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This post is part of a four-part series. In Part 1, we will look at the mechanics of the AAdvantage program. In Part 2, we’ll look at the mechanics of a stopover, including how to use them to get free oneway trips within North America. In Part 3, we’ll value specific AAdvantage awards. In Part 4, I’ll put a number on one AAdvantage mile.

1) American Airlines has two region-to-region charts, one for travel on American Airlines and one for travel on its partners. (It also has a distance-based chart that can be a good deal for round-the-world trips, but that chart won’t be covered in this series.) A region-to-region chart means that instead of having to calculate the number of miles for an award from your origin city to your destination city, say Atlanta to Rome, you merely figure out how many miles you need for an award from your origin region to your destination region, in this case North America to Europe.

On the charts, the number of AAdvantage miles listed to fly from region to region is for a one way trip, and American is among the airlines that charges half price for a oneway ticket compared to a roundtrip.

There are two things to familiarize yourself with on the charts: The first is the zone definition links on the bottom; that’s how you know which countries are South America Zone 1 and which are South America Zone 2 for instance. The second is the business/first column. It doesn’t matter what the airline calls the cabin. If it’s called “first,” but it’s on a two-cabin plane, the redemption costs this lower business/first column. Only first class on three-cabin planes gets the highest first class award price.

2) Because AA awards can be booked oneway, you can book an open jaw or even double open jaw with them. For instance LAX-LHR roundtrip would cost the same number of miles as LAX-LHR, CDG-LAX or even LAX-LHR, CDG-SFO.

Stopovers are not allowed on awards within North America. (In this section, North America means USA including Alaska and Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean.) Stopovers are only allowed between North America and another region, and they are only allowed at the North American International Gateway City.

The North American International Gateway City is the last city in North America you fly out of on awards to other regions from North America. On awards from other regions to North America, the North American International Gateway City is the city you arrive in.

Examples: On the itinerary LAX-JFK-BOS-LHR, the North American International Gateway City is Boston because it is the city from which you leave North America, and it is the only place on the itinerary you can have a free stopover. On the itinerary MEL-SYD-HNL-LAX-JFK, the International Gateway City is Honolulu because it is where you enter North America. It is the only place on the itinerary where you can have a free stopover.

Post 2 in this series will focus on International Gateway Cities because understanding them is one of the keys to maximizing awards with AA miles.

3) There are two types of awards. MilesAAver awards are the lowest cost in miles. They are capacity controlled, so there are not MilesAAver awards available in every or even most cabins and flights. AAnytime awards cost double what MilesAAver awards cost. However there is almost always availability in every cabin on every flight to snag an AAnytime award.

To have a multisegment award price as a MilesAAver, every segment in that direction must have MilesAAver space.

Example: You want to fly LAX-DFW-IAD in business class. For this to price at the MilesAAver price of 25,000 miles, there must be MilesAAver inventory on both flights.

For partner flights, any space you can book with AA miles is at a low level price equivalent to the MilesAAver price.

4) Travel can be booked on any oneworld alliance airline: airberlin, American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN, Qantas, Royal Jordanian, and S7. Travel can also be booked on the following non-oneworld partner airlines: Air Pacific, Air Tahiti Nui, Alaska (and Horizon) Airlines, Cape Air, El Al, Etihad, GOL (must be ticketed by 8/12/12), Gulf Air, Hawaiian Airlines, Jet Airways, and Kingfisher.

5) There is no award booking fee for awards booked at The only airlines that can be booked on are American and Alaska. For all other airlines, you must call 800-882-8880 to book. Calling American to book incurs a $25 fee, which they will not waive no matter how helpfully you explain that the award cannot be booked online.

6) There is a $75 booking fee to book an award less than 21 days from the date of departure. This fee is waived for AA Gold, Platinum, and Executive Platinum members.

7) American does not charge fuel surcharges except on British Airways and Iberia flights. For North America to Europe oneway on British Airways in business class, I paid a fuel surcharge of about $300, so obviously these surcharges should be avoided by not booking AA awards on BA under normal circumstances.

eight) American charges $150 to change the origin or destination of an award ticket. American also charges $150 to cancel an award ticket and redeposit the miles. Changing the date or time of travel is free unless the change occurs within 21 days of departure when it costs $75. All the fees mentioned in part eight are waived for Executive Platinum members.

9) The routing rule on awards is that the award can exceed the maximum permitted mileage on a route by 25%. In practice, to me this means that any reasonably direct routing is allowed. Of course, the true measure of whether something is allowed is whether an agent will ticket it, so if you have doubts, attempt to reserve a routing. If it works, it works.

10) To many destinations, there is an Off Peak sAAver price that is even cheaper than the normal sAAver price. The dates and destinations are listed on the award charts. Often the dates correspond to bad weather in the destination, but there are certainly some good times to visit mixed in, and taking advantage of Off Peak awards is a great way to exploit the program.

11) All travel must be completed within one year of booking the award.

12) American has fantastic availability domestically, and many of its partners have great availability too. Availability is a big strength of this program in all classes of service. One partner in particular I’d like to highlight here is Hawaiian Airlines, which has far better availability to Hawaii than any of the legacy carriers. And Hawaiian has direct flights to Hawaii from tons of places not served by the legacy carries, like JFK!

Continue to Part 2.

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