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This is a bit of a companion to American Airlines Explorer Awards: The Rules. That has my best guess on the rules; this explains why it’s only my best guess. If you just want to book Explorer Awards, none of this information is helpful, and you should skip this post. If you enjoy reading stories of airlines’ dysfunction, though, this post is for you!

Here’s what we know:

  1. American Airlines Explorer Awards exist.
  2. American Airlines Explorer Awards have rules.
  3. American Airlines Explorer Awards’ rules are written down somewhere.
  4. At least some American Airlines employees can see those rules.
  5. You can’t see those rules, and neither can I.

In putting together my series of posts on American Airlines Explorer Awards, I wanted to find a copy of the rules for such awards online at aa.com. First of all, I wanted to read them in their entirety to make sure that the list of rules I’d seen on third-party sites was correct. And second, I wanted to be able to link to the rules in my posts, so other people could easily get to the official rules.

aa.com

I searched aa.com in the relevant places, and I found the Explorer Award distance-based chart and a blurb or two about Explorer Awards, but nothing that even came close to an exhaustive list of Explorer Award rules.

@AmericanAir

My next step was to tweet @AmericanAir. American Airlines has the best twitter team of any airline. If you tweet at them, they’ll respond within a few minutes 24/7 in my experience. You can ask for help with nearly anything, and the twitter team is very responsive and helpful.

Things I’ve asked about or seen the twitter team solve:

  1. Rebooking during irregular operations. If a storm cancelled or delayed my AA flight this winter, I would tweet @AmericanAir immediately. They help people rebook all the time, and it sure beats dealing with a line at the airport.
  2. Ask a question about American Airlines fees and rules. I wanted to know how many bags I could take to Buenos Aires as a first class passenger. You can ask about what change fees you’d encounter on your ticket.
  3.  Ask what aircraft will be on a certain route when. I wanted to know the first day the 777-300ER would be flying Dallas to Sao Paulo, and @AmericanAir had the answer.
  4. More. American Airlines seems to be able to handle things a phone agent can and answer any questions a phone agent can without the wait time and without having to call in. And if they can’t help–like if you want to complain about a bad flight–they point you to the right place–in that case, the complaint form.

I asked @AmericanAir for the rules for Explorer Awards. I got a link to some pages on aa.com that I had read and talked about Explorer Awards, but none of the links had a comprehensive list of rules.

I pointed this out to @AmericanAir, and I was told to call AA reservations.

In my experience, this was not going to work. First, in my hundreds of calls to airline award-booking agents, very few are experts who can convey correctly the relevant award rules. Many have not achieved what I would describe as basic competency in booking partner award space, and many give inaccurate information. I am not singling out American Airlines agents on this count. Second, calling would be horribly inconvenient. Not only would I be on hold and have to explain what I wanted to several people, but I wanted the rules in written form, so an audio phone call was hardly conducive for that.

Calling American Airlines

I called American Airlines and was told there would be a wait of 30-43 minutes to speak to an agent. The good news is that I could give my name and phone number and be called back when it was my turn instead of waiting. (Note to other airlines: this technology exists, and you should all have it.)

Forty-seven minutes later, I got the call back, but I missed it. Luckily, the call back feature is user friendly and generates a second attempt fifteen minutes later.

When I answered, I told the first agent that I wanted the rules to the American Airlines Explorer Awards. They are not online, and I was directed by @AmericanAir to call this number to ask for them. I was put on hold without explanation, and my call was transferred.

I told second agent that I had been transferred without explanation to her, and that I wanted the American Airlines Explorer Award rules. They aren’t online and @AmericanAir told me to call for them.

She said she would be happy to help me book an Explorer Award. I told her that I didn’t want to book one at the moment. I was in the planning stages of booking one. I like to maximize my miles–perhaps a bit of an understatement 😉 –so I need to know the rules to be able to do that. She sympathized with that: “That must be frustrating! How can you know the rules if they aren’t posted anywhere!?”

She tried to find them online for me. She tried to tell me the rules are available at oneworld.com. I wasn’t at my computer, but I knew that American Airlines routing rules were not at oneworld.com, and that oneworld.com was displaying the cash-ticket version of Explorer Awards.

I asked her to find any rules that might be available on her computer, even if they were on an intraweb. Eureka, the rules do exist!

She found some rules, and she confirmed a few of the rules I had seen online at third-party sites. Yes there is a 16-segment maximum, and you have to use only oneworld partners, not AA’s other partners like Hawaiian, Alaska, and Etihad.

