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INSIDER SECRET: You don’t need to earn American Airlines miles to fly American Airlines for free. There are LOTS of other ways.
Do you know the difference between a “mile” and a “point”? The line between these two terms is becoming more blurred every day.
The biggest difference in MY mind between airline miles and regular ol’ bank points is an airline award chart. See, airline miles USED to operate like this:
- You go to the airline website
- You enter your origin and destination
- The airline shows you a fixed price for your seat
For example, I used to KNOW that a ticket from anywhere in the US to anywhere in Europe would cost 30,000 miles one-way in coach as long as I’m flying with American Airlines, United Airlines, or Delta.
But airlines are migrating away from this system. Delta has tossed its award chart, and other European airlines have done the same. United Airlines will eliminate their award chart later this year. And while American Airlines still has an award chart, they’ve got so many different “fixed” prices for their awards that it’s hard to know what you’ll be paying.
I submit that instead of earning airline miles, it’s better to just earn bank points, such as:
- Chase Ultimate Rewards points
- American Express Membership Rewards points
- Citi ThankYou points
- Capital One miles
I’ll explain what I mean!
American Airlines Has an Award Chart (But They Really Charge Whatever They Want)
First let me say: NEVER stop earning airline credit card welcome bonuses. If you can scoop up a whole bushel of miles by opening a credit card and meeting a minimum spending requirement, do it.
Yes, it’s becoming harder to attribute value to airline miles as airlines get rid of their award charts. But earning 50,000 miles in one fell swoop can still amount to $1,000+ in value. Credit card welcome bonuses are what make free travel so ridiculously easy. Plus, many airline credit cards are worth keeping year after year because of valuable ongoing benefits, like free checked bags, priority boarding, and airport lounge access.
However, under no circumstances (in my opinion) should anyone be swiping an airline card because of the rewards it earns. Airline miles are just not practical enough.
Delta has given itself the license to charge whatever it wants for its award seats. United Airlines will be doing the same later this year. And American Airlines has kind of already done it.
They’ve given themselves so many exceptions to their award chart that it’s almost useless. For example, American Airlines has:
- MileSAAver award prices (the lowest price)
- AAnytime award prices (much more expensive, but lots more available seats)
- Economy Web Special award prices (sale prices on certain flights, though they’re sometimes HIGHER than MileSAAver)
- Peak and off-peak award prices (varies by location and date)
- Special lower prices for flights totaling 500 miles or less
- “Reduced mileage awards,” which give certain American Airlines card holders discounts from rotating origins and destinations
Honestly, that’s a convoluted “award chart.”
None of these bullets are necessarily “bad” (in fact many of them are a good thing!). My point is that American Airlines has an abundance of price points that vary by origin, destination and date.
Add to this the fact that American Airlines is infamous for releasing very few “MileSAAver” seats and you can conclude that American Airlines is essentially charging whatever it wants while keeping its award chart. Who knows how long it will be before they follow Delta and United Airlines by throwing out their chart altogether?
At Least With Points You KNOW the Value You’re Receiving
Because US airlines are ignoring their award charts and essentially charging whatever they want, you’re better off collecting bank points like Chase Ultimate Rewards points, AMEX Membership Rewards points, and Capital One miles.
Here’s why you should collect these points instead of airline miles:
- With these points, you KNOW what value to expect from them all the time (for example, if you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points will always be worth 1.5 cents when you book travel through the Chase Travel Portal)
- You can use the points to purchase a ticket, so your travel goals don’t have to be married to a certain airline
- You also have the option to transfer these points to a large number of airlines (you can compare the cash price of a flight against the price of an award flight to see which is a better deal)
Bank points have always had this upside of simplicity over airline miles. But we collect airline miles anyway because there have always been amazing sweet spots in airline award charts. So as airlines move away from award charts, I focus more on bank points.
Here are some of the best cards to rack up bank points that are worth keeping for everyday spending:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – I’ve had this card for 5+ years. You’ll earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card – Most MMS writers have this card. You’ll earn 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
- Chase Sapphire Reserve – This is arguably the best travel credit card in the game because of all its ongoing benefits. Earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening
- The Platinum Card® from American Express – Earn 60,000 AMEX Membership Rewards points after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
- Citi Premier℠ Card – I opened this card because it’s got a very generous bonus for swiping at the pump. You’ll also earn 50,000 Citi ThankYou Points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening
Let me know if your outlook on airline miles isn’t as bleak as mine, or if your miles and points strategy is changing as airlines change their award charts! You can learn how to use American Airlines miles here, and learn more about all things American Airlines below:
- American Airlines Miles Value
- American Airlines Status
- Best Use of AA Miles
- How to Earn AA Miles
- How to Setup a American Airlines Account
- How to Use American Airlines Miles
- AA Award Chart
- Do American Airlines Miles Expire?
- AA Reduced Mileage Awards
- American Airlines Economy Web specials
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