At first, I wanted to update this post from August 2015. I wrote it when I was madly in love with the then awesome AAdvantage program.
I decided against it for 2 reasons. First, a LOT of things have changed. It would’ve been an exercise in striking whole paragraphs. And second, I thought it would be interesting to keep both posts just for the purposes of historical comparisons.
Having said that, there are very few FF programs with ZERO redeeming qualities. AAdvantage is not an exception. It’s still good and even awesome for certain things, so let’s dig in.
AAdvantage Sweet Spots in South America
Galapagos from the U.S. for 40K in Economy and 60K in Business per RT
Galapagos is one of the miracles of the world and, despite its relatively close proximity to the mainland, flying there can be costly. Here is a cash fare to Galapagos from Miami.
AAdvantage miles can book you a flight on LATAM or a combination of American and LATAM. You can’t book LATAM on AA.com, so you would have to call, but availability seems to be decent (search on BA.com and disregard the prices you’re seeing in this screenshot).
The fare would be even higher for flights from other cities like New York or Houston, so your 35,000 miles will go an especially long way on this particular route.
Please note that your Business Class award would cost 7,500 miles more each way if you’re flying in a lie-flat seat.
U.S. to Manaus, Brazil for 40K in Economy and 60K in Business per RT
Manaus is a gateway to the Amazon and the only Brazilian city that American curiously enough placed in South America Region 1 (Brazil is in Region 2). American used to fly to quite a few Brazilian cities, but it’s dropped all of them except São Paulo, Manaus, Brasilia, and Rio (seasonally). The good news is that Manaus is still on the list, which means you can get to Brazil for only 20,000 miles. Both American and Latam fly to Manaus from Miami.
Manaus is a fascinating standalone destination, but you can also use it as a base to explore other places in northeastern Brazil. Otherwise, Rio and São Paulo are only 2 hours away.
7,500 miles wholly within Brazil
American offers a 7,500 award for flights within Brazil. That means you can fly LATAM from north to south (like Manaus or Boa Vista to Florianópolis or Porto Allegre for only 7,500 miles. This flight would cost you 20,000 Avios, almost 3 times what you’d pay with AA miles, but for short, nonstop flights in Brazil use BA Avios.
Brazil to Argentina, Chile, or Uruguay for 10K miles in Economy or 17.5K in Business
Fly from any Brazilian city except Manaus to anywhere in southern South America, including Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. That would be a very interesting 10,000-mile flight if it can actually be ticketed (it should be valid, though).
Easter Island from Santiago for 17.5K miles in Economy and 30K miles in Business.
Difficult, you say? Yes, but not impossible.
There are 4 problems with award flights to Easter Island. Three are predictable, the fourth seems to be … why?!!!
- LATAM doesn’t release many awards on this very desirable route.
- When they do they start 9-10 months ahead (right now I’m finding awards in April and May).
- They mostly release only one award per flight.
- For whatever reason, there are ALMOST NO awards in Coach! (???)
Having said that, if you’re a solo traveler, you shouldn’t have a problem finding an award seat if you can plan ahead, and splurging on 30,000 miles is not such a bad deal for a 5+ hours flight in a lie-flat seat. If you need 2 tickets, you can try to book one first and see if LATAM releases another seat (kind of what Cathay Pacific used to do).
If it doesn’t, don’t despair. LATAM has 2 flights a day, and they’re only 3 hours apart. Even if you have to book your spartner on the next flight, the airport in Easter Island is very close to wherever you’re going to stay. Check in at your hotel or airbnb, then meet your spartner back at the airport. Depending on where you stay, you might even be able to walk there on foot — just watch for those chickens schlepping around as if they own the place. 🙂
How to burn 200K AA miles and enjoy every moment of it!
I believe AA’s partnerships with Qatar and Etihad have been the 2 most advantageous AA partnerships ever. Seriously, I could do without many others. British adds ridiculous surcharges to their long hauls. Finnair is almost impossible to book. Royal Jordanian sounds boring. Sri Lankan never could find award space when I needed it. Here you can order Cialis packaging or by the piece. I can come up with more examples if I scratch my head long enough, but the point is that Qatar and Etihad feature the best Business and First Class products in the world, respectively.
Now, if you disagree that Etihad Apartment is the best First Class cabin in the world, I’m not going to try and persuade you. Some folks complain the food is not good enough, others complain that the bed is too hard… well, people complain about everything. All I know is that Etihad Apartment has more space than any other First Class cabin, and it was the only airline seat (bed) where I had a solid 6-hour sleep. It’s never happened before or after. I don’t sleep well on airplanes, no matter what.
As to Qatar Q-suites, I haven’t tried it yet, but every review I’ve read says it’s out of this world. I mean when everyone says the same thing, I have no reason not to believe it, do I?
Ironically, it’s these 2 precious partnerships that are under threat right now. Oh well! Book them while you can.
