This article is part of our ongoing Business Travel 101 series for newcomers to the world of business travel.
Last updated January 2019.
Offering travellers priority check-in, free international lounge access, priority boarding and more, the American Airlines AAdvantage scheme is a must-know frequent flyer program for travellers both to the USA and those that remain closer to home.
AA’s Oneworld membership also allows members to enjoy many of those perks and privileges across the alliance, including with Qantas, so here’s what you need to know about AAdvantage.
American Airlines AAdvantage 101
In addition to earning miles when travelling with American Airlines, these can too be collected in the AAdvantage scheme with Qantas, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, Fiji Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Japan Airlines, LATAM, Malaysia Airlines and Qatar Airways.
Also on AA’s impressive list of airline partners: Air Tahiti Nui, Alaska Airlines, Cape Air, Cathay Dragon, Finnair, Gulf Air, Iberia, Jet Airways, Royal Jordanian Airlines, S7 Airlines, Seaborne Airlines, SriLankan Airlines, TAM Airlines and WestJet.
Membership in the AAdvantage program is free – simply join on the American Airlines website, take note of your AAdvantage number and quote it when next booking a flight with the airlines above.
AA follows the same points expiry rules as Qantas Frequent Flyer, in that any miles you earn are valid for at least 18 months – and as long as you continue to earn or redeem miles at least once in any 18 month period, your balance won’t expire.
AAdvantage membership tiers: how they’re earned
Starting off as a new member, you’ll progress through the Gold, Platinum and Executive Platinum tiers as you travel more frequently with American Airlines, Alaska Airlines and AA’s Oneworld partners and collect elite-qualifying miles, elite-qualifying points and elite-qualifying segments.
Here’s how that all works: elite-qualifying miles are a tally of the actual miles you’ve earned in the air, so if you earned 10,000 AAdvantage miles on your recent trip with AA, Alaska Airlines or Oneworld members such as Qantas and Cathay Pacific, you’d too have 10,000 elite-qualifying miles.
Elite-qualifying points are different altogether, taking into account both the number of miles you’d normally earn and how expensive or discounted the ticket – for example, buying a full-fare economy flight on AA earns only one elite-qualifying mile per mile flown, but 1.5 elite-qualifying points:
[Click on the image above to enlarge it.]
Finally, elite-qualifying sectors counts the number of points-earning flights you’ve taken in the current membership year with AA, Alaska Air and Oneworld airlines.
Flights taken with other airlines such as Etihad, Fiji Airways and Hawaiian Airlines don’t accrue elite-qualifying miles, points or sectors – merely ‘regular’ miles that can be redeemed for free flights and upgrades – unless the flight was booked via American Airlines on an AA flight number.
(It’s a similar principle to the Qantas Frequent Flyer/Emirates hook-up, in that Qantas members can earn both points and status credits when travelling with Emirates on a QF flight number, but earn only points – not status credits – when flying on an Emirates EK flight number.)
Also in similarity to the familiar Qantas Frequent Flyer program, AAdvantage requires that travellers take at least four flights with American Airlines and/or US Airways each membership year before the higher statuses can be reached.
However you reach your elite tier, your status will be valid for a minimum of 12 months, and then until the end of February in the year thereafter.
For example, reach Gold on July 31 2015 and your status is valid through February 28 2017 (12 months, being until July 31 2016, and then until the end of February in the following year, being 2017), or qualify on January 31 2016 and your status is set until February 28 2018.
American Airlines AAdvantage Gold, Oneworld Ruby
You’ll move up to AAdvantage Gold after reeling in at least 25,000 elite-qualifying points or elite-qualifying miles, or notching up at least 30 elite-qualifying segments in a calendar year.
(You only need to reach one of the elite-qualifying requirements to move up to the next tier, not all three).
Gold members are treated to free space-available first class upgrades on American Airlines flights under 500 miles in length – such as from Los Angeles to San Francisco – and also when travelling with US Airways, and are given one free checked bag on tickets with no inclusive baggage allowance.
Adding to that, Gold frequent flyers can nab a seat in Main Cabin Extra at a 50% discount when pre-booked or at no charge when requested at check-in, earn 25% more ‘regular’ miles on most flights and are exempted from the ‘award processing charge’ when redeeming their miles.
AAdvantage Gold also affords Oneworld Ruby status, unlocking the priority check-in desks across the alliance and also the priority boarding lanes on AA flights, along with a $25 discount on yearly Admirals Club lounge membership.
AAdvantage Platinum, Oneworld Sapphire
Collect at least 50,000 elite-qualifying points, 50,000 elite-qualifying miles or 60 elite-qualifying sectors in a calendar year and a shiny AAdvantage Platinum card is yours, along with Oneworld Sapphire status.
Despite the 'Platinum' branding, that's on-par with Qantas Gold status and gives you access to Australian domestic Qantas Clubs when flying with the Red Roo plus Oneworld business class lounges across the globe.
Still, there's no free lounge access on journeys within North America or between the USA, Canada, Mexico (except to/from Mexico City), the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Caribbean. Platinum members can instead save $50/year on the usual Admirals Club lounge membership costs to cover these trips.
(Complimentary lounge access is otherwise offered only on international flights from these destinations when travelling beyond North America, and when around the world with AA's Oneworld partners.)
Platinums are also higher in the pecking order for those free first class upgrades – processed as early as 72 hours before departure on AA against 24 hours for Gold – and earn double 'regular' miles on most flights, including with Qantas.
Rounding out the roster of perks: up to two free checked bags when flying with AA and with priority tags to match, free selection of Main Cabin Extra seats from the time of booking and priority boarding across the Oneworld alliance.
AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Oneworld Emerald
Atop the ladder, Executive Platinum status is awarded to members earning at least 100,000 elite-qualifying points or elite-qualifying miles each calendar year, or taking at least 120 elite-qualifying flights.
This really is the 'sweet spot' of the AAdvantage program: free space-available upgrades are extended to longer AA flights within North and South America, while all upgrades are processed from as early as 100 hours before departure – ahead of any upgrades for Platinum and Gold members.
ExPlats are also treated to eight 'systemwide upgrades' each year which can be redeemed for confirmed upgrades on American Airlines, American Eagle and US Airways flights of any length (subject to availability), and can take three checked bags on any AA ticket.
Further, these members can switch flights on the day of travel at no charge – similar to 'fly ahead' as we'd know it in Australia – can save $100/year on Admirals Club membership and receive complimentary snacks and alcoholic drinks when flying in economy.
AA also waives various ticketing and frequent flyer award booking and change fees, offers guaranteed seats on already-full flights and more oportunities to use your miles to book an AA flight.
Across the Oneworld international network, privileges extend to first class lounge access, check-in at the first class counters, priority security screening and arrivals formalities in selected airports and an extra bag or 20kg of checked baggage allowance on most Oneworld flights.
Earning and redeeming AAdvantage miles
As is the trend with most major frequent flyer programs, the number of miles earned on flights varies based on whether you bought a cheap or expensive ticket, while the number of miles needed to book a flight depends on where you'd prefer to sit.
On a return business class trip from Los Angeles to New York, you'd collect around 7,426 AAdvantage miles as an entry-level member, roughly 8,664 miles with an AAdvantage Gold card or 12,376 miles as a Platinum or Executive Platinum member.
When using your miles, those same return flights could be booked for 50,000 miles in business class, plus taxes and fees and as always, subject to availability.
Closer to home on AA's new Los Angeles-Sydney flights from December, base-level members are looking at around 22,464 miles on a return business class trip, or ~18,720 miles in return business class with alliance partner Qantas on a QF flight number.
Those same return Qantas flights would require 125,000 AAdvantage miles to book (plus taxes and fees, subject to availability), although AA hasn't yet published how many miles will be required to book its own flights between the continental US and the program's 'South Pacific' region, which includes Australia.
Elsewhere in Australia, AAdvantage members can earn miles when spending on their Diners Club cards and the attached Citi World MasterCards, at some of the major hotel chains including Hilton, Starwood and IHG, and with car hire partners such as Avis, Budget, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty.
Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT