With major changes to Delta and United’s frequent flyer programs in the past year and more to come from the American Airlines/US Airways merger, I asked TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen to look at the current state of airline award routing rules for the US legacy carriers. Each day this week he’ll feature a different carrier (see earlier posts on Delta and United); read on for his analysis of award routing rules on American Airlines.
American Airlines AAdvantage miles are one of the most useful mileage currencies out there thanks to the program’s award chart and the airline’s other rules pertaining to award tickets. Here’s what you need to know to maximize your AAdvantage miles.
The American Airlines award chart is generally pretty friendly.
Mileage is one thing. Money is another. Here is what you can expect to pay when booking, changing or canceling an American Airlines award.
Ticketing Service Charge: $25 for travel within the US, and $35 for international travel. Waived for Executive Platinum elites. This is a pain because the American Airlines website doesn’t display a lot of partner availability, including on JAL, LAN and Cathay Pacific, so you’re stuck calling and paying the fee depending on which carrier you hope to fly.
Close-in booking fee: $75 ticketing fee when you book fewer than 21 days prior to departure. This is waived for Executive Platinum, Platinum and Gold members using miles from their own account. This fee (and waiver) also applies to changes to your outbound travel date that result in a departure within 21 days. If you’re just changing the dates of your trip and it doesn’t fall within the 21-day window, you don’t have to pay any fee.
Changes to origin or destination: $150, waived for Executive Platinum members using miles from their own account.
Reinstatement charge: $150 to cancel a reservation and reinstate miles for the first flyer, and $25 for additional flyers. This fee is also waived for Executive Platinums using miles from their own account.
American Airlines is part of Oneworld, so it has over a dozen airline partners.
American is a member of Oneworld, which means you can earn and redeem miles on the following carriers:
American also has the following non-alliance partners, though you should check this page for earning/redeeming rules:
Air Tahiti Nui
Here’s the American Airlines award chart for flights on its own aircraft.
American Airlines award chart for its own flights
And here is the Oneworld partner award chart including Off-Peak awards (more on those below).
American Airlines partner award chart
Here are the countries included in each zone of the award chart.
U.S. (including Hawaii and Alaska), Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, The Bahamas and the Caribbean.
Central & South America 1
Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Venezuela
South America 2
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile (excluding Easter Island), Paraguay, Uruguay
Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovinia, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Greenland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Yugoslavia
Indian Subcontinent and Middle East
Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Maldives, Nepal, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan
Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Melilla, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Reunion, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Japan, Korea, Mongolia
Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Guam, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Saipan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam
Australia, Easter Island, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Tonga, Republic of Vanuatu, American Samoa and Samoa.
Note there might be some confusing sectors seeing as American hasn’t updated some of the countries on the list–like Yugoslavia!
American has a very general rule that states you must take the most direct routing between your origin and destination on an award ticket. This isn’t always enforced, since you’re allowed to make connections–like flying from New York to Hong Kong via Chicago rather than taking one of the non-stop flights between JFK-HKG.
However, this rule prevents you flying from San Francisco to New York in order to catch a flight to Hong Kong, or from Boston to Los Angeles in order to catch a flight to London.
One other drawback to American’s award program is that when traveling between two regions, you cannot transit through a third region.
For instance, if you want to get from San Francisco to Sydney, you can’t fly Cathay Pacific from San Francisco to Hong Kong and then on to Sydney and expect to pay the same number of miles as flying directly from San Francisco to Sydney. Instead, you would have to use the number of miles to fly from SFO-HKG plus enough for an award from HKG-SYD (90,000 miles each way in business class rather than 62,500, for instance).
You can’t route to Australia via Asia on a single award.
There are a couple other connection and routing rules to note:
When traveling between two cities in the US, you cannot connect via Canada or Mexico.
When traveling between cities in either Canada or Mexico, you cannot route via a US city.
When traveling from North America to or from other regions, you must follow these rules:
Travel to Europe, Africa and the Middle East must be via the Atlantic. Let’s say you wanted to fly from Los Angeles to Mumbai. You might prefer to fly LAX to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific and continue on to Mumbai from there, but according to both the third region exceptions and this rule, that’s not possible.
Instead of flying LAX-HKG-BOM, you’d have to go the other way such as LAX-LHR-BOM.
Travel to Asia and the South Pacific must route over the Pacific, so you can’t fly from New York to London in order to get to Hong Kong.
Travel to/from Fiji and Tahiti cannot route via Australia or New Zealand.
On the plus side, note that Hawaii and the Caribbean are included in the North American zone, so you find some interesting ways to maximize your awards by flying to/from one of these areas instead of from your base in the continental US or Canada.
Third Region Exceptions
There are a few exceptions to the third region rule:
North America to Indian Subcontinent/Middle East can connect through Europe
North America to Africa can connect through Europe or Doha on Qatar Airways
North America to Asia Zone 2 can connect through Asia Zone 1
Central America, and South America Zones 1 and 2 to Indian Subcontinent, Middle East and Africa can connect through Europe
South America 2 to Africa can connect through Doha on Qatar Airways
Central America and South America Zone 1 to South Pacific can connect through South America Zone 2
Europe to Asia Zone 1 can connect through Asia Zone 2 or Doha on Qatar Airways
Europe to Asia Zone 2 can connect through Doha on Qatar Airways
Europe to the South Pacific can connect through Asia Zone 1 or 2
Indian Subcontinent/Middle East to Asia Zone 1 can connect through Asia Zone 2
Indian Subcontinent/Middle East to South Pacific can connect through Asia Zone 2
Africa to Asia Zone 1 can connect through Asia Zone 2 or Doha on Qatar Airways
Africa to Asia Zone 2 can connect through Doha on Qatar Airways
Asia Zone 1 to South Pacific can connect through Asia Zone 2
With the Doha exceptions, note that your flights to/from Doha must be on Qatar Airways itself. For instance, if you were flying from London to Singapore via Doha, your flights from London to Doha and from Doha to Singapore would both have to be on Qatar.
