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American Airlines miles are some of the most valuable miles in the world because Delta and United gutted their award charts in 2014, but American hasn’t devalued for several years. The merger with US Airways further put on hold any negative changes to the award chart, but that merger is now complete. So I think we are in the stretch run for earning and redeeming American Airlines miles at the current favorable rates.

Last week, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ MasterCard® dropped its bonus from 75,000 to 50,000 American Airlines miles. It is the card with the $450 annual fee and lounge access. Now that its bonus has dropped, what are the best ways to earn American Airlines miles?

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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 miles after spending $3,000 on the card in the first 3 months of account opening. The card has no annual fee the first year and then only $95 per year and comes with a ton of benefits when flying American Airlines.

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The sign up bonus is enough miles for two roundtrips within the mainland United States, Canada, and Alaska or one roundtrip to Europe, South America, or Asia.

I ranked the card #2 on my top ten list of the best cards for free travel this month because of

  • the massive sign up bonus
  • American Airlines’ cheap award chart
  • the fact that cardholders get a 10% rebate on the miles used to book American Airlines award tickets
  • the $95 annual fee being waived the first 12 months

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Beyond the benefits when award booking, the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® also makes traveling American Airlines less stressful.

  • Cardholders are entitled to a free checked bag for themselves and up to four companions on the same ticket. That’s up to a $250 value per roundtrip.
  • Cardholders get Group 1 boarding, so they’ll never have to gate check bags after the overhead bin space fills up.
  • Cardholders get a 25% discount on purchases onboard (I recommend the pastrami sandwich!)

The American Airlines card is one of the best airline cards, but it is not right for everyone.

  • What types of people should get the American Airlines credit card and what types shouldn’t?
  • What are the best uses of American Airlines miles?

Benefits of American Airlines Miles

Cheap Award Chart & Amazing Partners

American Airlines miles are the best miles for booking ultra-luxury trips because American Airlines miles can book:

  • Etihad First Class
  • Qantas First Class
  • Cathay Pacific First Class
  • Qatar First Class
  • British Airways First Class
  • Malaysia First Class
  • Japan Airlines First Class

Delta miles cannot book international First Class. United gutted its award chart for partner First Class, so that its prices are almost double what American Airlines charges to fly some of the nicest products in the world.

United would charge 120,000 miles one way to fly from the United States to Southeast Asia via Asiana First Class. American would charge 67,500 miles via Cathay Pacific First Class, which is a better product in my opinion.

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On the opposite end of the spectrum, American Airlines miles are the best for economy awards too. American features off peak dates with super cheap economy awards to:

  • Japan & Korea
  • Europe
  • South America
  • Central America
  • Caribbean
  • Hawaii

Delta charges 70,000 miles roundtrip to Japan. American charges as little as 50,000 miles.

United charges 60,000 miles roundtrip to Europe or Southern South America. American charges as little as 40,000 miles.

American is cheaper than its competitors because they both devalued their award charts in the last year. American will likely release a new award chart in the next few months with a few months notice until the new prices take effect. That gives us maybe six months (a complete guess, no inside info) to earn and burn miles. (Though you can always book awards up to 330 days out, so six months to book means 17 months to travel at the current prices.)

10% Rebate on Awards

Folks who have the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® can do even better than the award prices I just quoted. One benefit of card membership is a 10% rebate on the miles used to book American Airlines awards up to 10,000 miles rebated per calendar year.

That means a 40,000 mile off peak roundtrip to Europe is only 36,000 miles net. A 67,500 mile treat in Cathay Pacific First Class is only 60,750 miles net.

A cardholder who redeems 100,000 American Airlines miles each year (very doable for most people) gets back 10,000 American Airlines miles.

The process is automatic and the rebate posts within a few weeks. Here’s a post I wrote about the benefit in 2012.

Benefits When Traveling

Free Checked Bag

Cardholders get a free checked bag on domestic American Airlines flights (everyone gets a free checked bag on international flights), and up to four companions on the same reservation get the same benefit. Since the first checked bag normally costs $25, a family of five could clean up with this benefit, saving $250 per roundtrip.

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I used this benefit to save $25 per one way ticket when I have to check a tennis or golf bag. Otherwise it’s one (carry on) bag travel for me.

Group 1 Boarding

Since all the airlines started charging for checked bags, more people are carrying on big roll-a-boards that need to go in the overhead bin. When those fill up, you have to surrender your carry on for a dreaded “gate check.” I hate to gate check my carry ons because I have to wait around for 15 extra minutes to get the bag at baggage claim and because I lose access to everything in the bag during my flight.

The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® gets you Group 1 boarding on American Airlines flight, so you will definitely secure overhead bin space and avoid gate checking. This came in handy for me last week to keep my big backpack on the plane and not under the seat in front of me.

Best Uses of American Airlines Miles

Here are the basics of the AAdvantage program and the award booking rules.

American Airlines miles are best used for:

  • International Premium Cabins
  • Off Peak economy awards
  • Awards that are severely under-priced on the American Airlines award chart (here are five such awards)

American Airlines miles are almost never your best option for domestic economy awards.

Why not?

If there is MileSAAver award space on the flight you want, you can book it with British Airways Avios instead, almost certainly for fewer miles.

If there is not MileSAAver award space on the flight you want (only AAnytime space), you are almost certainly better off using Arrival miles to book the ticket.

Who Should and Shouldn’t Get This Card?

Look back at the previous section. Will you use the miles for a high value use? If so, this card with its 50,000 bonus miles and other benefits is a no-brainer.

Will you use the card for a low-value use? Skip the card and get the right card for your trip goal.

Earn 75,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Just getting started in the world of points and miles? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card for you to start with.

With a bonus of 75,000 points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months, 5x points on travel booked through the Chase Travel Portal and 3x points on restaurants, streaming services, and online groceries (excluding Target, Walmart, and wholesale clubs), this card truly cannot be beat for getting started!

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