Getting Good Value from American AAdvantage Miles After All

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A few weeks ago I shared my disappointment with where the American Airlines AAdvantage program currently ranks among similar frequent flyer programs. Delta used to be the program that many mocked by calling their SkyMiles SkyPesos, but American has taken over my unofficial bottom slot as being the most difficult program in which to find logical saver award space tickets.

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I gave examples of some pretty standard hub to hub routes where there just were virtually no saver awards for a month at a time, and when there was a saver award, it involved three flights to go 1,000 miles at an off-peak time. It’s a little nuts. Based on the comments in that post most of you guys feel exactly the same way.

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However, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and a program that doesn’t generally have fantastic award space at the moment can come sometimes through for you when no one else can. In other words, never give up, and certainly never just dump your miles and write off a program all together.

I’ve been putting a bunch of time and energy into planning a family ski trip next holiday season to Whistler. I’ve had the hotel locked in on points for a while now, but the window to book award flights just opened in the last few weeks. Not surprisingly, getting award flights for four on a holiday week proved to be the hardest part of the whole equation. I was able to get saver award flights to Vancouver on the outbound by a stroke of luck + potential ‘trick’ I will share later, but getting flights home was just not going well.

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I had secured some standard rate awards on United (25k miles each instead of the preferred 12.5k saver level) just before my elite status dropped, so at least I could get the “free” E+ seats on the reservation. However, at double the saver award price I wasn’t really excited about spending 100,000 United miles plus about $200 in taxes/fees just to fly our family of four home from Vancouver. That was my back-up plan, but I hoped to be able to come up with something better between now and next winter.

I still haven’t been able to find anything better home from Vancouver, but to my utter shock I did find four American saver award seats on a logical itinerary at a good time coming home from Seattle. Gasp. Of course, Seattle is not Vancouver, but that part may work out just fine.

Being able to spend a total of just 50,000 American miles + $20 in taxes/fees instead of 100,000 United miles + $200 in taxes/fees makes me much happier, even if the airport is a bit further than where we want to be in Whistler. Truthfully, I see tacking on a day in Seattle as anywhere from neutral to a perk.

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The whole thing actually gets even better than that. Thanks to my newly matched Alaska MVP Gold 75K status I get free Main Cabin Extra seat assignments on American operated flights. I got a little help from American on Twitter to swap out my American AAdvantage number for my Alaska number in the reservation and voila, I was able to select extra legroom seats for all four of us at no extra charge.

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If this all works out, getting back 100,000 United miles and $200 in exchange for 50,000 American miles and $20 sounds pretty solid to me. Since I recently posted about how much trouble I was having using my AAdvantage miles at the saver level, I wanted to also share this success story to encourage you to keep trying even if you are also not having much luck finding the flights you are after.

Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.

Comments

  1. Guess this really works well only if you are able to cancel the United flights with no penalty? Not sure what the penalties are these days, but they certainly used to be brutal. But good you found something that works!

    • Very true that needs to be factored in. In my case since I booked when I was still a Platinum (barely) I won’t have a cancel fee more than 61 days in advance of travel. Otherwise I would just have to hope there is a schedule change that allowed me to cancel without penalty or just factor the fees into the decision making process.

  2. I have found the same problem with AA rewards. I try to find 1st class award flights and all seats are open on many of the flights, but no award tickets. If there are open seating, they are at terrible times, with a stop that is usually completely out of the way of the destination, when there are plenty of non-stops without a single seat that is taken with no award availability. I am at the point where I am starting to look for hotels to use the points on. At least on Delta I can get a flight I want by paying with points.

  3. I am trying to use the “must stop on the way” trend to my advantage (no pun intended). Booked a couple of trips to Europe and Asia under Saver awards when the Anytime awards were way too expensive mileage wise. So, I am heading to trips that have the longest travel time and have managed to leave a day earlier and stop for overnight in a city and leave the next morning to my destination. I have found many awards that have one arriving at one of the hubs around mid afternoon and leaving next morning to destination. I call that a built-in way to spend a few hours in another city on the way. May or may not work for others schedule.

  4. I’ve had a similar issue with AA in that if any Saver seats are available they are typically only in one direction. Thus, next month my niece and I will use my abundant AA miles to fly from Charlotte but needed to use somewhat-less-abundant UA MileagePlus to fly there from Houston. As we all have learned, because everybody is rich in AAdvantage, nobody is rich.

  5. I was just trying to get seats to Vail for next Winter – Amazing how poor the availability was especially flying into Eagle Creek Airport (EGE) vs Denver – For me its a trip from MHT to EGE for 4 days and then to SFO so really 2 sets of tickets – Wasn’t looking forward to potentially paying 50K miles per person for 1 way.. Amazingly Delta was the best at getting to EGE for 20K and United I was able to snag from EGE to SFO for 12K – Coming back I’ll use my Southwest Companion pass from SFO, so thats next to nothing… I’m ok with 32K for the 2 flights out west… Was hoping for 20 K but this’ll do… Now if only the Marriot Vail would open up availability

  6. This will be our third spring break in Whistler – we love it. I have had success each time using Flexperks Points to book our trip from Charlotte. We did fly in and out of Seattle last time, but we are back to Vancouver this time. Can’t wait for another night at the Vancouver Airport Fairmont.

  7. Here is how insane aa awards have become. Since Southwest has begun flying to Grand Cayman later this year, my spouse and I are making plans to get there. From Milwaukee Rt to GCM it would be around 50,000 – 60,000 points 2 people, but half that if you have companion pass as we do. On American awards, many Fri. , Sat., Sun. Are 65,000 points – ONE WAY PER PERSON. So 260,000 RT – 2 people. INSANE. There were a few days with saver awards for 15,000, but you left in the afternoon and didn’t get there til the following day – wasted a whole day for a 4 hour trip. Aadvantage you’ve become almost criminal!

  8. Take the train from Vancouver to Seattle. It’s great! We just did something similar so we could get home using our southwest companion passes.

    • We took the train both ways from Seattle to Vancouver and back because we found such cheap flights to Seattle. We did not have a good experience on the train. It was delayed significantly one way and was not that easy to get from airport to train and back. We vowed to fly directly to Vancouver next time even if it is more $$$.

  9. I have also noticed the poor availability on AA. I have school age kids, so we do family trips during the December and February. I tried booking flights to Europe for Dec 2017, and there was nothing available for saver awards, even when booking 11 months out. BA was available, but who wants to pay fuel surcharges. I ended up using my AA miles on Iberia, so it worked out. Disappointing that availability is so poor.

    • AA availability is pathetic. To make matters even worse (if possible), they will show saver premium award availability, but when you click it on, the premium award is for a short connecting flight, but the long flight is in economy. Nevertheless, the cost is at the premium level…

  10. I had the same experience last year with AA. My flight back from Rome went to Heathrow and I took BA back to the US. I was a loyal US Air flyer but since American took over the value is very bad.

  11. They allowed their 100k credit card offer to be used multiple times without even paying the huge fee if cancelled within 30 some days. So many people took FULL advantage of this! Now there’s way too many miles out there!

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