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Maximizing International Gateway Stopovers on American Airlines Awards: Two Award Tickets for the Price of One

by on April 7, 2014 · 65 comments

in American Airlines

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With recent United and Delta award chart devaluations, American Airlines and its mergerpartner US Airways are looking like better options than ever when it comes to booking 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 to North Asia (90,000 miles) and South Africa or the South Pacific (110,000 miles).

But what makes American’s awards in particular even better is the airline’s routing rules that allow you to build in a stopover at its North American gateway cities on international awards from which the international portion of your itinerary departs or arrives. That means that with some creative planning, you can pretty much add on another award flight within North America (which includes Canada, the Caribbean, Alaska and Hawaii in addition to the continental US) for free.

Why not tack on another destination?

Why not tack on another destination?

How To Do It

American Airlines allows a stopover at the North American gateway on international awards (the city you fly in/out of out of North America). For example, if you fly Shanghai-Los Angeles-Miami, you can stop in LA on the way to/from Shanghai. The airline also allows stopovers on one-way awards, giving you an extra layer of flexibility and the ability to build in more flights in both directions of your itinerary

Let’s be realistic about this, though. If you’re going from Shanghai to Miami 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. However, is if you are already based in a hub like Los Angeles and are just interested in flying from there anyway, then you can just add on that extra flight to Miami (or wherever else you wanted to go in North America) at a later date – as long as you book it at the same time as your international award. 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. So you’re pretty much adding on another free one-way ticket to your award, and AA is not going to charge you any more miles to do so – which can equate to huge value.

An added bonus-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 even though when you originate in the continental 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 on top of just flying around the US and Canada.

For another quick example, if you wanted to fly from New York JFK-Paris. That award will cost you 60,000 miles in coach roundtrip (40,000 Off-Peak). However, Honolulu to Paris also costs 60,000 miles and you can stopover in New York since JFK is the international gateway along your itinerary. So instead of JFK-CDG-JFK, you could book: HNL-LAX-JFK, build in your stopover for whatever time frame you want (within the rules I’ll get to below) and then continue to Paris for the main trip you were booking at the later date that you want. You’ve basically just built in a free trip from Honolulu to New York before that Paris trip for free, plus you can go back after the trip or to another North American city of your choice.

Speaking of rules, 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. Not only that, but American does impose certain limits on these – you can’t, for example, fly from LAX to JFK and stop there then fly to Sydney from there since you’d be going backwards and over the maximum permitted mileage of 25% over the direct route’s mileage. The itinerary has to make a bit of sense, but even within those parameters, there is a ton of room to play.

My Experience: Recife-MIA, MIA-Hawaii

I recently used this technique when flying from Recife, Brazil to Miami. The business class ticket for that route cost me 50,000 American miles and $35. However, with the international gateway stopover rule in mind, I was able to tack on a trip from Miami to Kauai for later in the year for just $5 more and no extra miles. So for 50,000 miles total I flew from Recife- Miami (stop for 11 months) and then from Miami to Los Angeles to Kauai- all for the same amount of miles if I would have just flown from Recife to Miami, plus $5 for the Hawaii legs.

I was pretty happy to get such a good deal on these flights (and hey, plan an unexpected Hawaiian getaway as well) – not bad for one half of the current sign-up bonus for the Citi Executive AAdvantage World Mastercard, which I was just approved for a second time. That leaves me the other 50,000 miles left.

Recife-Mia-Hawaii

I’ve already done the trip back from Miami to Recife, and I have the Kauai portion to look forward to next spring. Luckily, I can change the dates, so the Hawaii portion of the award is flexible, meaning I can change it later as long as I make sure to use the ticket within one year of my original trip from Recife to Miami and the origin and destination stay the same. Now, I will of course have to book a one-way back from Hawaii to Miami at a separate cost, but considering a one-way award ticket would have cost me 37,500 miles from Miami to Lihue in business class, I took advantage of a great opportunity to fly there for no extra miles! Then when I do go to book my return to Miami, you can bet that I’ll tack on an international itinerary at a later date to maximize these award routing rules again.

