American AAdvantage Celebrates 40 Years With Month-Long Game And Prizes

In May 1981 American Airlines launched the world’s first airline loyalty program offering free flights. Days later United Airlines announced a similar program.

These weren’t the first ‘frequent flyer programs’ – Texas International introduced a mileage-based program in 1979. Western Airlines Travel Pass, in 1980, offered $50 off every 5 trips. But AAdvantage was the first airline loyalty program to offer free flights. And they offered upgrades to first class, too.

I’ve often said that frequent flyer programs are the most successful marketing innovation in history. For most businesses, marketing is an expense line. For major airlines, they’re a profit center. The motivation of free travel is so great they are able to rent out their brands and currencies to partners. The biggest source of cash is banks through co-brand credit cards.

The very first one of those was the Continental TravelBank Mastercard from Marine Midland Bank, however a year later Citi and American Airlines introduced both a MasterCard and Visa, each with $50 annual fees (waived for the first 6 months). The initial bonus was 5000 miles: 2500 on approval and 2500 with first purchase.

As if to put a big exclamation point at the end of 40 years, American just took out a mortgage on the AAdvantage program raising $10 billion.

And now that American AAdvantage is about to turn 40, they’re celebrating in April leading up to this milestone with an instant win game offering American Airlines and partner prizes at

Instant Win Game

American will have new content each day, hoping to bring you back with a new opportunity to enter their sweepstakes and possibly win a prize instantly. They’ll be marketing to you “fun facts about American, AAdvantage or our partners, learn about a new way to earn or redeem miles.”

Here are the big sweepstakes prizes:

  • 40 Grand Prizes: 1 million AAdvantage miles which they value at 2.24 cents apiece ($22,400) for tax-reporting purposes. If I win I’ll argue for a lower valuation when I report it.

  • 1 Second Prize: 2-Night Travel Package For 4 People To Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill Club & Lodge In Orlando, Florida including 1 room for 2 nights which must be used by December 31, 2021 and $1000 in American Airlines gift cards. The prize is valued at $3500 for tax-reporting so they’re viewing the stay as $1250 per night. It’s easy to value this yourself for taxes.

Here are the instant win prizes:

Quantity Prize Value Limit  
200 (1) 1-year Admirals Club membership $650.00 1/person  
35,000 Four thousand (4,000) AAdvantage Miles $89.60 2/person  
7,500 (1) Admirals Club Day Pass $59.00 2/person  
1,300 (1) Mastercard $20.00 digital gift card $20.00 1/person  
230,000 (400) AAdvantage Miles $8.96 Unlimited  
500,000 (40) AAdvantage Miles $0.90 Unlimited  
45,500 (1) American Airlines Preferred Seat Upgrade for one N/A Unlimited  
22,500 (1) American Airlines Main Cabin Extra Seat Upgrade N/A Unlimited  
20,000 Spend $40 On A Dine, Earn 400 Bonus Miles from AAdvantage Dining N/A 1/person  
5,000  Spend $40 with AAdvantage eShopping, Earn 400 Bonus Miles N/A 1/person  
75,000 (1) complimentary Upgrade at Hertz (Compact Thru Full Size) + 3X Miles via a special URL with Hertz N/A 1/person  
25,000 10% off Weekly Car Rentals in Sunny Destinations (FL, HI, AZ, Vegas) + 2X Miles with Dollar Rent a Car N/A  
75,000 (1) digital code redeemable for up To 30% Off + Min 500 Base AAdvantage Miles with Budget Rent a Car      N/A  
75,000 Complimentary One-Car Class Upgrade + Min 500 Base AAdvantage Miles with Avis Car Rental     N/A  
50,000 10% off Weekly and Weekend Rentals + 2X Miles with Thrifty Car Rental N/A 1/person  
50,000 15% Off; (1) HD SimpliCam Camera and (1)month of professional monitoring with SimpliSafe N/A 1/person  
50,000 Get 90 Days Free + Up to 25% off Your First Year of LifeLock Identity Theft Protection (Plus Bonus Mileage* Earned On Membership Purchase) N/A 1/person  
50,000 (1) digital code redeemable for “20% Off Hyatt Participating Properties” N/A 1/person  
75,000 20% off sitewide with FTD N/A 1/person
40 Two (2) consecutive nights’ accommodations (single room, double occupancy) at the “Park MGM Las Vegas” for two (2). $225 1/person

