Maximizing Stopovers, Transfers and Open Jaw Ticketing on American Airlines Awards

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This is the fourth installment in the series. See also DeltaBritish Airways and US Airways. To come: Continental, United and Air Canada.

American Airlines was the first US legacy carrier to institute one-way awards and when that happened, they greatly scaled back the flexibility of awards when it came to stopovers. As the saying goes, as one hand giveth the other hand taketh away, which is often what happens when airlines and hotels “enhance” their programs. However, you can still build some pretty valuable awards using your hard-earned AA miles, but you need to understand the rules first.

The basics :
AA has three types of awards (AA award homepage)
1) All AA awards (Chart) Eligible for travel only on American Airlines flights (including AmericanEagle and American Connection partners)

2) All partner awards (Chart) which can be used for travel on a combination of America, Oneworld and Other Airline partners.
One world partners: British Airways (including affiliates like Cityflyer), Cathay Pacific (including DragonAir), FinnAir, Iberia, LAN (Incl. Peru, Ecuador and Argentina affiliates), Qantas (including JetConnect and QantasLink), Japan Airlines, Malev, Royal Jordanian, Mexicana (which currently has operations suspended) and S7.
Other Partners: Air Pacific, Air Tahiti Nui, Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air, Etihad, EL AL, GOL, Gulf Air, Hawaiian Airlines, Jet Airways and Cape Air

3) Oneworld awards (Chart). Must include at least two of the following airlines:  British Airways (including affiliates like Cityflyer), Cathay Pacific (including DragonAir), FinnAir, Iberia, LAN (Incl. Peru, Ecuador and Argentina affiliates), Qantas (including JetConnect and QantasLink), Japan Airlines, Malev, Royal Jordanian, Mexicana (which currently has operations suspended) and S7.

Note: Only AA awards can be booked online. All other awards must be booked over the phone, which will incur a $25 phone ticketing fee. To check Oneworld award availability, you can use a mix of BritishAirways.com (which has been very buggy lately), Qantas.com.au, Award Nexus, KVS Tool and ExpertFlyer.

AA Award Rules:
Transfers: A transfer is less than 4 hours in a city for domestic awards and 24 hours international. If you take the last flight into a city and then next available connection isn’t until the following morning, then it will not count as a stopover as long as the total connection time is less than 24 hours.
Stopovers:
Domestic awards: None
International awards:  A stopover is allowed at the North American gateway. For example, if you fly Atlanta-Miami-Lima you can stop in Miami for a week (or however long you want).

All Partner Award Rules:
Transfers: A transfer is less than 4 hours in a city for domestic awards and 24 hours international. If you take the last flight into a city and then next available connection isn’t until the following morning, then it will not count as a stopover as long as the total connection time is less than 24 hours.
Stopovers allowed:
Domestic awards: None
International awards:  A stopover is allowed at the North American gateway (the city you fly in/out of). For example, if you fly Tokyo-Los Angeles-Chicago , you can stop in Los Angeles.

While most people don’t want to stop in a US city on an international trip, what this allows is the ability to build in free trips to Hawaii or the Caribbean. Per the AA award chart Hawaii and the Caribbean are a separate region when you originate in North America and travel to those locations, however, when traveling to and from Europe, Hawaii/Caribbean are lumped into North America. Per the AA award chart, when traveling internationally North America is defined as the “U.S. (including Hawaii and Alaska), Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, The Bahamas, and the Caribbean.”  For example, lets say you want to fly JFK-London-JFK. That award on AA will cost you 60,000 miles in coach roundtrip (40,000 off-peak). However,  Honolulu to London also costs 60,000 miles and you can “stop” in JFK. So instead of JFK-LHR-JFK, you could book:
HNL-DFW-JFK (Stop), JFK-LHR
LHR-JFK (Stop)- DFW-HNL

Even if you don’t want to include a Hawaii trip, you can include transcontinental trips. So if you are traveling from Los Angeles to Tokyo roundtrip, why not add on JFK-LAX and LAX-JFK legs before and after your trip since you can use Los Angeles as your stopover city since it is the US gateway city?

Even if you don’t know when you’d use a future segment like LAX-JFK, American allows changes in dates on awards as long as the origin and destination points do not change. So you can book a dummy last leg and in a worst case scenario, you never use it. AA charges a $25 phone booking fee, but that’s absolutely worth it (in my mind) to add free flights in the future.

Oneworld awards

Oneworld awards are most useful for people planning Round the World itineraries. There is an incredibly useful thread on the topic on Flyertalk, which I recommend for anyone interested in one of these awards.

Stopovers/Transfers: Per AA, “Stopover is defined as more than 4 hours for domestic flights, and 6 hours for international flights. If there are no scheduled flights within this timeframe, regardless of availability, you must take the next scheduled flight but may not exceed 24 hours. If the connection exceeds 24 hours, it will be considered a stopover.”

In general, you can build in up to 16 segments. Generally each flight is one segment, so JFK-London-Amman-Tokyo-LAX-JFK would be 5 segments. However, if you fly into a city and then out of another like JFK-London, Paris-Amman-Tokyo-LAX-JFK would be 6 segments.

Open Jaw: One allowed, plus one at the origin/destination. For example, you can fly into one city and out of another during the trip (into London, out of Paris for example) and then also end at a different city than you started. For example, starting the trip in New York and ending in Los Angeles.

To calculate the total mileage of your trip, you do not count your connection cities. So if you were traveling from Pittsburgh to Paris, but had a connection in New York, you’d only count PIT-Paris miles- not PIT-JFK-Paris. This is nice because certain connections can add a lot of miles to your trip and if you plan your trip carefully, you can come in just under a certain mileage threshold. To find out the amount of miles between cities, you can use the Great Circle Mapper distance tool, though the ticketing agent will have the final say on the amount of miles for the trip.

If you need AA miles, as of today (June 30, 2011) the 75,000 AA mile Citi cards are still active, even though it doesn’t state it on the online application. This is a relatively 150,000 AA miles (if you get the Visa and Amex) so for more information check out this post.

Starwood points also transfer at a 1:1 ratio to AA and there’s the standard 5,000 mile bonus per each block of 20,000 Starwood points you transfer. You can get a Starwood Amex with a 25,000 point sign-up bonus (after 15k in spend within the first 6 months) and fee waived for the first year.

Currently, all points earned via credit cards, including sign-up bonuses, count towards Million Mile status, but it’s rumored that will change soon. Get in while the getting is good!

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