Pros: Options for keeping miles active, several choices of partner companies to earn miles.
Cons: Airline itself could be better. Expensive to purchase miles if you are short.
When I lived in the Chicago area, the two primary carriers I used were United and American. After American lost my luggage a couple of times, I swore them off. After moving to South Carolina, I became a fan of Delta Airlines, which serviced my market. I am now in a market that American Airlines serves and have renewed my membership with the AAdvantage program.
My miles from my previous membership with AAdvantage have long ago expired. I have not even tried to get them back, it has been so long. Having flown American quite a bit in the past few years, my miles have managed to climb back up. I am currently in an award status category where I can purchase a free ticket if I want to. American is not the best airline for cross country trips, since they often put me on an S80, breaking the trip into two legs, with a layover in Texas. That can be a long, rough trip on a smaller aircraft. I have made that trip on Delta, non-stop between Los Angeles and Atlanta on much larger, faster aircraft and prefer that trip. However, I am not in a Delta market, so the trip to Atlanta ends up coming at a premium added to my ticket. American generally works out much cheaper.
One of the features that has changed with AAdvantage from my previous membership is the opportunity to keep my miles active. American has partner programs, to include a dining program that allows you to earn miles by dining at particular restaurants. There are the multitude of credit card offers I get that end up in the trash, as well. However, if you don't actually want to join a partner program, AAdvantage has a magazine program that allows you to spend around 1,000 miles on a variety of magazine subscriptions. Depending on the magazine, the miles can run from several hundred to more than one thousand. By subscribing, you extend the deadline on your miles for another year. If you take more than one American Flight per year, you are fine, the miles automatically renew each time there is activity on your account.
While researching an upcoming trip to Peru, I checked my mileage account to see how many miles I would need for a free trip. The website was intuitive to navigate, although a bit confusing at first. The flights show up with a calendar that has a graph, indicating the cost of each segment. For you outbound trip, you can select a date, which will give you a particular number of miles for each class of travel. You then pick the return trip, which is also offered in the form of a date and class matrix. There were quite a few black out dates, which seemed a bit unfair. But the dates also included a wide range of mileage point, that seemed to bottom out around 30,000 miles for an international flight (each direction). That equals 60,000 miles (or more) for a round trip flight. I ended up booking the flight with my Delta miles for 47,500 miles, a significantly less number of miles. However, the miles have accumulated quickly and are available if I need them, now that I have burned up the majority of my Delta SkyMiles.
If you are short on miles, you have some options. First of all, you can purchase miles in chunks. The last time I checked, the miles were sold in groups of 1,000. The price runs approximately thirty dollars per 1,000, but gets cheaper the more miles you buy. They sell up to 40,000 in a block, which will run you 1,100 dollars. You can also share miles with another account holder, for a fee. It starts at fifty dollars for the first several thousand miles and then gradually goes up. At 10,000 miles, they charge 100 dollars. I have not had to use this feature, but imagine it would be helpful if you were just a few hundred miles short of an award ticket. However, I have heard that you can call and go "into the hole" on your ticket, based on the mileage you will earn from the award flight. I have not checked to verify this, or whether they have changed the policy since I was advised that they would do it.
American Airlines AAdvantage is a decent rewards program from a mediocre carrier. I generally fly American currently, because they are generally the cheapest flight in my market. The flights are mostly on-time, although I have had a few bumpy trips. The rewards program is decent, which several options for earning miles from partner airlines, dining programs and credit card offers. They also have decent options for keeping your miles active in the event you don't fly American within the allotted time frame. Finally, if you need to buy a few miles, they do offer opportunities to get you to the next reward level, although it seems a bit pricey to me. Overall, AAdvantage is a decent rewards program, not quite as solid as Delta SkyMiles, but worthy of at least three and a half stars, which I will round up to four for the database.
With American Airlines announing bankruptcy this week, I recieved the following notice regarding their mileage program: We want to assure you that your AAdvantage® miles are secure. The AAdvantage miles that you've earned are yours and will stay yours, subject to usual policies, until you choose to redeem them for a great award with us. Likewise, your elite qualifying miles and your elite status, including lifetime status granted under the Million MilerSM program is secure and remains intact. You will continue to earn miles through all our existing AAdvantage participating companies and you will be able to redeem those miles for the same great awards — flights, upgrades, car rentals and hotels just to name a few. And, throughout the coming year, we will be adding even more opportunities to earn miles, as well as new ways to redeem those miles.