The Challenges and Solutions for Booking Australia Awards With American AAdvantage Miles

I’m just starting to work through the reader questions I’ve invited, and thought I’d start with RS who asked,

Any idea when AA will allow award booking on their planned flights to Australia? Do you think they are likely to offer more than 2 C award seats per flight? (I’m trying to figure out how to get a family of 4 to Australia with AA miles in business class, a dad you know, Quantas never releases more than 2 seats per flight)

American’s New Australia Service Coming This December

Earlier this month came big news that American Airlines will fly Los Angeles – Sydney.

Their Boeing 777-300ER service will be in partnership with Qantas, the oneworld airline from Australia with whom American has a joint business venture. This allows Qantas to pull Boeing 747 capacity from the route and re-start service from San Francisco.

There were even hints along with the announcement that the partnership could grow, possibly leading to a Los Angeles – Auckland flight, a route that Qantas dropped in 2012.

These Are Unlikely to Yield Much Award Availability

Unfortunately I do not expect this to be great news for members seeking award seats.

  • Australia has historically been a tough route for flyers to use miles (exception: Delta miles on Virgin Australia, though I worry that could change with Virgin Australia introducing new reverse herringbone 4-across seating in business to replace 7-across flat beds).

  • This doesn’t represent a new flight as much as a replacement for a Qantas flight, we’re not looking at a big capacity increase in the market that would make us think we’d see plenty of empty seats that would be offered as awards.

  • American hasn’t been especially generous (to say the least) with international award seats on its own aircraft.

  • American will likely be initially conservative with their new route as they learn what booking patterns are like, before they’re wiling to make saver award seats available.

  • They’ve been especially tight-fisted on new routes, routes with new premium products, and long routes. This represents all three. I’d expect award availability for Los Angeles – Sydney to be in some ways similar to Dallas – Hong Kong… maybe worse, since the Hong Kong route represented new oneworld transpacific capacity and was initially lightly booked.

None of this bodes well for finding saver award space.

American Flights Give You the Option to Spend Extra Miles for Awards

Having a flight on American aircraft rather than on partners does mean that you can spend extra miles for additional award availability. We don’t yet know what those awards will cost because the award chart for American and US Airways flights doesn’t yet have the ‘South Pacific’ region added to reflect this as an American destination.

If I had to guess then since economy saver awards are 37,500 miles each way between the US and Australia on partners, they will be the same on American, while ‘AAnytime’ awards will be 70,000 (level 1) and 90,000 (level 2) plus an unpublished level 3 each way. And business class AAnytime woulds might be 150,000, 190,000 and ‘unpublished’ each way for each of 3 levels. Ouch.

Australia is Especially Tough Due to ‘Third Region’ Rules on Awards

Australia is a tough award no matter how you slice it. The number of non-stop flights from the US is limited, despite this news which brings the number of airlines serving the market up to 5. And it’s a high demand destination.

Other frequent flyer programs allow you to make these awards work by routing via Asia. It’s extra flying, for sure, but at least using United miles you’ll book a free stopover in one direction and get an Asia trip tacked onto your Australia trip for no additional miles.

American on the other hand won’t let you connect in Asia (since it is a ‘third region’ in addition to the region you start and end your flying in. (See my “Ultimate Guide to Booking Award Tickets Using American Miles“)

This restriction on AAdvantage awards is one of the hobby horse issues, in fact I even mentioned it to someone in casual conversation yesterday at American’s event to share their new catering.

You can book Australia via Asia, but American will charge you for two separate awards, US-Asia plus Asia-Australia.

All programs have restrictions of some kind that limit the flights you can select as part of an award (how many flights you can take, how far you can fly, or what flights you can piece together, without costing additional miles). Otherwise their redemption costs would become pretty unlimited. American has perhaps the most draconion set of rules here.

  • You have to fly on ‘published routings’ following the routing rule of your primary overwater carrier.
  • You cannot connect in a different region than you start or end your one-way journey unless there are specific exceptions for the trip your taking (such as being able to connect in Europe between North America and Africa).

This means even though American partner British Airways will let you connect in London enroute to Asia, you cannot book an award across the Atlantic. Even though depending on destinations it may not even mean additional flying.

Separately you’re not allowed to fly between the US and India via the Pacific. So even if though a trip from San Francisco to Mumbai via Hong Kong is shorter than via London, you aren’t allowed to take the Cathay Pacific routing through Hong Kong.

There used to be an ‘out’ in the form of distance-based awards but American eliminated those last April.

Our Best Hope is Glitches

The possibility for booking American flights to Australia at a reasonable number of miles could well come down to glitches. Occasionally we’ve seen the Dallas – Hong Kong flights, and even all transatlantic flights, open up space for a day or so. Could that happen when the Sydney flight is first loaded into the schedule? Perhaps, though I wouldn’t wager on it.

We don’t know yet when this flight will become bookable. American hasn’t announced when it will go on sale, and I suspect that’s because they’re still finalizing details. Since they won’t operate the flight for six months, and very few tickets are sold more than three months out, that’s not a huge problem for them. One imagines that given the timeframe they’ll need to have the flight loaded in schedules to be successful, that this should mean sometime over the next couple of months we’ll see it as bookable. So many folks will be on the look out!

Now that American Will Serve Australia, They Need to Fix Award Rules to Make Australia Awards Possible

I believe ‘third region’ rules on awards are duplicative, and overlying penalizing, and should be relaxed — especially now that we no longer have a distance-based option to us instead. Australia awards should be possible via Asia, which would at least make Australia awards possible at something other than extortionate mileage pricing.

American and Qantas are in a joint venture. Make it possible to fly American to Hong Kong and Qantas from Hong Kong to Australia, for instance.

Since even though both American and Qantas will be flying non-stop between the US and Australia, the odds of finding saver award space especially in a premium cabin on these non-stop flights are pretty darned low.

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, 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. Has AA just stopped giving premium awards in general? I’m trying to get 2 tickets in J to Munich next summer and there’s nothing on AA/US metal. Not even anything at the 330 day mark that used to be possible.

  2. Hi Gary, I’m guessing you probably lean more libertarian on these things, but can you do something to make sure Lucky is taking care of himself? I know he’s probably fine, but I’m just worried for him. You are very cool, thank you so much.

  3. I’m not so happy with AA’s J award availability for TATL. For the family of 4, it’s almost impossible to be on the same cabin. JL and CX seem to be the best usage of AA.

  4. @Lucky’s Reader – I have reached out to Lucky. There. Now back to American AAdvantage award availability on American’s own international flights.

  5. Do you think there’s any connection with the restrictions on Hawaiian flights and the new service?

  6. “Our Best Hope is Glitches” – curious about this. Any reason why the airlines, feeling empowered by recent events, can’t start claiming that these events are akin to mistake fares?

  7. AA should definitely make more exceptions to the third-region rule, or get rid of it altogether. If you don’t want to pay BA’s fees, the most direct route to Baku is on Qatar, connecting in Doha. But Azerbaijan is in “Europe,” so you can’t connect in the “Middle-East.” So, AA incentivizes me to fly more miles to Moscow (or even OVB) and connect on S7. Dumb.

  8. @Gary – basically, yes. How is a # of miles pricing glitch different from a # of $ pricing glitch?

  9. @CW I think only Delta could get away with this since they don’t have a published price list. An airline can’t really claim that a price is a mistake when it’s the price listed on the website as normal. Recall that one of United’s arguments for cancelling the 4 mile Hong Kong awards was that the 4 mile price was clearly erroneous due to variance from the published pricing list.

  10. @Gary – thanks, let’s hope you’re right! Though they could still assert that a SAAver award was “clearly erroneous” due to the fact that they’ve never previously released one! 😀

  11. I had a better chance finding award flights on Qantas from dxb to syd in first, than from the US..ugh..

  12. I have just one thing to add, but I will note I’m just an economy flyer here.

    AA via Qantas has exceptional availability to Oz in Y. I looked briefly at flying to Oz next January for my 30th (instead choice Hawaii) but decided against it due to just the shear scale of planning a trip like that. Qantas had daily availability in Saver Y.

    Now I know that you are talking about your precious premium cabin flights, but I bet at least half of your readers are just little angels like myself trying to travel the world while they can and take economy because we don’t have infinite miles from manufactured spending.

    I always smile to myself when award charts are “devalued” and the blogs are in flames because their precious partner F flights have increased by 100% in mileage and I thank my lucky stars that the Y flights stay unchanged.

    Anyway, the point of my long post is this; you should put a paragraph in your entry that says, “No worries for you Y flyers, if you can stand 16 hours in a metal tube saver fares are plenty!”

  13. Excellent comment about U avail. They do exist. And not everyone like the bloggers are into the manufacture spending. Hopefully it will all come crashing down on them.

  14. I think your solution that AA will relax the award rules is quite naive. Why would they? They are a profitable airline with a profitable FF program. Their award chart is already one of the lowest in the industry and you’re suggesting they make it even cheaper by allowing more flexible routing? Im still surprised they didn’t increase the award chart when they merged with US. I think we should be all thankful for what we’ve got with AA now (rules and all) because its only going to get worse, not better.

  15. @Ben Smithson while I think international first awards especially to Asia will go up their award chart isn’t THAT cheap actually, and their primary transaltantic partner means fuel surcharges so their Europe awards are generally more expensive than those of competitors.

  16. Spot on intro, us Aussies have so few J seats to choose from across the Pacific to LAX its beyond a joke how we are treated by QF, been like this for years, best chance is book 354 days out, I really can’t see it being any different when AA join the route. Easier go thru HNL or HKG but more miles.

  17. Thanks for answering my question Gary. I guess I have to come up with a more creative solution to use my miles. I saw the extensive availability in Y, but I think that’s just too far for me (I’m reasonably tall, with bad knees, so long-distance Y is a trial). And for William and JB – the vast majority of the miles I’m planning to use were accumulated through flying; I spend enough time for work in cramped economy cabins to feel like its not at all unreasonable to want the “precious” premium class for the occasional vacation. Not everyone who wants to redeem for premium flying is a manufactured spender…

  18. I have a lot of United miles and a lot of Chase Ultimate Rewards points. Fewer American because I just used 250k for 2 people to italy in a first class suite. I’ve had a hard time using AA miles but found those 12 months out. I also spent a lot of my Delta but now am accummulating again.

    Within the next couple years I want to go to Sydney on business class. What airlines should I be accummulating miles on? Maybe United miles with Air NZ? I fly out of Hawaii and/or Idaho.

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