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a decade of personal experience, from more than four years booking awards for others, and some insights gleamed from unpublished rules shared over at TravelingBetter.com.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 »

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Comments

  1. Really helpful, thanks, but I’m still a little confused about the stopover thing. I’m looking at Milan-DFW but connecting through New York. When I book Milan-JFK and JFK-Dallas, it’s showing me 20K for off-peak plus another 1.5K for JFK-DFW. Can’t I do this all for 20K, so long as I stay under 24 hours in NY?

  2. Thanks for further articulating and revising this guide in light of recent changes.

    Have you heard if the issues with AA agents seeing Etihad awards that you recently mentioned have been resolved? Was that indeed a glitch or indicative of something else?

  3. Two questions regarding the “Published Routing”…
    1) How does this work in conjunction with the exceptions noted for transiting a third region. As an example, JFK-DOH-JNB should be allowed now (Qatar), so does Qatar have to publish a DIRECT JFK-JNB for the JFK-DOH-JNB to price as a single award?
    2) Sort of an add-on to #1. Assuming the answer to #1 is that JFK-DOH-JNB prices as a single award…If I don’t live in NYC, but in Tampa, is it possible to go TPA-JFK-DOH-JNB?

    If the answer to #2 is no, then that really sucks and severely limits most of the US from redeeming miles to where they want to go.

  4. Gary,

    This is an exceptionally helpful post. Thanks very much for sharing.

    One question…I’m very confused about the stopover rules. At the top of the post you state that “Stopovers are not permitted”, and explain how anything 24+ hours will price as two awards. And then below when talking about correct pricing you state, “I’ve found that allowable stopovers in a North American gateway city can ’cause the fare to break’ meaning that the system will want to price separately the domestic award ticket to or from that city, and then the international award ticket. …even though a free stopover should be allowed in San Francisco”

    I don’t understand how stopovers are not permitted, but then you talk about a free stopover. Can you clarify?

    Thanks.

  5. You need to edit the “Correct pricing:” paragraph, it is still mentioning the ‘stopover at North American gateway” thing.

  6. Hi Gary,

    I’m a bit confused about this “Changing an award type requires cancellation and redeposit”. Does that mean that if I have a trip that uses a CX and AA award leg then change it to CX for both legs that I’ll be charged a $150 fee? What about an AA award that I change to CX?

    Thanks!

  7. @Gene @Hyacinthe @C Diddy- thank you, fixed. (And this is much less of an issue now that stopovers aren’t at play, but can still come up if the system doesn’t recognize a published fare on the overwater carrier from your origin to your destination and thus prices as more than 1 award). I’ve also re-read and fixed that Anytime awards now are subject to the same change fees as saver.

  8. @J – no, you’re still on a partner award, “changing an award type” involves an all-American award to partner award or award to a different region.

  9. @Ben 1) QR has to publish a fare between JFK and JNB in order to fly them on an award between those cities.
    2) Only if QR publishes a fare between TPA and JNB. And in fact they do. But if they did not you would be charged an extra award (TPA-JFK and then JFK-JNB)

  10. @Joe if you stay less than 24 hours in New York then you can stop there (it’s a connection not a stopover) without spending additional miles

  11. Thanks, Gary! So, to use a connection, do I look for MIL-NYC and NYC-DFW separately, through one multi-city award ticket? (When I do so, I am still currently required to pay 20K + an additional 12.5K). Maybe I am either violating the 24 hours policy or am violating the published routing through Air Berlin policy.

  12. Hey Gary, are the # of segments ever an issue? Curious how many just-under-24 hour connections one could generate NYC-Europe, let’s say. Understand it still has to be a published routing of course.

  13. If you have ANY contact with AAdvantage please get them to end the published routing requirement. Finding availability is hard enough as it is. I just booked a non-published routing w/UA which is a perfectly reasonable direct routing. It doesn’t show up on Kayak or other sites and would have been shot down by AA.

  14. @Joe the website sometimes misprices when you select flights using multi-city, put together the itinerary and then call to have the pricing corrected

  15. Does AA have, from your experience, the same problem UA sometimes have with pushing the tkt number into other airline’s reservation systems?

    I booked a reward that has CX and JL on the tkt, should I keep checking on it periodically?

  16. @dude26 I have never had that problem with American. It never hurts to verify things, but the only problem I ever had on an American award I can think of is showing up in Siem Reap and Dragonair couldn’t find the ticket associated with the reservation but they sorted it out on their own.