MV: “Awesome. Can you send me the rules?”

AAgent: “No, I can’t do that.”

MV: “Can I talk to a supervisor please?”

After a few minutes, a supervisor came on.

MV: “Hi, I’d like a copy of the Explorer Award rules that your agent is looking at. I am planning an Explorer Award, and the rules are not listed online. I need to see the full rules to maximize my trip.”

Supervisor: “I would give you the rules if I could, but I have no way of doing it.”

This seems like an easy problem.

MV: “You can email me the file.”

Supervisor: “It’s not a file.”

MV: “You can copy and paste the words and email them.”

Supervisor: “We don’t have AA email addresses, and we can’t use our personal email.”

MV: “Can someone with an AA email address email it to me? I know that Customer Service has email accounts.”

Supervisor: “You’d have to ask Customer Service.”

I’m a problem solver.

MV: “Can you print out the rules and fax them to me?”

Supervisor: “We don’t have a printer or a fax.”

MV: “Can you take a photo on on your cell phone and text it to me?”

Supervisor: “We can’t use our personal phones.”

MV: “Can you mail it to me?”

Supervisor: “No.”

MV: “Can you speak them while I make an audio recording?”

Supervisor: “No.”

MV: “I understand that AA has some corporate policies that you can’t violate, but this seems like a very easy real-world problem that I have solved many times in many contexts. You have some data, and there are a number of ways to get it to me if you want to.”

Supervisor: “I don’t have the authority to do any of the things you’ve asked.”

MV: “Let’s problem solve. How can I get a copy of the rules?”

Supervisor: “You can go to an American Airlines ticket office in New York, Los Angeles, or Miami and ask for them to be printed.”

MV: “I am in rural Virginia, and I want to plan my award today. Is there any other way?”

Supervisor: “No.”

MV: “Can I speak to your supervisor please?”

Supervisor: “I am the highest person at this level.”

(I found that sentence to be a hilarious tautology.)

MV: “Yes, that’s why I’d like to talk to the next higher level. Someone must be able to send me an email.”

Supervisor: “You will have to fill out the Customer Service form at aa.com.”

MV: “I don’t want to do that because they have previously ignored one of my routing questions.”

I got the supervisor’s name to reference who directed me to the form in my Customer Service request. The supervisor was polite but either not interested or not empowered to solve the simple logistical problem of getting some words to my eyeballs.

AA Ticket Office

Her penultimate suggestion of going to a ticket office and having them print out the Explorer Award rules was extremely unlikely to work and unnecessarily time consuming I figured. But I was willing to give it a try. Luckily I was saved a trip by a fellow Explorer Award booker Michael Reiserer.

He saw my Twitter exchange including a later tweet where I relayed that I had been told to go to an AA ticket office. He went to the New York City office, and as expected, was told that they didn’t have the rules. Thanks for the report, Michael, and color me unsurprised.

Hey Scott,

I followed your amusing twitter exchange with AA.
I actually had to go to the AA Travel Center today (3 exist in the country and one of them happens to be in NYC).
I asked them if they have the rules and they said they don’t have access to that and that you wouldn’t be able to get it at the airport either.
Sounds like the left doesn’t know what the right is doing….

Las Reglas en Español

@thrashsoundly, a longtime reader and twitter follower, pointed out that the FlyerTalk thread about Explorer Awards links to a page from aa.com in Spanish that shows some rules for Explorer Awards.

Luckily I speak Spanish–I better–so I was able to read the rules. They aren’t complete, and they don’t match up exactly with the rules on FlyerTalk or this post.

The Spanish rules and third-party rules never contradict each other, but the third-party rules list many more rules that I can’t verify in the Spanish rules.

Final Verdict?

The rules listed here are probably fully correct, and if not, are substantially correct. I can verify that when I’ve booked Explorer Awards, I’ve been able to ticket awards that complied with those rules.

But there’s no way for me to prove that the rules are exactly correct in the sense that you have to follow them to ticket an award or that they match up with AA’s internal rules.

Why did I write this?

I do think that American Airlines should have all its award routing rules on its website. That way we can know if American Airlines changes its rules, and we can use the rules to maximize our miles.

But I am writing this not to trash American or the employees with whom I interacted. They all did their best. And it’s not like American’s competitors list all their rules online. See I Don’t Know United’s Award Rules.

I mainly wrote this because I thought my quest to find the rules would be of general interest and might illuminate how dysfunctional the award booking process can be.

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