The Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards


There are five cardinal rules of American Airlines award tickets that I wanted to put together in one place for reference. All AA awards must comply with these rules and several other minor ones.

You should consult this post when planning an AA award, especially if you are trying to add a stopover or free oneway.

1. Stopovers are not allowed on American Airlines awards.

All connections on purely domestic itineraries must be less than four hours. All connections on international awards must be less than 24 hours.

2. Each of the two directions-outbound and return–must not exceed AA’s Maximum Permitted Mileage for your origin and destination by more than 25% as flown.

This is not as complicated as that sentence makes it seem. Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) is a 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 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. Here’s how to do it on Expert Flyer.

Example: Say you want to try this routing, LAX-BOS-NRT-TPE, from Los Angeles to Taipei.

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 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.

That means that AA would break this into two awards–LAX-BOS and BOS-TPE–and you’d have to pay more.

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

This is a rule that trips up a lot of otherwise awesome awards. It’s frustrating, and it’s not clear why the rule exists, but you have to know it.

Example: You want to fly MEL-LAX-JFK-BWI and will fly on Qantas from MEL-LAX. That means Qantas–the region connecting carrier–has to have a published fare from MEL-BWI for the routing to be valid.

How do you figure out if there is a published fare between a city pair? I check on Expert Flyer. Here’s how. Another free, roughly accurate, way is to see if you can book a ticket between the city pair on the operating airline’s website or kayak.

Or you can just see if you can have it price as one award over the phone. If you can, you have a legal routing and stopover.

4. All award travel must be completed within one year of its booking.

You can change your award to a later flight as many times as you want, subject to the fact that all travel must be completed within one year of the ticket’s issue.

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

Most airlines let you route however you’d like as long as you don’t exceed MPM. But not American Airlines. If you want to go from the USA to Australia, you can’t transit another region, say Asia, no matter what.

Another annoying one is not being able to transit the Middle East en route from USA to Africa. That makes it impossible to use Etihad.

Here is a list of regions you can transit from, which I believe is complete and accurate.

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  1. […] One way to get to Tahiti with American miles is on non-oneworld partner Air Tahiti Nui, French Polynesia’s international carrier. For getting to French Polynesia, Air Tahiti Nui’s only route of interest to us is Los Angeles to Tahiti. Air Tahiti Nui also flies to/from Tokyo, but you can’t route to the South Pacific via Asia on one AA award. See The Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards. […]

  2. […] Other problems include an unavoidable $25 fee per ticket for awards booked by phone even though the majority of partners can only be booked by phone. ( is adding partners at a nice clip including Finnair, airberlin, Qantas, and Hawaiian recently.) AA also has several routing rules whose only purpose seems to be to frustrate me. (See rules 3 and 5 in Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards.) […]

  3. I am trying to figure out a trip to Hong Kong or Beijing form DFW with a possible stopover in Honolulu preferable coming home for some R&R. Does the published fare have to be a direct flight? For example there is a published fare from DFW to Beijing but it goes through Chicago. I do not get the stopover without adding miles like I do when I experimented with Tokyo for which there is a direct flight from DFW. I will be using AA/Oneworld award miles.

    Thank You.

    • All that matters is that the overwater carrier has a published fare. You don’t have to route in the manner that the published fare does.

  4. Hi, I live in LA and was hoping to do a trip to both Hawaii and Europe next year, although as separate trips, while taking advantage of a “stopover”. I’ve managed to find availability on HNL-LAX-BCN-LAX-HNL on AA in coach for only 40k miles, but was wondering if I can now change the dates of the first and last legs so that I end up with a LAX-BCN-LAX flight and then a LAX-HNL-LAX. Will AA let me change the dates and the orders of the flight after booking them? Thanks for the help!

  5. Will AA allow switch an Etihad itin. ORD–>AUH–>BOM to a Royal Jordanian one, ORD–>AMM–>BOM?

    The origin / destination remain the same…but it’s an airline change…


  6. Hello, thank you for your valuable post. I have one question: I’m traveling oneway award from South pacific to Europe and wanted have connections in Asia1 and Asia2. Do you think this itinerary is valid? PPT-NRT-SIN-KUL-HKG-LHR.