  17. Another thing to add regarding correct pricing which I learnt from Flyertalk: if connecting through the UK (less than 24 hours) on 2 separate flight tickets and the flight ticket departing from the UK is an AAdvantage award ticket (e.g. Madrid to London on a purchased ticket, spend less than 24 hours in London, then London to New York on an AAdvantage award ticket), if you provide the e-ticket number for the flight to the UK, the AA rates desk can remove the UK Air Passenger Duty (APD) from the tax pricing for the award ticket. http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/american-airlines-aadvantage-pre-merger/1414274-uk-apd-air-passenger-duty-increases-again-1-apr-2013-a-11.html#post22191453

  18. Thanks for this comprehensive update, Gary.

    I’m confused about whether JFK-DOH-PER would be a legal award routing. QR publishes fares but the third-region touchdown is not listed in the exceptions.
    Thanks
    G

  19. Gary: your post needs to be updated to reflect the new $35 (rather than $25) phone fee – this is in the “Telephone Booking Fee” section.

  20. Just the info that I was looking for. Thanks Gary. I’m looking to fly One way from HKG – (Cathay) NRT -(JAL) LAX – SEA in first. In this case, I can have a <24hr stopover in NRT, am I correct?

  21. If Ethihad publishes a paid fare between HNL-AUH, but it is via Korea, can i still book an award using AA miles via North America?

  22. Since the elimination of one-way stopover awards, what happens if you need to change a ticket that includes a one-way stopover (booked before the changes took place)?

    E.g., I have booked AMM-DOH-DFW (Qatar Airways), a week in Dallas, then DFW-HNL (AA).

    If I wanted to change either the date or the routing (AMM-FRA-DFW, for example on RJ and AA), would they honor the previous stopover rules, or would I be forced to shell out more miles for any change in the ticket?

  23. @gb – While Qatar may publish a fare there has to be a specific exception available for connecting in the Middle East when flying between two other regions and there isn’t one for North America – South Pacific

  24. @Carl – HNL-AUH is going to have to travel via the Atlantic since there’s no exception for US – Middle East that permits connecting in Asia 1. Etihad does publish HNL-AUH via the Pacific, including an MPM-based fare that requires travel on EY and KE, you cannot fly KE on an AAdvantage award in any case. I believe you’d have to pay Hawaii-US miles + US – Middle East miles but would love to be mistaken on this and would probably just ring American and set up the flights and see how they price.

  25. Gary, the credit card paying for taxes has to be in name of the aadvantage account owner?

  26. @Enga, sure… Delta and United do… Alaska does… Many non-US airlines do… In fact, most (but not all) airlines other than American and British Airways do.

  27. “you can only fly from North America to Europe, Africa and the Indian Sub-Continent/Middle East via the Atlantic”

    I’ve seen blogs mention US-HKG-JNB on Cathay as a single award. But the above seems to imply this is not permitted with AA miles?

  28. 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?

  29. Hi Gary,

    How many segments will AA allow on a one way reward. For example, if I want to experience the ultimate first class experience, would they allow, KUL – HKG – NRT – LAX – SEA?

  30. Thanks for this, Gary. Am I correct in thinking this means you could get EDI-DOH-MEL for 60k one way in business with minimal taxes?? Very appealing compared to using Avios (as they’d treat it as two sectors and have higher taxes). Would there be any cunning routings that would reduce the points further or be more fun? For example would it be allowed to go EDI to MEL via the USA and stopover en route or is that what they’ve now stopped?

    Thanks!

  31. Ah 🙁 Any idea what routing would be allowed then? I’m assuming given they list Europe to South Pacific in the chart it is in some way possible? Thanks!

  32. Thanks for the reply Gary and sorry for all the qns! – so would EDI-LHR-HKG-MEL be OK then? Would a stopover in HKG be allowed? It’d be a much less direct route, so more of a pain in one way but would be good to see HKG!

  33. Thanks Gary. Here’s hoping they decide to add an exception for the QR routing then at some point as would be much more direct!

  34. Route change (not changing origin or destination) was free as of Feb. Is that still the case?

  35. Gary,

    I am looking into booking 4X awards from IAH to SYD in June of 2015. I would like to have a stopover on one of the Hawaiian islands, especially since it will be in economy. Is this allowed? I can not seem to get it to price out right!

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