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American AAdvantage cheat sheet for using miles: Airlines, Fees, Alternatives, And More

by on Thu August 6, 2015 • 30 Comments

If you’re new to American AAdvantage miles, or don’t spend a lot of time thinking about them, here is a cheat sheet with the least you need to know to get the most out of your miles.

You’ll be prepared for fees, know where to look, and where to get extra miles when you need them.

Airlines you can book and where to find award space

The list below shows all the airlines you can book with AAdvantage miles and where to search for available award seats.

One of the most frustrating things about AAdvantage is that you won’t find most partner airline flights displayed when you search on the website, which makes for a lot of hidden award options.

To get around that you can try doing an award search on the Qantas or British Airways websites. They are partners of American and their award search tools will display most of the partner airlines you can book with American AAdvantage miles.

You can access them by registering for a free Qantas or British Airways frequent flier account, which unlocks the ability to search for awards on their sites.

When you find flights with award space available you can call AAdvantage to make the reservation and pay the usual AAdvantage mileage prices.

If you don’t want to mess with those sites, AAdvantage phone agents can also help you search for space on the partner airlines, and there’s no phone fee to book those flights.

RegionAirlineWhere to check award space
AsiaCathay PacificBritish Airways or Qantas site
AsiaJapan AirlinesBritish Airways website
AsiaJet (registration required) or call AA
AsiaMalaysia AirlinesBritish Airways website
EuropeIberiaBritish Airways or Qantas site
EuropeS7 AirlinesBritish Airways or Qantas site
EuropeSri Lankan AirlinesBritish Airways or Qantas site
Latin AmericaLAN AirlinesBritish Airways or Qantas site
Latin AmericaTAM AirlinesBritish Airways or Qantas site
Middle EastEtihad AirwaysEtihad Airways website (look for 'Guest' award seats)
Middle EastGulf (not free)
Middle EastQatar AirwaysBritish Airways website
Middle EastRoyal
North AmericaAlaska
North AmericaCape AirCall
North AmericaHawaiian Airlines (except to Mainland U.S. after 9/2015)
North AmericaSeaborneCall
PacificAir Tahiti (not free)
PacificFiji AirwaysQantas website

Tip: The Qantas site is easier to use than the British Airways site, since you can start an award search by choosing ‘Search Classic Flight Awards’ from the home page. Just note it doesn’t show Japan or Malaysian Airlines space. It also has a nice month long calendar view of availability that you can see below.


How much do awards cost?

American publishes its award charts online and charges based on what regions you’re flying between:

What are fuel surcharges?

Beware that awards involving British Airways flights carry substantial fuel surcharges. If you’re flying British Airways on a long haul flight expect to pay about $700 in taxes and fees on a round trip Economy Class ticket (about $500 of those are fuel charges) and $1,100 on a Business or First Class ticket.

You can still fly British Airways with your miles and pay fewer fuel surcharges with these tactics:

  • Book one way instead of roundtrip tickets, as the fuel surcharge on two one way tickets (like Chicago to Paris, Paris to Chicago) is often hundreds of dollars less than the fuel surcharge on a single round trip award ticket from the U.S. That’s because one way tickets from Europe have lower fuel surcharges than those from the U.S. to Europe. You’ll pay the same number of miles either way.
  • Fly on American across the ocean to London, then use British Airways flights onward. Surcharges are only about $30-$40 when you’re adding short British Airways flights within Europe.
  • Come back to the U.S. from airports with low taxes like Dublin or Tel Aviv, which even when flying British Airways all the way through have surcharges hundreds less than most other European airports like Paris or London.

Awards on Iberia also have fuel surcharges, but they are more reasonable, and you can search for space on the Qantas or British Airways websites, then call in to book with your AAdvantage miles. You can read more about avoiding fuel surcharges here.

What are award change and booking fees?

  • Close-in fee: $75 when you book less than 21 days before departure (waived for Premier level fliers)
  • Change date: Free if 1) the new date is more than 21 days after the date you originally bought the award, 2) your origin/ destination cities stay the same, 3) the award level stays the same, and 4) you’re not removing a non-OneWorld airline like Etihad from your trip. This is one of the best benefits of using AAdvantage miles. For all other situations you’ll pay a $150 change fee.
  • Change airlines: Free more than 21 days before departure as long as you’re not switching from a non-OneWorld partner like Etihad Airways and your origin, destination, and award level stays the same. Otherwise $150. For example you can switch from a British Airways flight to an American Airlines flight for free.
  • Change origin/destination cities: $150
  • Cancel and redeposit miles: $150

What are the best award values?

