How to Still Earn 100% of Flown Miles on Cheap American Airlines Tickets

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American Airlines joined Delta and United in awarding miles for flights based on the cost of a ticket rather than the distance you fly.

  • Short, expensive flights earn more miles
  • Long, average-priced flights earn fewer miles
  • Fewer miles will be awarded after this change in total than were awarded before it.

We’ve seen New York – Hong Kong on sale for as little as $354 roundtrip. If that itinerary involved flying American Airlines, a customer without elite frequent flyer status would have earned 19,023 miles roundtrip before August 1. Now a $276 fare (excluding taxes) will earn 1380 miles.

Since American doesn’t want you just to be able to game this by crediting your cheap flights to partner airlines instead, you’ll no longer earn 1 mile per mile flown on cheap tickets credited to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan either.

If you’re going for American Airlines AAdvantage elite status, you’re still going to credit your cheap flights to American because you’ll need the elite qualifying miles flown. And elites do earn more miles for the same ticket price, at least.

But if you aren’t an elite (giving you a reason to credit to American), and your ticket isn’t super expensive (where you’ll earn as many miles as before), there’s still a program that will award you 100% of your flown miles on nearly all American Airlines fares: Etihad Guest. You can still earn 19,000 miles flying American between New York and Hong Kong even if the ticket costs $200.

Many folks know Etihad for their over the top first class product. But Etihad has a strong frequent flyer program as well. You can use their miles for Etihad flights, of course, but they have myriad partners.

Etihad A380 First Apartment

Etihad lets you book award travel on American and their award chart for American flights mirrors what American used to charge before the AAdvantage March 22 devaluation.

American and Etihad seem to take a long time adjusting their partnership. This will eventually change. But while American AAdvantage awards (redeemable, not elite qualifying) miles for nearly all Etihad flights, you do not earn miles in AAdvantage when buying a ticket for Etihad’s Residence. Because that’s a separate fare class that wasn’t included in the last agreement between the two airlines. Nine months ago American told me when I asked about this,

Since the introduction of the product, AAdvantage members have not been able to earn miles. We are in discussions with Etihad regarding AAdvantage accrual on this product and will publish the effective date as soon as we have agreement.

Etihad Guest miles expire two years from when they’re earned but you can easily add to your account to redeem a ticket because both American Express Membership Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards have Etihad as a transfer partner.

Infrequent American Airlines flyers may want to think about Etihad Guest.

Now that I’ve requalified for American’s Executive Platinum status for the year I have to consider it as well, though AAdvantage will still probably make sense for me as a top tier elite.

  1. I’ll earn more miles (11 miles per dollar versus 5) than a general member.
  2. I wouldn’t get to take advantage of my status benefits if I credited to another program. While it’s technically possible to switch frequent flyer numbers, it’s against American’s rules to gain AAdvantage benefits and not credit to AAdvantage.
  3. Next year American will start using rolling 12 month spend to prioritize upgrades. So crediting flights to American will help my upgrade priority later.

But it takes being a 100,000 mile flyer who still spends enough with the airline to earn status next year to believe that AAdvantage makes sense as a place to credit American flights going forward.

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. I think American is so missing the point. They should leave earning points/mile for their best customers and give no miles to the basic economy fliers without status. If they think they have too many EXPLAT then raise the bar and give a level that remains with no changes to the earning rules

  2. Are there any other airlines besides Etihad? I have heard quite a few horror stories regarding award travel with Etihad miles. Their agents are highly incompetent or inexperienced and do not see award flights even if they exist

  3. Under your initial example of earning 19K+ RDMs on a $276 net ticket, the miles alone represented a cost to the airline of at least $190 (at a penny a mile). Even if this is just a bookkeeping entry, is there any wonder the system has undergone a change? Is it not Ethiad that is not willing to buy AA miles on behalf of its customers who fly The Residence? After all, it is the airline we fly that must purchase miles from the program these miles are deposited into. (Then again, does anyone who buys a Residence ticket really care about earning FF miles? Reports I’ve heard from friends who’ve flown The Apartment — on awards of course — and toured the always empty Residence suite, have FAs telling them the only route where it’s often booked is LHR. Goes out empty most other routes.

    It’s a pretty good bet that the mileage earning charts are going to change as we;ve found in just about every other reciprocal arrangement in the FF program world. Just wait for that shoe to drop.

  4. Couldn’t you also change the routing to something like: LGA-ORD-HKG and earn “good miles” by flying CX

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