5 American Airlines AAdvantage miles sweet spots


Photo: Japan Airlines (Japan Airlines first class in its B777 SkySuite)

Photo: Qantas (First class on Qantas)

Photo: Etihad  (Ethad’s dreamy first class apartment)

Photo: Air Tahiti Nui (Air Tahiti Nui flies between Papeete, Los Angeles and Paris)

Photo: Air Tahiti Nui (Air Tahiti Nui business class)

Photo: Chris McGinnis (Cathay Pacific’s outstanding first class lounge in Hong Kong: The Pier)

Photo: Qatar Airways  (Qatar Airways first class)

Photo: Fiji Airways  (Business class on Fiji Airways, which serves SFO)

The American Airlines AAdvantage program gets a lot of flak about poor availability of award space on its flights. But here’s a good tip: often the best use of Advantage miles is on its partner airlines. That’s especially true when booking seats in first or business class.

American is part of the Oneworld Alliance, which means its partners include British Airways, Cathay Pacific, LATAM, Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Qantas. It also has several non-alliance partners such as Air Tahiti Nui, Etihad, and Fiji. All of these carriers offer outstanding seats and service in business and first class. (See slideshow above)

Part of the difficulty using American Airlines (AA) miles is that is you need to know where to look for award space. American Airlines’ website doesn’t show many partners, so you’ll generally want to search for award space on BritishAirways.com. Additionally, when you are ready to book your tickets on a partner that does not show up on American’s site, you must call AA at 800-882-8880.

Here are five examples of good value in premium cabins from AA partners. (Note that all award prices are one-way.)

1- US to Japan or Korea in Japan Airlines first class (80K miles each way) Japan Airlines first class is an amazing experience, and you can enjoy it for just 80,000 American Airlines miles from anywhere in the continental US to Japan and Korea. (Other parts of Asia are more expensive.) United and Delta charge 75,000-80,000 miles each way for this route in business class, so flying in first for that price is comparatively an excellent deal.

2- US to Australia or New Zealand in Qantas first class (110K miles each way) You can fly Qantas’ big first class seats from the US to Australia or New Zealand for 110,000 AAdvantage miles. This is a solid deal compared with the other major US airline programs – United charges 100,000 miles to fly on its own planes, but 130,000 miles to fly on partner Air New Zealand; Delta SkyMiles doesn’t offer first class at all, but its business class awards start at 110,000 miles, plus hefty fuel surcharges if you end up on their partner Virgin Australia. (Alaska Airlines is a notable exception, with a Qantas first class award at just 70,000 Alaska miles – but if you don’t have Alaska miles, AAdvantage is a good second option).

3- Europe to the Middle East or India in Etihad or Qatar first class (62.5K miles each way) Flying between Europe and the Middle East is a great opportunity to experience the much-hyped Etihad first class apartments or Qatar first class on the A380. Both carriers offer a luxurious experience, and a trip from (for example) London or Paris to India would give you ample time to enjoy the first class amenities, as well as an opportunity to experience either airline’s world-class lounge facilities in their respective hubs.

4- Asia to the Middle East or Indian Subcontinent in first class on your choice of airline (50K miles each way) Flying between anywhere in Asia and anywhere in the Middle East or the Indian Subcontinent is a great opportunity to experience your favorite airline’s first class product for just 50,000 miles each way. Since American has so many partners on both ends, you can choose between Cathay Pacific, Etihad Airways, Japan Airlines, Qatar Airways, all of which have excellent first class cabins and lounges. If you need more flexibility, you can combine your Cathay, JAL, or Qatar flights with business class flights on other Oneworld partners like Malaysia Airlines, Royal Jordanian, or SriLankan to get to your final destination.

5- US to Fiji or Tahiti on Fiji Airways or Air Tahiti Nui business class (80K miles each way) Business class is the highest class of service on both Fiji Airways and Air Tahiti Nui, but they offer the best way to get to Fiji or Tahiti with American miles. (Air Tahiti Nui is also partners with Delta, but booking with AA miles lets you avoid fuel surcharges!) There aren’t a lot of flight options between the US and these Pacific islands, and flights can be very expensive, so even though it’s not first class it’s still a great opportunity to start off your Pacific vacation right.

If you’re a procrastinator, keep in mind that American Airlines charges a $75 close-in booking fee for award tickets booked within 21 days of departure, but otherwise their awards are surprisingly flexible – once booked, you can change your travel dates, routing, and even the carrier (as long as the original and new flights are both Oneworld members) without paying additional fees.

Clearly American Airlines miles offer plenty of options to redeem for luxurious premium cabin experiences to get you to your next destination in style, so don’t discount these miles just because it’s tough to find availability on American Airlines’ own flights—search on partner sites like BritishAirways.com