There are several challenges booking awards through American AAdvantage.
- Availability. Even if you’re flying a partner airline you may still need to get to the international departure city and that means flying American Airlines (in some limited cases Alaska is an option). American’s availability has been quite bad since the US Airways merger. It’s getting better, but that’s often connecting availability in coach sold on a married segment basis, which can be hard if you’re trying to construct an award one segment at a time.
- Fuel surcharges. If you want to go to Europe you’re unlikely to find space on American in a premium cabin. Their primary transatlantic partner is British Airways, but those redemptions are really cash and points awards — expect $1000 roundtrip in junk ‘carrier-imposed surcharges’ in addition to your miles.
- Opaque rules. American doesn’t publish its rules for booking award tickets. I outline them, and they define what flights you can use for any given trip. On the whole they’re more restrictive than just about any airline other than Aegean (which only allows one short connection each way) and programs like British Airways which charge for each flight segment separately.
- Have to call to book. Though they’ve been adding partners for online redemption they’re behind their major competitors. Many members don’t realize that typing in where they are starting from and where they’re going frequently won’t actually show them the award flights that are available.
On the other hand there are some real upsides booking with American AAdvantage.
- Award holds. They still let you put an award on hold for 5 days, when booking in advance and using most of their partners. That makes it possible to know you have an award while you confirm hotel space, or to work on an award — lock in key space — and then keep trying for the rest of the itinerary. That’s especially important given the unique challenges working with American miles, but also something that fewer and fewer other airlines allow.
- Great partners. Especially if you want to redeem for international first class, they’ve got options with Etihad, Qatar, Qantas, Japan Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and British Airways.
I do love working with many agents at American over the phone, even if on the whole I hate talking on the telephone. For instance I’ve had agents successfully get award space opened to complete an itinerary, something that used to be fairly common but I now know isn’t completely dead.
However a story from reader Tommy L. really impressed me.
- The goal was an award on American (for domestic positioning) and Japan Airlines in business class, Philadelphia – San Francisco – Tokyo Haneda – Bangkok – Tokyo Narita – Boston – Philadelphia.
- There was no award space for the final Boston – Philadelphia flight. That meant buying the last segment in cash.
With American if you want to through-check luggage on separate tickets it’s important to sell them both inside the same reservation or else American’s agents will refuse — in this case bags would have been checked by Japan Airlines which shoudl be fine.
- They were good with all of that. However American called back the next day. Award space had opened up for the Boston – Philadelphia flight. Since award travel doesn’t ticket right away, tickets are queued based on travel date, and partner awards take longer to confirm the ticket hadn’t been issued yet. As a result they were able to add in the Boston – Philadelphia flight (which changes the destination of the award) without a change fee.
This is literally the opposite of “hang up, call back.” It’s almost like a Yakov Smirnoff Russian Reversal joke, “In Soviet Russia, American AAdvantage calls you!”
I’ve never had an agent check for award space after a call and proactively follow up before. That’s amazing. Has an agent ever gone above and beyond like that for you.