Easiest Places to Book with American Airlines Miles


Earlier today, I explained why American Airlines miles are not very good to go to Europe in Business Class (and what the best option is.) Every type of miles has strengths and weaknesses, and overall I consider American Airlines miles the most valuable miles. Here are the strengths of American Airlines miles:

  • Economy awards to Australia, including via Hawaii
  • Business and First Class awards to East Asia
  • Business and First Class awards to the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and Maldives
  • Latin America awards
  • Cross-country awards in international-quality First Class
  • Economy awards to Europe

American Airlines miles are strong to every continent except Africa, can access some of the world’s nicest Business and First Classes, can be used for one way awards, and feature the cheapest award chart since United and Delta jacked up their prices last year. They’re also really easy to get.

Some credit card offers in this post have expired, but they might come back. If they do they will appear –> Click here for the top current credit card sign up bonuses.

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® offers 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, and the business version, the CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®, also offers 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles and two Admirals Club lounge passes after spending $3,000 on the card in the first three months.

That’s 106,000 American Airlines miles just for getting two cards and meeting the minimum spending requirements.

Let’s go through the strengths I’ve outlined one-by-one.

Australia in Economy

American Airlines’ oneworld partner Qantas flies from Los Angeles, Dallas, New York, and Honolulu to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and beyond.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 11.37.32 AM

Award space is very rare in Business (my review) and First Class between the United States and Australia, but it is wide open for two people in economy. American charges only 37,500 miles each way in economy between the United States and Australia, not bad when tickets often go for near $2,000 roundtrip.

Here’s what economy award space for two people looks like next month, a peak time, from Los Angeles to Sydney.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.27.12 AM

American Airlines also partners with Hawaiian Airlines, which flies from Honolulu to Sydney and Brisbane. If you want to add Hawaii to your Australian vacation, these flights are ideal and also feature a ton of award space. Here is the calendar for two passengers in November.Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.29.07 AM

Unfortunately stopovers are not permitted on American Airlines awards, so if you don’t live in Hawaii, you’ll need to book a separate award to get there before your American Airlines award from Hawaii to Australia. (Here are the cheapest ways to get to Hawaii.)

East Asia in Business and First Class

Two words: Cathay Pacific.

American’s Hong-Kong-based partner Cathay Pacific has:

  • top notch Business and First Classes (review)
  • ample award space in Business and First Class
  • predictable schedules for releasing Business and First Class award space
  • a great route network in East Asia
  • cheap award space

American charges only 55,000 miles each way to East Asia in Cathay Pacific Business Class and 67,500 miles each way in First Class. Those prices are ludicrously cheap when you consider that United charges 120,000 miles one way from the United States to East Asia in Asiana First Class, which is comparable, but not quite as good in my opinion. (Review of Asiana First.)

Cheap to Book Your Own Throne in Cathay Pacific First Class

Here is the release pattern to pick up two Business Class seats, and here is the pattern to pick up two First Class Seats. Cathay Pacific award space must be searched on ba.com and booked by calling American Airlines.

Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and Maldives in Business and First Class

You can redeem American Airlines miles on both Etihad–hub in Abu Dhabi–and Qatar–hub in Doha. Both fly to the United States, Europe, and Indian subcontinent with strong route networks and ultra-luxurious premium cabins. Here’s a video of Etihad First Class.

Etihad award space must be searched on Etihad’s website–here’s how–and booked by calling American Airlines. Qatar award space searched on ba.com and booked by calling American Airlines. While these extra steps are annoying, they at least ensure that the award space is kept out of view of casual award searchers, and ensures excellent award space.

When people come to my Award Booking Service wanting to go to the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, or Maldives, I always hope they have American Airlines miles. That’s doubly true if they want to fly in Business or First Class.

American charges:

  • 45,000 miles each way in economy to the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, or Maldives
  • 67,500 miles each way in Business
  • 90,000 miles each way in First

Again, this is well below what Delta and United charge, and those types of miles offer worse award space in worse Business and First Classes.

Latin America

American Airlines has the best network in Latin America by far. It also partners with LAN and TAM (searchable on ba.com), which add considerably to the network, especially intra-country (like intra-Brazil or intra-Peru.)

Award space is widely available to most countries in economy. Here’s award space to Peru in April for two people.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.31.31 AM

Award space in premium cabins varies by route. Check the route you want to try to crack the pattern. To Buenos Aires, the pattern seems to be that First Class award space opens up within three weeks of departure.

Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.30.21 AM


Cross-Country in International First Class

American Airlines operates three-cabin planes between New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles. Both Business and First Class feature fully flat beds.

Award space is not great on these routes in advance for two people. You seem to be limited to booking on Saturdays.
Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.33.06 AM

But both routes in both directions open up award space for 2+ passengers in the last week before departure in First and Business Class. Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.36.00 AM Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.38.04 AM

Keep in mind that American Airlines would collect a $75 fee for booking within 21 days of departure. That might make these flights a better candidate to be booked with Avios, which doesn’t collect such a fee.

Europe in Economy

Europe is available to people with American Airlines miles who are willing to fly economy. Plus American Airlines charges only 20,000 miles each way in economy to Europe for seven months out of the year, from October 15 to May 15.

I limited my search on aa.com to showing only American Airlines flights (to avoid seeing British Airways award space, which has big fuel surcharges) and here were the results for April for two passengers to London…Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.40.53 AM

…and home from Paris.Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 9.41.08 AM

Airberlin, Finnair, US Airways, and Iberia also offer useful economy award space available to American Airlines miles, and all partner space also prices out at the off peak price of 20,000 miles one way during most of the year.

Bottom Line

All miles have their strengths and weaknesses. The glaring weaknesses of American Airlines miles are Europe in Business and getting to Africa.

But the strengths are formidable. American Airlines miles are easy to get and can be redeemed on a much cheaper award chart than Delta and United miles, especially for Business and First Class. American’s partners have the most luxurious Business and First Classes too. And American Airlines miles have great award space:

  • Economy awards to Australia, including via Hawaii
  • Business and First Class to East Asia
  • Business and First Class to the Middle East, Indian Subcontinent, and Maldives
  • Latin America
  • Cross-country flights in international-quality First Class
  • Economy awards to Europe

Key Links

Each card offers 50,000 bonus AAdvantage miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months:

Some credit card offers in this post have expired, but they might come back. If they do they will appear –> Click here for the top current credit card sign up bonuses.

  • Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® (personal)
  • CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard® (business)


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.

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  1. We should stop saying that LAN/TAM significantly extend the reach into South America. Their award availability is so scarce most of the time, that matching it with AA’s availability for the other leg is challenging game.
    You can certainly plan your trip based on that rare availability, but that requires a huge flexibility (not talking about which day to fly, but which month to fly!) that’s not there for 99% of the flyers.

  2. Mr Peteco
    Your right and wrong you have to be FLEXIBLE if you want to use award points or travel in general with the dates . Most can’t do what he can do but he gives you ideas you can use . I booked my 1/10 trip (ORD>HNL 45k+$86 RT) on the 4th and I’m checking the flt for a good seat 5x a day . I just got a great seat back at 6am when united released it .. Lots of hours spent but you can always pay cash and be done with it .

    Good Luck

    • How do you get the good seat without paying for it? Whats a “good seat” to you? Even when one gets open, isn’t there a price attached to it, compared to regular seats?

      • I just got a regular window seat on the bulk head and a regular window seat in the back and I’m waiting for them to release the other seats before Sat. Flt to make 3 . I have a United card TWICE they upgrade me to $109 comfort seat for free on other flts to EU so I can hope . I used my United card to pay the awards fees ($86) and I got my bag FREE both ways .. I check all the time most can’t . Delta is the worse they changed my May EU flt and didn’t email me BUT I caught it because I check every 30 days future flts and 7 days before their ALL not trustable.


      • Alex
        Take a good look at the seating chart I love a 2+4+2 twice I sat in a back window seat on a RT to EU and NO one sat next to me booked 7 months out everyone likes to seat in the front .
        My room was right across the hall from the elevator service room last week UP ALL night I got very lucky and the tour staff changed it when hotel said NO and some poor person got stick with it on New Years.
        Can’t win them All….

  3. Is there any way to upgrade an AA coach award ticket, with points or cash? Since the desirable international business award seats are so hard to come by, can one buy $ or mileage upgrades later on?

    United allows cash and points upgrades on cheap international economy fares. Does AA offer anything like this as well?