TPG Managing Editor Eric Rosen also used this trick to his advantage on another amazing redemption. He has to get back from New York to LA in July and was just checking out award prices on American. He found a business class award on the new A321T that flies JFK-LAX for 25,000 miles and $5. Eric loves Australia and apparently didn’t think the three weeks he spent there in February were enough, so he looked for dates later this year and found a few where there were business class awards on Qantas showing up on AA.com from LAX to both Sydney (on the A380) and Brisbane (on a 747) in November and December for 62.500 miles and $38 one way. Still not satisfied, he used AA.com to check on Qantas flights within Australia and found segments that would take him to a town in Western Australia called Broome where he can go out to snorkel Ningaloo Reef or explore the Outback of the Kimberley region.

He plugged in all the dates together and the entire itinerary, with the transcontinental flight in July and the one-way in Qantas business to Broome later this year, and the award priced out at a total of 62,500 miles and $43- not bad since New York- Los Angeles would have cost 25,000 miles if booked without the Australia legs.

Australia itinThat’s a pretty amazing value – but even more so considering that to get to Australia and then all the way across the continent in business class on Qantas, he’s paying just 37,500 more miles than he would have for the transcon business class award seat.

Give It A Try

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.

To read more about international gateway stopovers and my experiences with them, check out the following posts:

Maximizing Stopovers, Transfers And Open Jaw Ticketing

Maximizing International Gateway Stopovers

Top 10 Ways To Use American Airlines Miles

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Joe

    But doesn’t changing the date of another leg cost you? (Maybe not you, personally, but most folks on American, particularly booking at the SAVER off-peak)?

  • Mike

    No, date changes are free on AA awards.

  • T Silva

    New to the site (great site by the way). Been looking into this, but a bit confused. Is this how you did it?

    -Booked Your flight (all at once) from Recife – MIA – Hawaii as if Hawaii was your “home, last stop”?

    -Then you just changed the dates for the MIA-Hawaii flight?

  • FlyingJoey

    The Million Dollar question is… Is this something that I can book online or do I need to call it in?

  • KP

    i assume you have to fly the first leg first? for example, if i wanted to do: CDG -> JFK -> HNL … i couldn’t do the JFK to HNL leg first, right? and do the paris trip next year?

  • Peter

    I called mine in. We did a stopover in SFO for 3 days. I couldn’t get it to work online (maybe someone have done it?)

  • IKC

    I too cannot make this work online – is there a particular trick? I’m trying LAX-NYC-TYO and it’s pricing out at 75K for business class (vs. 50K) – I’m using multi-city search. Thanks!!!

  • gobigblue

    you have to do nyc->lax->tokyo (assuming tyo is tokyo)… the way you are doing it is breaking the rules that TPG mentioned above (the route has to make sense)

  • Mike

    This would work if you could book JAL online, but AA doesn’t currently fly NYC-TYO non-stop.

  • gobigblue

    can anyone answer this one? i have the same Question

  • T Silva

    So what he did was book Recife – MIA – Hawaii. And saved the last leg to Hawaii for a different date? Making sure that the connection is your home airport?

    So the 1st leg is in basically a one way trip back home, while the 2nd leg is from “home” to were ever you want to go later on. is that correct?

  • HMU

    what happens to the baggage? Doesn’t it need to be checked through all the way to your final destination?

  • CED

    Has anyone applied for the Citi Executive AA card recently/received the 100,000 mile offer? It appears to be over on the Citi website, but maybe TPG’s link is still good?

  • AnthonyOrner

    I love your work Brian and have been reading for almost as long as you’ve been writing here. And i may get attacked for saying this. However, i feel you have almost too popular of a blog to be sharing this information. or maybe it’s me selfishly not wanting this to be mainstream information in fear of it going away sooner than it normally would.

  • TSH

    I booked it online for my mom, LON-DFW then DFW-LAX 6 months later. Should work for any normal award besides on Cathay or something.

  • thepointsguy

    No.. if you’ve got a 6 month stopover they’ll just check it to your final destination on that day of travel.

  • thepointsguy

    Information is power and I’ll share what is best for my readers. I imagine a lot of these sweet spots will disappear once the US/AA frequent flyer programs combine, so I’m happy knowing people will be able to leverage them while they’re still available

  • thepointsguy

    What Mike said- you’ll need to call to book JAL awards since AA canceled JFK-Haneda

  • thepointsguy

    Correct

  • thepointsguy

    Yes you have to fly the first leg or else the whole trip gets canceled. You cannot fly segments out of order either- this takes some coordination and you will still need to buy/use miles to complete the trips on either end of your trip, but it can be worth it

  • thepointsguy

    You can book some online, but a lot of partner travel has to be done on the phone..so it all depends what airline you are flying

  • thepointsguy

    You can even do these on partners like Cathay

  • thepointsguy

    50k Business for Recife-Miami and then t was $5 additional and no more miles to add on Miami-LAX-HAwaii for later in the year in business

  • thepointsguy

    No- date changes with AA are free as long as origin/destination remain the same

  • Abby

    Can you please clarify on the 1 year rule – do they count 1 year from the start date of travel or from the date of ticket purchase? Let’s say I book today segments for January 2015 and March 2015. Can I later change the March leg to December 2015 when the availability opens up?

  • Refried Beans

    This is nothing new. It’s been talked about for the last year and a half on milevalue. When it comes to an end, we’ll just have to live with it. like VRs.

  • LAKnight

    TPG, I am still figuring out the logic on AA Stopover works. Let me ask you this way… Will the following routes work?
    1) LAX – HNL – (Any Airport in Asia, ex: ICN or HKG)
    2) LAX – (MIA or JFK) – LHR or Any Airport in Europe
    3) LAX – YVR – MEL

  • TSH

    Sorry, was referring to booking online. Assume you can’t with Cathay…

  • matthewD

    Can you give an example of how it would work if my home airport was a regional?

  • Ben

    I just did this over the phone. Barcelona > NYC (Stopover) > Detroit.

    It’s all via Iberia & AA. Iberia rewards don’t show up online so i had to pay the phone booking fee. $135 in fees! Well worth it :)

    Millionmiler has a posting that goes into this in more detail if anyone is curious

  • Ben

    I applied via this site and got my 100K points last month. I applied for a 2nd card and should be getting more points soon

  • Ben

    I don’t think you can. You have to be flying from a North America Gateway city.

  • r0m8470

    I am doing this – but end up with somewhat a funky routing.
    AUS-SAN on Southwest (with wife on CP .. yay!)

    AA portion:
    SAN-DFW on AA, the 1 night stopover
    DFW-LGA on AA
    then in July:
    JFK-ZRH

    to get back to Austin on Southwest with ISP-AUS (again, wife on CP)

    The AA portion took 20K per person, with $15 total cost, no fuel surcharge.

    Still have not bought the ticket back, vacillating btw Norwegian Long Haul, and IcelandAir. Neither has attractive FF program, but they’re cheap. We can fly to either BOS or JFK, spend the night, then fly back on SW with CP.

  • Sean

    Two quick questions Brian. To do this, do you use the “multi-city” tool on AA? Also to change a date on an international award ticket, you have to call in. Do they charge you the typical over the phone booking fee if it is AA Off-peak economy award? Thanks ;)

  • Guest

    (if doing this online) Anyone know, if you do this under Multi-City’ or oneway?

  • T Silva

    Had the same question, been looking at “multi-city” but they only have economy class. I guess you have to plan months ahead

  • LAKnight

    Multi-City

  • Federico

    In your case (flight to HNL, then Paris), you should get a separate JFK-HNL, then do HNL-JFK(stopover)CDG

  • Ben

    Does this only work on Saaver awards?

  • Jeremy

    I don’t understand why you want to fly AUS-SAN-DFW-LGA unless you are stopping in San Diego prior to flying to NYC. If you aren’t I rather avoid using any points on SW and flying AUS-JFK (they have that direct).

  • Jeremy

    I live in a regional city. You stop in the hub and use BA miles to fly from the hub home. For example I live in SAT. I had booked HNL-DFW-CDG for a return from Hawaii with 6 months before going to Paris. I just booked AA using BA Avios for DFW-SAT and a return flight for SAT-DFW prior to our departure to Paris. AA will through check your bags (even if not same ticket). You could do SW too.

  • beachfan

    Short shelf life on this post. American has eliminated the free gateway stopover as of 12:01 AM Central Time April 8.

  • joe m

    this was working 3 hours ago… but right now… not at all…
    tried an ADL-LAX-JFK and it said for the second leg it was free…. now its showing it costs 12500 points.
    I even tried the recife-miami-hnl that you published… its charging points for Miami-hnl…
    have AA closed the loophole today?
    im using multi-city aadvantage redemption with the standard default criteria?
    help!

  • joe

    shattered

  • AnotherFatJoke

    “Recife – MIA – Hawaii”

    How close did that come to
    violating 25%-extra-miles-limit rule?

    Isn’t adding AK going to often
    violate that rule…?

  • Beta4Me

    Yes, they have eliminated this.

  • Robert

    Welp. This is all irrelevant now, isn’t it?

  • KP

    Gone, major changes to AA frequent flyer program announcing today

  • drewj0912

    Well it looks like AA has eliminated stopovers on award tickets overnight, among other crappy changes like no more explorer awards and increase redemption rates http://boardingarea.com/onemileatatime/2014/04/08/american-and-us-airways-award-program-changes-without-notice/#more-60645

  • Lynn Nguyen

    Tweeted at you this same question. What if the stopover is short (2-3 days)? I have one checked bag and don’t want to lug it into town and back out (I’ll likely store at Heathrow) but would love if I could check it to final destination and not worry about it.

  • trojan

    Great timing – the free stopover is gone starting today!!!

  • r0m8470

    I don’t, but I bit the bullet. The gateway city on my case is NYC, AA count LGA and JFK as the same gateway city.

    I could fly DFW to ZRH, but only on BA, and that means $500 tax and fuel surcharge per award ticket, which means $1000 for us on award tickets.

    Since I have a CP, and enough GP, we use the NYC as gateway that require a stop at DFW, and we can spend the night there with our GP point. The NYC to AUS leg is done with SW for free, since we have enough RR and a CP.

  • r0m8470

    We wanted to go to SAN for a while anyway.

  • ROb

    Stopovers don’t exist as of last night. Thanks American!

  • WBTM

    I hope you will take AA to task for implementing its change without notice. I’ve been planning on booking a dream rtw ticket only to wake up this morning to find the rug pulled under me. Very consumer unfriendly behavior!

  • ni

    This deal is now dead :(

  • Mike Reed

    Irony at its finest. This post, followed by the elimination of the stopover. It was good while it lasted, folks!

  • Scott

    Is this dead now given the updates AA made today to not allowing a stopover?

  • AnthonyOrner

    Well AA acted quickly :) j/k- It’s gone!

  • Spacetime17

    Free one-ways are dead :(

    Long may they live on in memory…

  • Paul Goecke

    Good timing on the post

  • Paul Goecke

    I bet it’s dead because of your post the day earlier…=)

  • RJ

    Please delete this (now) misleading page!

  • Jude

    Hey everyone! I realize this thread is old but I am hoping to get some help from you experts. I have 3 main questions really. 1. Is it still possible to add a stop over longer than 24hrs? 2. What is the best way to do this: Travel from Miami to HKG on business (does not matter where stop is or for how long), and then on return HKG -MIA but we would like to stop in SFO for 1 week. If I were to book it without the week dates on itinerary but instead within the 24hr period allowed by the new policy, can I change the date of return to Miami and use the ticket at a later date? I am doing all this via the AA website. I would have liked to use cathay pacific because its an airline a little different from the aa experience but aa doesn’t give the option at all on their website when trying to book an award travel. If you have any suggestions pls let me know! i have more than 230000 aa miles available. Thanks for your help!

  • Jude

    Hey everyone! I realize this thread is old but I am hoping to get some help from you experts. I have 3 main questions really. 1. Is it still possible to add a stop over longer than 24hrs? 2. What is the best way to do this: Travel from Miami to HKG on business (does not matter where stop is or for how long), and then on return HKG -MIA but we would like to stop in SFO for 1 week. If I were to book it without the week dates on itinerary but instead within the 24hr period allowed by the new policy, can I change the date of return to Miami and use the ticket at a later date? I am doing all this via the AA website. I would have liked to use cathay pacific because its an airline a little different from the aa experience but aa doesn’t give the option at all on their website when trying to book an award travel. If you have any suggestions pls let me know! i have more than 230000 aa miles available. Thanks for your help!

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