What The AAdvantage Program Was Like 40 Years Ago

The original code name for the project that became AAdvantage was ‘Loyalty Fare’ because the original task was to come up with a frequent traveler discount. The team under Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Tom Plaskett quickly realized that any discount fare would be matched, and they were looking for a way to keep customers loyal and coming back to them.

AAdvantage was initially introduced as a promotion, and wasn’t made indefinite until April 1983 two years into its life. It wasn’t obvious at the start how big this would become.

The original AAdvantage charged 12,000 miles for a first class upgrade (there were no capacity controls). 50,000 miles was a first class roundtrip ticket, and if you bought a coach ticket for a companion it came with an upgrade, too. Two first class tickets were 75,000 miles.

A year later British Airways awards were added: 20,000 miles for an upgrade from first class to Concorde or 40,000 miles for an economy roundtrip between the U.S. and London for two passengers.

Elite status – AAdvantage Gold – was introduced in July 1982.

American’s first hotel partner was Hyatt, so the new American-Hyatt partnership is fitting. Back in the fall of 1982 members received discounts on Hyatt properties in Mexico, “Imagine a double room at the Hyatt Cancun Caribe for only $37.50 or a double room at the Hyatt Regency Acapulco for only $30.50.” Around the same time Hertz became the fist car rental partner.

When AAdvantage launched it started out with existing customer lists totaling around 200,000 members. American says that of those original members, plus people who joined during that first year, 144,000 remain active in the program.

Anniversary Playlist

American has a partnership with Apple Music where people can listen to their subscriptions inflight without paying for internet, and American markets the service to passengers for a commission. They’ve created a playlist of the top songs of 1981 which Apple Music subscribers can access:

1 “Celebration” Kool & the Gang
2 “Morning Train (Nine to Five)” Sheena Easton
3 “Lady (You Bring Me Up)” Commodores
4 “I’m Coming Out” Diana Ross
5 “Just the Two of Us” Grover Washington, Jr. & Bill Withers
6 “(Just Like) Starting Over” John Lennon
7 “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” The Police
8 “You Make My Dreams” Hall & Oates
9 “Queen of Hearts” Juice Newton
10 “I Love a Rainy Night” Eddie Rabbitt
11 “Bette Davis Eyes” Kim Carnes
12 “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” Stevie Wonder
13 “Stars on 45 Medley” Stars on 45
14 “All Those Years Ago” George Harrison
15 “Winning” Santana
16 “Let’s Groove” Earth, Wind and Fire
17 “Being with You” Smokey Robinson
18 “Slow Hand” The Pointer Sisters
19 “Lady” Kenny Rogers
20 “Elvira” The Oak Ridge Boys
21 “9 To 5” Dolly Parton
22 “Hold On Tight” Electric Light Orchestra
23 “The Stroke” Billy Squier
24 “Treat Me Right” Pat Benatar
25 “Another One Bites the Dust” Queen
26 “Whip It” Devo
27 “Rapture” Blondie
28 “Urgent” Foreigner
29 “Hungry Heart” Bruce Springsteen
30 “Woman in Love” Barbra Streisand
31 “Together” Tierra
32 “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” Christopher Cross
33 “Never Too Much” Luther Vandross
34 “Love on the Rocks” Neil Diamond
35 “Don’t Stop Believin'” Journey
36 “Suddenly” Olivia Newton-John & Cliff Richard
37 “Ain’t Even Done with the Night” John Cougar
38 “The One That You Love” Air Supply

I’m glad to see American doing something for the 40th anniversary of AAdvantage. I’m a purist and feel like they should be doing this in May. And I’d prefer something a bit more engaging and lucrative – twenty years ago they ran a 20/20 promotion offering 20,000 bonus miles for activity with 20 partners. How about 40/40, something along the lines of the old ‘US Airways Grand Slam’ maybe?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary, has this program started yet? I can’t find anywhere in your article or on the AA website that addresses when this starts, or, how to play it. Thanks for a reply.

