The Ultimate Guide to Constructing an International Award Ticket Using American Miles

Four months ago I wrote a detailed guide to booking awards using American AAdvantage miles.

Since that time distance-based oneworld awards have been eliminated, and so have ‘domestic gateway city stopovers’ on international awards. So those need to be removed from the guide.

In addition, American has very quirky routing rules. I noted earlier today that those have been changed a bit with the addition of Qatar Airways to oneworld. JonNYC provided the full detail on those changes.

What I know about booking awards with American AAdvantage miles comes from more than a decade of personal experience, from more than four years booking awards for others, and some insights gleamed from unpublished rules shared over at TravelingBetter.com. But recent changes required an update to the guide.

This will show you the rules, tips, and tricks to make the most of your American miles for international award tickets on American’s own flights and on their airline partners.

American One-Way Partner Awards

Here’s American’s partner award chart:
American International Award Chart

And here are the rules.

Stopovers: Stopovers are not permitted. Anything over 4 hours on a purely domestic award, and (what’s relevant for this purpose) anything 24 hours or longer on an international award would constitute a stopover and require a separate award. When you’re putting together an international award, the 24 hour rule applies even to your domestic connecting segments.

You can transit a city for 23 hours and 59 minutes and that’s just a connection (go explore a city for no extra miles) but once you hit 24 hours that would be a stopover and an extra award.

This restriction means no more ‘free one-way awards’ using American miles.

Routing rules:

Published routing: You have to fly a ‘published routing’ in order to book an award. Specifically, the primary overwater carrier has to publish a routing between your starting and ending cities in order to fly between those two cities on a single award. And you have to follow their routing rules for any connections.

So if Etihad has no fare between Richmond and the Maldives, then you’re going to be looking at two award tickets — say, Richmond to Abu Dhabi and Abu Dhabi to the Maldives, costing an extra 25,000 miles for one-way business class from Abu Dhabi to the Maldives or 25,000 miles for first class Richmond to your US departure gateway.

This is a rule that’s little understood by agents, they often won’t know why an award will price higher than the award chart suggests for travel between two regions.

Another ‘trick’ or area of confusion is that “IATA YY fares” don’t count for this purpose (there are fares published which any participating airline can use, even though they aren’t their own fares — those don’t count for the purposes of having a published fare between two cities in order to book it as a single award). Similarly, “constructed fares” often do not count either, although I’ve also had them accepted. An airline may show a fare from a city in Mexico to San Francisco and separately from San Francisco to Bali, adding them together. That’s not the same thing as the airline having its own fare between the city in Mexico and Bali.

Because this rule is little understood, I’ve actually had some (very occasional) success in skirting it. When an award hasn’t priced the way I want it to, and it gets escalated, the person reviewing it may not understand why it didn’t price and may push it through manually. This is rare, and not something I push the envelope on in my award booking service but still worth noting that it’s happened.

Maximum permitted mileage: Many airlines say you can only fly the ‘published maximum permitted mileage’ between two cities, or the published amount plus some percentage. And the number of miles flown is the primary constraint on how you can route an award. Aeroplan, for instance, will let you fly 5% more than the standard mileage allotted between any two cities.

American on the other hand doesn’t really use the maximum permitted mileage concept. They make you fly on a published routing. However, some fares don’t have published routings and instead themselves rely on maximum permitted mileage. In that case, American will allow you to fly the maximum permitted mileage plus 25%. That sounds super generous, and it is, but the situation doesn’t apply often enough to be really controlling.

Most direct routing: This is a catch all and is a rule that applies, though not always automatically. It’s a reason you can be denied an award that otherwise appears to follow American’s rules. You have to fly the most direct routing, though of course the most direct routing between many cities is a non-stop flight and yet you’re allowed to connect most of the time. So it isn’t really consistently enforced, but is something in the airline’s back pocket which says that any time they find you to be doing something unreasonable they can deny it.

What this means in practice, I find, is that I can fly Hong Kong – Los Angeles (stopover) – New York JFK.

But — while I have even been allowed to do this — I cannot bank on being permitted to fly Hong Kong – New York JFK (stopover) – Los Angeles. I’ve literally done that specific award, but it’s certainly not the most direct routing between Hong Kong and Los Angeles and shouldn’t be counted on being approved, that it’s within the “maximum permitted mileage plus 25%” notwithstanding.

You cannot connect in a third region. Award travel between two regions cannot touch a third region, unless a specific exception is in place. You cannot fly from the US to Europe to Asia, you have to fly direct from the US to Asia. Again, unless there’s an exception — no American partner flies non-stop form the US to Africa, and it’s possible to use American miles to fly to Africa, because they do make an exception that will allow you to connect in the third region of Europe.

Known Exceptions:

  1. Travel between North/Central/South America and the Indian Sub Continent/Middle East can connect in:Europe
  2. Travel between North/Central/South America and Africa can connect in:Europe
  3. Travel between North American or South America Zone 2 and Africa can connect in Middle East/Indian Subcontinent if the flight arriving in and departing from that third region is on Qatar Airways.
  4. Travel between North/Central/South America and Asia 2 can connect in:Asia 1
  5. Travel between the Indian Sub Continent/Middle East and Asia 1 or South Pacific can connect in:Asia 2
  6. Travel between Africa and Asia 1 can connect in Asia 2 or in Middle East/Indian Subcontinent provided that connection arrives and departs on Qatar Airways.
  7. Travel between Africa and Asia 2 can connect in Middle East/Indian Subcontinent provided that connection arrives and departs on Qatar Airways.
  8. Travel between Asia 1 and Europe or South Pacific can connect in:Asia 2
  9. Travel between Europe and Asia 1 can connect in Middle East/Indian Subcontinent provided that connection arrives and departs on Qatar Airways.
  10. Travel between Europe and Asia 2 can connect in Middle East/Indian Subcontinent provided that connection arrives and departs on Qatar Airways.

So you can fly from the US to Africa via London (exception 2) but you cannot fly from the US to Afica via Abu Dhabi as there’s no exception allowing transit in the Middle East region unless that transit is on Qatar Airways which would mean connecting in Doha.

And you can fly from the US to Hong Kong via Tokyo (exception 3) but you cannot fly from the US to Tokyo via Hong Kong as there’s no exception allowing transit in Asia 2 enroute to Asia 1.

Relatedly there are specific rules that you can only fly from North America to Europe, Africa and the Indian Sub-Continent/Middle East via the Atlantic. It can make total sense to fly San Francisco to India via Asia instead of Europe, but this is not allowed.

Additionally, you can only fly to Asia via the Pacific, and though Australia and Tahiti and Fiji are in the same region, you cannot fly to Fiji via Australia (“the long way”).

Correct pricing: American’s system automatically prices award tickets. It’s usually correct based on the rules above, but is not always correct. In that case, it helps to know the correct price and to get the agent to appeal for help because the pricing can be manually stored, overriding the computer. I’ve had this done while I’ve waited on hold, and I’ve also had to have them ‘look into it’ and get back to me. But it’s worth being aware of.

Booking and change fees:

  • Telephone booking fee. American doesn’t have most of their partners on their website. And the website sometimes misprices awards, too (if you use multi-city search to specify flights from the US to Europe via a specific gateway, you may be charged extra for the intra-European flight when you shouldn’t be). I find that more often than not I call American to book award tickets. American’s Executive Platinums do not pay a telephone booking fee for their own awards. But everyone else does, and an Executive Platinum redeeming miles from their own account for someone else will still pay the $35 per person booking fee.
  • Close-in booking fee. Awards for travel less than 21 days out cost $75, though this fee is waived for awards issued out of an AAdvantage elite member’s account. You used to be able to book travel more than 21 days out, avoid the fee, and then make a free date change to be within 21 days. That trick is something American has since cracked down on.
  • Date changes are free. There’s no charge to change just the date or time of a flight, or to change the class of service of an individual segment if that segment was booked in a lower class than the award you paid for (one flight was available only in coach on a business class award, and then business opens up later).
  • Changing your origin or destination costs $150. If there’s more than one passenger on a reservation, then the $150 applies to the first passenger only $25 for each additional passenger. This fee is waived for Executive Platinums.
  • Changing an award type requires cancellation and redeposit. If you’re flying an American-only award and want to change to a partner award, you can’t just make the change and pay a fee, the award gets cancelled and you start over.
  • Cancellation and redeposit is $150 for the first passenger and $25 each additional passenger, waived for Executive Platinums. It’s nice that American doesn’t have the $200 rule that United charges (though they also don’t have United’s sliding scale of different fees for different level elites) or Delta’s rule about changes within 72 hours of travel.

How to find availability:

For award travel that includes most American AAdvantage partner airlines, you are going to have to call to book the award.

The American website only displays availability for airberlin, Alaska, British Airways, Finnair, Hawaiian, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, and US Airways (and those airlines’ eligible affiliates).

