You Can Ask American Airlines to Release Award Seats For You

Reader Stephen asked,

Can you ask AA to open saver level award space on a domestic leg of an international trip?

He found Japan Airlines first class award space Los Angeles – Tokyo but wasn’t able to include the Houston – Los Angeles flight that he needed as part of his award.

There are two circumstances in which you can ask American Airlines to release award space, and this is one of those times.

If you have built most of an award itinerary, but you need space on an American flight to complete it, you can ask for that seat to be released even if it isn’t showing award space (“to complete an itinerary”).

    Usually this would mean you have an international award, with the international segments, and you might just be missing a flight from your home airport to the international gateway. For instance you might have New York JFK – Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific available, but need Washington National – New York JFK which isn’t showing up with award inventory. This is the situation Stephen finds himself in for Houston – Los Angeles.

If you have found space for part of your traveling party, but need one more seat than is showing as available, you can ask for that seat (“to complete a party”).

Factors like how full the flight is and your perceived value as a customer affect whether American will approve these requests. Requests are responded to automatically and near-instantaneously by a system called “QMAX.”

Up until a year ago an agent could queue any request for space but now they are limited to ‘to complete an itinerary’ and ‘to complete a party’ requests.

In recent times there have been fewer approved requests, and those that are granted are usually done so close to departure. But the process remains.

I’ve had success with it in the past, even back when I just was an AAdvantage lifetime Gold (1 million miles mostly from sources other than flying, before I was a regular American flyer). I needed a Washington National – New York JFK segment to complete an itinerary and the phone agent had it approved instantly. I haven’t had success in awhile.

So while the process remains, you can ask, the answer is usually no. Can’t hurt to try, however.

From Traveling Better, here’s the American language on these requests:

to complete a party is defined as having less award inventory available than the number of people traveling on the award. At least one applicable Z/U/T* seat must be available prior to requesting an exception to complete a party.

When sending requests to complete a party, queue to QMAX.

If the request is denied then send to the appeal queue, documenting the other PNR your party is traveling with. Shopping is not necessary.

To Complete An Itinerary

Must have at least half of itinerary confirmed
AA feeder space to/from an AA or other airline partner international confirmed flight.

(Emphasis mine.)

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. If an international reservation has already been ticketed, would it be possible for a domestic segment be added (it has no saver award space)?

  2. I tried this a few weeks back and was told that they can only do this due to a schedule change. Should I assume the rep did not know the policy and I should have HUCA?

  3. @Eric – You can add a domestic segment to an international award if and when saaver space becomes available. As Gary noted, no fee if you’re EXP.

    And there is no fee if the miles for the original award came from your account (that’s been the case for me, but it could be a YMMV situation).

  4. My experience (booking awards for my Dad, who’s an EXP) is similar to Gary’s – these requests used to be regularly approved, but I have not zero success (out of maybe four requests) over the last year. United has the advantage that you can waitlist for awards, and I’ve had decent luck with clearing those, at least with flights that aren’t booked very full. They even have a special inventory buckets for elites (e.g. XN class vice regular X for economy awards), so waitlisting for that further improves your chance of clearing.

  5. Even with schedule changes, American hims and haws about releasing seats. I was on the late Cathay Pacific from ORD that was canceled in March15, with notice on Dec31, 2014. American was very uncooperative about fixing the connecting flights. So unhelpful, that they suggested we cancel our trip. American is only nice to you if you are Exec Plat., anything else and you are a nobody to them.

  6. This worked for me a couple of weeks ago. I had 3 seats booked on ORD-CLT-LHR on July 2 (busy travel day before a holiday weekend), but I really wanted to get on a non-stop ORD-LHR if possible. Two days before travel, 2 award seats opened up on AA46 ORD-LHR. I called AA to request a 3rd seat to “complete a party”. They said no, and I thought that was the end of it, but the agent took the initiative to escalate the request, and he surprised me with a call back 2 hours later telling me that the request was approved. It made a big difference to the beginning of our family vacation in Europe.

  7. Wouldn’t do it for me three weeks ago. I had two saver awards booked TUL-ORD on AA at 5:45 and ORD-HKG at 15:30 on Cathay. They would not open award space for a later TUL-ORD flight. Rep told me they used to do that, but can no longer do so.

  8. This used to work, but not for quite a while. I have the exact routing you listed with the Cathey Pacific flight first class into New York in a couple of weeks and multiple AA agents told me that they are never allowed to complete a route anymore to get me back to DCA from JFK. The supervisor reiterated the same thing as well. All of them said this used to be routine, but no more. I had to buy a Delta ticket to finish the trip to DC. Each agent told me that this was routine, but they have been explicitly told that this is completely dead.

  9. This doesn’t work anymore 99.99% of the time.
    Gary…I don’t know where you are getting this from, but did you actually have success doing this recently?
    This is simply not allowed anymore other than the ultra rare cases where a big schedule change completely destroys your itinerary.
    Think about it…if AA would actually open up award inventory for the two circumstances you mentioned, then lots of seats would go out as awards…obviously it’s not gonna work.
    There’s a reason AA is controlling award space in a tight manner.

  10. Tom, I’ve had 3 such requests in the last 6 months, running the full gamut. All 3 were requests for domestic flights. One was refused, one was partially accepted (I was looking for 3 saver seats and got 1) and one was granted for 4 passengers.

  11. I’m not sure if this is a similar situation, but I had my honeymoon scheduled on a QR J award for JFK-DOH-CPT, return trip DAR-DOH-JFK. We are traveling on KQ from CPT-JNB-NBO-JRO, then Serengeti (don’t know airport code)-ZNZ, and then were going from ZNZ-DAR to put ourselves in a position to catch our return flight home. When I read that QR was flying from ZNZ to DOH starting July 1, and I logged onto BA’s website and found award availability in J for our dates, I immediately called AA to book that award since it would cut our transit time by almost 24 hours and give us an extra day in Zanzibar. The AA agent didn’t see availability and wasn’t aware of the routing (being that I called in mid-June and QR hadn’t even flown their first flight from ZNZ yet), but, after checking with numerous people and putting me on hold for the better part of an hour, confirmed that there should be availability and that my seats would be confirmed by the ticketing desk. A day or two later my AA reservation changed from “On Request” to “Ticketed.”

  12. I had an LAX-HKG and HND-SFO CX F flights and the agent refused to open anything up for the DEN-LAX/SFO-DEN segments. Didn’t hurt to ask though.

  13. Spoke to a helpful EXP line agent today. She was willing to help me but since the flight I needed to complete itinerary was US metal she said they have no ability to request, wait list etc on US metal.

  14. Hi Gary et al, update 7.30.16 from AA Gold. Two separate agents said they were to only request if it were involuntary. Sounds like they could request it technically, because QMAX or Rev. Mgmt wouldn’t know why their doing it, but their training has taught them it is ‘frowned upon’ to do it for any other reason, and I couldn’t get either to try. This was for a late night flight with no first class seat sold (0/16F) on a weekend <2hr trip. Agent acknowledged this used to be practiced more.

    Not sure if EXP would be frowned upon or not.

  15. So frustrating… I’m trying to complete travel to JNB, but I need a connector flight from PHL -> BOS. Agent said she put it in queue but it was denied (even for two PLT fliers). Even for a PHL > BOS flight. American now has almost NO award space open at all in January domestically, internationally etc (but of course their partner BA does). Makes me want to spend my money elsewhere… Hopefully American is paying attention (but doubt it).

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