Hang Up, Call Back: Changing American Airlines Partner Awards

I’ve heard from several readers that have had problems changing American Airlines partner awards. They’re told that unless all flights in the itinerary that they want to keep are available with award space at the time they’re making the change, they’re out of luck. They can’t just keep the award flights they have, and change or drop a segment.

For instance, readers that have had business class AAdvantage awards on Qatar Airways to Africa couldn’t change the short segment from Doha to Africa, either to a different flight on the same day or to a different city, since the long haul segment (that they wanted to keep the same) no longer had new award space.

However American Airlines award change rules for partner awards have not changed. For instance,

  • You can change from one oneworld carrier to another on your itinerary.
  • You can drop a segment as long as your origin/destination remain in the same region.

I asked American Airlines whether they now disallow changes, or if these are rogue agents that readers are running into, because AAdvantage award rules have long allowed members to make changes, such as date changes, connecting flight changes, or even destination changes (in the same region of the world) if the new flights had the required inventory. For instance, flying Los Angeles – Hong Kong – Bangkok on Cathay Pacific:

  • A member could change to a different Hong Kong – Bangkok segment if available (and if within connecting time limits)

  • They could also change to Hong Kong – Singapore, since Bangkok and Singapore are in the same region.

  • A member could also “drop a segment” as long as it didn’t change the region of the award. So a member could drop the Hong Kong – Bangkok segment, and end their trip in Hong Kong, without having to rebook the award.

To be sure, there are changes which are not allowed. For instance,

  1. American now has ‘web special’ awards (involving travel on American Airlines itself) that cannot be changed
  2. American sells its own connecting inventory on a married segment basis and they don’t allow changing individual segments

In these cases, rebooking requires fresh inventory to be available for the whole one-way award.

American Airlines assures that nothing has changed with respect to partner award rules, with a spokesperson offering “As long as partner inventory is available, and the points you note below aren’t violated, a member should be able to update their trip.”

So if you’re told no – hang up, and call back. And if you’re told no again, hang up and call back again. And feel free to reach out to me, I’d love to get several examples in front of American for better agent training on this issue.

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. This is very interesting, thank you very much for looking into this, Gary. I’ve been dealing with this exact issue for months on an itinerary that I have booked for next March in QR J ATL-DOH with a segment in Y DOH-MLE. (Which I booked after you wrote about widespread QSuites space ex-US earlier this year.)

    When J availability appeared on the second segment, I tried calling back–at least 4 times now (this was around late June to mid-July, when I gave up and reluctantly concluded that I was wrong about AA policy), and even though there was QR J availability for the second segment at the time. Multiple agents insisted that they must search for space all the way through from ATL-MLE, and of course the first segment was no longer available at that point. One agent even promised to reach out to the oneworld desk for me to “see if QR will let us book it as a one-time exception,” promising that I’d receive an email update within 7-10 days (of course that never came, nor did I really expect it to, and the J space is now long gone for the second segment).

    Ironically, and at the risk of further lengthening this case write-up, one agent was even able to change me over to another QR flight in Y for the second segment, even though the first segment in J was no longer available, which would certainly seem to undermine the insistence on whole-itinerary availability for changes. Still wouldn’t put me in the open J segment on that new flight, though.

    I am happy to share any further details via email, including AA EXP #, call logs with AA (no recordings unfortunately), record locator, etc.

  2. Another problem last night fir Aa.com. I try to book my awards for LAX to PPT, fill out all fields, go through all questions adding second Pax, and when I was ready to book, portal shows : this page taken flight. Meaning award booking was not working. I did Try few times from different PC, iPhones, browsers . Nothing! What a Shame AA!

  3. Jim likely hit upon the issue. Whether it’s legit for award space or not is beyond my knowledge, but I know that QR is EXTREMELY strict about O&D revenue fare class booking. I’ve had QR’s robots cancel my unticketed QR revenue space when I booked QR MIA-DOH-SIN in one command and booked PX SIN-POM in a separate command.

    Either they do the same for award space or AAgents are incorrectly afraid that they will do the same for award space. Not sure which.

    I’ve run into the same O&D rules for award space on some domestic carriers (UA, AA, DL) but I forget which. They do actually give favorable, married availability for award space on an O&D basis rather than segment by segment. And they don’t allow dropping one segment for that very reason. But I forget which airline and this was years ago, so it may have changed.

    Whatever the case, it’s a very stupid policy to do O&D availability and married segments for award space since often those longhaul flights only have 1-2 award seats available. This essentially means no changes are allowed unless you want to gamble on canceling and having the award space pop back into inventory, which is generally inadvisable.

  4. Although I don’t have experience with partners like Qatar or flights to the South Pacific, it’s been my experience that if it’s the Oneworld airlines who shift your flights around, AA can be VERY flexible, even on things like Web Specials. Inventory is not a problem. If you book far enough in advance, schedule changes are inevitable. When they happen, pounce and get want you want, as long as the start and end points and cabin class remain the same. I’ve even had luck moving dates. Just go in knowing what possible, be nice, and you should be successful. Get nasty, and all of of a sudden “rules” come into play.

    Although I have no evidence of it, I’m almost positive AA keeps some sort of record of how nice or rude to their agents you are. They already marry my phone number to my AAdvantage number, so they know who I am when I call in, having some sort of “permanent record” wouldn’t surprise me. Restaurants do it, why not airlines?

  5. Partner award changes with AA are a real pain. I currently have an RJ award ORD-AMM that got changed to a day earlier but the AA positioning flight (same PNR) STL-ORD was kept on the same day. It won’t let me change it online and I’ve run into all sorts of problems getting them to understand that it won’t work. Sure they will let me cancel it but to rebook requires 4x points than when I reserved it.

  6. Ugh, may be reaching out to you on this. I have a pair of one-way J seats on QR reserved to/from Doha for March — grabbed them when the inventory opened up months ago, but didn’t want to select a final destination till closer in (i.e., won’t be Doha).

    Now we’ve narrowed choices down and I see J availability for connecting segments to MLE, DEL and DAR. Would we be able to upgrade to the (slightly) more expensive award level for DAR?

  7. You can’t change the region of your destination on an award, that would require cancelling and rebooking

    So you’re stuck booking a separate award ticket. (And Mideast and Indian Subcontinent are now separate regions and have been for a few years.)

  8. Hi,
    I thought I would share my experience in this matter in hopes to help other people. I had this exact same problem last year when trying to change a segment in my Iberia award flight itinerary from ORD to FCO which had a layover in MAD which was all booked with AA miles. I was trying to change the flight time for the segment from MAD to FCO. There was award availability for the new flight which the AA agent could see but was unable to book. The agent kept telling me that I had to rebook the entire trip and that she could not just change one segment. I finally asked for a supervisor who was easily able to make the change for me. I specifically asked what the issue was. The supervisor told me that the agent was trying to make the change incorrectly. In order to change just one segment on a PARTNER airline, the agent must try to “re price” the flight/itinerary, which is different from changing a segment on an AA flight. The method is different with partner awards and the agent was unaware of this. I hope this helps others in a similar situation.

  9. I’ve been trying for over six months now to change a single segment on an existing itinerary. Booked DEN-LAX-DOH-AMM-BEY on AA-QR-RJ-RJ, but AA will not let me change to to a QR flight from DOH-BEY directly. The space has been there for months and I have probably called 30 times. They’ll change me to Y, but not to J (Z for intra-middle-east). Agents say it is some married segment logic on the QR side. They always offer to book the segment as a separate award as that is doable.

  10. Thanks, good to know before jumping through lengthy hoops.

    It looks like all J inventory for QR’s Middle East, Indian Subcontinent and Africa flights is zeroed out for March and April. Absolutely no availability that I can find in either direction for one (much less two) seats. But ample coach on most days.

  11. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen CX have married segment logic for awards, trying to book from AA.

  12. AA has been very unhelpful after they cancelled my first leg nonstop flight and now I’ve added a stop in the middle of that single leg. I’m not pleased that they haven’t cared to try to make this right, but with their track record I suppose i shouldn’t be surprised.

  13. So if I have DFW-DOH in business but have DOH-MLE in coach with an AA points booking on Qatar that is all one record (no business award seats available on the DOH-MLE segment) can I switch the coach piece if business becomes available?

  14. I Have exactly the same experience as Tony, above, and have been told by AA that QR refuses to make changes on my (confirmed) SFO-DOH-MLE flight to incorporate an available earlier connection, DOH-MLE. After two calls back about 60 days ago, I gave up and just booked the available earlier business class flight DOH-MLE (this is next Saturday) and intend to No-show for my original connection, 5 hours later.

    The AA agent blames QR and says that any request to modify will be denied unless I wish to give up my J-class seat SFO-DOH (insanity). End result: somebody who would like my later seat will simply not get it, and I’ll have a minor hassle in Doha. Oh, and I’m out 40k AA miles x 2, plus taxes…. Call me if you wish to discuss it or see the letter I finally sent to AA which has only received irrelevant, boilerplate responses from Customer Service. You have my email here, and I’ll be able to give you details this week.

  15. I can confirm that AA not allowing changes. Original itinerary: PHX-ATL-DOH-KHI in biz bought for 70k aa miles. Wanted to change last leg to DOH-LHE. Called AA several times and wasn’t allowed. I ended up buying a ticket while in DOH to LHE albeit in economy but biz class award space was clearly available

  16. I have had these issues for the past 2 months!! Changing flights out of DOH to anywhere its a mess. All agents are saying that you cannot change a point to point flight which makes 0 sense. In the past you were able to book a flight in business and the connecting segment in economy (if business wasnt available) and then later on call and change it to business, or just change that flight altogether and now agents are saying this is not possible. It is BS!!!
    They say the flight has to be available from origin to destination which makes 0 sense, why would there be availability for sought after itineraries? Defeats the purpose of booking anything!!!

  17. @Tony and @STT same exact issue!!! I refuse to buy another flight in J or F or 30k or 40k. Makes no sense at all and its complete BS from the agents. What can we do? Should we all send emails to Liaisons?

  18. Qatar will not let you drop a segment on their awards they will Unconfirm the leg u want to try an just keep

  19. Thanks for this post, Gary. I have two one-way partner awards (70K in business class) booked USSE Asia and want to change my origin / destination within the US. I’m using AAA, BBB, etc. below to indicate different US airports.

    Outbound currently is AAA-BBB (AA) / BBB-CCC (AS) / CCC-NRT (JL) / HND-KUL (MH). I want to change the origin to DDD (nonstop or with a connecting flight to CCC). To further complicate this, since I booked, there have been minor schedule changes on the US domestic segments, and MH canceled my NRT-KUL segment and replaced it with HND-KUL. My priority is keeping CCC-NRT on JL metal, since there haven’t been any partner awards available for months. I have enough time for the airport change in Tokyo, and I didn’t see any other viable award options for NRT-KUL. I recently called AA, and the agent confirmed the lack of other partner award availability on NRT-KUL, and said that changing the origin wouldn’t be possible without repricing the award based on current availability.

    For the return, I have two JL flights from SE Asia to the US that I want to keep. I then have a long layover before two domestic flights (LAX-PHL and PHL-AAA). I could just skip the domestic flights, but I would like to get back to the east coast on this ticket if possible. I wouldn’t be able to skip PHL-AAA only since I have checked bags, so I was hoping to either a) replace PHL-AAA with PHL-BBB or just drop PHL-AAA from my routing. I haven’t spoken to AA about this change yet.

    From reading this post and the linked post from 2016, it seems like I won’t be able able to change the outbound without current award space to Asia and repricing the whole award, but it seems like I might be able to drop PHL-AAA from the return routing. When I booked this many months ago, LAX-PHL-AAA was available as a MileSAAver award but LAX-PHL wasn’t available alone, due to married segment logic. I would appreciate any feedback about my interpretation of the rules before I waste too much time playing HUCA with AA.

  20. I love when I hit the agent jackpot on the first call. Was able to easily drop AS segment LAX-SFO-NAN on the first call. The agent understood exactly what I was asking. I was ready to HUACA a dozen times if necessary. Now I can go enjoy my Friday evening.

  21. Gary just another data point, this happened to me today trying to change one segment on Etihad. Simple LHR-AUH-BKK, same class and date, just a later flight on the first segment. First agent claimed it was not possible without canceling the first ticket and then claimed there was no space on the flight I wanted. HUCA and the second agent tool care of it, no problem at all.

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