I will be speaking at the Los Angeles Frequent Traveler University (Nov 30 – Dec 2, sold out) about adding free oneways to award tickets. To help myself prepare and to edify those who can’t attend, I’ll be writing a series of posts on the topic.
Introduction to Free Oneways
Master Thread: Free Oneways on American Airlines Awards
Master Thread: Free Oneways on United Awards
Master Thread: Free Oneways on Delta Awards
Why Free Oneways Aren’t Possible on US Airways Awards
Comparison of Free Oneway Possibilities on Legacy Carriers
Three Vacations on Two Awards
Free Circle Trips on Awards
Almost Free Oneways on American Airlines Awards
American Airlines has several unique rules relating to award routing that affect free oneways.
To get a free oneway on an American award, you need to comply with the following rules:
- Your home airport must be an international gateway city.
- The total actual mileage flown each direction–including the mileage of the free oneways–must not exceed the Maximum Permitted Mileage for that direction’s origin and destination pair. Don’t forget that what AA considers the origin and destination may be your free oneway origin or destination.
- The airline operating the region connecting flight must have a published fare from your origin to your destination. Don’t forget that what AA considers the origin and destination may be your free oneway origin or destination.
- All other AA award routing rules.
And as your reward, you will get a free oneway in each direction–two per roundtrip!–to anywhere in Hawaii, Alaska, the continental US, Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean, all the places defined by AA as North America.
Let’s take a look at these rules, and how they specifically relate to your ability to add free oneways to American Airlines awards.
The Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards
1. Stopovers must occur at the North American International Gateway City. The North American International Gateway City is the last North American city you transit on awards leaving North America.
On awards from other regions to North America, the North American International Gateway City is the North American city in which you first arrive.
North America is defined as the 50 US states, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Bahamas, and the Caribbean.
Examples: On the itinerary Melbourne to Sydney to Honolulu to Los Angeles to Baltimore, the North American International Gateway City is Honolulu because it is where you enter North America. It is the only place on the itinerary where you can have a free stopover.
HNL is the North American International Gateway City on this routing as the first North American airport you arrive in or last one you depart depending on direction.
Imagine if you lived in Honolulu and took this routing. Onto your main Melbourne award home, you could be adding a free oneway to Baltimore.
Let’s look at another example. On an award from Los Angeles to New York to Boston to London, the North American International Gateway City is Boston because it is the city from which you leave North America. With this routing, Boston is the only place on the itinerary you can have a free stopover.
BOS is the North American International Gateway City on this routing. It is the only airport at which you can have a stopover, meaning it must be your home airport to add a free oneway.
If you lived in Boston, LAX to Boston would be a free oneway before your main award to London. It is a free oneway because it won’t increase the miles price of the award.
Of course, you have some control over the routing and thus the airport where you can have a stopover. If you find space on JFK-LHR, the above itinerary could be Los Angeles to New York to London, meaning the free stopover would be at New York. That means a free oneway is easily added to a New Yorker’s award to London.
To construct a free oneway, you need to take a stopover at your home airport. That means AA free oneways are only open to those who live at an international gateway city for American or one of its partners. For a complete list of North American International Gateway Cities of all AA partners, see the list I compiled.
2. Each of the two directions-outbound and return–must not exceed AA’s Maximum Permitted Mileage for your origin and destination by more than 25% as flown.
This is not as complicated as that sentence makes it seem. Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) is a term of art. It is a number of miles that the airline puts on all city pairs for which it publishes a fare. MPM is not the direct distance between two cities; it is usually a larger number.
You can find the MPM for a city pair on Expert Flyer, the KVS tool, or by asking an AA agent. Here’s how to do it on Expert Flyer.
Crucial: You need to look up the MPM for the origin and destination as AA sees them–including any free oneways.
Looking back the Los Angeles to New York to Boston to London example, Los Angeles to Boston was a free oneway, and our flyer’s main award was Boston to London. That’s how our flyer sees it, but American Airlines sees it as an award from Los Angeles to London with a stopover in Boston. That means you need to look up the MPM for Los Angeles to London and not exceed that MPM by 25%.
Let’s look at another example. The double slash separates the free oneway from the main award.
Example: Say you want to try this routing, LAX-BOS//BOS-NRT-TPE. In words, a free oneway from Los Angeles to Boston preceding Boston to Taipei. First I would head to Expert Flyer, and I would look up the MPM for LAX to TPE, since that is the origin and destination.
LAX-TPE has an MPM of 8,137 miles. (Note that this is much farther than the direct distance between the two, which Great Circle Mapper lists as 6,799 miles.)
Next I would multiply the MPM by 1.25, since we can exceed the MPM by 25% on awards. 10,171 miles is 25% greater than the MPM of LAX-TPE. Now, I can go to gcmap.com and check the distance of our putative routing. LAX-BOS-NRT-TPE is 10,669, which exceeds the allowable 10,171, so this is not a valid routing.