  2. Wow. The 20/20 promo was 20 years ago? I still have a spool of Orvis fishing line from that wonderful promotion. This one is a lot less exciting

  3. I’d like it better if they awarded miles the old way ie JFK/LAX 2475 miles. They should get rid of those 5 8 and 11 miles per dollar spent. Everything they list above is pretty much ‘no cost’ to them.

    I’ll be crediting my AA flights to Alaska. 😉

  4. I got a 100,000 mile bonus years ago by flying 5 (6 including AA, I think) OneWorld partners; the more partners the bigger the bonus. I remember flying MAN-CDG on CX for the final OW airline.

  5. Just won 400 AA miles. Don’t worry there are 229,999 more of the 400 mile prize available for the rest of you.

    Thanks Gary.

  6. The currrent AA promotion allows you to buy or gift 150,000 miles for $2,902.50. That is 1.935 cents per mile. Why does the other Dougie value one million miles at 2.24 cents per mile? Seems to be way to high. Should be slightly less than 1.935 cents, perhaps 1.8 cents! Care to comment Gary?

  7. What does the “FTD” in the “20% off sitewide with FTD” stand for? My fiancé and I spun 5 times and we both received this prize on the 1st try, but not sure what it is and they said they would send me an email at a later date. My fiancé also got 400 miles but I lost on my 4 other spins

  8. Thanks for this posting, Gary, as no emails received from AA as yet on this promotion.
    We have been AAdvantage members for ~30 years. Until soon after 9/11, American charged 60K miles for round-trip first class from the US East Coast to HI, with 100K for 2 tickets
    Given the never-ending program devaluation, Gary is spot on, maybe American miles are worth 1.8 cents per mile, and with some redemptions barely worth 1.5 cents per mile or less. They surely are not worth 2.24 cents a piece.

  9. Hmmm…just tried to log in on the 40th Anniversary celebration page with 2 different browsers, both logged in to my AAdvantage account and without logging in, entering “” and accessing the login page from the “Promotions” tab in my AAdvantage account and it doesn’t recognize my credentials. Any ideas?

  10. The link is not working for my spouse or myself; it will not recognize our passwords. Has anyone figured this out?

  11. When I first tried to sign on to AA this morning, it didn’t recognize my password. I checked in my records and I had to change it who knows how long ago. I guess this was necessary to get into my account back then. Luckily, I had written it down and got in with the corrected, password.

  12. This is all I got:
    An error has occurred. Click the button below to get back on track.
    Just went around in circles. Not impressed.

  13. I went to It asked me to login to my AA account. After successfully logging in, I got a four chances to win something; but, alas did not win anything. But it appears I have accumulated 4 future chances at being one of the 40 winners of the 1 million miles. Perhaps the 40 Grand Prizes are determined at the very end of this game. It appears that the more days you check the site, the more chances for the Grand Prize you accumulate.

  14. This is Awesome. I actually still carry my think plastic, card with the number typed on it via a typewriter with me. I also kept my TWA, NWA, USAir and original DL card. My Dad kept his (now me) 100,000 mileage plaques from TWA and United back from the 60’s, closest thing to a loyalty program back then.

    Between TWA/AA and NWA/DL (mostly NWA) we’ve flown to London, Hawaii and around the country more then a few times. Saving up miles now for Australia when time comes. Love a good game so can’t wait to play.

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