Don’t Forget to Add a Segment to the End of American AAdvantage Award Bookings

American Airlines and partner awards don’t allow ‘free’ stopovers (visiting an extra city along the way) except at the North American gateway city.

Many airlines will let you stop over, say, in Tokyo on the way to Hong Kong or Bangkok. American Airlines will charge extra miles for this. (Unless you are using one of their distance-based oneworld awards which require flying two oneworld airlines other than American, which permit no changes to routing after issuance, and which do not allow flying on non-oneworld airlines.)

The exception is that you can stopover in whatever North American city you leave the country from, or first return to.

If you live in New York, you can fly New York – Tokyo – Singapore on Japan Airlines, come back Singapore – Hong Kong – New York. And you might think you’re done! Except that you’re giving up an opportunity. Why not call New York your stopover on the return rather than the end of your trip?

You can tack on a flight, say, to Los Angeles at the end, for any time in the future. And American allows free date changes to awards. The only constraint is that your onward flight has to be completed within a year of the date of issue of your award.

I just booked an award ticket that begins in DC, travels first class to Asia, and returns to New York. There’s no award space back to DC. So rather than calling New York the end of my award trip, I grabbed a three-cabin first class flight out to the West Coast.

I may not use it. But I have a freebie flight (except for potentially some additional airport taxes of a few bucks) in American’s Flagship first class that I can use any time between the last flight of my award itinerary through one year from the date of issue of my ticket.

Almost forgot to do this! I set up the award on hold, called back to ticket, and while I was getting connected to an agent I remembered. There wasn’t even availability in first class on the first date I picked, I told them it was fine to stick me in business class (coach would have been fine too) since I know I’m going to change later. I just wanted the segment in there so that I could make the change without penalty at some point.

American allows a whopping 25% flying beyond the “Maximum Permitted Mileage” for a route, so flying to the East Coast from Asia and back to the West Coast is fully permitted within their award routing rules most of the time.

Flying back from Europe to Los Angeles, why not stopover in Los Angeles instead of terminating your award there? Then tack on a first class flight to Hawaii for alter, and change the date when you know when you’ll use it!

This tip is most useful for folks who live in American Airlines hub cities or cities where their partners offer international service, since you can finish your award “at home” and add on additional flights for later. But in circumstances like I faced on my recent award ticket, where you can only make it back on the award to a hub city and have to buy the short final segment separately, you might as well take advantage of it too!

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. What are the rules regarding changing an itinerary once travel has started?

    For example, if I fly NRT-LAX in January and make a LAX-JFK reservation for April, and decide in February that I want to fly earlier … can I do that?

  2. Any chance I could use this at the end of the AA SFO-HND 50k in J offer to get back East? I’m guessing no.

  3. Thanks, Gary. I haven’t had much experience with AA awards since I’ve used mostly *A, but living near an airport with a strong international and high-quality domestic route presence (LAX) makes this very valuable.

  4. @Jerry so don’t change the destination. I grabbed JFK-LAX, I’ll use JFK-LAX… however the $150 fee (plus a small increment per additional passenger) is likely less than buying whatever other ticket later anyway if you do decide to change

  5. @Gary Thanks for the reply! Just curious,what’s the best strategy to book JL award ticket using AA/BA miles? It seems JL only releases J/F spaces extremely close to departure and their website’s inventory is drastically different compare to AA/BA’s.

  6. I feel sick…we just did sfo-hkg-sfo in cx f on an aa award, with no additional segment. I mistakenly thought that you could only do this at aa gateways. 🙁

  7. Incredible advice, Gary. Thanks. I heard you discuss this at the Chicago DO abd, of course, forgot about it. I usually book two one-way awards when I fly on AA but I will have to book a round trip to take advantage of this.

  8. Hi Gary, is the last segment has to be domestic? I have an award flight to Vietnam with a stopover in Tokyo (10 days). Can I still add on my return city BOS the free stopover? Thanks for.sharing the info as I would never I know about it!

