Overview of the American AAdvantage Frequent Flyer Program

by James Andrew Scott on April 12, 2012

in AAdvantage, American Airlines

American Airlines® (AA) was among the first airlines to start a frequent flyer / loyalty program in 1981. The American AAdvantage ® program has since grown to become one of the largest loyalty programs with over 67 million members. Membership in American’s AAdvantage program is free.  American Airlines is part of the oneworld® alliance which allows American AAdvantage members to earn and redeem AAdvantage miles on several airlines with world-renown service including British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Japan Airlines.

American AAdvantage Basics

Status Levels. American has three status levels, Gold, Platinum, and the highest level, Executive Platinum.

Earning Status. American Airlines allows AAdvantage members to earn elite status in three different ways: based on elite qualifying miles (EQM), flight segments, or elite status points as follows:

Members can also earn status by earning elite status points equivalent to the number of elite qualifying miles required (for example, Gold status requires 25,000 elite status points). Points are earned based on fare type and distance, allowing members who book First Class, Business, and Full-Fare Economy tickets a quicker route to status, as these fares earn points based on a multiplier of 1.5 times the flight distance. For example, a First class flight of 1,389 base miles would earn 2,084 (1,389 x 1.5) points toward elite status.

American also offers a quicker route to status by completing a Status Challenge.  In exchange for paying a fee, you are challenged to attain Gold Status by earning 5,000 Elite Qualifying Points or Platinum Status by earning 10,000 Elite Qualifying Points within a 3 month period.   Read our post for more details.

Advantages:

  • 100% mileage bonus for mid-tier status Platinum members (50,000).  Of the 4 legacy carriers left, only American and Delta offer a 100% bonus for mid-tier status.
  • For Executive Platinums, upgrades should be easier to come by than on other legacy carriers like United.  Because free upgrades are not available for Gold and Platinum members (except on full fare economy tickets), the AAdvantage program has built into its rules less upgrade “competition.”  Of course, all upgrades are subject to availability and your experience may vary.   One frequent flyer has actually created a tracking database of real-world AAdvantage upgrade situations.  You may be able to use this database to get a sense of the likelihood of being upgraded based on your status.
  • Can book one-way award tickets with one stopover permitted.   This provides some interesting redemption options.  For instance, it’s possible to book a one-way award ticket from Paris with a stopover in an American city (say Washington) and then fly on to Honolulu several months later  for just 20,000 miles (or 50,000 miles with a Business/First SAAver award).  The flight segment to Hawaii simply must depart within 331 days of your original booking date.  Essentially this means you can book parts of two vacations on this ticket, and save yourself one award ticket.   For example, in addition to the one way ticket above, you’d buy one SAAver award to Paris (20,000) and one SAAver award back from Hawaii (17,500 to 22,500 miles).  That’s about 60,000 miles total or 2 long-distance round-trips for 30,000 miles each (a little more than a standard domestic award!).  See my example of a Business/First SAAver award below based on this approach.  The only downside is the British Airways fuel surcharge.   This approach makes more sense in Business/First class given the fuel surcharge.  I’m my example below I’ve ticketed Business class back from Paris and First Class to Hawaii for 50,000 miles and $530.  These same flights would cost about $3,200 (on the lowest priced carriers) and $4951 for British/American.  This is a redemption of  5 to 9 cents a mile!

Disadvantages:

  • Gold and Platinum members must earn upgrades (except on full fare economy) unlike United, Delta, and US Airways where even low-tier elite status members have a chance at a free upgrade.  Although when Gold and Platinums attempt use their earned upgrades, they should have an easier time actually getting the upgrade because they too should have less upgrade competition.  Some United MileagePlus members, for instance, complain that as a low-tier Premier Silver elite, the chance of a free upgrade is small.  So you may wish to consider this “negative” aspect of the AAdvantage program as a neutral, or even a net positive.
  • Below-average award seat availability.  American ranked low in a recent study comparing award seat availability on major airlines. Of the flights surveyed, just 46% of American flights had basic (25,000 mile round-trip) award seats available. By comparison, standard award seats (25,000 miles round-trip) were available on 87% of United flights and 100% of Southwest flights.  Delta was last at just 27% of flights surveyed.
  • Fuel surcharges on award tickets on oneworld partner British Airways.   Fuel surcharges are typically several hundred dollars round trip.  For example, British Airways estimates that  fuel, surcharges, taxes and fees are approximately $600 per person based on round-trip travel from NY to London in economy class.

American Airlines’ new plane livery.

