What Exactly Is American’s AAdvantage?

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Related posts:
-American Joins Delta And United In Revenue Based Mileage Earning
-A Comparison Of AA, Delta, And United Saver Award Space: Is AAdvantage The New SkyPesos?
-Is AAdvantage A ScAAm? See For Yourself And Let The DoT Know

American’s AAdvantage program has been undergoing death by a thousand cuts.

Clearly the mergers of the last decade have decimated airline loyalty programs. The loss of AirTran, America West, Continental, Northwest, and USAirways have meant that the remaining oligopoly of airlines no longer need to compete on the same level that they used to. Hubs have been eliminated and will continue to disappear. Miles have become harder to earn when flying and become less valuable when cashed in.

In the meantime Delta has put all of their focus into their airline operations and they no longer even publish award charts.
United devalued their program in 2014 in one fell swoop. But after American’s changes, the United mileage program is far superior and the airline’s operations have been rapidly improving since they fired Smisek.

American’s trickle style roll out of bad news since the merger coupled with poor airline operations and abysmal award availability has been nothing short of a horror film.

1. They removed the ability to get a free stopover on award tickets without warning. Their own partner Alaska allows a stopover on one-way tickets even when redeeming for American flights. Competition like United still allows for a stopover and open jaw on awards that make using miles very valuable when utilized properly.

2. They removed their lucrative round-the-world award chart without warning. We got great use out of it on a trip around the world in 2010 and would have liked to have known before it was removed. United and ANA still have good round-the-world options.

3. They increased their AAnytime award flight options to have multiple levels of expensive awards, making it cost prohibitive to redeem for flights on peak dates. United still maintains one rate that makes the higher award level far more reasonable than American.

4. They still don’t provide free upgrades for lower and mid-tier elites as Delta and United do.

5. The new Platinum Pro level is the most unimaginatively named level ever and is the 3rd type of Platinum in American’s program. Worse than its unfortunate name, it won’t have the fee-waiver benefits provided by Delta and United like free award cancellations and free confirmed standby and it only gives 2 free 50 pound checked bags compared to 3 free 70 pound bags with Delta or United Platinum.

6. They’re finally rolling out domestic upgrades on award tickets, but only for top-tier Executive Platinums (though that comes after cutting their international upgrade certificates in half). Delta offers this for Gold and higher while United offers this to all elites who have a United credit card.

7. They’re devaluing their Gold and Platinum lifetime status levels by introducing higher levels and upgrades that are prioritized by the amount of money you’ve spent on flights in the past 12 months, something that no other airline does. So much for long-term loyalty.

8. They’re now requiring $3K in spending on top of flying to earn Gold, $6K for Platinum, $9K for Platinum Pro, and $12K for Executive Platinum. That’s copying Delta and United’s requirements. However Delta and United waive the spend requirement for foreign members while American will not.

9. Delta and United also waive the elite spend requirement if you spend $25K in a calendar year on their co-brand credit cards (excluding the ability to earn 1K status on United), while American did not announce any such waiver.

10. Their saver award space availability has deteriorated to the point that I’m not even sure it’s better than Delta’s. Both of those airlines lag miles behind United, especially if you have a United credit card.

11. Their award chart was once a bright spot, but was mAAsacred earlier this year and no longer provides a competitive advantage.

12. They have draconian routing rules, such as not allowing a flight from the US to Australia to transit via Asia and not allowing a flight from the US to Southern South America to connect in Central or Northern South America. American also requires that there be a published fare for award flights that you take, that you take the most direct routing, and they limit the total distance you can fly to MPM+25%. These restrictions exacerbate award availability issues. United has none of these restrictions.

13. American charges a massive fuel surcharge to fly on British Airways and a small fuel surcharge to fly on Iberia, making it tough to fly to Europe without paying outrageous fees. United has far more partner airlines than American and doesn’t charge a fuel surcharge for travel on any of them.

14. Operationally speaking, American has the worst tarmac delays, cancellation, and mishandled bag rates among all domestic carriers. Delta is by far the best domestic airline from an operation standpoint, and United is better than American and has been improving.

15. American cancelled their interline agreement with Delta as it became too expensive to keep sending their delayed and cancelled passengers to Delta. United still has an interline agreement with American and Delta, meaning they have more options to accommodate passengers when issues arise. I experienced pain from this issue firsthand.

16. American ended their El Al mileage relationship in 2014 and ended their own flights to Tel Aviv this year, leaving them with zero partners that fly between North America and Tel Aviv compared to 7-11 weekly Delta flights to Israel and 28 weekly Star Alliance flights on United and their partner Air Canada.

