Changing The Return Trip On An American Airlines Award Ticket After Flying The Outbound

American Airlines AAdvantage award travel changed this spring. There’s no more ‘milesAAver’ and ‘AAnytime’ award levels. When you’re spending miles to travel entirely on American Airlines, award pricing is dynamic.

They offer an award chart that shows prices “starting from” but it’s not a realistic depiction of what you’ll pay for award travel. Some awards are less than the lowest price listed on the chart. Some awards you’ll never or almost never find for the published prices. Here are a few other quirks:

  • Award pricing will change based on what city you’re flying out of. A business class flight to Sydney might be 72,000 miles from Charlotte to Los Angeles to Sydney while just the Los Angeles to Sydney flight could be three or four times that amount.

  • One-way awards also used to be half the cost of a roundtrip. That’s no longer the case. Some awards are much cheaper booked as roundtrip rather than as two one ways.

Whenever you make a change to an award, it’s entirely repriced, like you’re starting from scratch. The only benefit to “changing” rather than “cancelling, redepositing your miles, and rebooking” is that changing keeps your passenger information in the reservation (you don’t have to re-enter it) and you don’t have to worry about whether American actually redeposits your miles right away so you can spend them again. In some limited cases this can now be done online.

Since there are no more ‘changes’ I’ve had some readers ask whether you can still use the value of an award after you’ve flown the first segment. For instance, if you book a roundtrip award, fly the outbound, and want to change your return what happens?

  • You can still change the return!

  • But American Airlines doesn’t make it easy to see how much value you’ll have in that return portion of the ticket to apply to a new itinerary.

There’s been some misinformation online suggesting that if you book a roundtrip award, and fly the first segment, there are no changes at all to the return and you lose the value of that part of the ticket if you cancel. That is false.

When you book an award ticket, the trip summary page shows the outbound and return value of your award in miles.

American confirms to me that you can apply the unused value of a return award ticket to a new (changed) return:

To change the return flight, customers can call Reservations to have the unused portion of their ticket exchanged for a different flight. The agent will query them as part of a roundtrip journey and work with them based on the value of the ticket (and if it’s lesser value).

After making a roundtrip booking you won’t be able to go back and see online how many miles the outbound and return segments are worth separately. You can find out by calling. But there’s a clear amount of residual value that the return portion of your award ticket will have after you’ve flown the outbound, and this will be used towards any changes you need to make.

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. I haven’t seen round-trip fares that are actually priced lower than the two one-ways. Are you sure about this?

  2. Oh gosh, this gave me a flashback to the old US Airways DM rules – “no changes allowed after travel has commenced”. Do you remember that? One of the unfriendliest rules that existed.

  3. If I cancel an AA award ticket, how long does it take for my Miles to be redeposited so I can book another award ticket? Thank you!

  4. @Ed. I cancelled an award last week and it took about an hour for the miles to be there. I called in and made sure they were redeposited. I’m not sure that it’s automatic if you cancel online.

    I also had to close my browser and re-log in for their system to see I had enough miles to book the award I had on hold.

  5. Earlier this year, I changed the return of my United Mileage Plus round trip award on a partner airline. The change was very easy on the phone. Very short waiting times and nice agent. I was calling from overseas on an app that only allows 30 minute phone calls, which I took a risk to use. (I did have other ways to call). I changed from economy class to business class and had to buy 10,000 miles but I was able to burn my account to close to zero miles. I am swearing off frequent flyer programs and being disloyal from now on. Hope they won’t punish me like Putin did to the Wagner boss, ha ha

  6. Can the residual be applied to *any* award ticket (i.e. like cash tickets) or the routing needs to be identical?

    I.e. if I have AAA-BBB-AAA, can I change the unused “return” to BBB-CCC DDF-EEE?

  7. Typo:

    I.e. if I have AAA-BBB-AAA, can I change the unused “return” to BBB-CCC or even DDD-EEE?

  8. Derek – That seems a little strong as a reaction. If nothing else, signup bonuses have some notable value. On the other hand you don’t have to worry about the vast majority of BA posts if you exclude miles and credit cards, which could save you a lot of time.

  9. I only book one-way reward tickets from AA. More flexibilty and stopovers are not allowed on RT.

    In fact on AA – I only book one-way revenue tickets. Then I change a flight when then price drops without having to reprice the other direction.

  10. @James Hathaway You see the savings booking a RT vs two one way tickets on business class fares. Main Cabin has a much smaller differential.

  11. I’m no fan of AA, but this post is a great big nothing burger. I recently changed an international mileage award (for one of my kids) mid-trip by cancelling the old and booking another ticket, and the process was smooth and painless. Miles credited in a couple of hours and redeployed immediately.

  12. I recently had to change my return plans. I was worried that I will loose my miles and what I paid in taxes and fees. I was pleasantly surprised when they re instated my miles and refunded my money. They even tried to rebook my flight but few flights were found and wound up doing it myself! All and all I was satisfied. Way to keep ff customers!

  13. I tried doing this last week after I arrived at my final destination. Was transferred 3x finally to the Advantage Dept Intl rep. He Never heard of this and said He has to CX my present res and rebook me anew.

    He said hes been working in this dept for close to 3 yrs and knows what hes doing and how it has to be done.
    Well he CXed my old res Miles went right back and said up to 10 biz days for the refund of the taxes. And he booked me a 1way back to the US. Turns out all the miles were returned including for my Outbound, if it stays that way and if the taxes dont get refunded , Im more then happy to eat it for a true Free Tkt Outbound

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