Note: Read the primer on Using Miles if you have not already.
Note: American’s search engine shows flights on American, Alaska, British, Cape Air, Cathay Pacific, Fiji, Finnair, Hawaiian, Iberia, JAL, Malaysia, Qatar, Royal Jordanian, S7, Seaborne, and Sri Lankan. For Oneworld availability on other carriers (e.g. Cathay Pacific), skip to Searching With British Airways. For availability on Air Tahiti Nui and other non-alliance partner airlines, skip to Searching With Expert Flyer and Etihad.
Award Chart: Flights on American Airlines as well as Flights with Oneworld Alliance. Also see this post from Travel is Free.
Changes: FREE if more than 60 days before travel; $125 if between 7 and 60 days before travel; $150 if fewer than 7 days before travel. The $125 and $150 fees are reduced if you have status and/or are eliminated (i.e. reduced to $0) if traveling within within the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Puerto Rico, and U.S. Virgin Islands.
Cancellations: Same as above, but no exception (so far) for travel within the U.S., etc.
Close-In Booking Fees: None.
Stopovers and Open-Jaws: Open-jaws are permitted on round-trip awards.
Fuel Surcharges: British Airways and Iberia Airlines. Avoid redeeming American miles for flights on British Airways if at all possible. You can uncheck British Airways if they show up in your search results. Iberia Airlines fuel surcharges are not too bad.
- Go to American. (Note: Use Multi city search to access American’s older but better search tool. Enter a random second segment if you only need to search one-way. Or you can just use the newer search if it doesn’t bother you.)
- Fill out the form and submit.
- Click Show Full Calendar and select your class of cabin.
- Sort by Total travel time and expand Flight Details for any flights you are considering.
- (Optional) If you are searching one way or one segment at a time, repeat this process for any other legs of your trip and assemble them into a round-trip or Multi-City Search. You can only do this if you were able to find award availability for all of your flight segments through American’s website and did not have to resort the other search methods listed below.
- Select your flights and complete your booking. If you’re not ready to book, American allows you to hold an award for five days. You can find the AAdvantage Hold option on the same screen where you would enter your credit card information.
Searching With British Airways
British Airways shows award availability for all Oneworld partners that American does not. However, it does not show Mixed Cabin awards. This can problematic if you are searching for business or first class awards, so unless you are searching for flights in economy, you should always search British Airways one segment at a time.
- Use Airline Route Mapper (tutorial) to look up possible routes.
- Go to British Airways. Create an account if you do not have one already.
- Fill out the form and submit. Search one segment at a time for business or first class awards.
- Review your results. You’ll see below that British Airways is not finding the business class award that was found using the American search earlier. This is because I searched for my whole itinerary instead of one segment at a time, and the award American found was a Mixed Cabin award. If I had searched SFO-MIA and MIA-GRU individually, I would have found seats in first and business class, respectively, that I could have combined into a single business class award.
So why use British Airways at all? The reason is that, unlike American, British Airways will show you awards on Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, LAN, and a variety of other Oneworld airlines.
- Assuming you are here because you needed to look up flights that are not displayed on American’s website, you will also be unable to complete this booking with American online. Make note of all of the dates and flight numbers for your award and call American Airlines to complete your booking at (800) 882-8880. There is no phone booking fee.
Searching With Expert Flyer and Etihad
American Airlines has a number of partners outside of Oneworld alliance that cannot be searched on American’s nor on British Airways’ websites. While I won’t cover each partner in depth, four that I’ll cover here are Air Tahiti Nui, China Southern, Gulf Air, and Etihad Airways.
Once again, you will want to use Airline Route Mapper (tutorial) to determine where these airlines fly and what flight segments to search for. Awards that involve flights with these non-alliance partner airlines can only be booked by calling American at (800) 882-8880. Make note of all of the dates and flight numbers of the award you found to simplify things with the agent.
Air Tahiti Nui, China Southern, and Gulf Air – Expert Flyer
Air Tahiti Nui operates flights to and from Papeete, Tahiti as well as a flight between LAX and CDG. In any case, to search for their awards, you will need to use Expert Flyer.
- Sign up for a five-day free trial with Expert Flyer.
- Go to Award & Upgrade Availability Search.
- Fill out the form and submit. You will want to search one segment at a time (e.g. LAX-PPT), with flexible dates, and showing all results on one screen. You’ll see that I also selected Air Tahiti Nui as my specific airline and both class F (Business Award) and class U (Coach Award).
- Your results will look something like this. You can see that there are two to four seats in coach on every day, and two seats in business class on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.
A similar approach can be used to search for flights with China Southern and Gulf Air.
Etihad Airways primarily operates flights to and from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. For those of us on the West Coast, you can often find a more efficient routing with another airline, though many people still opt to fly Etihad if they can find award availability in Etihad’s The Residence or First Class Apartments.
- Go to Etihad Airways, fill out the form, and submit. The web interface here is pretty straightforward.
- On the results page, look for the column labeled GuestSeat. If there are any seats there, there is an award available that you should be able to book with American.
Advanced Tips & Tricks
Flights from Brazil (and the Philippines) – This is more of a general tip for any airline, but it is more applicable here because of the egregious fuel surcharges when redeeming for flights on British Airways. Fuel surcharges are illegal in Brazil (and the Philippines), so any flight originating here will not have any fuel surcharges. In particular, British Airways operates two flights out of Brazil, GRU-LHR and GIG-LHR.
Routing rules and restrictions – American has a few routing restrictions on award tickets that you should be aware of, but you will probably not run into them very often. Here are a few of the more commonly encountered ones, and for a full list you can also check this Flyertalk thread:
- You are not allowed to transit a third region on an award, albeit with a few exceptions. For example, you cannot fly from the U.S. to Australia with a connection in Asia – if you are not flying direct, any and all connections must be in the same region as your origin or destination (in this example, the U.S. and South Pacific). There are several exceptions to this rule, but for flights originating in North America specifically, you can connect in Europe on tickets to Africa, India, or the Middle East, and you can connect in Asia 1 on tickets to Asia 2. You can get around this rule, of course, by booking separate one-way awards, but this may increase the cost of your ticket.
- Travel from North America to Africa, Europe, India, or the Middle East must occur via the Atlantic Ocean.
- Travel from North America to Asia or the South Pacific must occur via the Pacific Ocean, and if you’re flying to Tahiti or Fiji, you can’t connect in Australia or New Zealand.
- You are limited to at most three segments each way on an award within the US and Canada and four segments each way on an international award.
It has been reported that the American Airlines app is not very good at enforcing these rules and restrictions, so it’s something to try if you are looking for a nonconforming itinerary.
Booking mixed-cabin awards with Etihad – If you are booking a mixed-cabin award on Etihad, you will run into the situation where phone agents cannot see the same award availability that you may have found online. To get around this, you simply need to have the agent start a fresh booking and add the lower segments (i.e. economy) first and the higher segments (i.e. business/first) after. I don’t know why it is this way, but it works.
Booking awards with the Australian call center – Not all American Airlines call center locations can see the same award space. More specifically, there are situations in which you may find availability using a search engine such as British Airways, but when you call to book the ticket, US agents are unable to find the same flights that you did. Furthermore, if you call another location (e.g. Australia), you may find that the agents there can see the flights you had found and can therefore book the award for you. There is no particular rhyme nor reason why things work this way, but if your US call center agent is unable to help you, try Australia at +61 02-9101-1948.