I am updating this post in light of the fact that American Airlines has added a new award rule: International awards are now limited to four segments per one-way and domestic to three per one-way. While it’s never a great thing when further restrictions are put in place, this one probably won’t affect tons of you–but those that redeem AAdvantage miles often should be aware. 

Let’s talk about constructing American Airlines awards. This is part four in a series that will allow you to master redeeming American Airlines miles.

“Redeeming American Airlines Miles” Series Index

How Many Miles Do You Need for Your Dream Trip?

If you have found award space on American Airlines or one of its partners, you can use American Airlines miles to book that award space.

For the purpose of pricing awards, American Airlines awards are all one way awards. If you’re booking a roundtrip, think of it is as two one ways.

If your award is a single, direct flight, you can just read the price of the flight off one of American Airlines’ two award charts:

The two charts are nearly identical. There are only three differences:

  1. The chart for an award with all American Airlines flights has four potential miles prices for each cabin because there are several levels of AAnytime awards, the expensive awards we never want to book. We only want to book MileSAAver awards, the cheap awards that are more highly capacity-controlled.
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Award prices for travel originating in the Contiguous 48 U.S. states flying American Airlines

The chart for partners only has one price for each cabin because all partner awards price at the MileSAAver level.

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Award prices for travel originating in the Contiguous 48 U.S. states flying partner airlines
  1. The chart for an award with all American Airlines flights has economy Off Peak dates to several regions, while the partner chart only has economy Off Peak dates to Europe. To see economy Off Peak dates look at the American Airlines award chart, and click Details on Award Travel at the top. These are the current economy Off Peak dates:

  1. The partner award chart covers all regions of the world while the AA-only chart has all awards starting or ending in North America. That makes sense since all American Airlines flights start or end in North America.

If you’ve found a direct flight, go read the price off the appropriate award chart. Otherwise, how does the award price? That’s where American Airlines’ award routing rules come into play.

American Airlines Award Routing Rules

If you find multiple flights you’re hoping to fit onto one award, can you? Yes, but if only if you follow the American Airlines award routing rules. If you don’t follow these rules, your trip will split into two or more awards, which will mean spending extra miles.

Some of these rules are unique to American Airlines, and several are obscure, but you need to know them to know how American Airlines’ award pricing works.

  1. Stopovers are not allowed on American Airlines awards.
  2. The airline that operates the flight that connects the two regions must have a published fare for your origin and destination city pair.
  3. Your trip must not exceed AA’s Maximum Permitted Mileage for your origin and destination by more than 25% as flown.
  4. Awards between Region A and Region B cannot transit Region C unless specifically allowed.
  5. An international award cannot consist of more than four segments. A domestic award cannot be more than three segments. These rules apply to one-ways, so roundtrips can have twice as many segments. 
1. No Stopovers

The length of your connection is the time from the scheduled landing of your previous flight to the scheduled take off of your next flight.

On domestic awards, no connection can exceed four hours.

On international awards, no connection can exceed 24 hours. On international awards, your connections within the United States can be up to 24 hours.

Allowed

  • Chicago to New York (23 hour connection)
  • New York to Berlin (23 hour connection)
  • Berlin to Madrid (destination)

This award would price out on the partner award chart as a single award between North America and Europe.

Not Allowed

  • Chicago to New York (2 hour connection)
  • New York to Berlin (3 day stopover)
  • Berlin to Madrid (destination)

By “Not Allowed,” I just mean you can’t book the second trip as one American Airlines award. You could book it as two awards: Chicago to Berlin and Berlin to Madrid.

So what if you only have American Airlines miles, and you want to book a stopover on a roundtrip? Think about your trip as having three awards to two destinations.

In the example above, Chicago to Berlin is one award, Berlin to Madrid is another, and Madrid to Chicago is the third.

(In practice, Berlin to Madrid would be a poor-value American Airlines awards, so you’d want to book it with Avios or cash.)

2. Published Fare Rule

This is quite a unique rule: the airline that connects the two regions on your award must “publish a fare” from your origin to your destination.

“Publishing a fare” is a term of art. It does not necessarily mean the airline flies from your origin to your destination, just that they’ve “published a fare” for that origin and destination pair.

Example

You want to fly Melbourne to Los Angeles to New York to Baltimore. You found award space from Melbourne to Los Angeles on Qantas and on the last two legs on American Airlines. All your connections are under 24 hours.

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 10.25.01 PM

Qantas is the region-connecting carrier because it flies the South Pacific-to-North America flight. Your origin is Melbourne and destination is Baltimore. Qantas must publish a fare from Melbourne to Baltimore for these flights to price as one award. Otherwise the trip will be split into two awards: Melbourne to New York and New York to Baltimore.

The easiest way to check whether an airline publishes a fare is to use the paid service Expert Flyer.

To see whether an airline has a published fare for an origin/destination city pair, once signed into Expert Flyer, click Fare Information.

Fill out the form with your origin and destination city pair, pick a random date next month, and type in the airline you are checking.

After clicking search, hone in on the Airline column on the results page. You need to find at least one fare listed as being published by the two letter code of the airline you searched (Qantas = QF). (List of two letter codes.)

This search showed that Qantas does publish a fare from Melbourne to Baltimore though it most certainly doesn’t fly to Baltimore. That means the trip follows the published fare rule and as long as all the other rules are followed, it can be booked as one award from the South Pacific to North America.

Qantas is very good about publishing fares to obscure airports where it doesn’t fly, where even American Airlines doesn’t fly, like Roanoke, Virginia. Some AA partners aren’t so good. Etihad doesn’t publish fares to very many American cities, so to fly Etihad’s amazing First Class, you often need to book one award to a city where Etihad flies and then book the rest of the trip as a second award, increasing the miles price of your trip.