  9. Gary, please let me make sure I get this. So, could I book the following trip using AA miles:

    Segment 1:
    Feb 1: HKG-LAX via Cathay Pacific
    Feb 15: LAX-JFK via AA

    Segment 2:
    Feb 20: JFK-LAX via AA
    Feb 28: LAX-HKG via Cathay Pacific

    If book on first, would this qualify under the 67,500 miles each way award ticket?

    Thank you.

  10. Living in Charlotte, could I still take advantage and get home on my award ticket too. Say CLT-JFK-CDG-JFK-CLT-MIA?

  11. @David Op yes that’s fine — stopovers in your international gateway city. Note that you can change travel dates but you must fly each segment in the order in whch it was booked.

  12. @Vu in order it to be free the last segment has to be North America (assuming you want to end in North America) to avoid pricing as a different award. You can fly NRT-BOS, stopover, and add a flight to somewhere else later. But only if BOS is the city you first arrive in from abroad.

  13. @mark you don’t have to book a roundtrip. This works on one-ways, in fact American’s partner awards price as one-ways anyway.

  14. @Heels05 you could terminate in JFK and then add something else. The stopover has to be in your international gateway city.

  15. I’m just a bit confused. So using your example booking the extra segment to the west coast- do you then purchase / use separate miles to book the ticket home from the west coast?

  16. Not feeling quite as sick anymore…I always book way ahead, so we only had 5.5 weeks to use the extra segment anyway.

  17. Here’s another example. Mom recently wanted an award LHR-JFK-DFW-LHR, with stops in NYC and DFW. So we booked the first one-way LHR-JFK with LGA-DFW far in the future as a free add on segment (JKK & LGA are co-terminals). The second one way was LGA-DFW and DFW-LHR. So she’ll get the three leg trip she wanted, plus she’s got a future LGA-DFW, so the next time she repeats this itinerary, we’ll only have to purchase the two transatlantic flights. All for the price of the transatlantic award.

    One thing to remember is that the stopover must be at the actual gateway you use, not just any gateway city. We’ve tried the above in the past, only to be stymied when there was no DFW-LHR nonstop award space. If we instead return DFW-MIA-LHR or DFW-ORD-LHR, even if it’s a flight change connection and not a stopover, then DFW is no longer considered the gateway.

  18. Gary- This is an excellent post thanks for highlighting the “trick”. I am planning a trip to Rome from Chicago so now I will tack on a trip to LA at the end. When do you suggest I tell American I am not using my trip to LA from Chicago? Should I just miss the flight and then call to rebook at a later date or do it in advance?

  19. Mr Leff. Love your blog, but I have to say, some things (like AA) should be kept shushed and buried in a specific thread over on Flyertalk. If people want to find treasure, they will have to dig. There is a reason why they are not publicly discussed on FT.

    You don’t really need to post stuff like this to generate hits like some of the other desperate bloggers.

  20. I am flying from Houston to London next month via an AA award ticket. My flight is IAH>DFW>LHR and the same on the way back. Could I instead make my return flight LHR>DFW>(LAX or HNL or whatever city I want to fly to later in the year)? Then I just pay the $50 to fly from DFW to Houston to get back home?

    Then before I fly I could change my DFW>HNL flight to later in the year and just purchase a one way ticket back from HNL?

    If that works that would be awesome.

  21. Great post, Gary.

    Two questions:

    1) booking a one way to Europe on AA. LAX-LHR-TXL. Is there any way to tack on a free flight somehow?

    2) Booking LAX-ORD-CDG in October. On the return can I book CDG-ORD-LAX-JFK or does it have to be in the same direction i.e. CDG-ORD-LAX-HNL?

  22. @Michael .. 1) No. The free stopover must be in the North American international gateway city
    2) Stopover must be in the first city you land in in North America — so CDG-ORD must stop in ORD. You could, however, do CDG-MAD-LAX and then add in an additional flight from LAX (HNL?). Directionality doesn’t have anything to do with it, must not exceed flying more than 25% beyond the published maximum permitted mileage for the route.

