American Airlines recently introduced significant changes to their award charts that drastically raise prices in many cases, as well as creating two separate charts for travel on American Airlines vs. partner airlines. However, this doesn’t mean you won’t still find some good opportunities to use those miles for incredible vacations.
You can still book cheap awards to key destinations close to home or during the low season, and American has several world-class partners. This article provides some inspiration for what to do with your hard-earned miles.
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Basics of Booking American Awards
Although American AAdvantage generally does not add carrier surcharges to award travel, be aware that they will apply to any travel booked on British Airways or Iberia. Unfortunately, British Airways releases the majority of award space to Europe, and American is still in the process of installing lie-flat seats in its business class cabins. You may not have much of a choice. Airberlin is also worth considering for transatlantic awards, although their network is more limited.
American also places a variety of restrictions on the path you take to your destination — odd rules that the average person wouldn’t be expected to know or even research in advance. These are generally not going to be a problem for the awards discussed here if American Airlines already serves your local airport. However, it may be worth calling an airline representative for assistance if you have trouble booking your award online.
Enjoy a Private Suite on Etihad for 230,000 miles to the Middle East and India
First class travel on Etihad remains one of the ultimate luxury award redemptions using American Airlines miles. Etihad’s A380 aircraft have first class suites (known as the “First Apartments”) that are fully enclosed with a separate bed for more restful sleep. Afterward enjoy a refreshing in-flight shower and a visit to the mid-cabin bar that separates first and business class.
Expect to pay 115,000 miles each way for this over-the-top experience. Business class isn’t bad, either, and requires only 70,000 miles each way. From the Middle East it’s relatively easy to connect onward to India or the Maldives.
Keep in mind that the value of this particular award depends on booking a flight operated with the Airbus A380, and you may have a different experience on other routes that use different aircraft. Along with existing service to New York, London, and Sydney, Etihad has plans to add routes to Mumbai and Melbourne during 2016.
Experience the Hospitality of Cathay Pacific for 220,000 miles in First Class
Like Etihad’s First Apartments, traveling in first class on Cathay Pacific is considered one of the world’s best award redemptions and has also gone up in price significantly. Though there is no in-flight shower, expect a seat that folds down into a very spacious and comfortable bed. The lounge experience in Hong Kong is also exceptional.
Business class is a solid alternative at just 140,000 miles round trip. Cathay Pacific has long used a lie-flat, reverse herringbone design that is considered one of the best business class seats in the industry and a model for the seats American Airlines uses on its Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.
In either case, award space on Cathay Pacific can be limited in advance. Some of the best availability is just days or weeks before departure, which may require paying an additional fee. Fortunately Cathay Pacific’s fleet is more homogenous, so you can expect a good experience in first or business class on all its long-haul routes without worrying much about the aircraft used to operate them.
Visit Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean for Just 30,000 Miles
Travel to Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean is actually between 8% and 14% cheaper now than it used to be under the old award charts. Round trip travel costs only 30,000 miles in economy class or 55,00 miles in business class. While the lower prices make sense given the short distance from American’s hubs along the U.S. southern border, you can also connect from colder regions up north. American Airlines has an extensive route network in Latin America, which will make it easier to travel with fewer connections.
Head Down Under for 160,000 Miles in Business Class
Australia and New Zealand each require just 80,000 miles one way in business class or 40,000 miles one way in economy class from the United States. You can travel on Qantas, American’s oneworld Alliance partner and the dominant carrier in Australia. Or take advantage of American Airlines’ own recently launched served between Los Angeles and Sydney.
However, those obscure routing rules mentioned at the beginning of this article come into play. Connecting flights between North America and Australia that stop in Asia are not permitted. That would be a longer journey, but it is often easier to book because there are more flights available. If you choose to travel via Asia you will need to pay for two separate awards at a higher overall price.
Relax in Tahiti for 125,000 Miles in Business Class
Tahiti — and many other islands in the South Pacific — is not an easy place to reach. American Airlines doesn’t even offer the cheapest award to reach this tropical paradise. However, it is one of the few airlines to partner with Air Tahiti Nui, providing you with the option to redeem miles for nonstop travel from San Francisco or Los Angeles to Papeete in French Polynesia. There are no other nonstop flights to the United States from this remote island except for one other that heads to Honolulu.
Visit Europe in the Low Season for Only 45,000 Miles
Finally, American Airlines continues to offer off-peak awards at a discounted price when you travel on its own aircraft. These awards are only available in economy class and are typically 5,000 miles less than the usual peak award price. However, off-peak awards to Europe represent an even greater discount.
You can save 15,000 miles round trip when booking travel to Europe during the winter months, specifically from November 1 to December 14 and again from January 10 to March 14. If visiting Europe in the winter sounds like a bad idea, consider that the weather probably isn’t any worse than at home, accommodation is cheaper, and crowds are fewer. There may also be holiday festivals that provide a fun opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture.