What to do when partner award availability doesn’t appear on American Airlines’ website

Dec 4, 2019

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It’s a situation that I’ve unfortunately become familiar with: I’ll find award availability on one of AA’s partners, but that availability won’t show up when I try to book the award flight through AA’s website.

While historically AA didn’t offer the option to book award flights for most partners online, this is no longer a limitation. Since September 2018, AA has added the ability to book 11 additional partners online, bringing the total up to 18.

There are now just three AAdvantage partners that can’t be booked online: China Southern Airlines, Interjet and LATAM Airlines — the last of which is set to leave the Oneworld alliance by October 2020.

One of the issues that I’ve written about before is booking Etihad Apartment awards. Pretty much since Etihad was added as a partner that could be booked online in May 2019, travelers could find Etihad award availability on AA’s website, but can’t book these awards online or through one of AA’s U.S. phone agents.

When I wrote about this issue in September, an AA spokesperson said that the airline was “aware there have been some discrepancies” and is working “towards a solution.” In the meantime, you’ll going to want to call one of AA’s overseas reservations phone numbers to book these Etihad first-class awards.

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Etihad's apartments are worth the hassle to book. Photo by JT Genter / The Points Guy.
Etihad’s apartments are worth the hassle to book. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.)

However, there’s a wider-spread issue when it comes to awards that don’t show up on AA’s website at all. While it may affect other partners, I’ve found this to be a particularly bad issue for Iberia award flights.

I first noticed this issue when booking a review flight on Iberia’s brand new (at the time) Airbus A350 in summer 2018. While the award availability showed on Iberia’s website and British Airways’ website, no availability showed on AA’s website. When I called to see if I could book over the phone, the agent was able to see the award availability and could book it for me. She chalked up the issue to AA using a different reservations system (Sabre) than Iberia (Amadeus).

This issue popped up again recently when a TPG coworker was trying to book an Iberia award flight. He’d searched and found availability through ExpertFlyer and even British Airways’ website. Yet, when he went to AA.com to book the flight, the website showed no availability.

For example, let’s take the route from New York-JFK to Madrid, Spain (MAD) on a sample date in economy class. When you search on Iberia’s website, you’ll see that there are awards available on two Iberia flights:

When you search on British Airways’ website, you’ll also see the same two Iberia award flights — as well as an AA flight that didn’t show on Iberia’s website.

However, when you search the route and date on AA’s website, the only nonstop option that shows as available is AA’s own flight:

And this isn’t just an issue with AA’s new award booking tool. When I perform the same search on the old award booking tool, we get the same limited results:

This mismatch can be very frustrating to learn about, especially as AA’s website has generally become a much better tool to search and book partner awards over the past few years. So, I checked in with American Airlines to ask the reason for this issue.

An AA spokesperson confirmed what the AA phone agent had told me:

The last available award seat will not display on aa.com to avoid double-booking, but will display for partner carriers who use a different GDS [Global Distribution System] and for AA Reservations. In these circumstances, customers who are unable to book an award online can call Reservations for support.

Bottom line

While using AA’s website is still a great first step to searching award availability, it’s issues like this that remind mileage travelers that it’s not a one-stop shop for all American Airlines awards. Make sure to use other award searching resources like ExpertFlyer or other Oneworld websites like British Airways to confirm whether or not there’s award availability — especially when your travel dates aren’t flexible.

If you’re not familiar with these tools, it can’t hurt to call AA reservations to see if there’s availability.

Featured photo by aluxum /Getty Images.

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