When I was new to the hobby of traveling nearly free, I signed up for an American Airlines credit card. At that time I did not really have a strategy (and you need one!) for how I would travel and what types of points I truly needed.
I decided it wouldn’t hurt to have a bank of 50,000+ American miles sitting around. So I got the card, met my minimum spend and earned by 50,000 American AAdvantage miles.
But there they sat…
My family, instead, used the awesome Southwest Companion Pass, which lets one person fly free with you for up to two years, and the points we accumulated to earn the pass to fly free around the U.S. I wouldn’t have minded using my American miles, but 50,000 on American is not enough — by a long stretch — for all four of us to travel free on one flight.
This year, I was determined to use those gosh darn miles! So I figured out a way to stretch them as far as possible for at least my husband and I to get to one one the places on our list — but unfortunately, maximizing American miles does not fall under the category of “simple,” which is my main goal.
I would not recommend this route if you have no American miles, but, if you have a pile of them sitting around, like I did, here’s how to maximize them to the fullest. But first here’s a quick overview of American AAdvantage (America’s loyalty program) miles.
American AAdvantage Miles Basics
AAdvantage award redemption is based on a set number of points depending on where you are traveling. They have several levels of awards or fares, much like Southwest Wanna Get Away, Anytime and Southwest Business Select. American’s fare award options include:
- MileSAAver Off Peak
- AAnytime Level 1
- AAnytime Level 2
- Business/First Class
I always focus on the cheapest award level, because I know that will allow me to use the most points possible. I don’t need to sit in first class :). I’m fine sitting in the back of the plane, thanks. So you won’t find me explaining how to score a first-class international flight on a plane with shower, bed and lounge! Wrong blog ;-).
The number of miles you need to use to travel to a destination on American is based on where you are traveling and what time of year.
If you are flying within the United States, the cheapest award tickets, MileSAAver, are 7500 miles per direction if the distance between the two destinations is less than 500 miles (I’d prefer to drive that) or 12,5000 miles per direction for 500 miles or greater.
That means for anyplace we would fly (which would be 500 miles or more), we’re going to need 25,000 miles per person — or 100,000 miles for all four of us to fly. I only had about 55,000 after meeting the minimum spend so that just wasn’t going to work.
There are MileSAAver Off Peak awards to Hawaii, as well as internationally, that cost less in what they designate “off peak” season.
For Hawaii, that would be 20,000 miles per way, the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America are 12,500 miles per way and Europe is 22,500 miles per way.
Off peak season varies by destination but is generally winter and early spring for Hawaii and Europe and fall and May for the Caribbean. Click on Details on Award Travel on this page for all the specific off peak dates.
Please note that it is generally better to use some of American’s oneworld airline alliance partner programs like Singapore Krisflyer to book any of these flights, because they require LESS miles, but you can still book American flights.
However, you will need to collect points in the partner program’s currency instead of American AAdvantage. You cannot transfer AAdvantage miles over to Singapore Krisflyer, for example, and then book an American flight for less miles.
Reduced Mileage Awards Program
The key to making the most of any American AAdvantage miles you have is to use American’s Reduced Mileage Awards program.
The Reduced Mileage Awards program offers a discount on the number of miles for award tickets to select destinations, which change every month.
To take advantage of this program, you have to hold one of American’s credit cards and choose one of the select U.S. destinations. We hold the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®, which is eligible for the largest mileage discounts.
If you hold any of the below cards, you get a 7,500 mile round-trip discount on MileSAAver tickets for trips 500 miles or greater or a 2,000-mile discount on MileSAAver tickets for trips less than 500 miles. Note: This ONLY WORKS ON MILESAAVER AWARDS.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World EliteTM MasterCard®
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® Visa®
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® American Express®
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Select Visa®
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Select MasterCard®
- CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard®
- AAdvantage® AviatorTM Silver World Elite MasterCard®
- AAdvantage® AviatorTM Red MasterCard®
- AAdvantage® AviatorTM Business MasterCard®
If you hold any of the below cards, you still get a discount, but it’s much less. You will save 5,000 miles on flights of 500 miles or greater and 1,000 miles on flights less than 500 miles – again only on MileSAAver tickets.
