The Trick If You Don’t Live at an International Gateway City

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With my recent posts about flying to Europe all year round for 20,000 American Airlines miles or flying to South American for negative 7,500 miles, there’s one problem for a lot of people.

Using both tricks requires taking a stopover on an American Airlines award. In The Five Cardinal Rules of American Airlines Awards, I said:

Stopovers must occur at the North American International Gateway City. The North American International Gateway City is the last North American city you transit on awards leaving 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 North American International Gateway Cities of all AA partners, see the list I compiled.

Example: On the itinerary Melbourne to Sydney to Honolulu to Los Angeles to New York, the North American 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.

So what if you don’t live at a North American International Gateway City? Can you still take advantage of my tricks? Yes!

This post will be about using a combination of American Airlines miles and British Airways Avios to greatly increase the number of cities where you can enjoy an almost free stopover on an AA award.

By pairing Avios with our AAdvantage miles, we can greatly the number of cities where we can stopover for a small amount of extra miles. Here’s how:We’ll book two awards. The first will be the main international award with AA miles. We must choose an international gateway city near the city where we want to stopover. We must also ensure that there is a direct AA flight between the international gateway city and the desired stopover city.

If that sounds complicated, it really isn’t, and an example should clarify.

Example of an almost free stopover: Imagine I live in Tampa and want to book a oneway award from Los Angeles to Tampa with AA miles.

This award costs 25,000 miles in business. North America to Uruguay costs 50,000 miles each way in business. If only Tampa were an international gateway city, I could add on Tampa to Montevideo for 25,000 miles in business using the technique I explored recently.

But since Tampa is not an international gateway city, it looks like I’m out of luck. Except that Miami is very close to Tampa and is a city with a direct AA flight to Montevideo.

What if I book a separate Avios award MIA-TPA-MIA? For 9,000 Avios, I’ve added a stopover in Tampa. Here’s how the flights would look with some example dates:

April 16: LAX-MIA <— business, part of AAdvantage award

April 16: MIA-TPA <— economy, award for 4,500 Avios

 

April 24: TPA-MIA <— economy, award for 4,500 Avios

April: MIA-MVD <— business, part of AAdvantage award

 

To recap this example: I would book two awards.

  1. A oneway from LAX to Montevideo with a free stopover in Miami.
  2. A roundtrip Avios award on AA planes from Miami to Tampa.

Even though I booked LAX to Montevideo and Miami to Tampa roundtrip, my flights turned out to be LAX to Tampa then Tampa to Montevideo. What are the benefits to booking this way? Lower cost.

An LAX to Montevideo business class award would cost 50k AA miles, so adding in a stopover on a business class award would cost 50k AA miles, 9k Avios, and small taxes. If instead, I booked the awards LAX to Tampa and Tampa to Montevideo in business class that would have cost 75k AA miles and about the same taxes.

So combining this trick with an AA premium cabin award results in huge savings. In my example, the savings would be 25k AA miles for the cost of 9k Avios. According to my valuation of those miles, using this AA-plus-Avios trick, we would save $289.50 worth of miles.

How would I actually exploit this trick in practice? It’s important to make sure that both awards–the AA award and complementary Avois award–are booked so we aren’t left with a stopover we don’t want or an Avios roundtrip we can’t use.

So the first thing I would do is search for the AA award with the appropriate stopover. If you are flying AA, Hawaiian Airlines, British Airways, Qantas, airberlin, Finnair, or Alaska Airlines, you can search for the award on aa.com, and it will even price correctly with the stopover. (If you don’t know how to book a free stopover online on an AA award, see this post.)

To continue the example from earlier, I would search for LAX-MIA//MIA-MVD on aa.com. But after searching and selecting my itinerary, I wouldn’t purchase it. Instead I would select AAdvantage Hold on the screen that asks if you want to purchase the itinerary. This reserves the itinerary for five days and generates a record locator.

Now we can go ticket the Avios itinerary. If you don’t know how to book AA flights on ba.com, here is an example of my booking such an award on ba.com. This booking is a snap. I just need to find a flight from MIA-TPA that minimized my layover in Miami, and a return TPA-MIA that minimizes my layover in Miami. Here is such an itinerary.

I’ll splice the images to make it easier to see how these two awards combine into the two journeys we want, LAX-TPA and TPA-MVD. Note the reasonable layovers of 1:40 in Miami en route to Tampa and 2:00 en Miami en route to Montevideo.

With the BA award ticketed, I would sign back into AA and ticket the reserved AA award.

The best part of this trick is that oneworld airlines, like AA and BA, have a policy of taking responsibility to get you to your final oneworld destination even if your flights are on multiple tickets. In plain English, that means that if your first flight LAX-MIA is delayed, so you miss MIA-TPA, AA won’t say, “Tough luck, MIA-TPA was a separate ticket. We’re not responsible for your missing that.” Instead they’ll treat you the same as any passenger on an LAX-MIA-TPA connecting ticket. That is, they’ll get you a seat on the next MIA-TPA flight.

So this trick can be a real mile saver, and a mile saved is a mile earned. Astute readers probably see the possibility to get even more value out of this trick by booking an almost free oneway. How does 9,000 Avios for a oneway first class ticket to Hawaii sound?

The steps are:

  1. Book an international AA award with its North American international gateway city at an airport near your home airport, and a free oneway from that airport to your desired free-oneway destination.
  2. Book a direct AA flight roundtrip from the international gateway city to your home airport with Avios.
  3. Fly the two itineraries. Origin to your home airport, home airport to the destination of the free oneway.

 

Example of an almost free oneway: Alyse lives in Pittsburgh, PA and has a stash of AA miles. She wants to take her honeymoon to Spain. She’s heard about AA’s free oneways and wants to tack a free oneway to Hawaii onto her award. But Pittsburgh is not an international gateway city. Once Alyse learns about this AA and Avios combination trick, an almost free oneway is within her grasp. Here’s how:

Alyse sees that JFK is a nearby international gateway city with direct AA flights to Barcelona. And she notes that AA has a direct flight between Pittsburgh and JFK. Alyse would book two awards, with sample dates:

AA award, 50,000 miles, free oneway to Hawaii after the main trip:

March 15, 2013: AA business Barcelona-JFK

September 15, 2013: Hawaiian Airlines first JFK-Honolulu

BA award, 9,000 Avios:

March 15, 2013: AA coach JFK-PIT

September 15, 2013: AA coach PIT-JFK

Those are the awards Alyse would book, but this is what she would actually fly:

March 15, 2013: Barcelona to Pittsburgh

September 15, 2013: Pittsburgh to Maui

If Alyse didn’t know this trick, she would have booked Barcelona to Pittsburgh in business class for 50,000 AA miles and been bummed that she missed out on the free oneway fun. But with this trick Alyse can book Barcelona to Pittsburgh in business class and Pittsburgh to Honolulu in first class for 50,000 AA miles and 9,000 Avios. So Alyse would be adding a first class journey from Pittsburgh to Honolulu for only 9,000 Avios! That’s an incredible deal.

To get the most out of this deal, you must live close to an international gateway airport, so that a roundtrip is only 9,000 Avios. And you should book a premium cabin award with your AA miles. Why? 9,000 Avios for a oneway to Hawaii in coach is good, but 9,000 Avios to Hawaii in first class is better.

Your almost-free oneway can go anywhere in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or the USA, subject to the five rules that govern any AA award.

Recap

I’ve written about a lot of great ways to get maximum value out of your American Airlines awards recently. All of them require you to live at an international gateway city to take a stopover there. If you don’t live at one, you can use Avios to get you to one for as little as 9,000 Avios roundtrip. That means the tricks are open to practically anyone, in only a slightly less valuable form, as long as you have a few Avios.


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16 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Scott, There are 4 of flying, so I always have to use economy (and I’m points poor). I just checked MIA>LIM for the summer and there are no cheap award tickets. Is this usually the case for Peru?

    • September 3 has four seats MIA-LIM. but other than that, I don’t even see two seats on the same flight. I didn’t check LAN space though. Have you checked that?

  2. I’m so glad u said this: The best part of this trick is that oneworld airlines, like AA and BA, have a policy of taking responsibility to get you to your final oneworld destination even if your flights are on multiple tickets.
    .
    That was nagging at me while I was reading this post. Without that clause, you could run into a few big issues.

  3. Fabulous post! Great explanation, examples and screenshots. Thanks for being so generous with your knowledge and enabling us to live our dream trips.

  4. “But with this trick Alyse can book Barcelona to Pittsburgh in business class and Pittsburgh to Honolulu in first class for 50,000 AA miles and 9,000 Avios.”

    Actually, it’d be BCN-JFK in J, JFK-PIT in Y, and PIT-JFK in Y and JFK-HNL in F.

  5. What if BA doesn’t have award flights for let’s say April 26 with avios to any given city but AA does show award flights for those days?

  6. Terrific info as always as I follow your post religiously MV !!

    1. I read into some of the “finer prints” of your posts. The legs on 9000 AVIOs you said should be “..We must also ensure that there is a direct AA flight between the international gateway city and the desired stopover city….” My guess is that if the city I live in is not directly connectable, then Avios will cost more than 9000 pts, is this the right logics?
    2. Also, in the Alyse example to BCN yo used, obviously she’d need another leg on AVIOs (4500 pts) or buy a one way for PIT-JFK and then another AA one-way JFK-BCN to start the trip, since she lives in Pittsburgh correct?

    Jeff

    • Yes, every segment increases the price of an Avios award, so if it takes two segments to get there, it will be at least 9,000 one way and 18,000 roundtrip.

      That’s oneway to get to Barcelona. Or she could book a oneway award PIT-BCN with AA or United miles. Or she can buy a cash ticket. She has a lot of options.

  7. I’m new to AA, so I’ve been reading lots of articles to learn. They are very informative, thank you.

    I have 3 questions, hoping that you can help me:

    1. When you mention “North American gateway city” – do you mean American Airline’s gateway city only or any partner airline’s?? For example, I live in Houston, which is a gateway city of British Air. So if I book with AA, Houston wouldn’t be counted as gateway city??!!

    2. Relating to the gateway city above, let’s say I’ll be flying back from Asia to Houston, and then to Chicago a few months later. I would somehow book a trip from Asia – ORD, with a long stopover in IAH?? For example, Japan airline has a direct flight from NRT to IAH I think… so for this case, would I be able to book to fly with Japan air:
    SGN – NRT – IAH (long stopover) – ORD ??

    3. The end of this year (off peak) I would like to book a flight from Houston to Asia (namely, SGN Vietnam or Phuket Thailand), with a free stopover in Hawaii. How do you suggest I should book to get the best out of my mileage?

    For example, I looked up Japan air an Cathay Pacific for flights from IAH – SGN, and they either stop at ORD or LAX. So it seems I am only allow free stopover at those 2 cities?? How can I book so I can have a free layover in Hawaii?

    I was hoping for:

    depart: IAH – HNL (stopover) – SGN
    (maybe no direct flight to HNL or SGN, so route should be: IAH – LAX – HNL (stopover) – some other city because no direct flight – SGN)

    return: SGN – IAH (stopover) – ORD
    (route should be: SGN – NRT – IAH (stopover) – ORD)

    Much appreciation! 🙂

  8. This is great, but for others that live in Denver we’re kind of screwed since we aren’t close to any int’l gateway cities to take advantage of the cheap Avios redemptions on AA.

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