Some of the better values if you can find them are:

  • Business Class seats to Europe for 50,000 miles one way on American’s own flights as well as Air Berlin and Finnair, which don’t impose any fuel surcharges. Iberia has modest fuel surcharges, but it’s still a decent deal. Here is a list of no fuel surcharge routes to Europe.
  • First Class to Asia for 62,500 – 67,500 miles one way on American, Cathay Pacific or Japan Airlines with no fuel surcharges. You can’t book Cathay and Japan online, but check the British Airways site for seats and call in to book.
  • Business Class to Asia for 50 – 55,000 miles one way on American, Cathay Pacific, or Japan Airlines with no fuel surcharges.
  • India and the Middle East to / from Europe in Business or First Class for 30,000 miles one way (Business) or 40,000 miles (First). You can fly exotic premium carriers like Etihad Airways and Qatar with the latest lie flat beds and suites and finest champagne. You can also fly Royal Jordanian, Gulf Air, and (with surcharges) British Airways, giving you lots of options. There is no cheaper way to try out some of these exotic products on a long flight.
  • Business Class to Australia for 62,500 miles one way. Award space is very hard to find on Qantas or American, but you can fly Qatar Airways via Doha and availability that way is better, but not great.
  • First Class from New York to California for 32,500 miles one way. You’ll fly in American’s Flagship First Class seat with a full bed, get an escort through security, and enjoy a 5 course meal. It’s the most luxurious way to fly across the country and easy to find with AAdvantage miles, especially if you’re solo and can plan far ahead or book really last minute..

Can you upgrade with miles?

Yes you can, though you usually get more bang out of your miles by booking a First or Business Class award on its own, as American charges cash fees for upgrades.

The fees range from $75 for domestic flights to $350 for flights across the oceans and to Southern South America.

AAdvantage upgrade price charts

Tip: Make sure you request an upgrade more than 21 days in advance if you’re not an AAdvantage elite member. Otherwise you’ll get hit with a $75 close in fee on top of the upgrade fee.

Tip: If an upgrade isn’t available you can be placed on a waitlist to clear if upgrade space opens later on. Miles and the cash fee won’t be charged until your upgrade clears.

Warning: The cash fee for upgrades is non refundable once you’re upgraded.

Tip: AAdvantage upgrades come out of ‘C’ and ‘A’ fare inventory, and you can check availability online if you have a paid subscription to Otherwise, just call AAdvantage and they’ll check space and process upgrades over the phone.

Options when you can’t find MileSAAver award space

Unfortunately you can’t waitlist for award space if the type you want isn’t available. You’ll have to keep checking and book when ou see space open up.

Tip: If you can’t find MileSAAver space on your flight, you might have luck calling American and asking if they can open up space. American has a computer system that will sometimes release award seats on request. It’s rare that it will help, but it’s always worth a call to try.

What stopovers are allowed?

American no longer allows stopovers on award tickets, though sometimes you can get an overnight stop in a city if there are no connecting flights available on the same day.

What routing is allowed?

AAdvantage has some quirky rules governing where you can connect when you’re traveling internationally on an award. Here are some of the most important:

  • To reach Africa you can only connect in Europe or use Qatar Airways via Doha. The Qatar Airways option is useful because it helps you avoid British Airways fuel surcharges.
  • To reach Australia you can’t go via Asia, which basically limits you to Qantas flights from the U.S. and American’s soon to launch flight from Los Angeles to Sydney. But you can use Qatar Airways to fly via Doha.
  • To reach Asia you must go over the Pacific Ocean. You can’t cross over via Europe or the Middle East. The exception is India, which is considered part of the Middle East region, and to reach India you can cross the Atlantic Ocean and connect in the Middle East or Europe, or you can cross the Pacific if you fly Cathay Pacific or American Airlines to Hong Kong, and then connect onward to India from there on Cathay, Dragonair, or Jet Airways.

If you really want to you can get around these rules, but to do that you’ll need to book separate awards. For example you’d have to book a U.S. to Asia award and then an Asia to Australia award if you want to fly to Australia via Asia, paying separate prices for each award.

Can you hold an award seat?

Yes, you can hold awards for up to 5 days before committing to them at no charge. This generous option is available when you reach the payment page on or by speaking to an agent, and you can even do it if you don’t have enough miles in your account.