      • They are subject to capacity controls but they do at least release some upgrade space on their TATL flights, as opposed to zero award space. It’s kind of a wash I think. Anytime rate of 220k round trip or $1500 ($800 economy ticket + $700 co-pay) and 50k miles (with less flight choice)?

  4. I just did my own check on AA bookings to Europe (ROM) for this April. To my surprise, there was a ton of space on most of the dates that month at the 20k level (via Heathrow). However, the fees were $320 per ticket for a one-way flight. When I restricted it to just AA flights, I got a much worse connection (BOS-ORD-FCO), but $25 fees.

    Is that just how it is? How would I force booking on something like Iberian (if the fees are in fact better there)? Might be worth the $1500 (for 5 people) to improve the flights.. ugh.

    • (oh, and there was only one solitary date in April with one flight at the $25-fee/20k mile level.. so obviously that requires some 11-month-prepurchasing)

  5. @dbeach:
    Considering that a round-trip business class ticket to Europe on AA would be around $4,000, I agree that $1500 + 50K miles is not a bad deal (as painful as it is to pay anything for an award seat!). Not only do you get to choose your flying dates and times, but you earn mileage as well (unfortunately you only get the economy mileage, not the add’l percentage for a business class ticket). Flying coach, I’d probably need a day or two in a hotel in Europe to recover from jetlag, flying biz I’d sleep the whole way.

  6. It’s very easy to find flights during non-peak season and for two people. But for lot of folks they have to travel when school is out (N.A. Summer, Christmas, Spring break, Thanksgiving). I suggest once in a while please post your research on those dates and for more than 2 people (family) so that we can learn the tricks of the trade (bec. some of your readers are in that category). Thx.

  7. I agree that AA miles for coach flights to Europe during off-peak times offer reasonable value (many days available for 20,000 miles without BA fuel surcharges; others available AAnytime for 45,000 miles one way on AA metal). But, during summer, the only availability is on BA or at much higher AAnytime prices (65,000 miles most days; 110,000 one way coach on peak days). Overall, I find my UA miles offer much more consistent value to Europe during peak times in coach than my AA miles. (In fairness, I’m UA Gold and AA non-elite, so I do have access to elite UA coach inventory. Non-elite travelers might not find much value in either program.)

    (Re “much better BA availability” – I suspect BA and AA might offer comparable numbers of award seats, but the demand for BA seats is much lower because of the confiscatory fuel surcharges.)

  8. If only they’d get more partners into the online booking process at the website. The website is really good only for North America, the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America, and Australia. Anywhere else I feel I’m probably missing options. United, though not perfect, does much better in making partner flights visible for online booking.

  9. Scott, how many miles does American charge for premium economy on Cathay Pacific? There is no business or first availability for any of the days I want to travel in early-mid Feb, but they do have premium economy. I read several reviews, and it sounds like it might be worth it depending on how much they charge.

    • You cannot use AA miles to fly Premium Economy on any airlines (or any miles from an American airline to fly premium economy, probably because none of our airlines offer it.)

      Keep your eye on those flights. Business and First will probably open up.

  10. What’s it like flying from the USA all the way to Australia in economy? Does it physically and mentally drain you and leave you stir crazy? I’ve been hesitant to even consider such a long flight in economy. My limit in economy is about 8-10 hours.

  11. Scott, what do the stopover rules look like on AA, if you don’t mind my asking. In the (above) BOS-ORD-FCO routing, is there a way to turn it into a slightly longer stay in Chicago? (overnight, or all day, or something like that). Thanks..

    • (oh, and I’m not totally lazy.. you did have a post about this like 9 months ago, but now that the airlines are merging, I don’t know if things have been updated/announced)… Thanks again.

    • AA don’t allow any stopovers at all anymore, not even from the international gateway as they used to. On an international flight like that though, you are allowed up to a 24-hour connection, so you could potentially get almost a full day in Chicago if you wanted.

  12. I need 4 seats which is always a challenge to find premium award space. On Cathay Pacific, west coast to HKG, I see 4 Biz seats at BA.com and Qantas but AA won’t let me book more than 331 days out. Is there any way around this? I’m afraid the award space will be gone before I get a chance at it.

    Also I don’t see much First class space even for 2 persons, if its not available 350 days out, when does Cathay release more First class award space? Thanks.

  13. I’m sure if the whole plane was sold out the good , fair and pure people at any airline would return that seat to award seat ..Yea and I’m in Maui ..


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