17. The OneWorld alliance no longer requires airlines to interline bags to other carriers even within the  alliance if you purchase 2 separate tickets. American claims they will still do so, but in my experience it was very hard to get them to do that and will likely become impossible. Delta and United still interline within their alliance on 2 tickets and United will interline to other airlines if you have elite status or even if you just ask nicely.

18. Many of American’s award partners are still not available online, which means having to call and play call center roulette to book awards on airlines like Air Tahiti Nui, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, JAL, and others. Just today I had an American phone agent outright lie to me about award space that I knew was there. I HUCA’d and received it, but they have seemingly stopped making progress in getting more airlines on their website. Progress has even gone backwards as airlines like AirBerlin have shows more award space on Iberia’s site than on American’s.

19. American’s flight status on their website and app are very primitive. It’s updated very late and often displays incorrect information in delay situations. United’s flight status on their website and app provides far more useful and timely updates and information.

20. American’s customer service is horrendous. I’ve experience this firsthand on a few occasions, but every aspect of their airline from gate agents, club agents, luggage agents, Twitter agents, executive office agents, and DoT representative agents have dropped the ball on our cancelled flight to London and their failure to provide a refund or alternate flight afterward. Delta and United would have had this solved in no time, but nobody at American cares or has the power to fix anything.

21. If you do want to redeem for an American flight, you’ll always do better by using miles from partner airlines like Alaska, BA, or Etihad, so there’s no longer much of a point of collecting miles from American. If you do fly on American you should credit your flights to a partner like Alaska.

22. I’ve found American to be very inflexible to deal with for schedule changes on award tickets. Delta and United are typically quite accommodating when flight times change in my experience, while that can’t be said for American.

23. The bottom line is that if you want operational excellence then your default choice ought to be Delta. If you value your miles then your default choice ought to be United.

But unless you find a cheap fare or you’re stuck in an American captive hub like Dallas, what exactly is American’s AAdvantage and why do they deserve your loyalty?

Did I miss any other disAAdvantages? If you’re an American loyalist, are you planning on sticking around or are you jumping ship?

Hit the comments!

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68 Comments On "What Exactly Is American’s AAdvantage?"

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I take it they still never compensated you for the London fiAAsco?


Forget compensation, they won’t even refund me for tickets we never used due to their mechanical cancellation and they ignore the DoTs repeated outreach.


as lifetime Platinum member the only remaining advantage i see is the ability to choose good seats and 2 free bags – hope this stays:)


Why doesn’t Southwest get any airtime on Dansdeals? It is by far the easiest website to navigate, point rewards are easiest to book (and change or cancel bookings), and you always get two free checked bags.


We shall see 😛

It does: http://www.dansdeals.com/index.php?s=southwest

The main issue is the lack of aspirational awards. Most people can afford a ticket from LGA to ORD. Points are nice for that, but being able to fly international business or first class is a more aspirational and fun goal.


The big question is what to do with all our million miles


Find a DeLorean and use them back in February when they were far more valuable.

Nathan. Szpilzinger

I was an exexutive platinum. But left to fly with JetBlue. My partners and I fly to Trinidad and to Grenada both aa destinations, but I would much rather fly anybody else including Caribbean air

Jack out of the box

I’ve stopped working to amass AA miles basically since the time they dropped Elal. I’m waiting for a chance to get some value out of half a million. I’m not so hopeful.


@Dan- wow you certainly have your list of grievances. My main issue seems to be lack of saver availability and how they always seem have some sort of delay/issue when I fly.


They also eliminated Dynamic Awards with the merger. They were only offered to elites but could be useful.

One plus I can say about AA is that allowing date and time changes makes awards useful when you can’t get a seat on the flight you really want but are willing to take a chance and wait for something to change. With award inventory being so limited, other programs should do the same.


I am executive platinum on AA and have been for 6 years. I will not re qualify this year for many of the reasons stated above.

Well done Dan!


Oh my! If we only held other services in life to the same standards. Imagine motor vehicle agency if they had a Pre-check or Elite fast line? What about an amusement park….if we only got to the front of the line if we had award miles. Why do we treat air travel like if it’s more important than….well you get the point!


What would you recommend I do with 500,000 AA miles?


I think that for the average flier they are ok. I have 150k+ aa miles from credit cards and I fly to la from time to time. Its 11250 miles(since I have the card I get 10% back) to fly one way to just about anywhere in the US including la in economy. Yea you need to be flexible with the dates but i get a free bag and priority boarding(dont really care about the boarding) so it works great for me. I booked a couple flights for 22.5k miles business class from ny to lax before the rate hike but now its only 29250 which isnt horrible.

If you have set dates and need business class or fly international then yea it sucks but for flexible travel in economy its fine


Those are definitely major issues.

If the amusement park operated like an airline (no name changes, price changes every hour, park randomly closed, etc) they’d be out of business.

Depends where you want to go, but good luck.

There are exactly 2 saver coach award dates for JFK-LAX nonstop from next week through the end of the year.

Other cities are abysmal as well nowadays. Just how flexible are you saying people should be…


Stuck with them 🙁
Have 2 million miles, never able to use them 🙁


But they are still my best option for flying to the UK with miles!

not sure

So just so that I am clear, delta is worth pesos and american has no advantage? I guess the mileage games are over?

time to go get a job everyone.


Nice post, Dan. As a former AA elite, I too have been disillusioned with the changes to AAdvantage. If UAL service continues to improve, I will likely try them more and consider the Mileage Plus credit card.

I suppose you wouldn’t expect AA to reach out to you after a public posting like this.


List is a bit long for twitter, but how about see if anyone at AA would comment on this via email to their exec office? (assuming anyone there would read it/respond)

Challenge them by letting them know you’ve already posted it on your website with XX,000’s of daily readers and are waiting to post a response from AA.

To Sum It Up

AA has gone downhill for both their elite flyers and standard. When I have to use 30-50 thousand miles for a one-way economy domestic flight compared to 12,500-17,500 on Delta for the same route, you know something is wrong.
I’d also mention that you have to pay $75 for an award ticket booked within 21 days, the only airline I know of that requires that (other than United, but there’s a way around that. as mentioned at your seminars 🙂


Award availability is so bad that I’m assuming the only reason they have the loyalty program is to stash cash from their credit card partners


hmm… looks like i should switch back to my united… sigh

Tom Brady

Although I am disappointed about the Aadvantage devaluations – and it’s a little more disappointing considering that I just earned EP – I still think that AA EP is the best top tier elite status of the big 3 US airlines overall, and that it definitely is for me.

With EP you get upgrades on all domestic flights, even on routes where the aircraft features lie-flat seating like JFK-LAX and SFO, as opposed to Delta and United. Also, AA flies wide-bodies with lie flat J with direct isle access, on several other domestic routes including MIA-LAX.

I consider AA’s 4 SWU’s to be the most valuable international upgrade benefit of the 3 airlines. AA economy fares from NYC to HKG via DFW can be consistently found for under $600 when booking in advance. When you consider that you can use your upgrades on those flights and that AA operates arguably the best J hard product between DFW and HKG, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

Oneworld Emerald has the best Lounge access policy of any alliance status by far (on that previous example of flying to HKG in AA J for under $600 round trip, I’d have access to The Pier F Lounge when departing HKG).

Lastly, if I had to earn miles with any 1 of the 3 airlines, it would unquestionably be American as their miles have the most aspirational uses. From what it sounds like based on what people write who have flown these products, the only star alliance F product that someone could theoretically say with a straight face is definitely better than the F products offered by AA partners, EY, CX, and possibly JL, is SQ. SQ F can’t be booked with United.

With all of that said, while I understand for some people it may be more worthwhile to just fly whichever airline is cheapest, and to credit AA flights to Alaska without going for any status, I do not understand how some people – especially people who say they value miles most for their aspirational uses – say that due to the recent changes, you may be better off switching to UA or Delta, than sticking with AA EP.


What is the best use of 120,000 AA pts for 2, originating or returning to NYC (can be OW)?

Tom Brady

I’d say OW either to South America or Europe in AA 77W J at 57.5k PP.


agree with this 100%. AA isn’t a *bad* program per se, it just has completely and utterly lost its edge.

I am an EXP but will not be re-qualifying. Upgrades even for EXPs are harder and harder to come by, and saver award availability has almost entirely disappeared over the last 6 months.

The only thing that still makes it worthwhile is the fee waiver for award redeposit, which means you make an award and change it 100x without ever incurring a fee.

dale m

I made award tix reservations in December – they changed aircraft on one leg of four (resulting in downgrade from first to biz) in April after the devaluation, but insisted the whole itinerary needed reissued, so they charged the entire tix – both directions – at the new higher rates. Lovely people.



I can help you use them. 🙂 would love to take my wife and daughter on our first family trip 🙂


How so?
Most availability is on BA which means fuel surcharges.

@not sure:
There are other airlines.

AA knows all this. They don’t care.

It would take hundreds of people to write to them to even make a blip.


@Tom Brady:
United gives you RPUs to use for confirmable upgrades on those routes.

