I can’t think of a more frustrating way to spend an hour of your day. You call American Airlines to book with a Oneworld partner just to wait on hold for what seems like an eternity. But at least the wait pays off, you get an ultra-competent phone agent that is all-ears. /sarcasm
While I must admit, not all phone agents are helpless, the majority I’ve spoken with have certainly challenged my optimism.
So you want to book an award ticket using your American Airlines AAdvantage miles? Unfortunately, American doesn’t fly everywhere you want to travel, enter: partners
American Airlines has a vast group of partners that can be booked using your trusty AAdvantage miles. Many of the partners are part of the Oneworld Alliance, others are simply award partners. 90% of these partners will require that you call in to book, I’ll get into that later.
Oneworld Partners (with carrier codes):
- AB – airberlin (and HG – Niki)
- AA – American Airlines (and American Eagle)
- BA – British Airways (and BA Cityflyer, Comair, Eastern Airways, Open Skies, Sun Air of Scandinavia, BA Limited)
- CX – Cathay Pacific (and KA – Dragonair)
- AY – Finnair (and Privilege Style, Flybe Finland)
- IB – Iberia (and Air Nostrum, Iberia Express)
- JL – Japan Airlines (and J-Air)
- LA – LAN (and LAN Express, LAN Colombia, LP – LAN Peru) / LATAM
- MH – Malaysia Airlines
- RJ – Royal Jordanian
- QF – Qantas (and QantasLink, Jetconnect – not Jetstar)
- QR – Qatar Airways
- S7 – S7 (and Globus)
- UL – SriLankan Airlines
- JJ – TAM (LATAM)
Non Oneworld Partners:
- TN – Air Tahiti Nui
- AS – Alaska Airlines
- EY – Etihad Airways
- FJ – Fiji Airways
- GF – Gulf Air
- HA – Hawaiian Airlines
- 9W – Jet Airways
As you can see, there are a LOT of partners that open up your redemption options. The biggest complaint, that I hear, is American Airlines award availability is terrible. I have to agree, if you try to redeem your miles on American Airlines metal you’ll often find slim-pickings.
If you are new to award mile redemptions, it should be mentioned that economy awards within the US are one of the WORST redemptions, regardless of the loyalty program. Not to fear, these partner awards give your AA miles some life.
Check out this interactive world map of Oneworld carrier routes.
There are so many rules when redeeming on partners, but I am only going to cover the common bumps you’ll face.
1.] You must find award space on every segment you want to book. You can find award space on Britishairways.com or Subscribe to Expert Flyer for searching other partners. British Airways will display award space for most Oneworld partners. For other carriers, such as Etihad or Gulf Air, you’ll need to check Expert Flyer under “Awards and Upgrades”.
2.] Let’s say you’re booking a flight in economy: If you only find economy award space on three of the four legs, you cannot fly the fourth leg in business otherwise the entire trip will be priced as business. You can, of course, take a lower class of service if you can’t find space in J or F for every leg of your trip when booking a ticket in First or Business class. You can book a lower class on a single leg, set a seat alert in Exper Flyer, and call American Airlines if award space opens up in your desired class of service.
3.] You must take “the most direct routing available”. That is American’s way of saying you can’t just fly all over the place to get from A to C. Now, how this is enforced is primarily at the discretion of the phone agent and the booking confirmation department. (which reviews tickets after a partner award is requested). Later in this post I’ll discuss some ways around this.
4.] Stopovers are not allowed. When booking a domestic ticket, you can schedule up to four hours between flights. On international tickets, you are allowed up to 24 hours. If you try to layover longer than 24 hours between any of your flight legs, it will price as two awards. There is no posted limit on the maximum number of segments, but again, you must fly “the most direct routing”. I’ve asked phone agents and they’ve seen up to NINE segments on a single award. That could, in theory, be SIN > KUL > BKK > HKG > DOH > AUH > MCT > BAH > CAI (and you could stay in each city for up to 24 hours, all for 40,000 in business class!)
5.] Generally, you cannot route via a third region, however there are some exceptions. For example, if you are traveling from the US to Asia 2 (such as Philippines) you can connect in Asia 1 (such as Tokyo) on a single award.
You cannot route from the US to Asia 1 (such as Seoul) via Asia 2 (such as Hong Kong), that would price as two awards.
Also, when routing through Doha on Qatar Airways, you must fly both IN and OUT on Qatar Airways. With other partners you can mix and match however you’d like. You don’t have to layover in Oneworld airports either. You could fly into Amsterdam on Etihad and out on Iberia.
6.] You can put an award ticket on hold for 5 days. This will lock-in the award seats so they can’t be booked by someone else. This is highly recommended since there is no cost or risk. This gives you time to transfer points from Starwood SPG, which takes about two days.
(there is one more rule which will be discussed at the end of the post)
You’re probably wondering, what will it cost to go from A to C? That is where the award chart comes in. But before you can figure out your pricing, you need to know what regions your start and end point fall under.