That means that AA would break this into two awards–LAX-BOS and BOS-TPE–and you’d have to pay more. That means you can’t get a free oneway from Los Angeles to Boston before an award to Taipei.
3. The airline that operates the flight that connects the two regions must have a published fare for your origin and destination city pair.
This is a rule that trips up a lot of otherwise awesome awards. It’s frustrating, and it’s not clear why the rule exists, but you have to know it.
When interpreting this rule, the same caveat from the previous rule applies: make sure you are including your free oneways when figuring out what AA sees as your origin and destination.
Example: You live in Los Angeles. You want to fly Melbourne to Los Angeles on Qantas, then two months later you want a free oneway to Baltimore (via JFK). That means Qantas–the region connecting carrier–has to have a published fare from MEL-BWI for the free oneway to be valid and to avoid this being priced as two awards.
How do you figure out if there is a published fare between a city pair? I check on Expert Flyer. Here’s how. Another free, roughly accurate, way is to see if you can book a ticket between the city pair on the operating airline’s website or kayak.
Expert Flyer finds several published fares from MEL-BWI on Qantas, so this free oneway from LAX-BWI is legal.
Or you can just see if you can have a routing price as one award over the phone. If you can, you have a legal routing and stopover.
4. All award travel must be completed within one year of its booking.
As I mentioned in the Introduction to Free Oneways post, this is a rule of all the legacy carriers.
You can have as long of a stopover as you want, you can stay at your destination as long as you want, and you can change your award to a later flight as many times as you want, subject to the fact that all travel must be completed within one year of the ticket’s issue.
Example 1: On January 1, 2013, you book MEL-LAX-JFK with a stopover in Los Angeles. MEL-LAX is January 2, 2013. Your maximum stopover in Los Angeles can be for nearly a year, you just need to complete LAX-JFK by December 31, 2013.
Example 2: On January 1, 2013, you book MEL-LAX-JFK with a stopover in Los Angeles. MEL-LAX is November 15, 2013. Your maximum stopover in Los Angeles is about a month and a half. You need to complete LAX-JFK by December 31, 2013.
Example 3: On January 1, 2013, you book MEL-LAX-JFK to be flown on November 15. In April, you decide to move the trip back. The latest you can move it back is to December 31, 2013 because all award travel must be completed within one year of the ticket being issued.
Bonus: Sometimes you may want to book a free oneway that occurs near the end of the one-year window. This can be impossible since AA only lets you book awards up to 330 days out.
This happened to me when I booked a Qantas flight from MEL-LAX 330 days out, and I wanted to add a free oneway to Tampa for a few weeks later. Here’s how to get your free oneway without having to pay a change fee to add it later.
When you call to ticket the award, tell the agent: “I want to stopover in LAX and add two more segments to Dallas then Tampa. The dates for those will be February 6. I know I can only book awards through January 15 today. Can you please add a note to the record about this, so that I can call back in to add those legs when they open up without incurring a change fee.”
Two-thirds of the AA agents I’ve asked to do this have done so. The other one-third, I hung up on, so I could call back to get a competent agent.
For a fuller treatment of this trick, see American Airlines Domestic Availability Trick.
5. Awards between Region A and Region B cannot transit Region C unless specifically allowed.
Many airlines let you route however you’d like as long as you don’t exceed MPM. But not American Airlines. If you want to go from the USA to Australia, you can’t transit another region, say Asia, no matter what.
Another annoying one is not being able to transit the Middle East en route from USA to Africa. That makes it impossible to use Etihad.
Here is a list of regions you can transit from flyerguide.com, which I believe is complete and accurate.
This rule doesn’t pertain specifically to free oneways, but it can ruin some otherwise beautiful routings like the US to India via Asia.
With those rules in mind, let me run through some itineraries to check their validity.
(I created this example when there was a direct SJU-BOS flight on AA.)
If you live in Boston, Puerto Rico to Boston is an invalid free oneway before a trip to Taipei. This itinerary is going from North America to Asia, so the international gateway city is the last North American city, JFK. The only valid stopover point is at JFK.
Don’t be confused that Boston is the arrival point from Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is part of North America according to AA’s inclusive definition: the 50 US states, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Bahamas, and the Caribbean.
This means that we don’t need to worry whether we can transit the USA en route between the Caribbean and Asia. The USA isn’t a “third region.” It’s part of the same region as the origin–North America.
From above: LAX-TPE has an MPM of 8,137 miles. This is the MPM to check because we need to find the MPM for the entire trip including free oneways. Multiply the MPM by 1.25, since we can exceed the MPM by 25% on awards. The MPM of LAX-TPE times 1.25 is 10,171. LAX-BOS-NRT-TPE is 10,669 miles, which exceeds the allowable 10,171, so this is not a valid routing.
