Advanced Tips for Booking American Airlines AAdvantage Awards

Elina GellerMay 6, 2020
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In terms of the three largest legacy carriers (American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines), American is the only one that still publishes a region-based award chart. In the past few years, the airline introduced several important changes that made the AAdvantage loyalty program much more valuable. Some of the changes include:

  • October 2018: Launched Economy Web Special awards, which are heavily discounted economy award tickets to specified destinations.

  • December 2019: Added business and first-class Web Special awards.

  • January 2020: American eliminated its $75 “close in” booking fee on award tickets, which was charged on awards booked within 21 days of travel.

  • August 2020: American eliminated change fees for premium cabin fares and most main cabin fares (except basic economy) on all domestic and short-haul international flights.

The $75 booking fee was a deterrent for many travelers who wanted to book flights less than three weeks out. The removal of this fee and creation of Web Special awards have opened the door to snagging last-minute awards at discounted rates. And for travelers hesitant to book flights in the wake of coronavirus, the ability to change flights without paying a change fee might be enough to actually book a flight — whether or not the trip actually pans out.

So what are some great ways to find decent award space? We’ll break it down.

Tip #1: Utilize Web Specials, but do not use the Advanced Search tool on the website

American redesigned the look of its award search results page in 2019 — a change some American loyalists were unhappy about. This is what the calendar used to look like:

Unfortunately, the old calendar does not show Web Specials in first and business class. As seen above for a flight search from NY-LaGuardia to London in May 2020, all business/first MileSAAver awards are priced at 57,500 miles, which is the cost of an award from the continental U.S. to Europe.

To truly see accurate availability, go to aa.com and input your desired trip in the from, to and depart fields, and click “Search.”

Below you can see award availability on the same NY-Laguardia to London route for a five-day period in May 2020. If you’d like to see a monthly calendar, you can do so by selecting the “Calendar” dropdown.

As seen above, there is a business-class award ticket for 50,000 miles, which is an incredible value. When you pick the 50K option, you will have a choice between a standard and Web Special award:

This award did not appear when searching using the Advanced Search option. Whether it's a glitch or American is about to do away with the old calendar, it's best to ignore the Advanced Search tool in favor of the newer option.

Tip #2: Take advantage of the third-region rule

American’s region-based award chart shows the price in miles between any two regions. Pre-2014, American allowed a stopover on an international itinerary. A stopover is defined as a stop (layover) in a city that’s longer than 24 hours.

Although American did away with international stopovers, there are still some award routing rules that let you transit through another region and spend more than 24 hours there. This is unofficially known as the third-region rule.

When flying to the Indian Subcontinent region, you are allowed to transit through Hong Kong (Asia Region 2) when you’re flying across the Pacific Ocean. The Indian Subcontinent region includes Bangladesh, India, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. So what does this mean, and how could you benefit from this rule?

If you’re heading from the U.S. to any Indian Subcontinent country, you could plan a mini-stopover and explore Hong Kong on your way.

Let’s say you’re planning a trip to the Maldives. You could fly from New York to the Maldives with a stopover in Hong Kong for only 40,000 American miles.

This routing allows you to spend a day and a half in Hong Kong on your way to your destination. Although spending a little over a day in another city can feel rushed, it's fun to know that you could see two destinations for the price of one.

American does not publish all allowable options for third-region routes, but you could play around with the search function to figure out which awards are possible. The main rule to use is that the routing has to make sense. You can’t, for example, transit through Africa from the U.S. to Europe. However, a stopover in Europe when traveling from the U.S. on your way to the Middle East would be feasible.

Tip #3: Utilize AAdvantage quirks

The two points noted below aren’t exactly top of mind during the coronavirus pandemic, given the recent travel restrictions and reduced discretionary spending. However, when travel and the economy return to normal, keep these two quirks in mind.

Last-minute awards on Cathay Pacific

Despite no official policy, Cathay is known for releasing premium cabin award space at the last minute. If you can plan a trip to Asia on short notice, you’d have an opportunity to experience Cathay's great first- or business-class product using your AAdvantage miles since Cathay Pacific is a member of Oneworld. You can now book Cathay Pacific awards on American’s website.

Cathay’s main hub is Hong Kong, which falls into Asia Region 2, so business- and first-class awards are priced at 70,000 and 110,000 AAdvantage miles, respectively. Even better, if you’re heading to Japan or Korea, which fall into Asia Region 1, those Cathay business- and first-class awards will only cost 60,000 and 80,000 AAdvantage miles, respectively.

Most of American’s award flights from the continental U.S. to Japan will route through another U.S. city, but if you’re flying on Cathay, you’d get the opportunity to transit through Hong Kong and could make a one-day trip out of your layover.

Although you may save a significant amount of miles if American is offering a Web Special award to the region, it's nice to know that Cathay awards can appear at the last minute, especially if no last-minute Web Special awards exist.

Visit the Concorde Room when flying British Airways first class

A visit to the famous Concorde Room is only possible if you’re flying on British Airways first class and transiting out of NY-JFK Terminal 7 or London Heathrow Terminal 5. The Concorde Room is British Airways' most luxurious lounge. Unlike the more lenient Galleries First Lounge, the Concorde Room will not admit British Airways Gold Members or Oneworld Emerald members if they are not flying first class with British Airways.

So how can you visit this lounge? You can either buy a ridiculously priced first-class ticket with cash or use your AAdvantage miles to book an award seat on British Airways. However, these awards are not cheap due to British Airways and the U.K. levying heavy taxes and airport fees on flights.

A one-way first class award ticket on British Airways from London to NY-JFK is 85,000 AAdvantage miles plus a whopping $578.

Although the taxes are exorbitant, it isn’t all British Airways' fault. The U.K. is notorious for adding high taxes on flights departing from London.

As seen above, $292 of the taxes are assessed by the U.K. If your award flight was on American instead of British Airways, you’d still have to pay the U.K. fees, but you would avoid the $270 carrier-imposed fees, which are courtesy of British Airways.

A way to reduce some of these pesky fees while still getting a seat in British Airways first class is to fly from another European country. For example, an award ticket from Frankfurt to New York, with a connection in London, costs 85,000 AAdvantage miles + $436 in taxes.

While these aspirational awards aren’t for everyone, if you’re splurging on such a ticket, knowing about the taxes can be useful in planning your itinerary. The first-class experience is outstanding on its own, and a visit to the Concorde Room would truly make for a memorable flying experience.

The bottom line

Although American did away with a lot of generous routing rules, you can still create some interesting trips using Web Special awards and third-region routing rules. What are some of your favorite perks of American Airlines awards? Tell us below in the comments!

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