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Maximizing American Airlines’ Award Routing Rules

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In recent months, American Airlines has completely overhauled its AAdvantage mileage program. The changes have included switching how you earn miles to a revenue-based system, introducing a new elite level as well as spending requirements for all status tiers, changing some award regions and routing possibilities and generally devaluing much of the airline’s award chart.

That’s not to say you can’t still find value in the AAdvantage program, but it’s now more complex than ever for flyers to make sense of the rules and make sure they’re optimizing their awards. In order to help you do so, read on for an update on the AAdvantage program, the rules you need to know and the fees you should plan on paying.

Despite tremendous changes to the AAdvantage program, you can still find value in it.
Despite tremendous changes to the AAdvantage program, you can still find value in it.

FEES

As with other mileage programs, there are several fees — both obvious and hidden —  you might be charged for using your miles. So keep these in mind before booking any tickets.

Ticketing service charge: If you call in to book an award that you could otherwise book online, you will be charged $30 for travel within the US, and $40 for international travel. This fee is waived for Executive Platinum elites.

Close-in booking fee: $75 ticketing fee when you book fewer than 21 days prior to departure. This is waived for Executive Platinum, Platinum and Gold members using miles from their own account. This fee (and waiver) also applies to changes to your outbound travel date that result in a departure within 21 days. If you’re just changing the dates of your trip and it doesn’t fall within the 21-day window, you don’t have to pay any fee.

Changes to origin or destination: $150, waived for Executive Platinum members using miles from their own account.

Reinstatement charge: $150 to cancel a reservation and reinstate miles for the first ticket, and $25 for additional awards reinstated to the same account at the same time. This fee is also waived for Executive Platinums using miles from their own account.

AIRLINE PARTNERS

American is part of the Oneworld alliance.
American is part of the Oneworld alliance.

American is a member of Oneworld, which includes the following partners:

  • Air Berlin
  • British Airways
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Japan Airlines (JAL)
  • LAN/TAM
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas
  • Qatar Airways
  • Royal Jordanian
  • S7 Airlines
  • SriLankan Airlines

The airline also has the following individual non-alliance partners:

  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaska Airlines
  • Cape Air
  • Etihad
  • Fiji Airways
  • Gulf Air
  • Hawaiian Airlines (not to/from the mainland US)
  • Interjet
  • Jet Airways
  • Seaborne Airlines
  • WestJet

AWARD CHARTS

Here are links to American’s award chart for its own flights, and its chart for Oneworld and other partner flights.

So you have all the information all in one place, here’s the award chart for American’s own flights in the main cabin (economy):

AA economy

Here’s the chart for American’s own flights in business and first class:

AA business

And here’s the chart for using American miles on its partners.

AA partner flights

Region Definitions

American’s award charts are region- or zone-based. American did shift some of the countries from zone to zone with its recent award chart changes, so have a look for the most up-to-date information.

REGION COUNTRIES
Contiguous 48 US States United States
Canada/Alaska Alaska, Canada
Hawaii Hawaii
Central America Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama
Caribbean Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curaçao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Maarten, Trinidad/Tobago, Turks/Caicos, US Virgin Islands
South America 1 Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Manaus, Peru
South America 2 Argentina, Brazil (exc. Manaus), Chile (exc. Easter Island), Falkland Islands, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela
Europe Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom
Middle East Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates
Indian Subcontinent Bangladesh, India, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
Africa Algeria, Angola, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Melilla, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe
Asia 1 Japan, Korea
Asia 2 Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam
South Pacific Australia, Easter Island, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Palau, New Caledonia, Republic of Tonga, Republic of Vanuatu, American Samoa and Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu

ROUTING RULES

America Airlines doesn’t actually openly publish its award routing rules, so what we know has been gleaned over time by trial and error, anecdotes and some announcements directly from the airline.

Like most other programs, AAdvantage requires passengers to take the most direct routing between your origin and destination on award tickets. In effect, though, this is not actually enforced since you can make connections, like flying from Los Angeles to New York and on to London rather than having to take a nonstop flight between Los Angeles and London. However, if you were going from New York to London, you couldn’t fly to Los Angeles and then on to London on the same award ticket. So basically, this is just a sort of “common sense” kind of rule to prevent completely irrational bookings.

The one major rule (and probably the most arcane) that you must pay attention to when making award bookings, however, is that you generally cannot transit through a third region.

For example, if you were flying from the US to Australia, you could not route from, say, Chicago to Tokyo on JAL and then on to Sydney on JAL or Qantas. You would then be billed for two separate awards: one from the US to Asia 1 (where Tokyo is) and one from Asia 1 to South Pacific (where Australia is).