If you’re within a week of your flight, the hold is limited to one day, so you can hold it until 11:59pm Central the following day.

Alternative miles to book American flights

If you’re short on AAdvantage miles, you can book American flights using miles other than American AAdvantage.

Any One World partner’s miles can access the basic MileSAAver level award seats, which opens up a few options to book American flights without using AAdvantage miles.

Note: While you can book American flights with these partner airline miles, you can’t combine these miles with your existing AAdvantage miles.

Economy Class seats come from ‘T’ class, and Business Class seats come from ‘U’ class, while First Class seats come from ‘Z’ class.

  • Alaska MileagePlan (award chart) is a close partner with American and has award prices that are similar to what American charges.
  • British Airways Avios (award chart), which is a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards often has much better prices than American for short nonstop flights. You can fly for as few as 4,500 points one way. The catch is British Airways charges separately for each flight segment, so trips with connecting flights cost more than nonstops. Avoid using these miles for trans Atlantic flights as British Airways adds stiff fuel surcharges to American Airlines flights.
  • AsiaMiles (award chart), which is a transfer partner of Citi ThankYou and American Express Membership Rewards, can sometimes cost fewer miles than using AAdvantage, though there aren’t a lot of outstanding deals. And you will pay fuel surcharges on awards to Europe, Asia, and Australia.

What hotel points can you transfer from?

You can convert your hotel points into AAdvantage miles any time with no charge for the conversion. Every hotel program has a different conversion rate, and to make it easier to understand, we’ve calculated conversion rates needed for a single mile.

  • Marriott Rewards (rate varies from 5 points = 1 mile to 2.8 points = 1 mile depending on how many points you transfer – conversion rates are here)
  • Starwood Preferred Guest (1 point = 1 mile with an extra 5,000 miles when you convert 20,000 points)
  • Hilton HHonors (6.7 points = 1 mile)
  • IHG Club (5 points = 1 mile)
  • Club Carlson: (10 points = 1 mile)
  • Hyatt Gold Passport (2.5 points = 1 mile; extra 5,000 mile bonus when you convert 50,000 points)
  • Choice Privileges: (5 points = 1 mile)
  • Wyndham Rewards: (5 points = 1 mile)

Note: Be aware that most of the time there’s a minimum number of points you can transfer, usually 5,000 points or more which are listed here, but the numbers above will give you a sense of how far your hotel points can go.

What credit cards earn AAdvantage miles?


Personal: Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select ($95 annual fee – free checked bag), Citi Executive AAdvantage ($450 annual fee – Admirals Club membership), Citi Gold AAdvantage ($50 annual fee).

Business: CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select ($95 annual fee)

Via Transfer

The Starwood Preferred Guest Credit Card from American Express earns points you can transfer into American AAdvantage miles any time at 1 point = 1 mile. You also get a 5,000 mile bonus for every 20,000 points you transfer, though transfers can take a few days.

When do credit card miles post?

Generally they post shortly after your monthly card statement is generated. However, Citibank will advance you miles early for a fee of $35, with a 2-3 day processing time if you need them sooner. You can call the number on the back of your card to request this.

How do you transfer miles?

You have to pay if you want to transfer miles from your account to someone else, and American charges $12.50 for every 1,000 miles you transfer, or 1.25 cents each.

It’s not a terrible deal, but if you can, you’re better off booking an award for someone else from your own account, since you can use your miles to book tickets for anyone you’d like, even if you’re not traveling.

Do AAdvantage miles expire?

AAdvantage miles expire after 18 months of inactivity. Any earning or spending of miles counts as activity, so as long as you do that, it will extend the expiration date of your miles another 18 months. And you can extend the expiration as many times as you’d like.


To avoid hassle, if you plan to earn some miles to keep them from expiring, like through online shopping, try to make sure your earning activity happens about 2 months before your miles are set to expire, as it can take a while before partner miles appear in your account.

If your miles did expire, you can pay a fee to reactivtate them, based on how many you’d like to reactivate.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Miles dont expireas long as card is open
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Partner Offer

50,000 bonus points

Intro Offer

$0 introductory annual fee, then $95

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Foreign Transaction Fee Waived


Points Can Transfer to Airline Miles ?

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30 thoughts on American AAdvantage cheat sheet for using miles: Airlines, Fees, Alternatives, And More

  1. Cindy

    I am new to the AA point system, however, I am currently planning a trip from IAD to LHR and the A380 flight I am wanting is on BA, because AA is not showing Premium Economy seating. What I want to know is how do I get AA points added to my AAdvantage rewards account for this BA flight?