This itinerary has the stopover at the international gateway city, and it’s about as direct as possible, so no exceeding-MPM worries. But does Japan Airlines, the overwater carrier from Tokyo to Boston. have a published fare from Tokyo to San Juan? YES, according to Expert Flyer!
Booking a Free Oneway
American, Alaska, Qantas, British, Hawaiian, and Finnair are all bookable on aa.com, so if your planned itinerary includes only those airlines, you can avoid talking to a phone agent and save the $25 per ticket fee.
On the aa.com homepage where you can search flights, check the box that says Redeem AAdvantage Miles, then click the link that says Multi-city.
This will bring you to a screen like the one shown below. Note what I’ve highlighted in red boxes.
The first two things I’ve highlighted show that you should automatically be brought to the AAdvantage Award tab with Multi-city selected. If you weren’t brought there, get there. Next search for the itinerary until the stopover and for the itinerary after the stopover.
Here I’ll be searching for an award from Los Angeles to London (LAX-LHR) with a free oneway from Honolulu to Los Angeles beforehand.
So I’ve typed in HNL-LAX for Flight 1 and LAX-LHR for Flight 2. Important: Type in your origin to your stopover for Flight 1, and your stopover to your destination for Flight 2. Do not type in each individual segment. For instance if I wanted everything the same but a destination of Paris not London, I would type in HNL-LAX and LAX-PAR. I would not type in HNL-LAX, LAX-LHR, LHR-PAR.
Next I’ve highlighted the dates just to point out that free oneway and main award can be as far apart as you’d like, only limited by the fact that all award travel must be competed within one year of booking.
After filling out the form, click the red GO button.
You should now be brought to a screen like this:
Look at what I’ve highlighted in the middle: the computer knows you’re getting a free stopover!
Now it’s up to you to choose what class you want. If you want Economy, select the Economy MileSAAver Off Peak for both legs. If you want business, select Business/First MileSAAver for both legs. First class is not available these weeks, but if it were, you’d select that in both places.
At the top, choose the date of the HNL-LAX leg. Why are there dashes instead of prices at the top? Because this is a free stopover, so the leg adds nothing to the miles prices, which are listed below for the main award leg.
After selecting dates, you can select flights. After selecting flights, we come to the checkout screen. Look at that price: 20,000 miles and $5 for 16 hours of flying!
What an incredible deal. And by knowing how to book this stopover online, we saved $25 and the hassle of calling American.
Don’t forget that you can get one free oneway per direction on international AA awards. And that the free oneway can be to Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, Alaska, the Caribbean, or the continental US. Here’s a roundtrip award with two free oneways–one from Hawaii and one to Canada.
This award shows some of the many possibilities. The first free oneway–from Honolulu to New York–is before the main award. The second is after the main award from New York to Vancouver. (As a side note, were I to actually book this, I would look to get on the Cathay Pacific flight JFK-YVR for an incredible flat bed experience that has plenty of award space bookable by phone.)
The award mixes-and-matches cabins. The outbound is in economy class. It’s off peak to Europe, so it costs only 20k miles. The return is in business class for 50k miles, hence the 70k total. The award is a double open jaw, out of Honolulu and into Vancouver plus into London out of Paris. (Always fly into London, out of Paris not vice versa to avoid the punitive taxes for flying out of London in premium classes.)
Here’s a free oneway I have coming up:
This award cost 62,500 miles, exactly what you would expect for a oneway in business class (on an A380!) from Australia to the US. The extra legs in first class to Tampa are the free oneway that cost me zero extra miles and only $5 in taxes. Don’t forget that international business class equates to two-cabin domestic first class, so you can ride up front on the domestic segments.
If you want to book a free oneway on an American Airlines partner that is not bookable online, call AA at 800-882-8880 to book. You will incur a $25 phone fee.
For search tips for other AA partners, see Using BA.com for Oneworld Award Searches.
Airline: American Airlines
How Many Free Oneways: One per oneway, two per roundtrip
What Types of Awards Allow Free Oneways: International Only
Free Oneways To/From Where: North America (50 US states, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean) subject to overwater-carrier-published-fare rule
Routing Restrictions: Cannot exceed MPM by more than 25% in either direction including free oneway, home airport must be North American International Gateway city, cannot transit third region unless explicitly allowed
Overall, I really love free oneways on American awards. The ability to add a free oneway to a domestic flight is unmatched. The ease of adding a free oneway to Hawaii is unmatched.
I happen to live in Los Angeles, which has direct service to five continents on AA partners, so I am spoiled by not having to worry much about the International-Gateway-city rule. If you live at an airport without international flights, stay tuned for Almost Free Oneways on American Airlines Awards.
The other drawback I haven’t mentioned yet is that American collects surcharges of about $300 per British Airways longhaul segment, so BA is generally not the airline you want to fly transatlantically on AA awards.