- Costa Rica
- El Salvador
- Antigua & Barbuda
- British Virgin Islands
- Cayman Islands
- Dominican Republic
- Puerto Rico
- St. Kitts/Nevis
- St. Lucia
- St. Maarten
- Turks/Caicos Islands
- U.S. Virgin Islands
South America Region 1
- Manaus (Brazil)
South America Region 2
- Brazil (excluding Manaus)
- Chile (excluding Easter Island)
- Falkland Islands
- Canary Islands
- Czech Republic
- United Kingdom
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
- Sri Lanka
- Equatorial Guinea
- South Africa
Asia Region 1
Asia Region 2
- Hong Kong
- Easter Island
- French Polynesia
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- New Caledonia
- Republic of Tonga
- Republic of Vanuatu
- American Samoa and Samoa
- Solomon Islands
Now that you’ve found your starting and ending regions, you can determine the pricing cost from A to C. The award chart is really lengthy so you’ll need to visit the chart page, here.
One of the sweet spots is from the Indian Subcontinent to Europe. You could fly from the Maldives to Dublin, Ireland for just 20,000 AA miles one-way in economy. If you routed from Male, Maldives > Doha, Qatar, > Dublin, Ireland, you’d need just 20k miles one-way in economy. Since you would be stopping in Doha, you must fly on Qatar Airways in and out. Award fees would be around $50 in most cases. Not a bad redemption for over 5,500 flight miles on Qatar Airways. (MLE > DOH > DUB)
If your award involves a long leg on British Airways, award fees and surcharges will be much higher. For example, Bangkok > Doha > Cairo > London, with the last leg on British Airways, will cost close to $300 in award fees. Unless you are going to fly British Airways intra-Europe, try to avoid them.
How to book
This is the grueling part. Unless you can find your routing on aa.com, you are going to have to call the reservation department. (most often the case).
*1-800-433-7300* > “New Reservation” > “Use Miles” > “International” > “x number of passengers”. The automated guy might say that there will be a phone booking fee, but that will be waived since you can’t book your award on aa.com.
I recommend calling early mornings or in the evenings. If there is bad weather in the US, you might just avoid calling for that day, seriously.
Routing advice with phone agent
If you are like me, you’d want to maximize your 24 hour layovers so that you can visit new cities, even if it’s just for a day/night. In addition to stopping for up to 24 hours in each city, I’d prefer to plug-in extra stops so I can visit extra cities, for FREE. Plus if you are flying business/first or if you have lounge access, this means getting to visit extra lounges!
Say you are flying from Bangkok to Dubai. The phone agent is going to try to get you there as quickly as possible with the shortest distance flown, that is their job. (That would be: BKK > DOH > DXB or BKK > HKG > DXB) You are allowed to feed them the flight numbers that you’d like, but some agents will not listen if your suggested routing makes unnecessary stops or seems “too out-of-the-way”.
AA has a little rule, somewhat unlisted, called maximum permitted mileage. From Bangkok to Dubai, for example, the maximum mileage you are allowed to fly to get there is 4,568 flight miles. You can search the MPM for your start and end point on Expert Flyer as shown below.
So long as you are under your permitted mileage, not breaking the routing rules, and you found award space, you should be able to book what you want. In theory.
What works best for me
What I do is call in, feed them my start and end point, and let them pick the best routing. The trick is that the start and end point I initially feed them is not my actual start and end point. Here is how a recent call went:
me: “I am flying from Bangkok to Abu Dhabi in first class so I want to fly on Qatar via Doha”
them: “Okay, I found flight XXX and flight XXX that will get you to Abu Dhabi at XXX time”
me: “That sounds great, can we put that award on hold”
them: “no problem, it is on hold, you have 5 days to ticket it”
Now that I have just 2-3 simple segments on hold, I will hang up and call back adding one more segment each time, like so:
me: “hello, I’d like to add a leg to my reservation to see if the award pricing will change” (I know it won’t)
them: “okay, from where to where”
me: “I’d like to add flight XXX from Singapore to Bangkok on Cathay Pacific”
them: “good news, adding that segment did not increase the mileage cost and the fees went up by just $5”
me: “awesome, thanks for locking that in”
If I tried to go Singapore to Bangkok to Doha to Abu Dhabi all at once on the first go, the agent would likely override. There is more direct routing; SIN > AUH in first class. By calling in a second time and saying, “hey, my plans changed, I need to add a leg, extend my layover to 23 hours, hehe, etc”, it works with far better success than cramming it in on the first pass.
I will keep doing this until I’ve completed my reservation with all the legs I want. If on the first call you say you want to go from SIN > BKK > DOH > AUH > CAI, they will find a more direct way to get you there. If you keep calling and adding legs, they likely won’t pay much attention to your overall routing. When/if they do raise concern, just tell them not to change what you have on hold and call back to another agent.
You can change your date and routing as much as you’d like with any of these Oneworld carriers, just call into AA. This benefit applies even after you are completely locked-in and ticketed. The only limitation is that you can’t change your start and end point without paying a fee. Which routing you use to get there and when you get there CAN be changed at no cost.