AAdvantage Vs. MileagePlus | Battle for the Best Frequent Flyer Program

When I started putting together this post, I was going to rate the airlines according to my personal preference and how I value the airlines.  I quickly found that most of my time was spent comparing American Airlines AAdvantage and United MileagePlus, so I just decided to make that the post.

Here’s the quick list on how I’m currently raking my favorite airline programs:

  1. American Airlines AAdvantage
  2. United MileagePlus
  3. British Airways Avios
  4. US Airways Dividend Miles
  5. Southwest Rapid Rewards
  6. Delta SkyMiles
I ranked the airline by asking: if someone offered me 1,000 miles with each of these programs, where would be my number one transfer preference, number two …

For transferable points programs, I’ve already said that the Ultimate Rewards program is my favorite.

AAdvantage Advantages Over United MileagePlus

Off-peak awards:  If you’re willing to travel economy and willing to travel during off-peak seasons, American has some fantastic opportunities.  This year we’ve taken advantage of off-peak flights from Argentina to the States for 20,000.  We’ve taken advantage of off-peak flights to Central America for 15,000 points.  In 2013, I’m considering a trip to Japan for 25,000 miles off-peak.

While I’ll always enjoy the opportunity to fly in business class, I’m perfectly willing to recognize that all flights are relatively painless – even in economy.

American Express Platinum Lounge Access: The Platinum card gives you access to American Airlines lounges when you fly American.  They also allow you to bring a guest and any children into the lounge with you.  As a family of five, that’s a very nice benefit.  The United lounge does not allow entry with Platinum holders, and they charge $50 per kid who comes into the lounge with me.

Cancellation Fee: To cancel an itinerary, it is $125 for the first passenger and $25 for each additional passenger on the same itinerary.

Hold Time: You can hold an award ticket on American for five days and only three days with United.

United does not offer any off-peak economy rewards.

United Airlines MileagePlus advantages over American

Better online booking search engine: This is not a huge factor, but since there are five in my family, the fees do start to add up when we want to travel on a partner airline using American miles.  United’s search engine for finding award availability is very good.  When you book online, you don’t pay any fees.  Unfortunately, the American search engine only has a few partners, so if you fly on a partner airline you usually need to pay the $25 per person phone booking charge.

Stopover Policy:  American only allows stops in the US gateway city.  With United, you can take your stop-over overseas.  If you’re going on a longer trip where you want to visit a few destinations, then United will give you a lot more flexibility in terms of your stop-over city options.

Better business class partners: If your preferred class of service is business class, then Star Alliance probably has better airline partners.

With the exclusion of the off-peak awards, they have similar mileage redemption rates.

Conclusion: This Whole Discussion Might Be Pointless

The reality is that even though I prefer AAdvantage miles over MileagePlus, there is rarely an occasion where I’m forced to choose 1:1 between them.  They don’t tend to share any transfer options where they are both offered at the same rate.  However, if it was a partner award with equal earning opportunity, I’d credit the miles to American.

Similarly, I have no issue earning as many points as possible with both programs.  I don’t turn up my nose at United.  If I can get a generous sign up bonus for United miles, I jump on the opportunity.

What’s your favorite airline mileage program?  Why?


  1. says

    As an expat living in Africa (Togo), I strongly prefer MileagePlus because the One World alliance is very weak in Africa. With MileagePlus miles I can fly out of our country (rather than driving to a neighboring one) back to the States, or go to any other African country for only 12,500 miles each way! Looking right now into a vacation to Seychelles that would only cost 50,000 miles round trip for my wife and me. Score!

    • says

      You’re correct that One World is weak in Africa. That should remind all of us to be sure to identify our favorite program based on our preferences and location.

  2. Carol says

    Both my daughter and I are finding it next to impossible to find domestic award flights with American!! We have been looking, off and on, for months, trying quite a few different destinations and dates. Our home airport is MSP. Any suggestions?

    • says

      Sorry to hear that. It could be your market. Are you looking for domestic flights or international ones? Are you searching only on aa.com or or also ba.com and qantas.com? I’ll be glad to help you figure something out.

    • says

      It may be your marker the timeframe you’re trying to book.
      I tried random dates in March from MSP:
      MSP – New York – low level availability everyday except three days.
      MSP – Orlando – 1/3 of the days has low level availability
      MSP – San Francisco – 1/2 of the days have low level availability

      You should be able to find flights to somewhere. If you want to email me some specific dates and/or cities I’d be glad to let you know what I can find htcheap at gmail dot com.

  3. Carol says

    Thanks Craig! We were looking at August and finally found flights for 25K each with United, at times that will work with the kids, for Aug. 7-17! It could be our market. With MSP being a Delta hub, we have a much easier time finding low-level Delta flights than American, so I just chuckle when bloggers mock Delta. Quite a few of them seem to love American but, for us, American is about the worst!

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