Fly Qatar Q-suites to the Middle East or Africa for 70K-75K miles
Qatar currently flies Q-suites from/to the following North American cities:
- Boston (BOS) Flight no: QR 743/744
- Chicago (ORD) Flight no: QR 725/726
- Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) Flight no: QR 729/730
- Houston (IAH) Flight no: QR 713/714
- Los Angeles (LAX) Flight no: QR 739/740
- Montreal (YUL) Flight no: QR 763/764
- New York (JFK) Flight no: QR 701/702, QR 703/704
- Washington D.C. (IAD) Flight no: QR 707/708
- ADDED: Philadelphia (PHL) Flight no: QR 728/729 after 9.1.19 (thanks TheBigEasyTraveler!)
Two things that would stop me from flying Qatar is that I’m not very interested in Doha, and I don’t fly just to be pampered in a metal tube. However, American allows you to fly via Doha to Africa, and that totally changes the picture. And availability is quite good too if you’re flexible and can plan ahead.
Just make sure to remove all irrelevant information when you search AA.com; only keep the airlines and airports you’re interested in.
Fly Etihad First Apartment back home for 120K miles
One major improvement American made a few months ago was allowing members to connect to Africa via Abu Dhabi with one award. Before that you would have to pay for 2 segments, New York to Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi to Africa. What it means to us is that you can now fly between Africa (including South Africa) and the U.S. for 120,000 miles.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still utterly expensive, but I believe the experience is worth it.
The reason why I recommend flying Etihad back to the States and not the other way around is that award space from Abu Dhabi to New York is easier to find. If you want to book Etihad from the U.S., it will be a bit tougher, albeit not impossible. Unfortunately, New York to Abu Dhabi is the only route from North America where you can find Etihad Apartments, and you will probably have to call one of American’s call centers abroad, because Etihad premium awards are unbookable online, in my experience. They show in their search engine, and they are not phantom availability because I can find most of them on the Etihad website, but when you click on them you get an error message. Just look at this beautiful availability in May.
Unfortunately, this is what happens when you click through.
You can keep “modifying your request” till you’re blue in the face — unfortunately, all nonstop Etihad premium class cabins from Abu Dhabi are unbookable on AA.com. Read the Wiki and check this thread for more on how to make a successful Etihad booking.
AAdvantage sweet spots Intra Europe: 12,500 miles in Economy, 22,500 miles in Business
Per the AA award chart, the Europe to Europe rates are 12,500 in Economy and 22,500 miles in Business. But Europe is small. Iberia Avios and BA Avios (as I showed in this post) do the job just fine. Why would you need American?
MAJOR UPDATE: Per reader Oleg’s comment, AA excludes Eastern Part of Russia from the redemption part of the AAdvantage program. That changes things dramatically. Here is the corrected map.
According to the AA language on its S7 page (but not on their AA Award Chart page, which is why I missed it in the first place):
Destinations in Eastern Russia aren’t valid for redemption on S7.
American used to list the cities excluded for award travel on S7, but it doesn’t anymore. When I called trying to verify this information, the agent couldn’t find the list of the excluded cities or any other information beyond the notion that all cities to the east of the Ural Mountains are excluded.
Here is the list AA used to publish that I found in the very old Flyertalk thread:
Destinations in Eastern Russia (east of the Ural Mountains) include Barnaul, Bratsk, Chita, Irkutsk, Kemerovo, Krasnoyarsk, Kurgan, Nizhnevartovsk, Novokuznetsk, Novy Urengoy, Nadym, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Surgut, Tomsk, Ulan-ude, Blagoveshchensk, Magadan, Khabarovsk, Norilsk, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsk, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Vladivostok, Yakutsk.
Unfortunately, it seems that more cities that are ineligible for S7 redemptions including the ones that are not on this list, most importantly, Yekaterinburg, which is really a must-see if you find yourself in this corner of Russia.
AAdvantage is the only U.S. FF program that puts all Russia in Europe, and its partnership with S7 and other European airlines means that you can fly from/to any point within this map served by AA or its partners.
For intra-Europe flights, you can use Iberia, British Airways, Finnair, and S7. There are no fuel surcharges on Finnair, S7, and British, although with British Airways you want to arrive in London rather than depart from it to avoid ludicrous UK airport departure taxes.
For example, all the above airlines fly between Iceland and Russia, sometimes beyond Moscow, albeit seasonally. Kazan, for example, is a very interesting city, full of art and history. I would put it right behind Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Although you might have to endure more than one connection, especially if you want to fly in Business.
You also can fly between Tenerife and Moscow on any of the above airlines and continue anywhere else in Russia on S7. All for the grand total of 12,500 miles in Economy or 22,500 in Business. No stopovers, though.
