American Airlines AAdvantage is a useful program points collectors should be aware of. Each airline has their own strengths and weaknesses, and knowing all about the different reward programs out there will help you maximize redemptions. Here are a few points about AAdvantage I think you should know.
Earning American AAdvantage
American Airlines used to issue co-branded cards in Canada with TD, but this partnership ended many years ago. Citibank and Barclays are the co-brand partners in the US. The two major ways to earn American miles through credit cards in Canada are indirectly with the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express or the RBC Avion Visa Infinite.
The transfer ratio for Marriott to AA is 3:1, with a 5,000 mile bonus for every 60,000 points transferred. The minimum number of points required per transfer is 3,000. The Starwood Preferred Guest American Express earns 2 Marriott points per dollar on most everyday purchases, with up to a 50,000 point signup bonus.
The transfer ratio for RBC Avion to AA is 1:0.7. You need a minimum of 5,000 Avion points to make a transfer. The RBC Avion Visa Infinite earns 1 RBC Avion point per dollar on everyday purchases, with a 15,000 point welcome bonus.
If you spend $30,000 on each card, this would yield 60,000 Marriott/25,000 AA and 30,000 Avion/21,000 AA, respectively. This yields a ratio of 0.83 AA points per dollar with the SPG AMEX, and 0.7 AA miles per dollar spent on the RBC Avion Visa.
You can also buy miles directly from American Airlines. The regular price is 2.95 cents apiece, although AAdvantage often runs sales. There is a limit of 150,000 miles you can buy per calendar year. There is nearly always a sale going on. For example, you can currently earn up to 42,500 bonus miles when buying 100,000. This is a 42.5% bonus at the best rate, which brings the price per mile to 2.24 cents. However, this pales in comparison to the best offer this year earlier in July. You could earn up to 100,000 bonus miles at a 66.7% bonus, stacked with a further 10% discount. This lowered the price per mile to 1.72 cents.
AA charges GST/HST on Canadian purchases, so use an international billing address and a credit card without foreign transaction fees, like the Home Trust Preferred Visa or Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite.
Redeeming American AAdvantage
American AAdvantage uses a simple region-based award chart. All awards are priced each way, so no stopovers are permitted on a round-trip. Canada is grouped with Alaska in a separate zone from the contiguous United States; most itineraries to Canada are 2,500-5,000 miles more expensive. It may make sense to end a trip in the US and get off earlier. This is their oneworld award chart to/from Canada. AA does not display award availability for many airlines (Cathay Pacific, Qatar, Etihad, Malaysian) on their booking interface. You have to call to make those reservations.
Routing rules are strict. Each award can contain a maximum of four segments. There are also transit, fare, and maximum mileage rules. Breaking any of these will result in two separate awards. There are no fuel surcharges on any airlines other than British Airways and Iberia. The best AAdvantage awards are for intercontinental redemptions, except from North America – Europe. Award availability tends to be sparse, and Aeroplan often offers more options. You also shouldn’t use AA for short-haul redemptions; Avios is a better option.
American is the only airline to partner with both Etihad and Qatar Airways, which opens tremendous connectivity to the Indian Subcontinent. It makes getting to places like the Maldives easy from North America. American also has exceptional pricing on business and first class flights from Europe and Asia to the Middle East. AAdvantage has the widest set of partners for international First Class redemptions. They include some of the best airlines like Cathay Pacific, Qatar, and others.
Oneworld is also by far the alliance with the strongest connectivity to South America. Both American Airlines and LATAM have large route networks with lie-flat seats in business class on most planes. AAdvantage also has reasonable pricing to/from South America Zone 1 – this includes Peru and Colombia. Last year, I flew LAN from Lima on their Boeing 787 to New York, and then onward to Vancouver on Cathay Pacific for just 35,000 miles.
What are your favourite uses of American miles?