Why AAdvantage Miles Are Excellent for Last-Minute U.S. Award Travel

Travelers looking to use their airline miles to fly last-minute domestically can face an array of grim prospects. That’s especially true now that awards are tied to cash prices more closely than ever — and those cash prices tend to skyrocket within a few weeks of travel.

However, one program has been such a consistent source of last-minute deals for me that I now use its miles almost exclusively for booking domestic flights leaving within a few days: American Airlines AAdvantage.

American Airlines’ valuable sweet spot

American Airlines announced it was getting rid of award charts for its own flights in April 2023, which on the surface sounds like bad news but in practice didn’t change much, since they were already effectively using dynamic pricing.

In theory, that dynamic pricing extends to last-minute award pricing, which means that award prices should go up for last-minute fares.

Yet, in researching dozens of flights over the past couple of years, I’ve found American AAdvantage to be the only U.S.-based award program that consistently offers convenient, low-priced options within about a week of departure for domestic flights.

(Last-minute international award flights on American are another story).

🤓Nerdy Tip

Although these last-minute deals are priced attractively for members of American’s AAdvantage program, they generally can’t be booked using partner airline currencies such as British Airways Avios.

Real-world examples

To illustrate this, I selected four one-way routes: two over 2,000 miles, one under 1,000 miles and one in between. I chose the lowest-priced option in miles in any cabin class that left after 6:30 a.m. and arrived before 11 p.m., with at most a single connection between 45 minutes and 3 hours.

The comparison includes the four largest domestic airlines by market share: American, Delta, Southwest and United. This isn’t a comprehensive analysis, and other individual routes may vary from what I found, but it shows how these four airlines handle last-minute bookings, in general.


Across all four routes, American Airlines came out as the clear winner, with a 2.5 average cents per mile value, nearly double Southwest’s average value of 1.4 cents per mile.

The difference is even more stark when comparing the award costs themselves. American awards cost 11,000 miles per route, on average, which is a great deal for last-minute travel.

Delta Air Lines, on the other hand, charged more than 70,000 miles per route.

Here’s how each airline fared, broken out by route:

Washington-National to San Diego

Route: Washington-National to San Diego (DCA-SAN).

Date searched: April 24, 2023.

For travel on: April 26, 2023.

For this route, American had several relatively convenient options available for 10,500 miles one-way, and a progression of only slightly more expensive options after that. In contrast, Delta, Southwest and United required a minimum of 33,000 miles:

Seattle to Charleston, South Carolina

Route: Seattle to Charleston, S.C. (SEA-CHS).

Date searched: April 24, 2023.

For travel on: April 28, 2023.

Both in real cost (in miles) and in cents per mile, American is again the winner, though not by much in either case over Southwest. It’s a good reminder that it never hurts to shop around.

Las Vegas to Omaha, Nebraska

Route: Las Vegas to Omaha (LAS-OMA), Neb.

Date searched: April 24, 2023.

For travel on: April 30, 2023.

For this itinerary, American requires less than half the number of miles compared with the next-closest airline, which in this case is Southwest. Its cash fares were also lower, which means the cent-per-mile values weren’t hugely different.

In this scenario, assuming you have miles available in its award currency, Southwest would be worth considering because it’s the only airline of the four offering a nonstop route.

Rochester, New York, to Richmond, Virginia

Route: Rochester, N.Y., to Richmond (ROC-RIC), Va.

Date searched: April 24, 2023.

For travel on: May 2, 2023.

Again, American is the clear winner both in number of miles required (less than half the other three options) and the cent-per-point value you get using those miles:

The bottom line

NerdWallet values American miles at 1.5 cents apiece, but in each of the above cases you’ll get more value than that — in some cases far more value.

For those with flexibility, it’s a bit of a golden age for award travel. Flights booked with miles are generally easy to cancel for free, and the end of fixed-price award charts has made it easier to unearth bargains even at the last minute — if you have the right award currency.

Whether your bestie a few states away is throwing an impromptu bash or you’re craving some family time back home and don’t want to wait, having a stash of American miles at hand can prove incredibly valuable.

No bargain in award travel seems to last forever, so take advantage (AAdvantage?) of this sweet spot while it’s there.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are our picks for the best travel credit cards of 2023, including those best for:

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