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Last month I wrote about using American Airlines’ distance-based Explorer Award chart to save miles and add stopovers traveling to Europe. Check out Get a Roundtrip Business Class Award to Europe with Three Stopovers for 90k American Airlines Miles before proceeding. This post compares that Explorer Award option with a “regular” award option.

On a roundtrip from New York to Eastern Europe, I was able to add three stopovers and save 10k AAdvantage miles (90k vs. 100k) on the cost of a roundtrip business award.

Old Award

I didn’t go through with this award because it might not best use of miles. I could book a better award instead which opens up the potential for three vacations on one award. It’s slightly more expensive but adds tremendous value!

What’s better than a 90k Explorer Award to Europe? How did you maximize your AAdvantage miles? Does the new award include great free oneways?

My original award took advantage of a sweet spot in the distance-based Explorer Award chart. By keeping the itinerary under 10,000 total miles flown, the business class award priced at 90k AAdvantage miles, a 10k-mile savings over the roundtrip price of the standard AAdvantage chart.

  • New York -> Berlin (airberlin Business)
  • Berlin -> Sofia (airberlin Economy)
  • 5 Day Stopover
  • Sofia -> Bucharest (Qatar Business)
  • 3 Day Stopover
  • Bucharest -> Berlin (airberlin Economy)
  • 3 Day Stopover
  • Berlin -> New York (airberlin Business)

Unfortunately, that award didn’t allow free oneways! Explorer Awards, as incredible as they are, have certain drawbacks to consider:

  • non-oneworld partners (Hawaiian, Alaska, Etihad) can’t be included
  • all segments add to the overall distance flown and potential mileage cost of the award, so no free oneways are possible

Scott wrote the Master Thread for Free Oneways on American Airlines. I was determined to apply those great practices to my itinerary. Luckily, I was originating and terminating at New York-JFK from Europe. Below is a visual of my main award. I am flying airberlin from New York to Sofia. The itinerary has an open jaw: I am departing from Bucharest back to New York. In both directions, I connect in Berlin.

Original Itinerary

New York is considered the international gateway city of the itinerary, in both directions meaning it is eligible for free oneways in both directions!

American is both restrictive and lenient with their free oneway rules. You must use the international gateway (the North American city from which your international flight departs/arrives) as a stopover to take advantage. You can, however, route to Hawaii, Alaska, Canada, and even the Caribbean for no additional miles. That opens up some fantastic possibilities!

What free oneway did you choose to New York?

I recently flew Cathay Pacific roundtrip from Tokyo to Hong Kong on their 747-400 and A330-300 and loved their business class product. The seat was fully flat and the service was on point.


Cathay Pacific flies from Vancouver to New York-JFK on a longhaul-configured 777-300 that originates in Hong Kong. Vancouver sounds like a great vacation, so it was my top choice for a oneway.

To find Cathay Pacific award space, you have to search British Airways site or American’s own site does not display Cathay Pacific seats. I chose and quickly found business space on the dates I wanted.


American allows me to add a flight from Vancouver to New York in April, have a three month stopover, and continue from New York to Sofia on airberlin. My new itinerary is below with the free oneway highlighted in green.

Free Oneway from Vancouver

What free oneway did you choose returning from Bucharest?

I love Hawaii and try to visit at least once a year in the fall. Luckily, American and partner Hawaiian Airlines have decent award space from New York. Hawaiian began flying nonstop from New York-JFK to Honolulu in June of 2012.


Scott had a good experience on Hawaiian in coach, though I’ve heard less than stellar things about their recliner seats in business class. Sadly, there is a dearth of flat-bed options to Hawaii using AAdvantage miles unlike United, which operates planes with flat beds from several hubs.

For convenience and time savings, I will likely choose the nonstop on Hawaiian. My itinerary will likely be as follows:

  • Vancouver->New York (Cathay Pacific Business) [free oneway]
  • Three Month Stopover
  • New York->Berlin (airberlin Business)
  • Berlin->Sofia (airberlin Economy)
  • Open Jaw
  • Bucharest->Berlin (airberlin Economy)
  • Berlin->New York (airberlin Business)
  • Two Month Stopover
  • New York->Honolulu (Hawaiian Business [free oneway]

For visual learners, the routing is mapped out below with free oneways in green:

Final Itinerary

Does this award cost more than your original Explorer Award?

Yes. This award will price at 100k AAdvantage miles as opposed to the 90k for the Explorer Award.

What did the Explorer Award have that this itinerary doesn’t?

I lost a connecting flight from Sofia to Bucharest on Qatar. I lost my stopover in Berlin.

How can you justify the increased mileage cost?

The new itinerary adds two great oneways, a flight from Vancouver to New York and from New York to Honolulu. I would gladly pay 10k miles for two long legs in business class!

How to Book

This award can’t be booked online. You need to call 800-882-8880 to reach an American Airlines phone agent. In my experience, they are quite competent. Simply feed them the desired flights–date, flight number, and cabin–and they should price everything at 100k miles/person.

How are you getting from Sofia to Bucharest?

The Qatar flight from Sofia to Bucharest can still be booked with British Airways Avios now that Qatar is an official oneworld member. For a mere 4,500 Avios/person, I can fly this short hop in economy. Otherwise, the train will suffice.

Qatar Search Price Breakdown

How to Earn AAdvantage Miles

Scott just wrote up the Top Ten Rewards Card Offers for December 2013. Both the Citi AAdvantage card (#2, 50,000 AAdvantage miles after minimum spend) and Starwood Preferred Guest American Express (#9, 25,000 Starpoints after minimum spend) are the best ways to stockpile AAdvantage miles.


I booked an American Airlines Explorer Award to Europe for 90k miles that included three stopovers. This award is 10k cheaper than a standard AA roundtrip award between the US and Europe.

Make sure to do your research and weigh the benefits of an Explorer Award against the standard American routing rules.

I found a slightly more expensive award that includes two free oneways. One of those oneways is on Hawaiian, a partner excluded from Explorer Awards.  Those additional segments are worth more than the incremental 10k saved from my original Explorer itinerary.

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