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This is the fifth 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: Asia West.

I had found a client the following round-the-world dream trip for 150k American Airlines miles and $278 per person.

Finding the award space should be the challenge, not booking the award, so here’s how to make booking your Explorer Award painless.

1. Call American Airlines at 800-882-8880 and have an agent start an Explorer Award reservation for you.

This isn’t as easy as it should be because the majority of American Airlines agents do not know what an Explorer Award is. Be very clear with the agent that you want to book an Explorer Award. If the agent doesn’t know what it is, hang up and call back.

(Just today, a friend told me that when attempting to book an Explorer Award, his agent put him on hold for a few minutes to ask a supervisor what an Explorer Award was. She came back to inform my friend that “she’s been working here 15 years, and she’s never heard of an Explorer Award.”)

Even if the agent claims that he knows what an Explorer Award is, you can never really be sure. On the award that is the subject of this post, I was reassured that we were working on an Explorer Award reservation only to find out when it was time to book that the agent had not, in fact, stored the reservation as an Explorer Award. Check and double check.

Write down the record locator you are given for future calls. This will be a six-letter code.

2. Hold Space as You Go.

Award space is dynamic. You don’t want to lose space because your planning takes a few days of sporadic searching.

I would hold my space after I found each longhaul segment. Finding longhaul award space is harder than intra-Asia or intra-Europe space, so I didn’t want to lose it.

To hold award space as you go, call American Airlines and give your six-letter record locator. Add, subtract, and change space as you wish then ask for the award to be put on hold again.

Like all American Airlines awards, you can hold the award for five days. That clock starts when you hold the first leg, so make sure you finish up within five days, or you’ll lose all your work.

3. Know What the Award Should Cost.

The taxes and fees should be calculated automatically. You are on the hook for government taxes, a $25 phone fee, and any fuel surcharges if you fly Iberia or British Airways. You can estimate taxes and surcharges with a high degree of accuracy by using the ITA Matrix.

Because taxes and fees are automatically calculated, they are usually calculated correctly–but not always.

The miles cost of the ticket depends on the total distance of the award. I believe agents have to manually calculate this since it has always sounded to me like the agent was adding up the miles audibly as I waited.

You can use the Great Circle Mapper to figure out the miles price of your award. Just keep in mind that the Great Circle Mapper’s distances will be very close, but not exactly the same as American Airlines’ official distances.

4. The moment of truth.

When the award segments are all held, ask the agent to ticket the award. This is when you’ll see if they price the award correctly and whether it has been correctly stored as an Explorer Award.

My most recent Explorer Award had not been correctly started as an Explorer Award by the agent. So I was told the award would be 400,000 miles or something similarly crazy. It took a competent Executive Platinum agent 25 minutes to reconstruct the award properly to get it to price at 150,000 miles.

If you have trouble on this step, ask for the problem to be resolved by the Rates Desk and state the error that is being made succinctly.


This five-part Anatomy of an Award has highlighted how to plan and book one of the best deals in the miles world: American Airlines Explorer Awards for round-the-world trips. But there’s a lot more. I want to talk about using Explorer Awards to visit multiple destinations in one region and using Explorer Awards for “trick” itineraries.

Next: Explorer Awards with Many Stops in One Region

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