However, there are a few exceptions to the third-region rule. There are even two new exceptions. The first was made public last June and allows for awards between Europe and Australia to transit in Doha on Qatar Airways. The second took effect in April and allows routings from North America to the Indian Subcontinent to transit via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, SriLankan and Jet Airways.

The exceptions we know include:

ORIGIN DESTINATION THIRD REGION
North America Middle East/Indian Subcontinent Europe
North America Indian Subcontinent Hong Kong
North America Africa Europe, or Doha on Qatar Airways
North America Asia 2 Asia 1
Central America, South America 1 and 2 Africa, Middle East, Indian Subcontinent Europe
South America 2 Africa Doha on Qatar Airways
Europe Asia 1 Asia 2, or Doha on Qatar Airways
Europe Asia 2 Doha on Qatar Airways
Europe Australia Doha on Qatar Airways
Europe South Pacific Asia 1 or Asia 2, or Doha on Qatar Airways, or Dubai on Qantas
Middle East/Indian Subcontinent Asia 1 Asia 2
Middle East/Indian Subcontinent South Pacific Asia 2
Africa Asia 1 Asia 2, or Doha on Qatar Airways
Africa Asia 2 Doha on Qatar Airways
Asia 1 South Pacific Asia 2

While rather byzantine, these routing rules are worth paying attention to so that you don’t chase awards fruitlessly that will never end up being bookable in the system. You can also use them to your advantage and to expand your choices. For instance, if you wanted to get to India from the US, you could either go through Europe or Hong Kong now, giving you plenty of airline partners to choose from.

A couple other rules worth noting:

  • When traveling between two cities in the US, you cannot route through Canada or Mexico.
  • When traveling between cities within either Canada or Mexico, you cannot route via the US.
  • Travel from North America to Europe, Africa and the Middle East must route via the Atlantic. So you could fly from Los Angeles to London to Johannesburg. But you couldn’t fly from Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Johannesburg instead.
  • Travel to Asia and the South Pacific must route via the Pacific. So you couldn’t fly from New York to London to Hong Kong on a single award.
  • Travel to/from Tahiti and Fiji cannot route via Australia or New Zealand.
LAX HKG DOH JNB
Per the routing rules, you can’t fly from North America to Africa via the Pacific.

One-Ways, Open Jaws and Stopovers

The AAdvantage program gives travelers a lot of flexibility by allowing them to book one-way awards both on American’s own flights and all its partners. In essence, this also means that you can book open jaws – where you fly from origin to destination, but then begin your return travel from another city or fly home to another city… or even just book one flight from one origin to one destination, and then fly between an entirely different city pair on the return.

Unfortunately, the airline does not allow stopovers. This means that if you have layovers of more than four hours domestically (with some manual exceptions, like if the next departing flight to your destination is later than that) or 24 hours when traveling internationally, you will be charged for two separate awards.

7,500-Mile Awards

Along with its other award-chart changes, American instituted new 7,500-mile awards this year for one-way, nonstop award flights under 500 miles. That saves flyers 5,000 miles over previous levels, which were 12,500 each way on short-hauls such as from Charlotte to Asheville, or Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Reduced-Price Awards

One of the unique features of the AAdvantage program is that it offers reduced-mileage awards to holders of Citi-branded cards like the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard and the Citi AAdvantage Platinum Select MasterCard. You can find a list of these awards here. But the gist of it is that these discounted awards are 5,000-7,500 miles cheaper round-trip between monthly changing city pairs within the US and Canada. Though the list can be a bit hard to navigate, if your city pairs do fall within the specially listed awards, it can be a great way to save a few thousand miles.

Off-Peak Awards

Unfortunately, American’s off-peak awards changed rather dramatically with the devaluation, which you can see in the comparison table below:

Off-Peak Economy American Airlines Oneworld Partners
Old New Old New
Hawaii 17,500 20,000 17,500
Caribbean 12,500 12,500
Mexico 12,500 12,500
Central America 15,000 12,500
South America Region 1 15,000 17,500
South America Region 2 20,000 20,000
Europe 20,000 22,500 20,000 22,500
Asia Region 1 25,000 32,500 25,000
Asia Region 2 32,500

Almost all partner off-peak awards are gone, with the exception of Europe for 22,500 miles each way in economy. Several of the awards on American’s own flights also went up in price, including those to Hawaii, Europe and South America 1 (South America 2 off-peak awards are no longer available). On the positive side, there are now off-peak awards to Asia 2 on American’s own flights.