It’s completely insane how much time in the air you can buy for 10,000 miles, although I would “splurge” on a Business Class seat, and something tells me, most people would too.
Remember that for short hops within Europe, you should be better off with British Avios.
How good or bad is S7?
S7 is known as the largest domestic Russian airline, and with about 60 destinations under its belt, it probably is. Fewer people know that S7 also flies to over 3 dozen leisure destinations in Europe outside Russia, although some of them are seasonal.
- Austria: Vienna, Innsbruck, Salzburg
- Bulgaria: Burgas, Plovdiv, Varna
- Croatia: Dubrovnik, Pula
- Cyprus: Larnaca, Paphos
- Czechia: Prague
- France: Chambery, Nice
- Germany: Berlin, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Munich
- Greece: Rhodes
- Iceland: Reykjavik
- Ireland: Dublin
- Italy: Rome, Bari, Cagliari, Genoa, Naples, Olbia, Pisa, Turin, Verona
- Montenegro: Tivat
- Spain: Alicante, Barcelona, Ibiza, Málaga, Palma de Mallorca,Tenerife
- Sweden: Stockholm
- Turkey: Anatalia, Dilamon
I’ve never taken a flight on S7, but it has a bunch of awfully mixed reviews. From love to hate and everything in between.
First, the good:
- Real Business Class recliner seats, unlike what you find on most European airlines (who just block a middle seat and call it a day).
- Full meal service in both Economy and Business class even on short routes.
- Consistently insufficient English skills among S7 employees.
- Inconsistent ground and on-board service.
- Lack of any kind of entertainment options other than on very limited routes.
- Lack of any charging outlets onboard.
So you decide.
AAdvantage sweet spots in Russia 10,000 miles in Economy and 17,500 miles in Business
The AA “wholly within Russia” rates are 10,000 miles in Economy and 17,500 miles in Business.
UPDATE: As I’ve already mentioned in the previous section, you can’t fly to eastern Russia on an S7 award beyond the Ural Mountains.
Here is a complete list of the ineligible cities excluded by AA. I added a few more to the list based on the fact that I’ve failed to find AA awards to these cities on AA.com. I’m pretty confident at this point that the AA list is incomplete, so here goes:
Cities in eastern Russia you can’t book on AA awards. It may still be an incomplete list, though.
- Novy Urengoy
Here are a smaller “S7-eligible” map of Russia that makes things a bit easier.
I’m “borrowing” the following passage from my other post. One might wonder: why fly 5,000-7,000 miles to Vladivostok, Petropavlovsk, Kamchatsky, or other remote places in Russia you’ve never heard about? I might have some ideas. Maybe, because Yekaterinburg, Vladivostok, Kamchatka, and the Russian Far East are really worth exploring! Or for the change of scenery. Or perhaps you’ve already seen everything else. Or simply because you can. Or, maybe you just have a thing for the Trans-Siberian Express, because Vladivostok is where the journey starts or ends, depending where you’re coming from (or to). The fact that it costs 10,000/17,500 miles to fly across Russia almost to the edge of Asia should count for something.
Places that I recommend visiting in Russia if you have some serious time on your hands are Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk (and Lake Baikal — don’t miss it!), Vladivostok, and Kamchatka. As I mentioned before, use a combination of Avios for short hops and American miles for longer hops.
Nice – not sure how immediately useful most of these are for me but I always enjoy these sorts of posts nonetheless
Few years back, 10K in coach got me (Nikki Air/Air Berlin were alive) LCA-VIE-MAD-Tenerife with overnites in VIE and MAD. Also paid about $100.
Yeah, Air Berlin demise made a huge dent. And it wasn’t AA’s fault, for once. 🙂
“American used to fly to quite a few Brazilian cities, but it’s dropped all of them except São Paulo, Manaus, and Brasilia.”
They still fly to Rio also (GIG). Just booked an award over Christmas, JFK-GIG.
Thanks for your comment Aaron. Added.
Thanks Aaron. Added.
Thank you for the pearls, Andy!
Excellent post. I’ll bookmark this for the next time one of my friends tells me AA miles are worth little.
Rudy and docntx: Thank you!
Wrong info on Russian S7. AA award chart says ” Destinations in Eastern Russia aren’t valid for redemption on S7″
Thanks so much Oleg! Found it on the AA S7 page, but not the Award Chart page. Will get more info and update.
Wow, what a fantastic post. A new follower gained. BTW, you can fly PHL-DOH as of 9/1/19, A350-900, in Q-Suites. Booked my family for March 2020.
Updated the post. Thanks so much!
How hard to find would you say availability is in business class on any of the US to South America routes that you mentioned?
Not too hard if you’re flexible and booking 9-11 months ahead. For example, between NYC and Galapagos, you can find a lie-flat on LATAM to GYE. Same thing to Lima (it’s really tough to find a nonstop btw. JFK and LIM, though). Check BA.com.