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This is the fourth part of a multi-post Anatomy of an Award series about American Airlines Explorer Awards, which are ideal for around-the-world trips, trips with multiple destinations, and other “trick” itineraries. Previously: The Search in Asia.

I had already gotten my client from Raleigh to four destinations in Asia. Now I had him in Seoul looking to head to the Middle East.

I knew that the way to get him there would be to fly from Seoul to a oneworld hub and then on to the Middle East. I checked the Narita Wikipedia page to see the options on Japan Airlines.

Apparently Japan Airlines doesn’t serve the Middle East. I looked up the Hong Kong International Airport Wikipedia page.

I ran Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Dubai by him, and he preferred Dubai.

Award space for two passengers from Seoul to Hong Kong to Dubai on Cathay Pacific is excellent this summer.

A two week search in late June on Award Nexus. Every day labeled ICN-HKG-DXB has two business class seats on that route.

Some of these awards are during the day, and some are redeyes.

After selecting the Cathay Pacific flights, it was time to tackle the European section of the trip, where he wanted to see Turkey, Switzerland, and London.

The obvious choice from Dubai to Istanbul is Royal Jordanian, which is the only oneworld Middle Eastern partner until Qatar comes on board. That meant routing through Amman, which is right on the way.

courtesy of

I search Royal Jordanian space on In a typical week, there is Royal Jordanian space on a few days.

Light blue shading means there is space.
Sample Itinerary

The next leg was Istanbul to Turkey, and here’s where oneworld’s footprint stymied us for the first and only time. There’s really no good way to get from Turkey to Switzerland on oneworld.

You don’t want to fly British Airways or Iberia and have to overshoot Switzerland. Finnair doesn’t fly to Istanbul. airberlin is the best option; one stop itineraries were possible through Dusseldorf.

But we decided to purchase a cash ticket instead from Istanbul (SAW) to Zurich (ZRH) on Pegasus Airlines, which I had never heard of.

My client had a strong preference for direct flights. Connecting in Dusseldorf would add a few hours to his trip. Plus the taxes added by putting the airberlin legs on to the award were likely to be a few dozen dollars, meaning the Pegasus ticket was not even a full $93 extra per person.

His last two legs would be Geneva to London and London home to Raleigh. I skipped to the London to Raleigh bit first, so he could plan his time in London around that.

London to Raleigh

American Airlines operates a direct flight from London to Raleigh, but there is no space all summer on this flight in business class (and very little in economy or first.)

LHR-RDU direct doesn’t have space this summer.

I continued my search on, looking for one-stop itineraries. The only ways to get from London to Raleigh with one stop are on American Airlines or British Airways, both of which I prefer to search on

I explained to him that British Airways business class is nicer than AA’s but it costs $300 extra per person in fuel surcharges. He said he preferred AA business.

On his dates, the only flight I could find with space to from London to the US went to JFK and landed too late to connect to any flights back to Raleigh.

That meant spending the night in New York and flying to Raleigh the next day–not ideal, but it was something he was willing to do.

From New York to Raleigh, he also chose to fly economy class to snag a seat the next morning instead of having to wait until the next afternoon.

Now I just had to circle back and find the Geneva to London leg. Space is wide open on British Airways on the route. There is a small fuel surcharge in the tens of dollars. He picked a flight that gave him just under 24 hours in London. That decision saved him over $400 in Air Passenger Duties because he was considered a transiting passenger in the UK, not an originating passenger.

With the space all found, I called American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to put all legs on hold by their flight number and date.

More on that call in the next part.


From Asia back to the US presented a few problems, overcome by flexibility. He bought a cash ticket one leg to avoid an unfavorable routing. He overnighted in New York to be able to go through London. And he flew the last two hours in economy to return at the time of day he wanted.

A little bit of flexibility goes a long way especially when your award has a dozen segments. Perfection is often unattainable, but the level below perfect is still great!

Next: How to Book an Explorer Award

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