Free First Class 2014: American Airlines AAdvantage Basics

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This is the thirteenth post in a monthlong series that started here. Each post will take about two minutes to read and may include an action item that takes the reader another two minutes to complete. I am writing this for an audience of people who know nothing about frequent flyer miles, and my goal is that by the end, you know enough to fly for free anywhere you want to go.

I’ve covered how to earn miles and the redemption options for miles. Now I want to give the basics on several major airline programs where you can quickly collect miles for amazing trips. I’ll start with the American Airlines AAdvantage program.

Why Collect American Airlines Miles?

American Airlines miles are the best miles for ultra-luxury redemptions like Cathay Pacific First Class, Etihad First Class, or Qantas First Class.

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Cathay Pacific First Class booked with American Airlines miles

American Airlines has very cheap off peak awards. If you are willing to go to Europe in the fall, winter, or spring in economy, you can pay only 20,000 miles each way. There are also great off peak economy awards to Japan, Korea, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.

American Airlines (and US Airways, which have merged legally but will maintain separate loyalty programs and award charts until early 2015,) has not devalued its award charts for years. United and Delta greatly increased the miles price of premium cabin awards in 2014, but at least for bookings through late 2015, you can lock in American Airlines’ very low prices for business and first class awards, compared to its American competitors.

  • What airlines can you fly with American Airlines miles?
  • What are the routing rules for American Airlines awards (stopovers, open jaws, free one ways)?
  • What are the special features of the AAdvantage program (off peak awards)?
  • How can you book an American Airlines award?

Mileage Price

American Airlines has two region-to-region charts, one for travel on American Airlines and one for travel on its partners.

A region-to-region chart means that instead of having to calculate the number of miles for an award from your origin city to your destination city, say Atlanta to Rome, you merely figure out how many miles you need for an award from your origin region to your destination region, in this case North America to Europe.

The chart for travel on American Airlines looks confusing with five “levels” of award prices. I’ll make it simple: ignore Levels 3 through 5, which are AAnytime awards that cost an arm and a leg.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 1.51.06 AM

We redeem miles for MileSAAver awards, the capacity controlled awards that cost the fewest miles. Level 1 is the off peak price for MileSAAver awards. I’ll talk more about off peak pricing below, but Level 1 (off peak awards) are only possible in economy and to certain regions. Level 2 awards are the normal MileSAAver awards.

The partner chart doesn’t have all these levels because partner awards always price at the MileSAAver award.

To have a multi-segment award price as a MileSAAver, every segment in that direction must have MileSAAver space.

Links to see which countries are in which region of the chart can be found at the bottom of the partner award chart.

Partners

American Airlines is a member of the oneworld alliance. That means you can use its miles on all these airlines:

  • American Airlines
  • US Airways
  • airberlin
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific (Hong Kong)
  • Finnair
  • Iberia (Spain)
  • Japan Airlines
  • LAN (Chile and Peru)
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas (Australia)
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines (Russia)
  • SriLankan Airlines
  • TAM Airlines (Brazil)

American also has several partners that not a part of the oneworld alliance. You can also redeem miles to fly these airlines:

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines/Horizon Airlines
  • El Al (Israel)
  • Etihad (Abu Dhabi)
  • Fiji Airways
  • Gulf Air (Bahrain)
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Jet Airways (India)
  • Seaborne Airlines (Caribbean)

Subject to other routing rules, which I’ll detail below, you can freely combine American Airlines flights, oneworld partner flights, and other partner flights onto a single award.

Routing Rules

You can book one way awards with American Airlines for half the price of roundtrip awards.

Unfortunately American Airlines has complicated routing rules that no other airline has.

  1. The airline that flies the flight that connects you from one region on the award chart to another must have a published fare all the way from your origin to your destination.
  2. When flying from one region to a second region on the award chart, you cannot connect in a third region or your trip will price as two separate awards. Here is a partial list of exceptions based on experience. American Airlines doesn’t publicly release the complete list.

You don’t really need to know these rules because most convenient routings will usually follow these rules. But if you think you have a good award and an American Airlines agent prices it higher than you were expecting, you probably violated one of these two rules.

You can check whether your region-connecting airline has a published fare from your origin to your destination by using Expert Flyer. Note that “having a published fare” and flying the whole route are two totally different things.

American Airlines also has three other rules that are less likely to trip you up:

  1. No stopovers are allowed on awards. A stopover is a layover of more than 4 hours on a domestic award or 24 hours on an international award.
  2. You can fly up to 125% of the Maximum Permitted Mileage between your origin and destination. This is generous and allows for out-of-the-way flying, but that doesn’t do you much good now that stopovers are prohibited. Find the Maximum Permitted Mileage for you origin and destination by using Expert Flyer.
  3. All award travel must be completed within one year of the original booking. Changes can’t extend this time frame, so if you can’t fly within one year of your original booking, you’ll have to cancel you award.

Stopovers

Stopovers are not allowed on American Airlines awards.

A stopover is a layover of more than 4 hours on a domestic award or 24 hours on an international award.

Open Jaws

When you can book one way awards, like you can with American Airlines miles, you can always book as many open jaws as you’d like.

Keep in mind that an open jaw is not a hole in the middle of a single one way award. Those are prohibited.

Free One Ways

Free one ways require a stopover at your home airport. American Airlines awards can’t have free stopovers. Therefore American Airlines awards cannot have free one ways.

Special Features

The main special feature of the American Airlines program is the ability to redeem for incredibly cheap economy awards during off peak months. For many regions, the off peak dates include some great times to visit.

Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 2.25.14 AM
Off peak dates on chart for AA flights
Screen Shot 2014-07-30 at 2.25.37 AM
Off peak dates on chart for partner flights

Taxes, Fees, and Fuel Surcharges

Taxes

American Airlines awards require you to pay the government taxes associated with the itinerary.

These start at $5.60 each direction for domestic awards and go up to $300 if you fly to a high tax country. Generally international awards have roundtrip taxes of $50 to $150.

Fees

Phone Fee: There is no award booking fee for awards booked at aa.com. Calling American Airlines to book an award incurs a $35 per ticket fee, which the agent will not waive no matter how helpfully you explain that the award cannot be booked online. Which awards you can book online will be covered in the next section.

Late Booking Fee: There is a $75 booking fee to book an award less than 21 days from the date of departure. This fee is waived when the booking is made from an American Airlines Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum account.

Date and Time Changes: Changing the date or time of travel is free unless the change occurs within 21 days of departure when it costs $75. This fee is waived when the booking is made from an American Airlines Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum account.

Origin/Destination Changes: There is a $150 fee to change the origin or destination of an award ticket plus $25 for each additional person on the same reservation. This fee is waived when the booking is made from an American Airlines Executive Platinum account.

Cancellation: American Airlines also charges $150 to cancel an award ticket and redeposit the miles plus $25 for each additional person on the same reservation. This fee is waived when the booking is made from an American Airlines Executive Platinum account.

Fuel Surcharges

American Airlines does not charge fuel surcharges on awards except on British Airways and Iberia flights.

The fuel surcharges on British Airways longhaul segments can be up to $500 one way per person. In all but the rarest circumstances, you’ll want to avoid booking British Airways flights with American Airlines miles.

How to Book American Airlines Awards

The following airlines’ award space can be searched and booked at aa.com.

  • American Airlines
  • US Airways
  • airberlin
  • British Airways
  • Finnair
  • Qantas
  • Royal Jordanian
  • Alaska Airlines/Horizon Airlines
  • Hawaiian Airlines

All other award space can be searched and must be booked by calling American Airlines at 800-882-8880. I recommend searching award space for these other airlines before calling because phone agents might not find what you can find with a diligent search.

If you can’t seem to find the award you want for your dream trip, you can hire my Award Booking Service to search and book your American Airlines awards. We have the expertise to search every American Airlines partner to maximize convenience and luxury while minimizing out-of-pocket cost.

Bottom Line

American Airlines AAdvantage is one of the best frequent flyer programs. Its strengths are ultra-luxury redemptions on its partners and its off peak awards.

American has fantastic availability domestically, and many of its partners have great availability too. Availability is a big strength of this program in all classes of service.

American has complicated–some would say “annoying”–award routing rules, but most reasonable awards comply with the rules naturally.

American Airlines awards are flexible for one way travel, but unfortunately you cannot add stopovers to the awards.

Some American Airlines partners are bookable on aa.com, while others require a call to American Airlines and the payment of a $35 per ticket phone fee.

Take advantage of the AAdvantage program as much as possible for the next six months. I expect an award chart devaluation in early 2015 when the American Airlines and US Airways loyalty programs combine.

Any questions? What did I leave out?

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Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.

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29 COMMENTS

  1. Please explain “published fare”. When I look for New Orleans to Porto Portugal I get nothing, but it is because Iberia does not show on American Airlines search even though they are a partner. Does that mean no “published fare”? Thanks

  2. Citi AA card is the Best Card for newbies for ORD>CDG or LHR ..I got this card to try to reduce costs to EU no fees first year too. My 2011 trip was $86 ORD>CDG non-stop they also gave me 5K extra points because of engine trouble… Canceled card when I got back applied later and got another flt.. 2012 $86 ORD>CDG non-stop canceled card when I got home . Got another Citi AA bus. card a few months ago banked 60k right now .. This is a PERFECT NO BRAINER card for newbies or friends you don’t have to spend time on them.
    Then I found Milevalue and did it much better.

