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On Saturday in Chicago, I gave two presentations–one on the award chart sweet spots and the other a “Live” American Airlines Award Booking.

In this post, I’ll recap the “Live” American Airlines Award Booking, including the audio of the award booking phone call. (The plan was to do the booking live in the room, but technology constraints and American’s long holds to talk to an agent made it easier to record and screenshot everything in advance.)

The award I booked was from Medford, Oregon to Madurai, India on September 5, 2017 for one passenger in Business Class.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-3-51-20-pm

I chose these cities because the necessary partners would require searching on two websites segment-by-segment, as I’ll explain below.

The Steps for the Award Booking

  1. Simple search on aa.com
  2. Simple search on ba.com
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Segment-by-segment searching in accordance with the rules
  5. Call AA to Book

Simple Search on AA.com

Why make things more complicated than necessary? When redeeming American Airlines miles, you can always go straight to aa.com to search award space. I did that.
screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-11-59-48-am And I got this error message.screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-00-13-pm

The problem is that American Airlines shows only a few partners, and doesn’t show any that fly to Madurai, India.

Simple Search on BA.com

When AA.com doesn’t show anything, you can go to BA.com, which shows award space for a lot more partners. Any award space you see on BA.com is bookable by phone with American Airlines miles.

I searched on BA.com.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-02-36-pm And I got this error.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-02-49-pm

The problem is that while British Airways shows all oneworld award space, it doesn’t show the American Airlines partner that flies to Medford, Oregon (Alaska Airlines.) Also, British Airways’ site isn’t great at showing award routings with more than two segments.

Wikipedia

When you can’t find anything with a simple search, it means you have to search segment-by-segment. That means figuring out possible routings on Wikipedia and then searching for award space on each segment of the possible routings.

Here’s how to use Wikipedia to search for award routings.

The basic idea is that every airport page has a section called “Airlines and destinations.” Scan it for partners and click the cities where they fly to create a chain from origin to destination.

I looked at Medford’s and Madurai’s Wikipedia pages simultaneously and saw that the only American Airlines partner at Medford is Alaska Airlines and the only partner at Madurai is SriLankan.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-01-12-pm
Medford Airport Wiki
screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-05-03-pm
Madurai Airport Wiki

I clicked on Los Angeles (where Alaska flies from Medford) and Colombo (where SriLankan flies to Madurai.)

I noticed that Los Angeles and Colombo share Hong Kong as a city with service.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-05-30-pm
Where Cathay Pacific Flies from Colombo and Los Angeles
screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-05-40-pm
Where Cathay Pacific Flies from Hong Kong

So one possible routing with American Airlines miles is:

  • MFR-LAX (Alaska)
  • LAX-HKG (Cathay Pacific or American Airlines)
  • HKG-CMB (Cathay Pacific or SriLankan)
  • CMB-IXM (Sri Lankan)

I could have found other possible routings, but I just went ahead with segment-by-segment award searching on the routing I’d found.

Searching MFR-LAX on AA.com

Search Alaska Airlines award space on AA.com.
screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-02-59-pm There was award space in economy on the day I was searching. You can use economy award space on Business Class awards, though you don’t get any discount.screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-03-16-pm

I noted the date, cabin, flight number, and time. The first three I will later give to the phone agent when I book. The time is just so I can keep track of layovers as I search.

Searching LAX-HKG on BA.com

Cathay Pacific award space is not searchable on AA.com; search it on BA.com. All Cathay Pacific award space on BA.com is bookable with American Airlines miles.
screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-04-29-pmThere was award space on three flights in Business Class for 4-5 people per flight on the day I searched. (That is common when you search 11 months out for Cathay Pacific Business Class award space.)

The 9:30 AM flight is ideal with an 83 minute layover at LAX.

I noted the date, cabin, flight number, and time.

Searching HKG-CMB on BA.com

All Cathay Pacific and SriLankan award space on BA.com is bookable with American Airlines miles. I searched September 6, a day after the flights from the United States, since we cross the international date line on the flight to Hong Kong.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-06-03-pmThere was award space on in Business Class on a flight with a five hour layover at Hong Kong.

I noted the date, cabin, flight number, and time.

Searching CMB-IXM on BA.com

SriLankan award space is not searchable on AA.com; search it on BA.com. All SriLankan award space on BA.com is bookable with American Airlines miles. I searched September 7, since the last flight landed late at night on September 6.

screen-shot-2016-10-13-at-12-07-18-pmThe only award space is 15 hours after landing in Colombo. You could turn this into an advantage by seeing a bit of Sri Lanka in the morning, but for most people, this isn’t ideal.

On long, unusual international routings, sometimes you will have to overnight en route. The layover is legal if less than 24 hours, and you just have to decide whether the trip is worth the layover.

I noted the date, cabin, flight number, and time.

Call American Airlines to Book

You always call the airline whose miles you want to use to book the award. I called American Airlines at 800-882-8880 and recorded the call. Listen to it on this seven minute YouTube video:

I love the agent’s surprise that the award costs only 70,000 American Airlines miles and $62!

Bottom Line

As I said in Chicago, this post should have had a lot of obvious parts to anyone with much miles experience. But it was designed to show the entire process from start to finish and to offer an actual example of an award booking by phone, so you know exactly how one of those sounds.

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