The American website is often the best tool for searching those because they have a fairly good award calendar. But the AA website isn’t nearly as extensive in terms of searching for partners as the Qantas and British Airways websites. As a result you probably need to sign up for frequent flyer accounts with both of those airlines as well and use those sites to search for award space.

The Qantas site adds access to Iberia, Cathay Pacific, Qatar, S7 Airlines, LAN, TAM, and Sri Lankan which AA.com doesn’t support.

The British Airways site adds access to Iberia, S7 Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Malaysia AIrlines, Qatar Airways, LAN, TAM, and Sri Lankan which AA.com doesn’t support.

The BA site, therefore, has the most additional partners and also partners not found on the Qantas site. However I personally find the Qantas site easier and faster to navigate. Thus I tend to use it for quick searching, and the BA site for JAL and Malaysia.

These sites are not perfect, and they do occasionally show ‘false positives’ (seats that aren’t really there and will error out when you try to book) or seats that American agents can’t see when you call (usually that just means yo have to hang up, call back, or the American computer isn’t showing space when searching a connecting itinerary and they need to search just the segment you’re looking for, or even occasionally vice versa). Sometimes there are just data/connection or syncing issues.

Finally, historically the Japan Airlines site has been the most reliable for showing Cathay Pacific award space offered to partners, but it too isn’t perfect for the same reasons noted.

Got questions?


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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »

Pingbacks

Comments

  1. Sorry about that. I will be using AA miles and not too particular about which Hawaiian island.

  2. @David sorry I thought you were replying to a different post (about Delta miles to Australia that I just put up).

    American eliminated stopovers on international awards on April 8. Now that would price as an additional award.

  3. Apologies to bring this up from the dead, but I have a quick question. I am looking to book an award in late August from AUH-YYZ on Ethiad using AA miles. The dates are not final yet, and I am afraid by the time the dates are finalized, the 45000 miles ticket on EY will not be available anymore. If the dates were changed later is it still free? And if the ticket is or cancelled altogether, am I only looking at the $150 redeposition fee?

    Thanks.

  4. Hi Gary, thanks for this great post. I’m flying AA F award sfo-dfw-cdg in October (thanks for the heads up about availability a few months back). If I change my award to sfo-lax-lhr-cdg (I’d like to try AA F on the 777-300er), will I be charged the $650 for taxes and fees for flying thru LHR? Since I’m not changing the date, origin & destination, or class I shouldn’t be charged any other fees, right? Many thanks!

  5. @Marc if you fly American then there’s no fuel surcharges. There are no big taxes for flying THROUGH London, the taxes are for originating a trip in the UK (“air passenger duty,” APD, sometimes referred to as luxury tax). Since you do not start your trip in the UK you don’t pay the APD. Just airport taxes. You do pay differences in taxes when you change an award, but those should be relatively minor.

  6. @Gary, thanks for the quick reply. As I’m sure you know, the DFW-CDG segment above is in AA’s old F (lie flat) on a 777-200. Do you think it’s worth it to change to AA’s new F on the 777-300er but be forced to fly through LHR (sfo-lax/dfw-lhr-cdg vs. sfo-dfw-cdg)? Thanks!

  7. @Marc I don’t think American’s new first is worth the connection at Heathrow. I’d do it to get American’s new business class vs the angled seat but not for the difference in first class, personally.

  8. Gary, on a United award from SFO, can I stopover in Chicago and Dublin on the way to Frankfurt? Or vice-versa on the way back to SFO? If not both cities, how about just Dublin? Thanks so much for your great work.

  9. How many connections max are allowed domestically on an international award? For instance on CTU-HKG-JFK-DFW, JFK-DFW is not available right now because they are being stingy with saver awards around thanksgiving. Can do LGA/EWR to ORD to XXX (several cities) to DFW and stay under MPM, but not sure they will allow this. The issue right now is they are completely blocking all flights from major cities to DFW after 11/18 in saaver! Still trying to find a single connection from NYC to DFW, but so far nothing. Thanks!

  10. @Curtis there’s no explicit segment limit but I imagine you cannot exceed 16 for technical reasons (and wouldn’t likely get there given fare rules anyway).

  11. Thanks, Gary! I figured 16 might be the absolute max (or maybe 8 since it’s a one-way) from the old (and VERY MISSED) One World Explorer days… Hopefully we can get this ticketed for the wife in a bit.

