How to maximize American Airlines AAdvantage miles

Couple at airport discussing the American Airlines AAdvantage program card.Image: Couple at airport discussing the American Airlines AAdvantage program card.

In a Nutshell

The American Airlines AAdvantage® program makes it easy for both avid travelers and the occasional jetsetter to score cheap flights while enjoying great in-flight benefits. But it may take a lot of time and money to rack up miles.
Editorial Note: Credit Karma receives compensation from third-party advertisers, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our third-party advertisers don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted.

The American Airlines AAdvantage program offers the chance to rack up award flights with one of the largest airlines in the world.

American Airlines has a strong presence in the U.S., but it also partners with dozens of other domestic and international airlines, giving you the chance to book award flights around the world.

Like other airline frequent flyer programs, it’s best to use your AAdvantage miles for award flights. You’ll have a lot of different opportunities to earn miles, including through credit cards, dining, online shopping and more.



How to earn American Airlines AAdvantage miles

There are many different ways you can rack up miles in the AAdvantage program, but the fastest way is to get one of the airline’s co-branded credit cards.

Here are some of the top options.

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®
  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®
  • AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

From our partner

Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®

See details, rates & fees

As a new cardholder, you’ll earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $2,500 on purchases in the first 3 months after account opening. You’ll also get two miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines, restaurant and gas station purchases, and one mile per $1 spent everywhere else.

The card also comes with some valuable benefits.

  • First checked bag free for you and up to four companions on your reservation
  • Preferred boarding on American Airlines flights
  • A 25% discount on in-flight purchases on American Airlines flights
  • A $125 flight discount after you spend $20,000 during a card membership year

The card charges an annual fee of $0 intro, then $99 after first year. Learn more in our full review of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite Mastercard®.

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

From our partner

Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®

See details, rates & fees

If you regularly fly American and want some premium perks, this card could be a good option for you. For the card’s $450 annual fee, you’ll get Admirals Club® membership for you and up to two guests or your immediate family — there are roughly 50 lounge locations worldwide.

You’ll also get an application fee credit for TSA PreCheck® or Global Entry, a first checked bag free for you and up to eight others on your itinerary, and the chance to earn 10,000 loyalty points after you spend $40,000 in a year.

The rewards program isn’t as strong, though. You’ll get 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases within 3 months of account opening, two miles per $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and one mile per $1 spent on everything else.

Read our full editorial review of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard® for more details

AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard®

The AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® can be an excellent option for people who don’t spend a lot. You’ll earn 60,000 bonus miles after you make just one purchase and pay the card’s $99 annual fee within your first 90 days of account opening.

You’ll also get up to $25 back on in-flight Wi-Fi purchases every year, an anniversary companion certificate worth $99 (plus taxes and fees) after you spend $20,000 in a year, the ability to round up your purchases to earn more miles, free checked bags and other benefits.

Read our full review of the AAdvantage® Aviator® Red World Elite Mastercard® for more details.

Other ways to earn American Airlines AAdvantage miles

While your best bet to rack up a lot of AAdvantage miles may be to use one of the airline’s credit cards, there are other ways to supplement your credit card use to maximize your rewards balance.

  • Fly with American or its partners: When you fly American, you’ll earn five miles per $1 spent on your ticket. If you’re an elite status member, though, you can earn up to 11 miles per $1. With partner airlines, you’ll earn miles based on the flight distance and your fare class. You can also buy additional miles with the mileage multiplier feature.
  • Travel and shop with partners: American Airlines partners with Hyatt, Marriott, Hertz, Avis and Budget to offer bonus miles on hotel stays and car rentals. You can also earn bonus miles on travel packages through American Airlines Vacations and get extra rewards with select retailers.
  • Open a Bask Bank savings account: For every $1 you save in a Bask Mileage Savings account, you’ll receive one AAdvantage mile annually.
  • Online and in-store shopping: You can get special bonus mile offers at more than 1,200 online stores through the AAdvantage eShopping portal. You can even add an extension to your browser to get notified when you’re shopping with one of the program’s partners. You can also join the SimplyMiles program and add a Mastercard credit card to get access to personalized offers on both online and in-store purchases.
  • AAdvantage Dining: Join the airline’s dining program and connect any debit or credit card. For every $1 you spend on your linked card with participating restaurants, you’ll earn up to five miles, depending on how often you use the program.
  • Buy miles: You can buy anywhere from 2,000 to 150,000 miles in 1,000-mile increments at a rate of 3.225 cents per mile. But considering AAdvantage miles are worth 2.11 cents apiece on average, according to Credit Karma’s valuation, it’s generally best to avoid buying miles unless you need a couple of thousand of them to get an award flight.

How to redeem American Airlines AAdvantage miles

AAdvantage miles are worth an average of 2.11 cents when you redeem them for flights with the airline or one of its partners. But the value you get will vary depending on the flight.

Be flexible with your travel plans

To maximize the value of your miles for award travel, it’s best to be flexible. If your dates and destination are firm, you won’t have much opportunity to compare different flight options.

But if you’re flexible with your dates and where you want to travel, comparing various dates and destinations will open up opportunities for better deals.

To determine how much value you’re getting, subtract the taxes and fees on an award flight from the cash value of the ticket, then divide the difference by the number of miles required to book the flight.

For example, if it costs $500 or 25,000 miles and $11.20 in taxes and fees, subtract $11.20 from $500 to get $488.80, then divide that by 25,000 miles to get 1.96 cents per mile.

Use the airline’s award map

American Airlines provides an award map that can help you find the best deals that are currently available. Start by adding your departure airport, dates, the region you want to fly to, the amount of miles you have and a few other details. Then you’ll get a list of destinations and how much the award flight will cost.

Other redemption options

Though you likely won’t get as much value out of your miles on other redemptions, it may be worth it to use them in the event that you don’t have any travel plans coming up, and you don’t want your rewards to expire.

  • Upgrade your seat on American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia flights
  • Buy or renew an Admirals Club membership
  • Book other travel to more than 500 destinations
  • Take advantage of luxury experiences
  • Donate your miles
  • Purchase newspaper subscriptions

Take note: Your miles expire if you have no activity on your AAdvantage account, including earning and redeeming, for 24 months.


Next steps

Even if you don’t fly American Airlines exclusively, it’s still a good idea to join the free frequent flyer program and look for opportunities to earn rewards. But if your home airport is a hub for a different airline, you may not get as much value out of the AAdvantage program as the other airline’s loyalty program. So consider going all-in on American Airlines AAdvantage only if you’re confident you’ll fly with the airline regularly.


About the author: Ben Luthi is a personal finance freelance writer and credit cards expert. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and finance from Brigham Young University. In addition to Credit Karma, you can find his wo… Read more.