I have already written a post about the rules of free stopovers on American Airlines awards and even how to book those stopovers online, but it’s a subject I get a lot of questions about, so I wanted to answer some here to try to clarify the rules. There are four rules with which a stopover on an AAdvantage award must comply.

The four rules with which stopovers must comply:

1) Stopovers must occur 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 North American city in which you first arrive. North America is defined as the 50 US states, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Bahamas, and the Caribbean.

For a complete list of international gateway cities of all AA partners, see here.

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.

2) The stopover must be part of a routing that does not exceed AA’s Maximum Permitted Mileage for your origin and destination by more than 25%. Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) is a number of miles that the airline puts on all possible city pairs, and awards can exceed it by 25%. MPM is not the direct distance between two cities; it is usually a larger number. You can find the MPM for a city pair on Expert Flyer, the KVS tool, or by asking an AA agent.

Example: Say you want to try this routing, LAX-BOS//BOS-NRT-TPE, Los Angeles to Taipei with a stopover in Boston. First I would head to Expert Flyer, and I would look up the MPM for LAX to TPE since that is the origin and destination. LAX-TPE has an MPM of 8,137 miles. (Note that this is much farther than the direct distance between the two, which Great Circle Mapper lists as 6,799 miles.)

Next I would multiply the MPM by 1.25, since we can exceed the MPM by 25% on awards. 10,171 miles is 25% greater than the MPM of LAX-TPE. Now, I can go to gcmap.com and check the distance of our putative routing. LAX-BOS-NRT-TPE is 10,669, which exceeds the allowable 10,171, so this is not a valid routing.

3) The airline that operates the flight that connects the two regions must have a published fare for your origin and destination city pair.

Example: You want to fly MEL-LAX-JFK-BWI with a two month stopover at LAX and will fly on Qantas from MEL-LAX. That means Qantas has to have a published fare from MEL-BWI for the stopover to be valid and to avoid this being priced as two awards.

How do you figure out if there is a published fare between a city pair? You can see if you can book a ticket between the city pair on the operating airline’s website or kayak. In practice, I just see if I can have it price as one award over the phone. If I can, I have a legal routing and stopover.

4) A stopover’s length is limited by the fact that all award travel must be completed within one year of its booking.

Example 1: On January 1, 2013, you book MEL-LAX-JFK with a stopover in Los Angeles. MEL-LAX is January 2, 2013. Your maximum stopover in Los Angeles can be for nearly a year, you just need to complete LAX-JFK by December 31, 2013.

Example 2: On January 1, 2013, you book MEL-LAX-JFK with a stopover in Los Angeles. MEL-LAX is November 15, 2013. Your maximum stopover in Los Angeles is about a month and a half. You need to complete LAX-JFK by December 31,2013.

Those are the four rules. Once you’ve found the gateway city where you want your stopover, it is a matter of figuring out whether the operating overwater carrier has a published fare between your origin and destination and making sure that you don’t exceed MPM by more than 25%.

Let me run through some itineraries based on ones that readers, Ryan from MA and kate, asked me about.

Puerto Rico-Boston//Boston-JFK-Tokyo-Taipei–invalid

This itinerary is going from North America to Asia, so the international gateway city is the last North American city, JFK. The only valid stopover point is there. Don’t be confused that Boston is the arrival point from Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is part of North America according to AA’s inclusive definition: the 50 US states, Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, Bahamas, and the Caribbean.

JFK-CUN//CUN-SFO-HKG-TPE–invalid

The North American International Gateway City here is SFO. Remember AA’s expansive definition of North America includes Mexico, so the flyer hasn’t left North America until flying SFO-HKG. And the city where you leave North America is the only city on the outbound where you can have a stopover.

LAX-BOS//BOS-NRT-TPE–invalid

From above: LAX-TPE has an MPM of 8,137 miles.  Multiply the MPM by 1.25, since we can exceed the MPM by 25% on awards. The MPM of LAX-TPE times 1.25 is 10,171. LAX-BOS-NRT-TPE is 10,669 miles, which exceeds the allowable 10,171, so this is not a valid routing.

NRT-BOS//BOS-JFK-SJU–valid

This itinerary has the stopover at the international gateway city, and it’s about as direct as possible, so no exceeding MPM worries. But does Japan Airlines, the overwater carrier from Tokyo to Boston. have a published fare from Tokyo to San Juan? YES!

I hope this post has cleared up any confusion about the complicated stopover rules on AA awards. If it hasn’t, keep the questions coming.

Earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards Points after you spend $4,000 spend in 3 months

Just getting started in the world of points and miles? The Chase Sapphire Preferred is the best card for you to start with.

With a bonus of 60,000 points after $4,000 spend in the first 3 months and 2x points earned on dining and travel spend, this card truly cannot be beat for getting started!

Learn More

Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

The comments section below is not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all questions are answered.