Free One-Way Awards on American Using Stopovers, Just How Many Miles are You Allowed to Fly?

Back in January I wrote a post explaining that if you were booking an award where you arrived home from an international flight without any additional connections once you landed in the U.S., that you could book yourself a free one-way award ticket for later.

In general I didn’t think this required a ton of explanation for most frequent flyer programs, some have very generous routing rules like United where you can have a ‘stopover’ (visit one city for awhile enroute to your final destination) and an ‘open jaw’ (fly into one city, then out of another) on an international award.

So if you have a simple roundtrip to Paris, why end your trip when you make it back home? Call that your stopover, and grab a free flight to somewhere else at the end of your award.

But with American it required some explanation. Since most folks think of American’s rules as all one-way awards with no stopovers. If you have a stopover, then you have to pay for an additional one-way award.

So if you wanted to stop in Tokyo on the way to Hong Kong, you pay extra for the flight from Tokyo to Hong Kong.

American does allow stopovers, though, at your North American gateway city. What that means is you can stop in the city you land at before leaving North America (so I might fly to San Francisco or Vancouver, have a stopover for several days, and then continue on to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific). And you can stop in the city you arrive at when returning to North America. Perhaps I’m coming back from Europe and land in Chicago, I can stay there a few days before heading home.

But what if Chicago is home? (Or any other US city with international service on American or one of their partners?)

Then you can land in Chicago, go home, and have booked your award to include another flight somewhere for later. Chicago is your stopover at the North American gateway city.

Yesterday A.J. emailed me a question that I thought was instructive to help explain how this works in practice — and how it works in conjunction with other rules that American has for their awards.

Hey Gary,

Quick question.

Is it possible to do the following routing:

Hong Kong – New York JFK (stop) – Vancouver? I’d very much like to fly the Cathay Pacific New York JFK – Vancouver flight in first class.

Or does the “free one-way” have to be in the USA?

Simple question, complex answer.

The free stopover (which yields the free one-way ticket at the end, in this case to Vancouver) does not have to be in or to the U.S. The stopover merely has to be in North America, in the first city of arrival after coming back from abroad. In this case New York.

Hong Kong – Vancouver (stop for a few days) – New York JFK would be permitted, for no extra miles, since Vancouver is the North American gateway city.

Hong Kong – New York JFK – Vancouver, though, is not permitted because it’s more flying than is allowed between the origin (Hong Kong) and destination (Vancouver).

On a partner award, American limits you to flying no more than 25% over the published ‘maximum permitted mileage’ for a given set of cities.

The ‘MPM’ for Hong Kong – Vancouver is 7659 miles. American will allow you to travel 25% more than that, or 9573.

(You’ll see that there is a separate maximum permitted mileage for traveling between Hong Kong and Vancouver over the Pacific (PA) versus crossing the Atlantic (AT). Cathay Pacific flying is via the Pacific, and American doesn’t permit travel between North America and Asia via the Atlantic as part of a single one-way partner award in any case — similar in this regard to Delta, but unlike United and US Airways which do allow Atlantic crossings to and from Asia.)

But Hong Kong – New York JFK – Vancouver is 10,520. That’s more flying than you can squeeze in.

Now, each set of cities has a different published allowable mileage. I’ve booked Hong Kong – New York JFK (stop) with a free one-way for later on to Los Angeles (in American’s Flagship 3-cabin first class).

That’s 10,547 miles — so more miles flown than in the Vancouver example above.

But the allowable mileage for Hong Kong – Los Angeles — 25% over ‘MPM’ — is 10,872. So it was permissible.

And in that case, I really only wanted a flight from Hong Kong to New York JFK. But I figured, why let perfectly good flying that’s allowed to be included in the award go to waste? So I booked another flight segment for some weeks later New York – Los Angeles. I figured I would use it, and I could even change the date of that flight without penalty, so why not add it in?

If you have an Expertflyer subscription (they also offer free 5-day trials), you can look up the Maximum Permitted Mileage for any two cities. The KVS Tool software program supports looking up MPM as well.

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. I took advantage of this free stopover on my last OW FC award on Etihad/AA. DEL-AUH-JFK(stop)-AUS.
    I also prefer the AA Explorer award which is distance based but allows multiple stopover. Which is better ? It all depends!

  2. Can you have multiple segments before or after the stopover? For example, would LIH-LAX-DFW (stop) LHR-FCO qualify? These have to be booked over the phone, correct?

  3. Thanks to you, Gary, this is exactly what I did. We are returning HKG to JFK in CX First the end of January. After reading this months ago, and knowing we had a trip to Palm Springs planned in May, I called AA, made JFK my 3 month stopover (!) and booked one-way First on AA to LAX. Did a one-way points return on United but in saving on the outbound, that was 50,000 miles in my bank, not theirs. Still find it amazing and thanks again!

  4. Is Hawaii condidered a North american gateway city?

    if so can one do jfk to Israel – TLV & then JFK coming back is the stopover & then get a free one way from JFK to Hawaii – or it exceedts the MPM?

