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How to use AA.com to find better AAdvantage awards for your trip

by on Sat January 16, 2016 • 8 Comments
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American AAdvantage

If you’re reading this you’re probably frustrated with finding award space using your AAdvantage miles that either doesn’t cost over 200,000 miles or doesn’t charge you $1,000 plus in crazy British Airways surcharges.

While award space can be challenging during the most popular months, there are some things you can do with AA.com to increase the chances that you’ll find an award that works for you.

Here’s a rundown…

1. Use the advanced search

Most of us just plug in our dates and cities and use the default search settings AA.com presents, trusting that it will display the best results.

Well, like all big company systems, the search engine is far from perfect, and you’ll want to use the advanced search to coax it to hone in on the flights that work for you. You can find a link to the advanced search on the AA.com home page.

advancedsearch

 

Once you select the advanced search option, you can do something very helpful: limiting your search just to American Airlines flights. Just scroll to the bottom of the page to where it says ‘What are your carrier preferences?’ and choose ‘American Airlines and American Eagle.’

carrierpreferences

Why is that helpful?

Awards on American Airlines flights never incur nasty fuel surcharges, so limiting your search to just those flights helps you better identify opportunities that are surcharge free without wading through dozens of dates with nothing but British Airways flights across the ocean.

Tip: Just be aware that when you’re searching for flights outside the U.S., like Athens to New York, AA.com will include partner airline results *if* they connect to an American Airlines flight on the longest portion of the trip.

And that’s OK because British Airways fuel surcharges are really reasonable on the short flights that don’t cross the ocean.

So for example, if you search Athens – New York, the Athens – London on British Airways will show as an option if it includes a London – New York flight on American Airlines.

2. Search one way

It’s much easier to focus and figure things out when you do a one way search. This applies to AA.com or just about any award search site. You pay half the price of a roundtrip for a one way, so there’s no penalty to searching or booking a flight as a one way award.

3.  Filter for nonstop flights

The key for award searching is to separate your flight search into each possible segment to make sure you cover all the possibilities.

So for example, if you’re flying from Chicago to Athens, you could go Chicago – Philadelphia – Athens on AA’s Philadelphia – Athens flight, or you could go Chicago – London – Athens, or even Chicago – New York – London – Athens is among the possibilities.

If a basic search doesn’t deliver what you need, breaking it down step by step is critical to helping you piece together options that can work. So for the Chicago – London portion you can for example limit your search to Chicago – London flights that are nonstop.

You’ll find this option *after* you submit your search, when the calendar of dates displays. Once it’s displayed, you’ll find the non-stop option on the left hand side.

Sometimes, you won’t see it, and that’s usually because there are no non-stop award flights available.

ohrlhf

We keep a list of flights to Europe that may be helpful with giving you ideas of where to search.

4. Consider searching for Coach for the short flight

AA.com isn’t as good as other airline award search sites at showing you options that let you fly in Coach for part of the trip and Business or First Class for another.

For example, if you want to fly Business Class from Los Angeles to London, but only the Chicago to London flight is available in Business Class, AA.com will just say there’s nothing available when you search LA – London.

But if there is Saver award space in Coach from LA – Chicago, you can call American to price it all as one award, even though AA.com won’t display it by default.

By breaking up your search into each city, and looking at each class separately, you can identify options that make this work.

5. Know you can change for free

American AAdvantage lets you change the date and even routing of an award for free as long as the origin and destination are the same.

  • You will get hit with a $75 fee if you move your date to one that’s less than 21 days after the date you originally bought the ticket.
  • So if you bought a ticket for travel July 4th on February 1st, then later moved the travel forward to February 19, you would be charged $75. But if you decide on June 1st to move it to June 10th, you won’t be charged a fee.
  • You can also move to a higher class (like from Coach to Business, or Business to First) free of charge as long as your origin and destination are the same. You just pay the extra miles required.
  • Moving to a lower class, or moving from a ‘Saver’ to ‘AAnytime’ award does activate a fee

The free change is really powerful because it lets you move to more convenient options as availability changes, and you can move from something just so-so to something much better that later pops up on AA.com.

6. Know what’s missing

AA.com won’t show you flights on many of its partners, including Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Jet Airways, Malaysia Airlines, Iberia, S7, Sri Lankan, LAN, TAM, Etihad, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways, Air Tahiti Nui, and Fiji Airways.

It’s also been known to miss some Qantas flight availability.

cathay

Want a Cathay flight? Don’t use AA.com. Image via Cathay Pacific.

You can read a full rundown of where to search for awards that don’t show up on the AA.com site using our cheat sheet for AAdvantage miles.

Or you can simply call AAdvantage on 1-800-882-8880. They’ll waive the phone booking fee for awards that include airlines that don’t display on AA.com, but you’ll probably want to do your own flight research before calling as agents aren’t always great at digging and finding all the options.

 

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8 thoughts on How to use AA.com to find better AAdvantage awards for your trip

  1. Janece

    I’m looking to buy 2 RT tickets LON to SLC Nov 22-Dec 6 (Ideally, though dates are flexible). Trying to avoid surcharges. Have BA and AA points. Help?

    Reply
  2. Kim

    I am looking for an invite for the southwest rapid reward plus card with 50,000 bonus points.
    Email me at kmlukkari at yahoo dot com
    Thanks

    Reply
  3. andy shuman

    The thing is, by selecting AA only, you filter out everyone else, not just BA. For Europe, for example, it means excluding Air Berlin, Niki, and Finnair. Even filtering out BA might not be a good idea, as their fees between LHR and Europe are minimal. Now, if there was a button to kill only TATL BA flights, then yeah, I’d be all for it.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @andy shuman – Yes that would be nice to include AirBerlin, Finnair, though avail is pretty crummy or phantom these days TATL. But give it a try on JFK-ATH for example. It will keep BA options within Europe, and only show days when AA is avail for the TATL.

      Reply
  4. Jerry Mandel

    You wrote, “Awards on American Airlines flights never incur nasty fuel surcharges.”. They certainly do on fights to London.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Jerry Mandel – There’s that pesky UK air passenger duty, but that’s a government fee, not a carrier imposed surcharge.

      Reply

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