There are also new dates for these awards, listed by region here:

New Off-Peak Dates To the Region From the Region
Hawaii Dec 29-Mar 12, Aug 11-Nov 18, Nov 24-Dec 10 Jan 7-Mar 19, Aug 18-Nov 27, Dec 3-25
Caribbean April 27 – May 20, September 7 – November 14
Mexico April 27 – May 20, September 7 – November 14
Central America April 27 – May 20, September 7 – November 14
South America Region 1 January 16 – June 14, September 7 – November 14
Europe January 10 – March 14, November 1 – December 14
Japan Jan 1-Apr 30, July 1-Nov 30 Jan 16-Apr 19, May 2-31, Sept 1-Dec 31
Korea Jan 1-Apr 30, July 1-Nov 30 Jan 16-May 31, Sept 1-Dec 31
China & Hong Kong Jan 1-Apr 30, July 1-Sept 30, Oct 11-Nov 30 Feb 1-May 31, Sept 1-19, Oct 2-Dec 31

As you can see, it will be harder to nail down awards to Hawaii, Japan, China and Hong Kong because there are a few different periods, and the dates for off-peak awards to the regions are different than those for flights originating in those regions, all of which make them just a little bit harder to book.

Maximum Permitted Mileage

One of the other most esoteric areas of award routing rules is maximum permitted mileage. MPMs are determined by the International Air Transit Association and refer to the distance airlines calculate between specific city pairs.

This is not the actual distance of nonstop flights between these cities, but rather a number that takes into account a reasonable number of connecting flights. It’s usually around 10% more miles than the direct distance between cities. American is rather generous, in that it will actually allow you to exceed the MPM of a route by 25%, but it’s still a limitation to consider.

The IATA does not publish its MPM numbers, but you can actually look them up with a paid subscription to ExpertFlyer. Log in to your ExpertFlyer account and go to the Travel Information tab, then select Maximum Permitted Mileage.

ExpertFlyer MPM

Enter your city pairs and airline, and the search will generate the MPM for you.

In this example, I looked up MPM from Chicago (ORD) to Mumbai (BOM). As you can see, it pulled up the MPM via both the Atlantic (AT) and Pacific (PA), which is great because remember, you can transit via Europe or Hong Kong now.

ORD BOM MPM

Via the Atlantic, the MPM plus 25% is 12,998 miles. So flying from Chicago to London to Mumbai would definitely work since that route would be just 8,440 miles.

ORD LHR BOM
Chicago-London-Mumbai? No problem. It falls within the MPM and American’s routing rules.

Via the Pacific, the MPM plus 25% is 12,275 miles (fewer than via the Atlantic). Getting there via Hong Kong would be no problem, at just 10,452 miles.

ORD HKG BOM
As does Chicago-Hong Kong-Mumbai, per newly published rules.

And based on MPM alone, you could even go via Los Angeles and Tokyo since that clocks in at 11,418.

map
Even though Chicago-Tokyo-Mumbai falls within the MPM, it violates American’s third-region rules, so you can’t do it.

But remember,  you cannot route from North America to India via Asia 1, so that’s off the table — and that’s an example where third-region routing becomes important. Likewise, you might want to take Qatar Airways from Chicago to Doha and on to Mumbai, which also falls within the Maximum Permitted Mileage.

Same with routing via Doha. It's not one of the third-region exceptions in this case.
Same with routing via Doha. It’s not one of the third-region exceptions in this case.

However, it’s not a valid routing per American’s rules, so you have to be careful when planning.

Published Fares

One final note: Your routing will be limited to flights on which the transoceanic carrier you will be flying publishes fares.

You can see whether your carrier publishes fares between the cities you need back on ExpertFlyer. Use the Fare Search option to search city pairs and airlines for the dates you’re interested in.

So, say you wanted to use your miles to fly to Asia and visit Angkor Wat. I put in a search example of Oklahoma City to Siem Ream, Cambodia, with Cathay as the carrier.

Cathay publishes fares between the two cities, so you can book it as an award.
Cathay publishes fares between the two cities, so you can book it as an award.

Lo and behold, the airline publishes fares between those two cities, so you could book this as an award (depending on availability, of course)!

Conclusion

As you can see, there’s a lot to keep in mind here. But rather than view these parameters as limitations, think of them as opportunities to maximize your miles with a little creative strategizing. For example, if you were headed to India, you could literally fly around the world for the same price as two one-way tickets by routing the outbound over the Atlantic and the return over the Pacific via Hong Kong, or vice versa. Why try one airline when you can try several?

For more information on the American Airlines AAdvantage changes and maximizing awards, check out these other posts:

Be sure to share any questions or tips on booking American Airlines awards in the comments below!

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