Published in: Credit Cards | Sept. 21, 2018

Here's How Many Points You Need to Get a Free American Airlines Flight

By:  Eric Volkman

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People sitting in airport with plane outside window

Image source: Getty Images

As a corporation, American Airlines has been through some wrenching changes this decade. One part of its business that has made it through the fire, however, is its long-standing frequent flyer program, AAdvantage.

It’s a sprawling, popular initiative for the big airline, not least because it isn’t hard to earn a free flight through it. Here’s how to do that, and more to the point, the number of miles you’ll require for your freebie.   

Earning miles with American Airlines

A program with the size and scope of AAdvantage provides plenty of opportunities to earn miles towards that coveted free flight. Here are some of the ways to do so:

Book a flight -- As an AAdvantage member, it’s to your advantage to book air travel through the carrier. The base miles awarded depend on the price of the ticket, and there’s a multiplier depending on what level you’re at in the program. Here’s the schedule:

AAdvantage membership level

Earnings

AAdvantage

5 miles per $1 spent

Gold

7 miles per $1 spent

Platinum

8 miles per $1 spent

Platinum Pro

9 miles per $1 spent

Executive Platinum

11 miles per $1 spent

Data source: Author research.

American Airlines caps the number of miles you can earn from a single flight at 75,000.

The carrier also awards miles for flights taken with its partners in the international oneworld alliance, and a small group of partner airlines outside of the alliance. Miles earned with these airlines also depend on the class of seat. The oneworld alliance is comprised of 13 carriers, including British Airways, LATAM, Qantas, and Japan Airlines.

Buy products and services from partners -- As advertised, AAdvantage is a large program. Many merchants and service providers have partnered up with American Airlines, and transacting with them -- typically through AAdvantage’s online portal, but not always -- will earn miles at varying rates. The rather extensive list includes:     

  • Hyatt Hotels and Resorts
  • Hertz
  • Levi's
  • The Economist magazine
  • Sephora
  • Walmart

Buy or be gifted miles -- In a way it’s odd that you can buy something called “miles.” Welcome to the airline industry! American Airlines is more than happy to sell a few to you, or to a generous friend that wants to give you a present.

The minimum amount for sale is 1,000 miles, and miles are sold in 1,000 increments. The base price is $0.0295 per mile up to 14,000 miles. Above that amount, purchasers receive a 10% discount on the price. The company is also running a promotion through the end of August that awards bonus miles like so:

Miles bought

Bonus miles earned

15,000 to 29,000

3,500

30,000 to 49,000

10,000

50,000 to 74,000

22,500

75,000 to 99,000

40,000

100,000 to 149,000

55,000

150,000

85,000

Data source: Author research.

That limit rises to 200,000 for those transferring miles to another AAdvantage member. Again, transferring is done in increments of 1,000 miles, minimum 1,000, at a cost of $0.01375 per mile up to 9,000 miles. Past that, miles cost $0.0125. There is currently no promotion on transferring miles.

Use a credit card -- AAdvantage has a well-established credit card rewards program with its own co-branded set of credit cards. Frequently American Airlines flyers may benefit from carrying once of these cards whereas more people will benefit from versatile travel credit cards. These include cards that you can apply rewards as statement credits or cards that offer points transfers programs where you can maximize redemption value with American Airlines.

How many points you need for a free American Airlines flight

With American Airlines vast reach, you can fly basically anywhere in the world assuming you’ve got enough points. For a bonus flight, the carrier charges by region and by seat class.

For example, a round-trip flight originating in the “Lower 48” U.S. states and terminating in the carrier’s South America Region 2 (to which belongs Argentina, Venezuela, and Brazil excluding Manaus) will set you back 65,000 miles if you’re seated in the main cabin.

If there are two classes of seats in the chosen plane, Business/First class will cost 125,000 for the same flight. If all three American Airlines classes (Cabin, Business, and First) are available, the price for top-level First class is 180,000 miles.

Here is the base award miles schedule for travel to select regions originating in our “Lower 48.” All amounts are for one-way fares.

Travel from the “Lower 48” to:

Main cabin off-peak (Jan. 10-Mar. 14, and Nov. 1-Dec. 14)

Main cabin

Business/First

First

Lower 48

n/a

12,500

25,000

50,000

South America Region 2

n/a

32,500

62,500

90,000

Europe

22,500

30,000

57,500

85,000

Africa

n/a

40,000

75,000

120,000

South Pacific

n/a

40,000

80,000

110,000

Data source: Author's calculations.

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