  12. I can’t see your reply to Phil; I’m sorry but I have the same questions…Phil said,
    Does changing the class of the ticket incur the change fee, with everything else remaining the same? Is this a good strategy to book in economy if there is no biz/1st open, then change if they do open up? Only doing this on awards where you want to secure your flight because economy might lose availability.
    Also, what if you change where you connect on a flight, but origin and destination remain the same. Change fee? Thank you!
    Also, what if you change where you connect on a flight, but origin and destination remain the same. Change fee?

    Seabird said,

  13. Hi Gary,
    I’m attempting to book DFW-LHR around end of July, and AA on the website, I can’t get a business return ticket for less than 270000 miles. Sounds ridiculous when I’ve flown other carriers on first class for far fewer miles. Can phone agents help me get the mileage saver awards, which on aa.com give me the most ridiculous routing.

    Thanks!

  14. Can you fly from North America to Asia via the Middle East using Qatar as the exception? Ex. RDU to DOH to BKK

  15. Gary, thanks for the amazingly helpful post! Read over the entire post and 90% sure the answer to my question is ‘No’; Want to double check before writing the redemption off completely:

    My wife and I are looking to go to Africa from San Francisco, and would love to fly Etihad First Apartments JFK–AUH (after flying SFO–JFK on American) then continue onto ADD (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia). If we fly Qatar Airways AUH–DOH–ADD, will we qualify for exception #3 and be able to book the ticket for 90,000 (81,000) AA miles? If this is against AA’s routing rules, what are the chances we can get a phone representative to manually force the booking?

    Thanks again, and best,
    Luke (& Emily)

  16. @Luke Bornheimer – you know I have not tried this, ingenious idea, but i do not think so — i believe that in fact you don’t just have to arrive and depart DOH on QR, but actually have to arrive/depart THE REGION on QR.

  17. Gary, I’m playing with bookings in the March 2016 time frame on aa.com. If I select Multi-City Awards, and enter SAN-DFW-FRA, both on April 10th, in business it prices at 25K SAN-DFW and another 50K DFW-FRA. Even though the layover in DFW is < 4 hours. However, if I select one-way, SAN-DFW-FRA is available for the correct 50K amount. Is this what you're saying where the website mis-prices fares? And calling in and speaking to an agent would let me use "Multi-City" options for the correct 50K amount of miles? Thanks.

  18. @Gary Thanks, I’ll call in and pay the fee to ensure I get the routes I want, priced correctly!
    Thanks for your help.

  19. @Gary Excellent post.. one question I havn’t seen answered is can one circumvent the strict no stopover policy with AA Awards by flying on a different one-world carrier that allows free stopovers in the hubcity??

    For example, fly Bangkok to Narita with Japan Airlines, stopover in Japan for a few days, then Narita to LAX with Cathay?

    Thanks

  20. Gary – I’m trying to find 3 economy class one-way award seats leaving July 31, 2016 from JRO to LAX (via DOH) on Qatar Airlines, using our AA miles (Going on safari that starts in NBO and already have those seats booked using my UAL miles, but didn’t have enough miles on UAL to return from JRO). It’s early yet but I’m anxious to tie down our return flights since the rest of the trip is paid for.
    The AAdvantage agent gave me a 5 day free hold for the JRO – DOH leg. He also held a DOH to LHR segment. Both on Qatar. But there is nothing yet available on the DOH – LAX flight for August 1, nor any seats LHR to LAX on Aug 1. We prefer to not do the LHR layover but will if necessary. We don’t have enough miles to upgrade classes or pay extra miles for stopovers. This whole one-way home to LAX should price at 37,500 per person. Any tips? Or should I just keep calling AA every day? (Note: on your advice, I have being checking availability on the BA website).

  21. @LeslieC check other Qatar flights from Doha to the US. Once in the US you can add an American segment to LAX. Congrats on finding space out of JRO, often I have to send people in and out of NBO with them on their own to/from JRO.

  22. Gary, we’ll be flying PDX to BUD Sept 2016, using our AA miles for business class BA flights. Frequent flyer booking for our travel date is already available through BA, 24 days before AA availability. Is there a way of booking early with our AAdvantage miles (before all availability is gone to BA mileage holders)?

  23. I am trying to book MIA-MLE with miles for a trip in April (though flexible) in business class. I have called AA multiple times getting different responses from agents. Some find availability for outbound, connecting through Doha on qatar but no return flights available march through June. Does this sound possible? I am so puzzles how there could be no flights but on Qatar’s website there are so many flight options. Any suggestions?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *