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Maximizing International Gateway Stopovers on American Airlines Awards

by on January 27, 2014 · 26 comments

in American Airlines

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With imminent United and Delta award chart devaluations, American Airlines and its merger partner US Airways are looking like better and better options when it comes to booking mileage awards – at least while their award charts remain as they are now with sweet spots like American’s Off-Peak awards to South America and Europe, and US Airways business class awards like 90,000 miles to North Asia and 110,000 miles to South Africa or the South Pacific.

However, one of the most often-overlooked ways to maximize American Airlines awards is to take advantage of the rules on international travel that allow you to make a stopover in the North American international gateway city from which the international portion of your itinerary departs, or where it arrives. With a little creative planning, that means you can essentially add on another free award flight within North America (which is more than just the continental US).

Why not add on another flight as part of your award?

Why not add on another flight as part of your award?

Per American Airlines, 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 on the way to/from Tokyo. The great thing about American’s rules is that the airline allows stopovers on one-way awards, giving you an extra layer of flexibility.

Now, chances are if you’re going from Tokyo to Chicago via Los Angeles as in the example above, you probably don’t have a huge amount of extra time to spend in LA – or you might not even be interested in a stopover. Where this gets interesting, however, is if you are already in a hub like Los Angeles, then you can just add on an extra flight to Chicago (or wherever) at a later date as long as you book it at the same time, then you can change it later on depending on when you actually want to fly. American will let you change the dates as long as the origin and destination remain the same.

Thinking beyond just the continental US, though, on these awards, American also counts Alaska, Hawaii, Canada and the Caribbean as North America when traveling to/from other regions like Europe, Asia and the Middle East, so you can also add on flights to those destinations (note, when you originate in the US and travel to these other North American locations, they are classified as a separate region). This allows is the ability to build in free trips to Hawaii or the Caribbean.

For example, if you wanted to fly from New York JFK-London-JFK, that award 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.

So now for a few of the rules on these stopovers. There is no maximum length of stay stated, but all award travel on a single itinerary must be completed within a year of the date an award ticket is issued, so just keep that in mind.

Use the Oneworld route map to determine which hubs you can take advantage of.

Use the Oneworld route map to determine which hubs you can take advantage of.

You can check out the Oneworld route map to find out which airlines fly out of which international gateways in North America and plan your route and connections accordingly.

Also, just because your desired stopover city is an international gateway from which flights to your destination are available doesn’t mean you can plan a stopover there. Your route must fall within the maximum permitted mileage – which is generally 25% over the direct routing mileage. So, for instance, you can’t usually fly from New York to Los Angeles then to London from there. It has to make sense and follow the Oneworld route map.

Los Angeles to New York…Plus Oman

I recently took advantage of these routing rules on my return trip from Los Angeles to New York. I wanted to try out American’s new A321 First Class cabin and easily found award space on my travel dates last week. The award ticket for the one-way first class flight would have cost me 32,500 miles by itself.

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 4.02.41 PM

However, I have also been toying around with the idea of flying to the Middle East this spring to check out Qatar and Oman thanks to Qatar Airways’ entrance into Oneworld and the ability to redeem American miles for flights on the airline. I did a quick search for dates later this spring and found some first class award availability in April (I used britishairways.com to find Qatar award space and then called AA to book).

I found dates pretty quickly and called in to book the entire award with a Muscat leg that the AA rep was able to see, ending up with the following itinerary:

Screen Shot 2014-01-24 at 2.04.29 PMAll in first class including my LAX-JFK leg. I’m not thrilled about the London leg on American (though it’s onboard one of the new 777-300′s), so I’ll try to change that at a later date.

The total cost of this ticket ended up being 90,000 miles per the partner airlines chart – including the portion of the ticket from LAX-JFK that would have been 32,500 on its own. That means for an extra 57,500, I was getting a first class ticket to the Middle East – which would have cost 90,000 to book separately if I hadn’t thought ahead. Granted, I’ll probably have to change my dates and hope award availability opens up later on, but with my schedule flexibility, I am definitely going to be able to use this award at some point within the permitted window and I ended up saving myself a ton of miles.

This workaround isn’t for everyone – after all, it basically amounts to speculatively booking an extra award in the future that you’ll have to stay on top of with dates and award availability, but saving tends of thousands of miles can definitely be worth the extra time if you’re willing to put in the effort and be a little flexible.

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  • Jason Arroyo

    If you can’t book a reservation through AA’s website (like the itinerary you posted to the Middle East), do the telephone reps with American waive your telephone booking fee of $25?

  • r0m8470

    TPG – so the gist is if we’re flying on long haul for example:

    - DFW to SIN
    - SIN to DFW
    - then I can add another leg – for example:

    one way DFW to HNL (say 3 months after my arrival at DFW from SIN) – then I would end up with 1 way ‘free’ leg to Hawaii?

    Itinerary like above would cost the same number of miles vs the one without the DFW to HNL leg?

  • Shawn

    I’m in Houston. I tried Madrid-Dallas-Hawaii and that worked. How do I add Carribean? Would it take the place of Hawaii? This seems to only work when you’re coming back from overseas. Originating from US seems complicated. I don’t suppose Dallas-Carribean-Europe would work?

  • Chris

    Just curious…what’s wrong with F on a 77W? I heard it was pretty good.

  • Jonathan

    Hi Brian, using the HNL-DFW-JFK (stop), JFK-LHR example, can you describe in greater detail what this online search might look like? Thanks!

  • RNP

    Hello

    I tried to book award from DFW-SGN but couldn’t do on AA website. Can I book a stopover over the phone? Please advise

  • Pazpeaceman

    Im a bit confused on this one. If you added the lax-jfk at the beginning, how do you plan to get to lax? Also isn’t the date change fee only waived for plats and explats?

  • Diamond Vargas

    Book a separate one-way ticket to LAX.

  • alkotik

    The problem is that if you take the first leg of this kind of itinerary then you can not cancel the rest of it without loosing all your miles and you can not insure it either.

  • Narayana

    TPG – If I have a one way ticket from lets say BOM to IAD with BA and then can I take a one way to HNL or the carribbean on the same ticket? Also can I add the free one way leg after the initial ticketing? Would there be a change fee?

  • thepointsguy

    Depends – you can always ask and I’ve gotten nice reps who will do it, but they’re not required to.

  • thepointsguy

    Yes, as long as it makes sense according to OW’s routing. If you change after the initial ticketing, you’ll pay a change fee.

  • thepointsguy

    I was already in LA and using miles to get back to NYC, so I just added on the international segment. If your origin and destination remain the same, you’re only charged $75 if your new itinerary begins within 21 days – and that’s waived for all AA elites using miles from their own account.

  • thepointsguy

    Use the Multi-City search on AA.com if all your legs are on AA and just put in your cities and dates.

  • thepointsguy

    That should be do-able, it will depend on the mileage flown from DFW-HNL, but that should be an okay routing.

  • Pazpeaceman

    Thanks for the clarification, TPG. However, aren’t DL’s and UA’s rules better since they allow a stopover anywhere, not just your gateway city?

  • Lauren Adkisson

    how do you find award space on LAN flights? I tried britishairways.com but CUN to SCL never comes up with any availability for any date I try. Do I need to check the box somewhere to search partner airlines? How do I know if I can get economy saaver award from the ba site? Are avios equivalent to aadvantage miles?

  • Kevin

    I learned it from TPG and it is my best way t use miles. I live in Miami. I know this year I wanted one vacation trip to Barcelona, and at least two trips to Bogota where I am exploring some business opportunities. During the year, I like to or need to travel to SFO and NYC. So I have upcoming a Round Trip to NYC next week, followed by a trip to Bogota. Individually, they would have been 25k for NYC and 15k for Bogota (one way). Instead, I am paying 27.5k, a savings of 12.5 miles. For the return, I am flying MIA BCN RT with an extra leg to SFO in late May for 40K, another savings of 15k . Then I am adding a Bogota Trip for 30K, starting in SFO, stopping in Miami for a month, then on to Bogota and back to Miami, saving another 12.5. That’s a 40k savings.

    I’ll work out the rest later, but once you start this, you see how simple it can be. I’d recommend a spreadsheet.

  • Kevin

    Sorry bad edit. My first return from Bogota is a BOG-MIA-JFK (two months later. 15k.

  • Abhinav Gautam

    Traveling to anywhere outside of North America counts for the stopover, even South America?

    And does the stopover/gateway city have to be in the US? Can you for example do MIA-KIN-LGW? So stopover in Kingston before heading to London.

  • David

    Im uber confused about the AA Intl Gateway stopover. If I may, Im flying outbound SFO – TLV return TLV – SFO, both via Amman on Royal Jordanian. I’d like to make a stop in Istanbul. What options do I have with Intl Gateway stopover?

  • George Lass

    This sounds awesome! But I’m a little confused. If I am in Los Angeles, how do I book a trip to Tokyo with a stopover in Hawaii?

  • AnotheRace

    TPG, I have a question. I want to go from LHR to CHA via BOS to stop there for a few days. But when I called AA today, they said Boston isn’t a gateway city. I asked, Which cities are? and was put on hold for so long that I had to eventually hang up. I figured out how to book online using AA’s “Refine Your Search” link but it still is charging me the extra 12.5K miles for the stopover.

    I tried it using JFK instead of BOS but instead of getting the dashes, it still shows the miles needed (12.5K). Please let me know what to do. Thanks!

  • Beatrice

    With no warning AA discontinued the free stopover from Us gateway on April 8.
    You can no longer book an international ticket with a free stopover if the stopover I’d going to be 24 hours or more.
    I was booking a return trip in October 2014 Paris New York Dallas with a stopover in New York. This used to be 20 000 miles but is now 32 500 miles at the saver award level.
    I am questioning wether an airline can suddenly drop this kind of benefit with no advance warning.

  • Beatrice

    I just posted on the subject as AA abruptly and with no warning dropped the free stopover at gateway city as of April 8

  • Shelley

    I noticed the same thing. I guess someone finally figured out the glitch in the system, and boom… we’ll have to get creative again.

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