They used to give 8 upgrades, 4 is a big downgrade.

United has plenty of aspirational F awards. LH, NH, OZ, etc. And they’re more widely available than CX, EY, and QF. And bookable online.

Plus no spend requirement on Delta or United for top-tier elites based abroad vs $12K to keep AA EP. Have fun with that.

@Tom Brady:
Let me know the next available date for JFK-LHR in J or F on the 77W…

As this post says, Delta and United offer free redeposits to lower elite levels than AA.

@dale m:
Exactly the kind of gAArbage I’m talking about. #AAfulAAirline

Mimi K.

I just booked PHL-LAS w/ AA.
I seriously considered EWR w/ UA even though it was $200 more.
United is such a better Airline.
I’m not referring to the mileage. I’m referring to the operations and employees. Everytime I fly AA I say never again but sometimes it is just way cheaper.
I have 200K AA that someone offered me 1.5 and I turned them down.
now I’m lucky if I get 1.2
I have the Executive card so at least maybe they won’t take away my hand luggage this time. 🙁
I wish I could at least get a miles biz ticket but no availability. I could fly coach for 110K or pay $300 to just buy a ticket so now I’ll have to wait another few months to try to burn them.


I was waiting Lucky to post this 🙂

Excellent summary!


@TBB- if lucky won’t fly AA, then he can only fly delta. UA ain’t an option


Dan, you left one out.

If you any book economy saver awards AA won’t let you BUY extra-legroom economy seats (their “Main Cabin Extra”).

Seriously, they refuse to take my money, and I’m literally forced to deal with only 30″ of pitch on an international economy award flight of 5-6 hours. And there’s plenty of MCE seats available to buy on each flight.

Most people don’t realize this, it hasn’t been reported in any of the usual blogs. You really should!


Dan, I’m not very experienced with this but I have used AA miles to go to Israel in the past. I have accumulated around 240,000 miles over several years and wanted to visit my kids in Israel. What do you suggest I do with my AA miles? I’m not using that card so much anymore but I do want to take advantage of what I’ ve earned!


One more thing – I wanted the use the miles in November. Also, what card do you recommend to use to get United miles?


One more thing – the two AA cards I’ve been using are citibank gold and citibank platinum- I wanted the use the miles in November. Also, what card do you recommend to use to get United miles?


@Mimi K.:

Keep waiting.

And considering Delta means Skypesos it’s not surprising that he’ll stay put.
But what’s the scoop with Gary?

It should open at checkin, no?

AA is very tough for Israel. United is 100x better.

Any Chase Ultimate Rewards or United card will help.


Sorry to keep posting on this – Are you saying that you can’t even use them to Israel via England or Spain anymore? So what do you recommend is the best way to use my AA miles?


You can, though via London means paying fuel surcharges, especially if you fly BA across the Atlantic.

You can also try to find AirBerlin award space, though it seems to be easier to search that on Iberia’s site.


Happy to have just (prior to the devaluation) burned most of my remaining miles on a round trip for 2 to the Maldives on EY in first class on the 380. We’ll remember that trip for much longer than any domestic flight in Y.


I am so glad I stuck with United and didn’t try to do an Exec Platinum status match! Now, United just needs to step up the innovation and bring even more value to Mileage Plus.


there is 1 advantage that AA has.
their off peak award tickets to europe.
I don’t think any other airline offers off peak awards


United smells the weakness you have laid out here.

That’s why Chicago is getting the first crack at the best lounges.


They also fly to fewer places and don’t fly direct to those few places from NY. Delta and United have much more extensive route maps to which they fly themselves direct from NY.

They still have operating agreements to work with EL AL (albeit not a mileage arrangement). If you buy a flight to TLV, it stops in CDG and EL AL picks up with AA flight codes.


So with 500k miles. How can I get from Israel to Brazil?
Any way for LATAM award space?


I was about to sign up for 6 AA Citi cards, for me and my wife to get first class to thailand. Is that still the cheapest way to get to thailand on Cathay Pacific?


Am I planning on sticking around or jumping ship? I am leaving and I wrote American last week and told them so. I only wish I had not purchased enough tickets already to qualify for Executive Platinum status in 2017. I am going back to United after a seven year absence.


Dan can please show me an article that explains the basics of how “open jaw” works and what it means. Tia


I’m sitting with nearly 700K miles on American, Executive Platinum status (which I’m unlikely to maintain next year because of the new system), although I have already qualified for Platinum thanks to the spend rules only taking effect in January, and million miler status.

What do you suggest that I do?