American AAdvantage Program Details

Elite Status Benefits (apply to all status levels, except where specified otherwise):

  • First and second bag checked free (on American, American Eagle, AmericanConnection, and Alaskan).
  • Priority boarding (higher priority with higher status level).
  • Priority check-in. Gold may check-in at Business class check-ins. Platinum and Exec. Platinum may check-in at First class counters.
  • Elite service desk. Each level has own desk and number.
  • Late award ticket booking fee waived (applies to awards booked 21 days or less to departure).
  • Same day standby at no charge.
  • Entitled to priority check-in, preferred boarding and seating, and priority standby and waitlisting when traveling on oneworld airlines.
  • Executive Platinum are entitled to a free standard alcoholic beverage and a free snack/meal (where available) when flying in the main cabin.
  • Executive Platinum and Platinum  have access to the Business Class lounges of all oneworld airlines when flying internationally on a oneworld airline.
  • Executive Platinum members also have access to the First Class lounges of all oneworld airlines when flying internationally on a oneworld airline.

Mileage Bonuses. Based on your status, your will earn bonus miles as follows:

  • Gold: 25% bonus
  • Platinum and Executive Platinum: 100% bonus.

Upgrades. American’s upgrade policy is based around the concept of the 500 mile upgrade. Essentially, it allows members to purchase as well as earn 500 mile upgrades (also called stickers). The number of 500 mile upgrades (or stickers) required is based on the distance of the flight.

Free 500 mile upgrades are earned as follows:

  • Gold and Platinum: four (4) 500-mile electronic upgrades for every 10,000 qualifying base miles flown during the membership year (March 1 to Feb 28 or 29 of next year), and may request free upgrades (for themselves and one companion) when traveling on a full-fare economy (“Y” or “B”) class ticket.  This essentially means you’re earning the chance of a free upgrade on 20% of your flown miles (2000/10,000).
  • Executive Platinum: do not earn 500 mile upgrades because they do not need them; Executive Platinum may request complimentary upgrades when traveling on any purchased, published fare on eligible flights. Companion may also be upgraded but only if traveling on full-fare economy ticket.

Buying 500 mile upgrades: Can be purchased for $30 each via AA.com or at the airport check-in kiosk. Agent-assisted purchases are $35 each.

Upgrade window. Upgrades are subject to availability and requested at the time of reservation. Upgrades are automatically processed is upgrade seating is available based on the applicable upgrade window as follows:

  • Executive Platinum:                                        100 hours prior to departure.
  • Platinum:                                                              72 hours prior.
  • Gold:                                                                       24 hours prior.

If you’ve been upgraded during your applicable upgrade window, you will be notified via e-mail, or voicemail. If you haven’t been confirmed for an upgrade prior to check-in, you will automatically be given the chance to add yourself to the airport upgrade stand-by list. For Gold and Platinum members, to be added to the upgrade stand-by list at check-in, you must have the required number of 500 mile upgrade in your account.

Systemwide Upgrades:  Executive Platinums also receive eight free one-way systemwide upgrades upon qualification or re-qualification for your elite status level.   Systemwide upgrades allow Exec. Plats. to confirm upgrades to the next class of service at the time of booking (provided upgrade seating is available) when flying on most Business Class and Economy Class fares.

AwardsThere are three types of flight awards:

  • MileSAAver ®: require fewer miles but have blackout dates and seating restrictions.
  • AAnytime ®: most flexible; allow you to book any unsold seat on any day.
  • Dynamic (for elite members only):  Economy Class award for travel within the U.S. for fewer miles than an AAnytime® award.  Miles required vary depending on the published fare price.
  • $75 award processing fee when booking less than 21 days from departure.  (Waived for Executive Platinum, Platinum and Gold using miles from their account).
  • AA/Citi cardholders have access to reduced mile awards.
  • One way awards with one stopover permitted.
  • American Airlines Awards redemption chart.
  • oneworld miles redemption chart.
Changes: 
  • Same-day change: $75 fee (AAdvantage Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum can stand-by for free).
  • Other changes: $200 fee plus any difference in fare.

Share your thoughts or reviews on the American AAdvantage program with our readers below.

  • http://www.facebook.com/maggiesolis.72 Maggie Solis

    The main problem is there are too many ppl enrolled– so, unless your schedule is very, VERY flexible, and you are tenacious, persistent, up 12:01am CT on day 330/331 when seats are “loaded”- and you happen to get a decent agent willing to help you— you will be “charged” for the Anytime Award which can be as much as triple a regular award. BTW, the awards are not free. There are junk fees and “taxes”– BA, in particular, is obscenely expensive. Plan on spending $1,500+ per biz ticket. All that glitters ain’t gold– or platinum. AA needs to take a look at itself and its loyal pax before they discover Virgin America, or even Jet Blue.

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