      @Cindy – Easy, just login to your British Airways reservation and add your AA number in the frequent flier account section, or just have an agent do it for you at the airport or over the phone.

  2. Pam

    I am planning a trip from HTS to either Dublin, London, Barcelona, Rome or just about anywhere else that I won’t have to pay the BA fees. I will be leaving in September, 2017. I know that these tickets are not available yet, but do you have some suggestions as to how to get business class tickets? Need two tickets.


        1. Pam

          Thanks. When I try JFK-LHR, British Airways seems to be all I can use with my miles. Will this change?

          Also, is there any way that I can stopover Dublin on my way there?
          Thanks in advance


            @Pam – It might – hard to tell in advance. You can book a flight to Dublin on the way out, then book your return from any city you’d like (like London or Madrid). You just need to buy your own ticket from Dublin to the other city, which is usually pretty cheap. Or pay extra miles for that short ticket.

  3. Mandy

    I called American Airlines, and asked they book me on a partner airline flight (they had a codeshare with an AA number flight) from JFK to Male in economy and than asked if I could use my AA miles to upgrade to business class and they told me I cannot because the flight is operated by Ethiad. Anyway to be able to do this?


      @Mandy – Unfortunately no way to upgrade Etihad flights with AA miles. The only way to get into Etihad business with AA miles is to book a full Business Class award outright, instead of buying a coach cash ticket.

  4. Julie

    Can I book a flight from DXB to HYD round trip with any partner of AAdvantage? I have 15000 miles can I use them for booking?


      @Julie – Unfortunately you’d need 17,500 miles each way (35,000 roundtrip) for that kind of booking. Jet Airways flies the route (call to check on it), and if you’re willing to cross over to Abu Dhabi, Etihad also flies it.


      @Joe Walker – Gift cards are the most versatile, though it’s not a great value overall compared to what you could get if you used your miles for flights. Create an account at to see options.

  5. manny

    I have a multi-leg international partner award ticket for 2 pax that I wish to change the origin (actually add a leg at the beginning). As I understand it I have 2 choices. Pay $150 x 2 ($300) for change fee. Or redeposit the miles and rebook for $150 + $25 ($175), which is obviously cheaper.
    I called AA to do option 2 but the agent said that if I do that she would need to cancel the ticket entirely and start over from scratch and there would be no guarantee that the seats will be available, or if they would even go back in inventory. I asked her if she can just hold the seats while she makes the change. She said that’s not possible. I’m a bit nervous to let all the seats go as there are 5 flights and if 1 isn’t available my itinerary could fall apart.
    I recall being able to do what I wish, i.e. ‘redeposit’ the miles without actually canceling out the reservation. Any advise or experience appreciated.


      @manny – How about call to try to book a fresh award (don’t mention your existing flights) and if the flights are available, put them on hold (it’s up to 5 days). Then cancel and refund your existing award.

  6. Jerry Mandel

    No way to find AAward Business or First MileSaver flights to Europe on on AA, AB, IB, Finnair. All it will give is on BA via LHR with ripoff surcharges. And the AA phone agents are clueless. They can’t even find what is shown on They can’t even find AB flights listed on AB’s website.


      @Vicki – You can buy more miles at (or earn them some other way).

      At this time there isn’t an option to pay for the difference in the ticket.

  7. Kenny

    Between 2 accounts, we have almost 500,000 AA awards. Can we book DFW-JFK-AUH on AA/Etihad to fly the A380 Apartment, then book another award AUH-SYD on Etihad in the A380 Apartment?

  8. Kyle Keen

    I am trying to search for fliights from jax to hnl but the website keeps returning errors. I even tried searching new york to hnl. Any ideas?


      @Kyle – Well for getting to Honolulu there’s nothing the BA site would show that won’t. So for your HNL trip check for each leg to see what’s available. Alaska, American, and Hawaiian Airlines options all display on

  9. Tom

    Short on miles for award I booked but have enough earned to cover but not sure if they will arrive before they try to ticket the award. Have enough points in another account to cover the short amount on the award. What is the best thing to do wait till they try and ticket the account and then transfer the points if the points earned don’t arrive in time or to transfer the points ahead so the award will go through?


      @Tom – The paid transfer should be instant, so try to wait until the last hour. Or better yet – check the day they plan to ticket it and see if the award is still available separately. Then go ahead and put the award on hold again to buy more time.


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