  23. @No name – this is entirely within the rules of the AAdvantage program. So I thought I’d explain it to people. Which is what I do. I booked an award like this for myself a couple of days ago, so I wrote about it. There’s nothing sneaky or underhanded about it.

  24. I am completely confused, but it’s probably just because I’m a newbie. I was hoping to use some of my AA miles (from my AA Citi CC promos) to go to Thailand from NYC. Any thoughts?

  25. I am in LA, can I book this itinerary:

    march 5 – HNL – LAX – PVG
    MARCH 30 – PVG – LAX
    DEC 15 – LAX – HNL

    Before March 5, change the HNL – LAX to DEC 5 but keep the LAX – PVG schedule?

    thanks!

  26. Hi Gary,

    I’m planning to go from BOM to NYC (EY or 9W) and then do a stop over and continue on to Vancouver (CX). Can I change the date on the Vancouver sector after I have traveled the BOM>JFK sector? None of my flights will be on AA either, does that work? We’ll also have a baby with us too so who should I buy the ticket for her from AA or the airlines I actually travel?

    Thanks.

  27. Great Tip, but as you said, this doesn’t directly work on AA award flights using BA (or any other oneworld partners) miles, right?

    I’ve got a ton of BA miles and would love to tack on an extra flight!

  28. @Aarash Fakhori this is all about using American miles. It works fine using American miles to fly BA. This is not about the routing rules of any other mileage program other than American AAdvantage.

  29. Here’s where this can be really valuable. AA offers free north american gateway stopover either way so say you live in NYC…you could do a one-way say JFK-LHR, then on the return do LHR-JFK/stop for a few months/JFK-STT (for the same miles as just LHR-JFK) then build another trip off of that to be STT-JFK/stop for a few months/JFK-CDG (for the same miles as just JFK-CDG). Rinse and repeat.

    Here’s an example of dates-
    award 1:
    Jan 1 JFK-LHR

    award 2:
    Jan 15 LHR-JFK
    Mar 20 JFK-STT

    award 3:
    Mar 25 STT-JFK
    Oct 5 JFK-CDG

  30. @ATC are you sure? I thought you could only add a domestic destination (so STT/CDG would be invalid destinations)

  31. Always enjoy reading your blog, Gary. I have learned a lot from you. This AA benefit has me confused. I am aware of it, and tried tacking on a future flight to an award booking, but ran into roadblocks. Maybe I don’t understand the rules well enough.

    I booked AGP (Malaga, Spain) –> MAD –> LHR –> LAX using AA miles. My final, transatlantic leg is in BA First Class – had to pay the fuel surcharge, but looking forward to the flight. This will be my first ever redemption in First Class.

    This booking was made about 310 days in advance

    I asked the AAgent who was helping me if I could tack on another flight after my “stopover” in LAX. I was told the following:

    1. Yes, I could add a later flight, but it would have to be in the same direction. Since I was heading in a westerly direction, this meant Hawaii would be OK but all points to the east of LAX were verboten. Is that true?
    2. Also, the final flight (LAX to Hawaii) would have to be within one year of my original ticket booking date. Since I was booking this award at 310 days in advance, this meant going on to Hawaii within 2 months of my major 3 week trip to Spain. That was unattractive. (I’ve got to work to pay for these trips, even if I’m using my miles and points) I asked if I could book LAX to HNL within the one year timeframe but later change the date for that final segment – the AAgent gave me a firm no. Was that right?

    Do you have a link that explains the rules for doing this?

  32. @Ed
    1. No, you can certainly go East from Los Angeles.
    2. You can change the date of the final segment, but indeed it would still have to be taken within a year from date of issue.

  33. Helo Gary, any reply on my question about hnl—lax—pvg n change the.hnl—lax,1st leg at the later date? Thanks

  34. This one’s a hard one to do for us in Calgary – but I did manage to take advantage of it once, when British WASN’T charging Fuel surcharges. I booked a South Africa – London – Calgary (all on British), with a Calgary – Kauai leg at the end, for 6 months later. The trip worked out perfectly. Very good advice for any of you who live in hub cities.

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