Maximum Permitted Mileage
The other major consideration with American awards is that you cannot exceed the maximum permitted mileage (or MPM) of a route by more than 25%. While that’s generous by airline standards (most won’t let you exceed the MPM at all), it’s still a limitation. MPM numbers are published by the airline to limit the mileage you can fly between a given pair of cities.
Use ExpertFlyer to look up MPM.
MPMs are published by the IATA, and are proprietary, but the easiest way to get access to them is to sign up for an ExpertFlyer subscription. When you log into your account, you click on Travel Information and then the tab that says Maximum Permitted Mileage.
Using the same example as above, say you wanted to fly from Los Angeles to Mumbai. Put in the city pair and the airline (in this case American) and click search.
Maximum Permitted Mileage search on ExpertFlyer
That brings up the following numbers.
MPM for Los Angeles to Mumbai on American Airlines
As you can see, the MPM via the Atlantic (denoted AT) is 12,232 miles, and 25% more than that is 15,290. The MPM via the Pacific is 11,158, and 25% above that is 13,947.
In theory, flying Cathay Pacific from LA to Mumbai via Hong Kong would work, since the mileage is just 9,918. However, because of the rule disallowing a third region, you cannot book this routing as a single award, and would instead end up paying the mileage for traveling from LA to Hong Kong and the mileage for traveling from Hong Kong to Mumbai.
However, you could fly from Los Angeles to Mumbai via London on British Airways (though you should beware of fuel surcharges), which is also squarely within the maximum permitted mileage at 9,943 miles.
One more major constraint is that your routing is limited to flights on which the trans-oceanic carrier you’re flying publishes fares. Suppose you want to use your miles to fly from Tulsa to Delhi on Qatar Airways. In order to be able to book that award, Qatar would need to publish a fare between those two cities.
To find out whether your carrier of choice publishes the fare you want, head back to ExpertFlyer and use the Fare Search option to search city pairs and airlines for the dates you’re interested in.
ExpertFlyer Fare Search
For example, I put in Tulsa to Mumbai on Qatar Airways, and lo and behold, the airline actually publishes fares between the two cities, so I could book this trip as an award.
Who knew? Qatar publishes a fare between Tulsa and Mumbai.
A stopover is defined as more than 4 hours for domestic flights and over 24 hours for international flights.
However, if there is not a scheduled continuing flight within the 4-hour window, you’re limited to taking the next available scheduled flight within 24 hours. If there’s a non-stop flight to the destination from your connection city that departs outside the 4-hour domestic stopover window, but arrives at your destination earlier than if you took a connecting flight that departs within the 4-hour window (i.e., the non-stop gets you to a destination faster), you can book that instead. The same rules apply to international flights, except the 4-hour window becomes a 6-hour window.
The number of stopovers you can include on an itinerary depends on where you’re flying. Here are the hard-and-fast rules:
Within the continental US, Alaska and Canada, and from those regions to Hawaii, the Caribbean and Mexico, you cannot have a stopover. For travel within other regions, you also cannot have a stopover.
On international awards originating in North America, you used to be able to include a stopover at the international gateway city, but that is no longer the case as of April 2014. Basically, you’re out of luck for stopovers within North America at this point.
One-Ways and Open Jaws
American allows one-way awards, essentially making open jaws–where you fly from one city to another and either return from a different city or to a different destination–possible on award itineraries.
This is one of the brightest spots of the AAdvantage program. The airline offers off-peak awards at discounted levels to various destinations around the globe. These awards are basically discounts on the lowest economy saver fares between North America and certain regions at specific times of year.
Hawaii: January 12 – March 13; August 22 – Dec. 15
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay: March 1 – May 31; August 16 – November 30
Europe: October 15 – May 15
Japan, South Korea and Mongolia: October 1 – April 30
For many destinations including Europe, over half the year counts as off-peak season! From North America, here are the one-way mileage requirements:
Hawaii: 17,500 (as opposed to 22,500 for MileSAAver Peak Awards or 45,000 for an AAnytime award).
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay: 20,000 (30,000 MileSAAver Peak, 60,000 AAnytime).
Europe: 20,000 (MileSAAver Peak is 30,000, AAnytime is 60,000).
Asia Zone 1: 25,000 (32,500 MileSAAver Peak, 65,000 AAnytime).
What’s even better is that, unlike the frustrating search for off-peak saver awards on many other airlines, there tends to be a decent amount of availability at these low levels.
American’s Off-Peak awards often display a lot of availability.
For instance, here’s the award calendar for flights from Chicago to Paris in December. As you can see, there’s off-peak availability at 20,000 miles each way on nearly every day of the month. Just beware that some of these flights are on partner British Airways, which you want to avoid in order to not get slammed with high taxes and fuel surcharges.
Have any other questions or tips about American award booking and routing rules? Share them in the comments below.