This is the first 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.

American Airlines Explorer Awards are an incredible value with three main uses:

  1. around-the-world (RTW) trips
  2. trips with many destinations in one region
  3. combining multiple trips within one year onto one Explorer Award

When I say “incredible value,” I mean 150,000 miles to go around the world with ten stops in business class. That’s only 50% more than a run-of-the-mill business class award to Europe.

I mean saving tens of thousands of miles on a trip to Asia while adding in more stops than you could have on a normal award.

I mean saving 100k+ miles on several trips to Europe.

In the coming weeks, I will be posting a lot about Explorer Awards. After the rules today, I’ll post an Anatomy of an Award about a recent around-the-world Explorer Award I booked for a client. Then I’ll discuss the other main uses of Explorer Awards–many destinations in one region and many trips on one award–in later posts.

How to Get the Miles Necessary for an American Airlines Explorer Award

I’ll talk more about getting the miles at the end, but if you want to get a head start, you should apply for these cards now.

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Rules

The best copy of the American Airlines Explorer Rules I can find online are at http://aa-ow-awards.blogspot.com/.

There are 14 major rules.

1. Explorer Awards can only use award space on American Airlines and its oneworld partners.

That means you can’t use American Airlines’ other non-oneworld partners like Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, or Etihad.

2. You must use at least two oneworld partners other than American Airlines.

You can use American itself, but you don’t have to.

Flying an airline and its subsidiary like Cathay Pacific and Dragonair only counts as one partner.

Valid Explorer Award 1: flights on American, Qantas, and Cathay Pacific

Valid Explorer Award 2: flights on British Airways and airberlin

Invalid Explorer Award: flights on American and British Airways; there need to be flights on two or more oneworld partners other than American Airlines

3. An itinerary may not exceed 16 segments.

Each flight number is one segment even if it is not a nonstop flight. For instance, Malaysia Airlines flies from Los Angeles to Kuala Lumpur via Tokyo on one flight number. Flying that flight would count as one segment.

4. Flying into one airport and out of another airport counts as one segment. This is true even if the airports are coterminal. The only exception is that an open jaw between your very first city and very last city does not count as a segment.

Example: New York-JFK to Paris-CDG, Paris-ORY to Berlin, Berlin to London, London to Miami counts as five segments.

  1. JFK-CDG flight
  2. the hole between CDG and ORY
  3. ORY-TXL
  4. TXL-LHR
  5. LHR-MIA

The open jaw between the starting airport (JFK) and ending airport (MIA) is not a segment.

5. One open jaw is permitted anywhere on the itinerary.

In this case, an open jaw means flying into one city and out of another. Flying into one coterminal airport and out of another is not an open jaw.

Example: Flying into Charles de Gaulle and out of Orly in Paris is not an open jaw. Flying into Charles de Gaulle in Paris and out of Heathrow in London is an open jaw.

Here are the listed coterminal airports:

6. You can only stopover once per city.

If you route through a city more than once, you can only have one stopover in it. A stopover is defined as a layover of more than 4 hours within the US or more than 6 hours outside the US. But if there are no scheduled flights within 6 hours, you have up to 24 hours to make a connection without it being considered a stopover. (In practice, I expect you would have 24 hours in all cases at international airports.)

7. You may not stopover in the origin or destination city.

This rule limits our ability to cram together multiple vacations onto one Explorer Award by returning home after each trip and having a stopover at our home airport. But there will still be ways to cram multiple trips onto one award.

8. Other than rules six and seven, you can have unlimited stopovers on an Explorer Award.

Want a stopover after every segment? That’s fine.

9. You can only connect through a city two times.

These two connections are in addition to the one stopover, so you can go through the same city up to three times: one stopover and two layovers.

Example of valid routing:

  • Los Angeles to Hong Kong (stop for three days)
  • Hong Kong to Manilla (stop for three days)
  • Manilla to Hong Kong to Seoul (with just a two hour layover in Hong Kong)
  • Seoul to Hong Kong to Phuket (with a 20 hour layover in Hong Kong)
  • continuing on from Phuket however you’d like except that you can never go back through Hong Kong on this award since you’ve already stopped there once and connected two more times.

10. The total countable miles of a trip includes all miles flown, so layover and stopover cities are relevant.

Airlines don’t release their official distance for flights, but you can get very close by using gcmap.com.

Land segments do not count toward total countable miles.

11. All travel must be completed within one year of ticketing.

If you ticket an award on March 1, 2013, all travel must be completed my February 28, 2014 whether the first flight of the Explorer Award is March 15, 2013 or December 15, 2013.

12. After ticketing, you can change the date and time of a segment for free.

13. After ticketing, you cannot change the name of the passenger, the routing, or the airline for a segment at all.

You cannot change the routing at all including the connecting (non-stopover) cities. You cannot even change a Hong Kong to Tokyo flight from JAL to Cathay Pacific.

All you can ever change is the time of a flight as long as the airline and routing remain the same.

14. Most other American Airlines award rules and practices apply.

For instance, you can fly in economy class on a business class award and business or economy class on a first class award.

You will be responsible for government taxes, fuel surcharges on British Airways and Iberia segments, and a $25 phone fee.

Are all these rules enforced?

On the last Explorer Award I booked, I heard the AAgent adding up the mileage of the segments. If the computer isn’t doing that, I doubt the computer is enforcing many of these rules. That would mean a human is enforcing many of the rules, and I can assure you that few AAgents know all of the above rules.

That means Explorer Awards may be a US-Airways-award situation, where you can get away with more than the stated rules. Some rules you might be able to bend? One open jaw total and only one stopover/two connections per city.

Award Chart

The American Airlines Explorer Award Chart is online. I’ll discuss the best values in future posts with specific examples.

Read Next: Planning an Explorer Award

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