  7. Hello, thank you for your valuable post. I have one question: I’m traveling oneway award from South pacific to Europe and wanted have connections in Asia1 and Asia2. Do you think this itinerary is valid? PPT-NRT-SIN-KUL-HKG-LHR.

  8. I had an advantage award on hold (SFO-ORD // ORD -HKG -KUL -DPS) on AA/CX/MH/MH. After some painful argument with the agent, they were finally able to verify through tariff that the routing is still within 1.25 of MPM. They then priced it as one award. I put a hold on the ticket and received a voicemail three days later. They informed me that the ticket got “kicked back” to two awards. I called this morning and asked what’s going on. Apparently, someone from the AAdvantage Liaison department is claiming it wasn’t a valid award pricing. There seems to be a publish through fare fro SFO to DPS on CX so I don’t really know what’s going on. I’m supposed to call back with an answer from the Liason department (the person in that department is currently out of the office).

    The agent called back and said she would go ahead and ticket the award. She took my info and assured me that the award would be ticketed. A few hours later I received a call from the “training desk”, telling me my award was invalid. I asked her why, and she mentioned that I am backtracking and this is not a valid routing. I then ask her when in the AAdvantage T&C restricts these sort of routing. She couldn’t find it but assured me that this is a rule. The fact that it is not in the T&C is irrelevant. This sounds fishy to me, and I’ll be asking for some legal advice regarding this but thought I’d ask you guys first. I’m inclined to skip the SFO routing and file SCC.

    What do you think? Am I in the wrong here? Thanks

    • I don’t know what an SCC is. I’ve fought hard through talking to get an award booked. I’ve never made it anything besides something between me and the airline though. They hold all the cards.

  9. Is this AA one way award for 35K miles allowed : ORD to Maui, stopover for 10 days, then HNL to Manila using JAL? If not, will this work: ORD to HNL ( purchase HNL to OGG roundtrip ) then HNL to Manila? How good or bad is the availability for this itinerary

  10. Hi Scott,

    I recently booked a trip with ITIN as follows:

    CX888 YVR to JFK on 8/26
    JL5 JFK to NRT on 8/27
    JL735 NRT to HKG on 8/28

    first leg from YVR to JRK is overnight….with the JFK – NRT flight leaving around 1pm…

    I was told it has be be priced at two awards with the YVR to JFK being a separate one way award because I am going to wrong direction, even tho the gateway city is New York. Is this right?

    • “Going the wrong direction” is not a rule that I know. Are you sure you are following the other rules, though?

  11. I’ll be booking an award ticket from SYD-DFW and would like to use the free one-way from DFW-ANC.

    I’ll be booking the SYD-DFW ~330 days out and won’t be using the one way until 6 months after the SYD-DFW flight.

    Have you had any experiences with the AA agents allowing the one-way to be added 6 months after booking the original award?


    • You can’t do that. All travel must be completed within one year of booking the award. Your free oneway would be 17 months after booking the award.

  12. I travel a lot between OGG and TUL. I recently found a 37.5K award for OGG – DFW- TUL in April but there was only one. I was hoping to get another for my spouse – to no avail. Called AA rez and asked for them to send off a request for addl allotment and it came back none avail. and so did the appeal.
    Not sure if I should book the one and hope for another later or not. Any advise? The non stops btwn OGG and DFW are getting really hard to come by lately. (usually they throw in the LAX connection and the 1st cl seats are not much better than coach)

  13. Question: Is this a valid itinerary on an AA award. Cathay Pacific roundtrip ORD to MNL then a free one way ORD to OGG 2 months later or ORD to OAK. Thank you.

  14. I am confused. I booked a 62,500 first class award ticket on AA from Miami to Washington Dulles , layover is 7 hours, then Dulles to London (LHR) in March 2014. Is there a way I can change the route to go to Hawaii in July 2014 using free one way stopover?


  15. Have you had success in delaying the free oneway with Delta, as you describe here? I’m looking to book a trip to Costa Rica with a Delta Award ticket, and would like to use the free oneway but it would need to be farther out than the 330 days. Basically, I’d like to do Costa Rica in Feb ’15, and then go to Denver on a free oneway later in say October ’15.


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