By the way, “YY” does not count as a published fare for any airline according to this rule.

3. Maximum Permitted Mileage

Your trip must not exceed the Maximum Permitted Mileage for your origin and destination by more than 25% as flown.

Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) is another term of art. It is a number of miles that the airline puts on all city pairs for which it publishes a fare. MPM is not the direct distance between two cities; it is often a much larger number.

Again, I search MPM on Expert Flyer.

Example

Say you want to try this routing: Los Angeles to Boston to Tokyo to Taipei

Screen Shot 2015-01-16 at 10.25.18 PM

First I would head to Expert Flyer, and I would look up the MPM for Los Angeles to Taipei on the Fare Information screen.

The results look like this. Click one of the icons in the I highlighted here with the yellow rectangle, on the right side of the screen.

This takes you to the fare information, which lists the MPM.

Los Angeles to Taipei 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.)

Multiply the MPM by 1.25, since we can exceed the MPM by 25% on American Airlines awards. That gets us to 10,171 miles, the maximum number of miles an American Airlines award from Los Angeles to Taipei can fly.

Go to Great Circle Mapper and check the distance of our putative routing including all connections. LAX-BOS-NRT-TPE is 10,669 miles, which exceeds the allowable 10,171, so this is not a valid routing.

The trip would break into two awards. Los Angeles to Boston plus Boston to Taipei, so it would cost more miles than if it were one valid award.

4. Region Transit Rule

Awards between Region A and Region B cannot transit Region C unless specifically allowed.

You need to fly directly from your region of origin to your region of destination without transiting any other regions– with a few exceptions.

Say you want to fly from New York to Melbourne. Your award can only include connections in North America and South Pacific, the regions of the origin and destination. It cannot connect in other regions like Asia 1 or Asia 2 (unless those regions are specified by American Airlines as allowable exceptions, and between North America and South Pacific, there are no exceptions; you have to fly direct.)

Here is a list of exception regions you can transit from the wiki in this flyertalk thread titled “oneworld other airlines award rules, information 2015 and on” which is almost complete.

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(click to enlarge)

The abbreviation QR stands for Qatar Airways.

And recently, American Airlines added the exception that you can transit Hong Kong flying between North American and the Indian Subcontinent. You can only fly Cathay Pacific or American Airlines to Hong Kong and only Cathay Pacific, SriLankan and Jet Airways between Hong Kong and the Indian Subcontinent when doing so.

You can see that there are very few exceptions, and some popular itineraries with other types of miles are not possible on a single American Airlines award:

  • As I mentioned, you cannot transit Asia between North America and South Pacific. Your trip would break into two awards: North America to Asia 1 or 2 and Asia 1 or 2 to South Pacific.
  • You cannot transit East Asia (Asia 1 and 2) between North America and the Middle East. Your trip would break into two awards: North America to Asia 1 or 2 and Asia 1 or 2 to the Middle East
  • You cannot transit Central / South America Zone 1 between North America and South America Zone 2. Your trip would break into two awards: North America to South America Zone 1 and South America Zone 1 to South America Zone 2.
  • And of course forget about transiting South America on your way to Australia or something fun like that!

Segment Limitation

An international award cannot consist of more than four segments. A domestic award cannot be more than three segments. These rules apply to one-ways, so roundtrips can have twice as many segments.

For example, the following is a legal award: Norfolk > Charlotte > Dallas > Bogotá > Lima.

But Norfolk > Charlotte > Dallas > Bogotá > Lima > Cuzco is not, because it contains five segments.

If you wanted to fly Norfolk > Charlotte > Dallas > Bogotá > Lima > Cuzco, you’d need to break off either the Norfolk > Charlotte segment or the Lima > Cuzco segment and pay for it as a separate award. It would be wiser to break off Norfolk > Charlotte as you’d spend 7.5k AAdvantage miles for that versus 10k for Lima > Cuzco.

Follow all the rules?

If you’ve followed all four rules, your trip should price as one award. Otherwise it will price as 2+ awards. How will your awards price?

  • Every segment needs to be MileSAAver or partner for the award to price at the MileSAAver/partner price.
  • If you have 1+ segment in First Class, that entire one way award prices at the First Class price.
  • If you have no First Class and 1+ segment in Business Class, the award prices at the Business Class price. American Airlines considers American Airlines and Alaska Airlines domestic First Class to be Business Class (except on AA’s JFK-LAX and JFK-SFO services.)

Any questions?

Ways to Quickly Accrue AAdvantage Miles

  • For a limited time, the Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard is offering 75,000 bonus American Airlines miles for spending $7,500 within three months of opening the card
  • The Barclaycard AAdvantage Aviator Red World Elite MasterCard is offering 50,000 bonus American Airlines miles after just one purchase and paying the annual fee of $95.

Citi also issue personal and business AAdvantage co-branded credit cards, but the sign up offers on both at the moment aren’t that great compared to what we’ve seen in the past. They both currently offer 30,000 miles for spending $1,000 on each card in three months. I would wait on one of those cards, as their sign up offers fluctuate.

Read Issuing Bank Rules for Approvals and New Bonuses before signing up for cards to plan your AAdvantage mileage accrual strategy.

Credit card links have been removed from posts and added to the menu bar at the top of every page of MileValue under the heading Top Travel Credit Cards.

Bottom Line

Knowing and understanding AAdvantage award rules will help you maximize your American Airlines miles. Bookmark this page for the next time you’re trying to piece together an advanced award.

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