American Airlines AAdvantage® program review: Elite perks for frequent flyers

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

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.

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Many popular airlines offer attractive rewards programs. The trick is finding the one that best matches your lifestyle.

The American Airlines AAdvantage® program comes with member incentives that are hard to resist. AAdvantage® operates on a tiered rewards system that allows travelers to earn miles with American Airlines and its affiliated carriers.

As a bonus, if you’re an AAdvantage® member and have a partner Citi® / AAdvantage® card — such as Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® — you (and a few of your travel companions) can enjoy even more benefits, including one free checked bag, and boarding privileges.

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As with any airlines rewards program, AAdvantage® has its virtues and drawbacks. Let’s take a look at the details of the American Airlines AAdvantage® program to see if it’s right for you.

What we like Heads up
  • American Airlines affiliates allow you to earn bonus miles through hotels, car rentals and vacation packages
  • Use earned miles toward flights through multiple airlines
  • With Citi® / AAdvantage® cards, members earn only one AAdvantage® mile per dollar spent on most everyday purchases
  • High minimum number of Elite Qualifying Miles required to reach elite status

  1. The rundown: Everything we like about the American Airlines AAdvantage® program
  2. Heads up: What you should consider before applying for the American Airlines AAdvantage® program
  3. Do the math: How to get the most out of the American Airlines AAdvantage® program
  4. The competition: How the American Airlines AAdvantage® program stacks up against similar programs
  5. Bottom line: Is the American Airlines AAdvantage® program right for you?

The rundown: Everything we like about the American Airlines AAdvantage® program

Not just for flights on American Airlines

AAdvantage® allows members to redeem miles and use them toward flights through American Airlines and its oneworld® partner airlines. These include 15 international carriers and 11 other airline partners, including Alaska Airlines, British Airways, Qantas Airways and Qatar Airways.

American Airlines even makes it easy to estimate the number of miles you need for domestic and international flights with its flight award chart.

Big mile earnings with partner Citi® cards

As a cardholder of Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard®, you’ll receive 60,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening. (That’s typically enough to cover a round-trip flight anywhere in North America.)

And with its more premier counterpart, Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®, you can get 50,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.

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Elite status perks

The program offers four elite status membership levels: AAdvantage Gold, AAdvantage Platinum, AAdvantage Executive Platinum and AAdvantage Platinum Pro.

Members who qualify for elite status have a lot to be excited about because the AAdvantage® elite program is chock full of benefits.

  • Executive Platinum members receive four one-way upgrades a year, 120 percent mileage bonus, three free checked bags and more.
  • Platinum Pro members receive an 80 percent elite mileage bonus, two free checked bags and more.
  • Platinum members get a 60 percent elite mileage bonus, two free checked bags and more.
  • Gold subscribers earn a 40 percent elite mileage bonus, one free checked bag and more.

All tiers are also eligible for preferred seats, which are located in the more desirable sections of the plane.

So how do you qualify for elite status? More on that in a second.

Heads up: What you should know about the American Airlines AAdvantage® program

Each elite membership level has a different set of benefits, and to qualify for elite status, you have to collect a specified minimum of Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) plus Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) or Elite Qualifying Segments (EQSs) on eligible-fare flights.

Acronyms aside, the most straightforward way to reach elite status is to fly a lot. For AAdvantage members, that means flying a lot on American Airlines, American Eagle®, oneworld® member airlines, or any flights with an American Airlines code-share agreement.

How much is a lot of flying? All AAdvantage® members are given 500 EQMs when signing up, but that’s a pittance compared with what you need to be considered elite. Members need to fly a minimum of 25,000 EQMs during the calendar year to qualify for Gold, 50,000 for Platinum, 75,000 for Platinum Pro and 100,000 for Executive Platinum.

What are credit card points and miles (really) worth?

If you’re less interested in the elite perks from AAdvantage® and more interested in the miles you can earn and redeem for flights, then you might be excited to know that AAdvantage® offers members a chance to earn miles on daily purchases with a Citi® / AAdvantage® credit card.