    If so what airline would the JFK to Hawaii be & would it be the same class as the original JFK tro TLV flight?

    Thanks for your help.

  5. I am stsrting from Tokyo and going to DEL. Which cities are within the guidlines for a free one ticket. i anew to all this and appreciate all of you geniuses very much! than you in advance for your help. evan

  6. Isn’t there an additional stipulation on partner awards where the overwater (presumably partner) carrier needs to have a published fare between the origin and destination? So LAS-ORD (stop)-HKG only works if CX publishes a HKG-LAS fare… any explanation of how we can determine whether a published fare exists would be useful. Thanks!

  7. to add to the post I saw on aa.com that you can do tokyo-JFK(stopover)-HNL for 25K each way off peak award.

  8. We live in Miami and are currently in the middle of a stopover award on AA. Got a one-way ticket MIA to Maui last month, then included the return leg as part of our trip to Peru in April 2013. We’re flying to Peru on LAN Business class, so automatically the HNL-MIA leg became first class (since there was no business class on AA domestic flight back). Awesome trick.

  9. Just did a ONE WAY UA award LAX – DTW. What can I do now if anything if I wanted to “extend” my trip and, say, add a leg to JFK a month later?

  10. @Phil yes that is correct, you can find published fares at Expertflyer or FareComare, most major cities to hubs of a oneworld partner are certainly going to have published fares it is only cases like smaller cities (generally) to stations not served heavily by a carrier, such as Etihad from many US cities to the Maldives, where you are going to have challenges. Especially since Etihad hasn’t historically had a ton of US service and US partners.

  11. Gary, you mention near the end “I could even change the date of that flight without penalty”. Is this only for status holders? And how long before departure does the change have to be made?

  12. Gary, how about question on post #10? Are you ignoring me because I give you grief (and all others) on these repetitive credit card app aff links? 🙂

  13. @gpapadop – no stopovers on one way awards, sorry there have been lots of comments and questions over the past week and i don’t mean to miss them

  14. If you start in CMB, the base MPM goes up, and CMB-SIN-HKG-JFK(stop)-YVR becomes possible for the same number of AA miles. .

  15. Wife and I are using this for DFW-CDG, then CDG-DFW(stop)-SFO. Used 10k BA miles each to come back. Good deal! Will always do this in the future being in DFW!

  16. @Gary — thanks for the further explanation on my question 🙂

    @AK — I think that may solve it for me. I’ll simply fly CMB-SIN-HKG-JFK(stop)-YVR on CX. Been meaning to do the research how I could stretch the distance, but this seems to do it! Thanks.

  17. @nycman, all travel has to be completed within one year of ticketing, but subject to that restriction you can make any changes you want.

    I had two trips planned: NYC-HNL(stop)-SEA(stop)-NYC, then later NYC-LIM-NYC.

    I booked EWR-HNL one-way on UA, HNL-SEA one-way on AS (using AA miles), and then, instead of SEA-NYC, drove up a couple of hours and flew YVR-JFK(stop), and months later, JFK-LIM. The last leg is LIM-EWR on UA again.

    YVR-JFK(stop)-LIM was my AA award on CX on the first leg and LAN on the second leg. Business class on both legs (full flat seats, and maybe even the 787 on the LIM leg depending on what routes they roll it out on), all of 30k !

    I’ve already moved the JFK-LIM dates around a couple of times and may even make another couple of changes, all at no cost.

  18. ok let me ask you this

    what is the maximum MPM from Tokyo. I am wondering how far i can get. I am open to all destinations. Please give some ideas! thank you. North america gateway city would be fine. Let’s say NRT-DFW-??? can i get to PDX on one way and still be within the MPM? i love each and every one of you miles addicts!

  19. Thank you Gary. So which cities would be permitted. I am wondering what is the furthest flight from Tokyo to a gateway city. JFK? that would give me more MPM because of the longer distance right?

  20. I called AA to book a one-way F award: LAX-JFK on AA metal in December, then JFK to HKG on CX next July. The exec plat line rep went away to check but came back saying the routing was invalid as it was backtracking.

    This sounds like the exact scenario you have done yourself successfully. Should I just try another rep?

  21. Tried calling again this morning, and the rep says she checked with two different departments, and on a partner award they’re telling her JFK is not a “natural routing” for LAX-HKG.

  22. This is truly fascinating,, I am just trying to find out how to get from LAX to MEL rtn, using my VA miles the best way , and this blog took me to a MBA class in FF!! loved it. thanks all.

  23. I live in San Diego, but flying out of LAX for a trip to Australia. I’m traveling business class one-way, direct flight LAX-SYD on AA’s partner Qantas. For the return flight, the direct flight was unavailable on Qantas, but able to book business flight SYD-LAX with a layover in Honolulu. Would Honolulu then be considered the North American Gateway city? If so, is there anyway to add on a free “stopover” flight for sometime in the future, but within the alloted approx. 1 year timeframe?

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