

That about rounds it up for all the benefits out there but if you want more fine print reading and footnotes you can head over to American Airlines for the full details.

AAdvantage Program Pros and Cons

The more familiar you are with a mileage program the more value added you create for your miles.

Here is a list of some of those key advantages and disadvantages of the MileagePlus program.

Pros:

  1. One-way Awards Prices
  2. Off-Peak Awards

Cons:

  1. $75 Last Minute Award Fee

If you are familiar with all of those items you will have a much more realistic outlook on what to expect from your AAdvantage miles and not be upset when you don’t what you thought you should be getting.

You should also consider the geographic strengths of its destinations and where the best airports are for the program.

If you live near one of their hubs this program is better for you and if the destinations served are in your plans it is much more valuable than a program that goes nowhere you want to go.

American Airlines Credit Card

american airlines credit cardThat 1.91 cents would make the airline credit card bonus offer of 30,000 AAdvantage miles worth $573, without considering our special way to measure travel rewards credit card offers and all of the extra perks that go into the card.

We will get more into that next time, when we review the airline credit cards that get you AAdvantage miles.

Did I leave anything out or should I look at other variables? Let me know in the comments section below.

written by

Head of Travel Swagger Squad at The Travel Abstract Headquarters

9 Responses to "How to Master the American Airlines AAdvantage Frequent Flyer Program"

  1. AAdvantage Geek says:

    Excellent breakdown of the value of your AA miles. I like your idea of adding some subjective metrics like Program IQ that will vary from person to person, the only thing you might consider adding is Elite Status.

    I know that AAdvantage offers their elites expanded Mile SAAver availability and waived fees, and I’m sure the other programs must be similar. I know my AA miles are more valuable to me than my United miles because the waived fees make redeeming an award a better value.

    Anyway, I really like your analysis. Great post!

    Reply
    • The Travel Abstract says:

      Great Point. I was considering elite status but decided against it because I thought elites do not have normal operating standards for the miles program but can add serious value. It was more of a bonus category above the normal value of miles so maybe I will add an “elite category”.

      Reply
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