  3. This just started some time this year. If you redeem CX flight via HKG, there would be a $6 Fare each way. This fee is actually Hong Kong Airport security fee, but somehow CX passed as a “fare”. Because of this fare, the award is ticket is not a free ticket, therefore, US international tax ($17.5 each way) and Airport Facility Charge ($4.5) will apply. I just exchanged this month. All customer support gave me wrong answers for what $6 was until I asked this question in flyertalk.

  4. Given AA’s award routing rules, can you book a 1-way flight in F class on CX from TPE-HKG-ORD-DCA/IAD? It seems like the TPE-HKG-ORD segment would definitely price for 67.5K miles 1-way, but I am having a hard time figuring out if the ORD-DCA/IAD leg would require extra miles (because it may not be published fare) or if it could be included in the 67.5K miles on one award. Was unable to figure this out on ExpertFlyer. Thank you for your help!

    • What did you search on Expert Flyer? All you need to search is whether Cathay Pacific has a published fare from TPE to IAD or DCA.

      • You’re absolutely right! Thank you for your help. I searched ExpertFlyer for award availability (and they don’t feature CX for that), rather than under “Fare Information.” Seems like they do publish a fare. Thanks!

  5. Used to collect a lot of miles, but it’s been a while now. Having a flying about job travelling all over Asia and sometimes Europe and US. My workmate who travelled even more told to always use airmiles for air travel, never convert them! And he has so many miles that United had put him in the top tier permenantly… Used to take his wife and kids to Hawaii for two weeks a year entirely on airmiles and hotel points. Lucky guy! Now I don’t travel as alll sooo….

  6. Under explanation of FEES, you stated . . .
    “Changing the date or time of travel is free unless the change occurs within 21 days of departure when it costs $75.”

    Does this mean you can book an itinerary, and then change it any time prior to 21 days with NO CHARGE or change fees?

  7. Can i utilize my miles to fly my grandkids that have my last name to disney with me? really enjoy the bottomless fount of info you provide.

  8. I don’t know what you’re smoking but AA devalued it’s miles SUBSTANTIALLY, in almost every way possible, in early APRIL 2014.

    You might want to read this thread on FT:
    https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/american-airlines-aadvantage-pre-merger/1567274-aa-increases-aanytime-award-mileage-costs-adds-tiers-8-apr-2014-a.html

    …as well as this post:
    http://www.flyertalk.com/the-gate/blog/28171-american-aadvantage-aanytime-awards-change-%E2%80%94-with-no-advance-notice.html

    Given you posted this “blog” over a quarter later — and after a lot of bad blood from their FFs and not just card churners — perhaps you were compensated for this post by AA?

    • Airlines have never compensated me. AA increased prices on its AAnytime awards. I have never booked an AAnytime award. All partner award space and some AA space prices at the MileSAAver price. Those are the only awards I book. If you routinely book the affected AAnytime awards, consider hiring my Award Booking Service to book your awards –> milevalue.com/award-booking-service

  9. KKKKKKKKKKK
    Thanks for your input I going to cancel my annual fee to Milevalue @ 10 months just like I did to my 25 cards in the last 3 years (Thanks Scott) .. OOP’s no annual fee and no profit to Scott SOoo why give him a hard time lots of Blogs out there I follow Scott and TPG both are FREE !!
    Keep looking for my FREE Give-A -Ways ..
    Take Care
    Cave Dweller NOT Cave Man !!!

  10. @milevalue
    does AA consider this a valid connection (stopover) please?
    MCO-MIA(20 hour connection time)-MAD
    thanks

  11. I’ve been pouring over your site for several months now. We are in the process of accumulating enough miles to get 5 of us to Europe. (The hotel situation is another story, lol) As much as I’d like to go in the summer (better weather, able to stay longer), the off peak awards will get us there sooner. I’m wondering. Do the reduced fare awards that come with the credit card apply to the off peak awards as well? Thanks for your information!

    • Points are points if it asks for 50K points that’s what you PAY .. BUT as you know off season is cheaper BUT so what . I love Nice Fr. I asked the locals “Why aren’t people swimming in the warm Sun and Water ” Reply no one swims here in Oct . it was Hot for a ORD person. Watch the weather Paris is GREAT at the end of May but junk on the first . Hotels are EASY read the posts ever day and you will learn.

  12. Are you able with AA miles to take several <24hr layovers on a one way award such as the ones possible with United miles?

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