PS I live in Israel. Travel frequently to the US.


hi dan whats the rule on switching a ticket, with in the year same route just different dates?

the ticket that i want to change will be a few days after the original flight? can that be done?


but then what do I do with my 300K miles that I’ve accumulated over the years? I know its nothing to brag about but I’m just asking

Dan's the Man

Dan, Do you think there’s a decent chance that AA would join up with El AL again for award flights to TLV since they no longer fly there? I believe the reason they cancelled it was because when they took over US Air they became competitors with El AL but now that they don’t fly to TLV they should add El AL again.

Stuck with 200k AA

Did availability approve since the original post?


#18 Iberia has nice flight options from TLV to PHL bookable on AA but only by phone.
AA claims they do not charge the $40 fee for phone bookings on Iberia because Iberia can not be booked online. Interestingly, if you book TLV to MAD (on BA) and the MAD to PHL (on AA) separately online it is exactly $40 cheaper !


How so u not pay the $75 fee when u book with mileage less than 21 days???


@Sara: All those fees get waived if you’re Executive Platinum.


Starwood is having an AA transfer bonus sale starting today. 20k starwood will turn into 30k AA. I was made aware of this now after I made a transfer this very morning without reckoning the bonus !!


Wow is Dan angry! even United didn’t get so much criticism

jack bentow

I am EXP 4MM.
I just booked 4 jfk tlv via cdg on AA.
CDG TLV codeshared with LY no surcharge fees.

Return TLV JFK via FCO codeshared LY.

For Sukkot 2016 no issues.

JFK AA 953 EZE to
SCL LA 461 to
JFK LA 530 all for 80000 miles spending one week in BA and one week in SCL.


Dan, what an excellent fact driven analysis. AA used to be far more operationally efficient and a value FF program but they have now dropped the ball in both courts. I fly frequently but not just for leisure, therefore operational excellence is far more important to me. Whilst United’s miles choices and availability are generally far superior to Delta, I have had luck with Delta very often, usually redeeming on their partner airlines. Last month I flew TLV-ROM-JFK on Alitalia, which was both a seamlessly trouble free and comfortable experience, for just 70k in Business and $70, and returned from JFK to TLV via ZRH on SWISS with a United award for 80k, also Business, and about $25. The flight from JFK-ZRH was great. The leg from ZRH to TLV was very substandard whereas the whole AZ experience was excellent, even given that the TLV-ROM flight was European Business seating, i.e. the middle seat empty, not “real” Business as on the LX 330. I would more than happily have returned with AZ but there was no availability the day I wanted.


Talking about routing rules, they don’t allow you to transit from US mainland to Australia via Hawaii anymore either, they will force you to book two separate awards.


Last March (2015), I missed a connection in LAX on AA and got stuck there for 3 hours. I was transferring from San Diego to Boston and assumed the 50 minute connect time was two flights on the same hub and spoke. Turned out the flights from San Diego come in at the other end of the airport. Got to the Boston gate ten minutes before takeoff and the gate was closed.

There were a bunch of American gate agents standing around, and one of them said “Welcome to the new American. It’s called USAir.” When I asked why she said that, they all told me that in the pre-merger days, that flight would have been held for me (and two other people on the San Diego flight who were connecting).

Apparently, many of the changes we’re all seeing were USAir’s way of doing business and not American’s (remember, USAir bought American and took American’s name). That’s why, for example, before the merger, nearly every plane had WiFi, almost every plane was new, and so on. Most of American’s trans-Atlantic flights today are old Airbus 330 models instead of the 77W (777-300) that was in style on American, and that one still gets on JFK-LHR.

Perhaps, the real comparison that should be made here is to USAir’s program and not to the old AAdvantage.

Just a thought.


@Dan: Why don’t you just dispute the charge with your credit card company? This has happened to me and I got a full refund. Of course having a 25+ year flawless credit history with my card issuer probably helped but this is how loyalty pays off in the long run.


How many of you here have taken the time and effort to send POSITIVE feedback about your call center agent, check-in agent, gate agent, or flight crew experiences? I have been flying AA for almost 30 years and I am frankly stunned by the horror stories here. I have experienced none of them. Ever. I’ve had a few bags delayed but no permanent losses. Under irregular operations I have been seamlessly rebooked and/or offered FREE hotel accommodations if I had to overnight somewhere. I routinely provide feedback when experience warrants it and in return I frequently get award reinstatement, ticketing, and change fees waived. I have paid less than $1000 in revenue tickets in the last 9 years and accumulate miles through religious attention to card bonuses and promotions. I am Life Platinum. This game is not that hard. It’s frankly amazing to me how far you can get with AA by just being NICE.