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I love stats, so the 2012 AAdvantage stats at the top of the AAdvantage FAQ caught my eye.

For all of 2012, there were 7,426,930 redemptions of American Airlines miles.

Over 700,000 were for “merchandise” including vacations, which I don’t consider merchandise. Let’s say the vast majority of these redemptions were awful values. Not all non-airfare redemptions are awful–Mommy Points found a good deal for Cubs tickets and experiences with Starpoints–but I rarely see values of even one cent per mile on these types of redemptions.

Over half a million were for upgrades. Upgrades must have been a good deal at some point in history because I am frequently asked about helping people with upgrades. Upgrades are currently an awful deal on American Airlines and on most of its competitors.

Look at this upgrade chart:

Price for one way upgrade from the types of tickets I buy to the next class of service.

There isn’t one upgrade on that chart that would give me more than one cent worth of value per mile. For instance, I would not pay $600 to upgrade a flight to Europe in one direction to business class. At 25,000 miles plus $350, $600 is the price even valuing the miles at one cent each. And of course I value American miles much higher than one cent.

That’s 1.25 million awful redemptions, and we haven’t gotten to the biggest category: AAdvantage MileSAAver and AAnytime awards, of which there were over 5 million awards. I wish these were separated because they are very different. In my life, I have booked two high-miles-price awards (what American calls AAnytime) out of the hundreds of awards I’ve booked. In both cases, I did a cost/benefit analysis and determined that the award was worth paying miles through the nose because the flights were needed, and the cash price was through the roof.

But in the vast majority of cases, high-miles-price awards are an awful deal. MileSAAver awards–low-mile-price awards–will often be a good deal, but not always. I would imagine that a very high percentage of the awards booked were domestic awards and economy awards. Both of those types of awards will struggle to reach the values of international premium awards.

For more info on low-mile-price and high-miles-price awards, check out Rookie Alli’s Do I Have Enough Miles? A Beginner’s Guide to Navigating Award Charts.

The last category, with 1.2 million redemptions is almost certainly the category with the highest value redemptions: Special Mileage Awards / Other Airlines Awards / Other.

This category would include awards on the incredible-value Explorer Award Chart. It would also include any partner awards. Partner awards are always at the low-miles-price, so they’re efficient in that sense. Partner awards–other than some on Hawaiian and Alaska–are also international awards, another type of award that tends to have higher value.

I bet the vast majority of these awards are awards that got fair or excellent value for miles, while the vast minority of other awards got fair or excellent value for miles.

Why does this matter?

Miles are weird. They take some skill, persistence, and creativity to use well. Cash back cards are easy. They take no skill to redeem for maximum value.

If you have international, luxury tastes and the necessary skill, persistence, and creativity, miles are for you, and you’ll be constantly redeeming for 2 cents or more of value per mile.

If you have simpler tastes in travel, or you don’t apply yourself, you’ll get 1 cent of value per mile or less.

There are a lot of people in that second category who are collecting miles on credit cards through every day spending. They shouldn’t be. They should just get a cash back card that earns them 2% or more on all their spending.

Best and Worst of 2012 Awards

My favorite award of 2012 was an award I booked for myself that includes 40 hours of flat-bed business class, four continents, helped me crack free oneways on US Airways, and cost only 100k US Airways miles. See South America, Africa, Europe, and North America in Biz for 100k Miles.

My least favorite award was the Million Mile Award that blew about $20,000 worth of points for one roundtrip in business class.

How do you think AAdvantage members did in 2012? What was your best or worst award of the year?

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