Members receive one mile per dollar spent on most everyday purchases made with a Citi® / AAdvantage® credit card. And they earn two miles for every dollar spent on American Airlines purchases.

Earning AAdvantage® miles through spending isn’t for everyone, however, since the direct 1-to-1 earning rate on everyday purchases means you might have to spend significant money and time to get to the number of miles you need.

“The 1 point per $1 earning rate won’t let you earn miles quickly,” says Holly Johnson, the brains behind Club Thrifty, a personal finance and budget traveling blog. “You would have to spend $25,000 in a single year to earn enough miles for most round-trip economy flights, after all.”

Do the math: How to get the most out of the American Airlines AAdvantage® program

Although most everyday purchases equate to just one mile per dollar spent using a Citi® / AAdvantage® credit card, the AAdvantage® program itself offers other opportunities to score miles that you’ll want to take advantage of.

As an AAdvantage® member, you can:

  • earn bonus miles when you stay in an American Airlines affiliated hotel and provide your AAdvantage® number at check-in
  • earn 1,000 bonus miles on each vacation package you book through AAVacations (with some destinations offering as much as 20,000 bonus miles per booking during special offers)
  • rent a car through an affiliated car rental service and earn at least 500 bonus miles (and even more if you rent the car using a Ctit® / AAdvantage® credit card).
  • earn up to five miles per every dollar spent at American Airlines affiliated restaurants through the AAdvantage® DiningSM program
  • shop online with AAdvantage® eShoppingSM mall to earn multiple miles per dollar spent on purchases at many major national stores and services such as Samsung, Groupon and Pier 1 Imports.

American Airlines also gives you the option to purchase miles directly. You can buy AAdvantage® miles directly from the American Airlines website at bulk rates starting at $29.50 for 1,000 miles.

Miles aren’t just for flights, either. You can also redeem them for upgrades on American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia flights, and use them to get discounted rates on car rentals, hotels and vacation packages.

For those who like to feel classy before a flight, you can also use your miles to buy or renew your American Airlines Admirals Club® membership.

The competition: How the American Airlines AAdvantage® program stacks up against similar programs

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan™ Earn three miles per dollar spent on eligible Alaska Airlines and Virgin America purchases.
Delta SkyMiles® Program Receive five miles per dollar spent on Delta Airlines flights and earn bonus miles when you fly with an affiliated airline.
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Earn up to 12 points on every dollar spent on Southwest flights with no blackout dates.

Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan™

If you’re a cardholder of the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature® Credit Card or Alaska Airlines Visa® Business Card, you’ll have access to Alaska Airline’s Companion Fare™ program.

Every year on the anniversary of opening your account, you’ll receive a companion fare from $121 ($99 plus taxes and fees from $22) valid on Alaska and Virgin America flights booked on alaskaair.com. There are no blackout dates.

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Delta SkyMiles® program

There are no blackout dates with the Delta SkyMiles® program. And if you’re a cardholder of Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card from American Express, you’ll get 70,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 on purchases within the first 3 months.

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Southwest Rapid Rewards®

Points don’t expire with the Southwest Rapid Rewards program as long as your card is open or you have flight-earning or partner-earning activity at least once every 24 months.

If you get the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, you’ll earn 40,000 points after spending $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months after sign up. In addition, Southwest doesn’t have change fees or fees for first and second checked bags.

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Bottom line: Is the American Airlines AAdvantage® program right for you?

Everyone — from the avid traveler to the occasional vagabond — wants flexibility when booking flights. That’s why we love the AAdvantage® program.

Miles can be redeemed toward flights with dozens of partner airlines, and you can earn even more miles when you pair your program membership with a Citi® / AAdvantage® credit card.

But while AAdvantage® perks certainly make the flying experience more enjoyable, the earning rate of one mile per $1 spent means it could be a long road until you’ve accrued enough miles to cash in for a flight. That’s something you’ll want to consider before applying.


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