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Gold American Express®
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Gold Visa®
- Citi® / AAdvantage® Gold MasterCard®
- AAdvantage® AviatorTM Blue MasterCard®
Reduced Mileage Award Destinations
Each month American lists new destinations available for Reduced Mileage Awards. You can find an updated list with top destinations on my Reduced Mileage Awards destinations page.
While there are a lot of smaller cities that may not be high on your list of places to visit, unless you have friends or family there, there are some very appealing cities, as well.
Choices often include:
- Charleston, South Carolina
- Fort Myers, Florida (gateway to Naples and Marco Island, one of our favorite Florida destinations)
- Monterey, California (which we picked!)
- Santa Barbara, California (another of my favorite places)
- Palm Springs, California (definitely on our list)
- Vail/Eagle, Colorado (this is just outside Beaver Creek, where our family has a condo, and a great way to get into the Rocky Mountains to places like Breckenridge, Keystone, Vail, etc. It saves a two-hour drive from Denver)
- West Palm Beach, Florida
I kept my eye on this list to see if any destinations caught my eye for a trip for my husband and I. I figured using the Reduced Mileage Awards we could make it work for two of us to travel and have some to spare.
We’ve always wanted to see Northern California, so we picked Monterey, California, which was available in May. We plan to see Carmel, Monterey, San Francisco and Napa on our trip.
Here is the math for you:
Round trip from Indianapolis to Monterey on MileSAAver tickets normally = 25,000 per person
With Reduced Mileage Saver Awards, we save 7500 per roundtrip ticket. That brings us to 17,500 miles per person or a total of 35,000 miles, which is much more doable, but still not enough for all four of us.
Plus, if you are a credit card holder of select cards, you get 10% of redeemed miles put back in your AAdvantage account after six to eight weeks up to a limit of 10,000 miles back each year.
Booking the Tickets
The trick here — and what I really hate compared to booking Southwest where ANY flight is bookable on miles/points (Read: Why I Love to Fly Southwest) — is that you have to find a MileSAAver ticket, which are not readily available.
They are usually only on certain days at certain times and are not usually the most convenient days or the shortest flights.
Here is how to book your Reduced Mileage Awards ticket with AAdvantage miles:
1. Start at AA.com Home Page. Enter your cities and dates and select “Book With Miles.”
2. Look for Economy MileSAAver tickets as shown below. It will tell you if none are available.
3. If they are available, I’d advise to book them quickly. I found two workable dates only to have the return date disappear the next day. I ended up booking one leg of our trip used Reduced Mileage Awards and using Anytime Awards to book our return leg — with just enough miles to do so.
4. To book the flights, Reduced Mileage Awards require you to CALL American and book by phone. You WILL NOT be charged a phone-booking fee, because you cannot book these online.
5. BEFORE you call, go back to the Reduced Mileage Awards page and follow the steps:
- Find the card you hold
- Go to Step 2, look for the miles discount you will receive (7500, 5000, 2000 or 1000) and “Main Cabin,” assuming you want to spend the least points. Find the “code,” such as TD8X7F, and have this ready to give the booking agent by phone. You’ll also need your AAdvantage number handy.
6. Call 1-800-882-8880 to book your ticket. Keep in mind there is still the $5.60 per way mandatory government security fee just like you have to pay on Southwest.
SO not as simple as Southwest … sigh…
Perks for Holding an American Airlines Credit Card
Because we hold the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® , we are also eligible for some benefits that make it more competitive to some of the Southwest benefits. They include:
- First checked bag free for each traveling companion if booked with the credit card
- Priority boarding – Include the credit card number on your reservation and the cardholder plus up to four traveling companions get Group 5 boarding, which is between Priority boarding and Economy boarding.
- 25% off food and drinks on board
That’s how you make the most of any American miles you may hold, especially if you are an American cardholder. I’d recommend holding on to the card until you complete your travel, so you can take advantage of the card benefits and once you use up all your miles, close that sucker out.
To Sum It Up
If you have a bank of points on American and hold one of their credit cards, you can stretch them as far as possible using the Reduced Mileage Awards program. Keep your eye on new destinations as they roll out until you find one that’s appealing for you and up to two traveling companions.
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