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I’ve written several posts about Explorer Awards from American Airlines. My favorites are:

American Airlines Explorer Awards are by far the cheapest option for round-the-world awards and a great option for hopping around one part of the world with many stops.

Explorer Awards are also incredible for combining many trips onto a single award at a huge discount. Reader Jason reminded me of this with his email to thank me for inspiring him to book a twelve segment award that included the flights for 2.5 vacations to South America and Europe.

The trip reminded me that one Explorer Awards is an ideal vehicle to combine several distinct trips. And it showed me a new trick: start your Explorer Award outside the US to maximize how many trips you can fit into one award.

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All This in Business Class for 150k Miles

Why should you start your Explorer Award outside the US? How can you jam several vacations onto one award for a huge discount?

Some of the key Explorer Award rules:

  • You get 16 flight segments.
  • No stopovers are allowed in the origin or destination city.
  • You can only stop in each city once.
  • You can only connect in a city two times. (Two connections plus one stopover equals transiting a city three times maximum.)
  • One open jaw is permitted anywhere on the itinerary.
  • All travel completed within one year of ticketing.

American Airlines clearly designed this award, so that you would use it for one trip. The bolded rules above certainly make it more challenging to use the award for multiple trips with long stops at home between them.

But it’s not impossible. Jason used his like this.

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He started the award in Northern Chile (CJC) and flew to Santiago and Easter Island (IPC). He had gotten to Northern Chile on a separate one way award.

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From there, he returned to Miami and took a few months off from the Explorer award.

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He actually lives in New York, so he bought a roundtrip with British Airways Avios to get from Miami home and then back to Miami for the start of the next part of the award. This cost 15k Avios + $5. He needed to do this because he only gets one stop in New York and he wanted to use it later.

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This was his return from Easter Island to New York. The red segments were part of the Explorer Award. The blue segment was purchased separately for 7.5k Avios as part of a roundtrip from Miami to New York in American Airlines economy class.

The award picks up again from Miami a few months later. Remember that he only gets one open jaw, and he’s preserving that so that he can end in the US and not have to return to Northern Chile. That means that since the award’s last flight landed in Miami, the next one needs to take off from there.

To get back to Miami, he used the second half of his roundtrip Avios award from LaGuardia to Miami.

The second vacation is a trip to Lima–great choice, see my Peru Top Ten–with a return to his home city of New York.

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His second trip to Peru. It started with the second half of his Avios roundtrip, returning New York to Miami. The red segments are part of the Explorer Award.

The third vacation is a trip to San Sebastian, Spain with a stopover in Madrid. This return cannot end in New York. Remember that you cannot have a stopover in your starting or ending city, and he had a stopover in New York, meaning the award can’t end there. The return has a final leg to Boston for that reason. (Don’t forget that in New York, he’ll be required to collect his bags and clear customs, at which point he can decide not to continue to Boston if he wants.)

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His roundtrip to San Sebastian with a stop in Madrid. The last segment in green is JFK-BOS. He will have to clear customs and collect his bags in New York, so he can decide to go home or fly the last segment then.

So he had two-and-a-half vacations on one award.

  • 0.5: The return from Chile and Easter Island
  • 1.5: The trip to Peru.
  • 2.5: The trip to Spain.

The total miles flown on the Explorer Award was 24,703, and all flights were in business class, so his 2.5 trips cost 150k American Airlines miles, 15k Avios, and government taxes.

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If he had booked all of this separately with regular American Airlines awards, it would have cost 310k miles, so he saved about 50% by using an Explorer Award.

Why Starting in Chile Helped This Award

If you want a round-the-world Explorer Award, start at your home airport. If you want a many-stops-in-Asia Explorer Award, start at your home airport.

But if you want a many-trips-on-one-award Explorer Award like Jason booked, starting in another country helps a lot.

The main thing that makes jamming many trips onto one award is that you can only stop in each city once and you can’t stop in your first or last airport during the middle of the award.

That’s why Jason had to get creative and have one trip back to the US go to Miami–from where he bought a roundtrip Avios award to New York–and have his last leg go from JFK to Boston, which he may or may not fly.

Starting your award in another country with just the return half of your first trip can help alleviate some of the headaches in planning. So could ending the trip in another country.

For instance, look at this Explorer Award you could book that has two roundtrips and two halves of other roundtrips.

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It’s tough to see, but the award is perfect for someone based in Los Angeles:

  • 0.5 trips: Return HKG-SFO on Cathay Pacific (followed by 4,500 Avios SFO-LAX)
  • 1.5 trips: SFO-LIM-LAX on LAN (preceded by 4,500 Avios from LAX-SFO)
  • 2.5 trips: LAX-DOH-JFK-DFW on Qatar and American (followed by 10k Avios DFW-LAX)
  • 3.0 trips: DFW-LHR on American (preceded by 10k Avios LAX-DFW)

The Future of Explorer Awards

With American and US Airways merging, no one knows what the New American’s chart will look like and whether Explorer Awards will be preserved. Let’s hope they are because there is no other way to do a round-the-world trip, a many-stops-in-one-region trip, or many trips on one award so cheaply.

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