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Each frequent flier program has specific routing rules that can be a combination of simple or complex, lenient or strict, and transparent or opaque… or anywhere in between.
American AAdvantage has some of the more arcane routing rules around.
To start, you’re limited to 3 flight segments for each one way award within the U.S. and Canada. So for example New York to Tucson via Dallas is fine. But New York to Charlotte to Dallas to Phoenix to Tucson isn’t allowed.
And you’re limited to 4 flight segments for each one way award everywhere else (8 segments for a roundtrip).
On top of that you’ll want to keep an eye on 6 factors to keep your award plans ‘legal’ at the lowest possible price:
American Airlines’ award chart is based on zones. For example, if you are flying from the North America Zone to the Europe Zone, your award is going to cost the same no matter where exactly in each of those zones you are flying from and to.
Here are all of American Airlines’ Zones defined:
|North America||U.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii), Canada, Mexico|
|Caribbean||Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, British Vigin Islands, Cayman Islands, Curacao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique, Puerto Rico, St. Kitts/Nevis|
|Central America||Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama|
|South America Zone 1||Brazil (Manaus only) Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela|
|South America Zone 2||Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil (excluding Manaus), Chile (excluding Easter Island), Falkland Islands, Paraguay, Uruguay|
|Europe||Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canary Islands, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom|
|Indian Sub Continent||Bangladesh, India, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan|
|Middle East||Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates|
|Africa||Algeria, Angola, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Melilla, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe|
|Asia Zone 1||Japan, Korea|
|Asia Zone 2||Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam|
|South Pacific||Australia, Easter Island, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Palau, New Caledonia, Republic of Tonga, Republic of Vanuatu, American Samoa, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu|
As a general rule, if you are flying from one zone to another, you cannot touch any other zones along the way.
For example, if you are flying from North America to Australia (South Pacific Zone) you cannot route via Asia unless you want to pay for two separate awards (Award 1: US – Asia, Award 2: Asia – South Pacific).
But there are a few unpublished exceptions to this that are pieced together on the Traveling Better forum and Flyerguide which let you go from one region to another while connecting in a third region.
This is generally because it would be impossible or very challenging to get to that region otherwise with American’s partners.
From the mainland U.S., the key exceptions are:
|Zone 1||Zone 2||Allowed Transit Region|
|North America||Indian Subcontinent||Europe, Middle East, Hong Kong*|
|North America||Middle East||Europe|
|North America||Africa||Europe, Doha**|
|North America||Asia Zone 2||Asia Zone 1|
|Central America||Indian Subcontinent||Europe|
|Central America||Middle East||Europe|
|South America Zone 1||Indian Subcontinent||Europe|
|South America Zone 1||Middle East||Europe|
|South America Zone 1||Africa||Europe|
|Central America||South Pacific||South America Zone 2|
|South America Zone 1||South Pacific||South America Zone 2|
|South America Zone 2||Indian Subcontinent||Europe|
|South America Zone 2||Middle East||Europe|
|South America Zone 2||Africa||Europe, Doha**|
|Europe||Asia Zone 1||Asia Zone 2, Doha**|
|Europe||Asia Zone 2||Doha**|
|Europe||South Pacific||Asia Zone 1, Asia Zone 2, Doha|
|Indian Sub Continent||Asia Zone 1||Asia Zone 2|
|Indian Sub Continent||South Pacific||Asia Zone 2|
|Middle East||Asia Zone 1||Asia Zone 2|
|Middle East||South Pacific||Asia Zone 2|
|Africa||Asia Zone 1||Asia Zone 2, Doha**|
|Africa||Asia Zone 2||Doha**|
|Asia Zone 1||South Pacific||Asia Zone 2|
*Travel via Hong Kong between North American and the Indian Subcontinent is only permitted on American Airlines and Cathay Pacific.
**Doha can only be transited when it is in a third region when both the incoming and outgoing flights are both on Qatar Airways. You can’t for example fly from Chicago to London to Doha to Cape Town.
Note: If you’re traveling in Hawaii, flights on Hawaiian Airlines are charged separately for each segment. So for example a Maui – Honolulu – Kona flight will be charged as two separate awards.
Each pair of cities that you can fly between has a maximum permitted mileage that you can fly to travel between the two cities. This isn’t the straight line distance between the two cities, but rather the number of miles you can fly while making a reasonable number of connections.
Maximum permitted mileage (MPM) is usually somewhere around 10% more than the most direct distance. When you are booking an award with American Airlines, you are allowed to exceed MPM by 25%. The easiest way to determine MPM for your flight is by consulting ExpertFlyer.com.
This rule is a little bit contradictory to the previous rule, but luckily this is based on the agent’s judgement that you are working with when booking over the phone and you shouldn’t run into trouble with it online.
Basically, as long as it doesn’t look like you are intending to fly an indirect routing, you shouldn’t run into any problems. If the agent suspects that you are trying to fly an indirect routing, they can break your ticket up into two separate awards, which would cost many more miles.
If this is the case, you should politely say no thanks and try calling a different agent.
You can only fly between two cities if the overwater carrier publishes a fare between those two cities. What this means is that if the carrier you are flying on the long haul segment wouldn’t sell you a paid ticket on that route, you cannot book it as an award.
You also must follow the airlines’ routing rules for any connections.
So if for example you want to fly St. Louis to Cape Town via Chicago and Doha using Qatar Airways , Qatar needs to publish a fare from St. Louis to Cape Town route.
Luckily, you shouldn’t run into this problem often because airlines like to make money and if they don’t publish a paid fare between city pairs that people want to book, they won’t be able to sell tickets, which means they won’t make money on that route.
And an airline doesn’t actually need to fly the route to be able to publish a fare. They use partners and codeshares to get around that.
It’s easy to check if an airline publishes a fare between two cities by plugging the cities into the airlines website or any online travel site (like Google Flights, Orbitz, Expedia, etc.).
Tip: This is a rule that telephone agents often don’t understand. If an award is pricing unusually high, not following a published fare is usually the culprit.
You may be able to escalate to a supervisor who also will not realize the reason for the higher pricing and might be able to get a manual pricing override, though this is a pretty rare occurrence. Your mileage may vary.
One of the big downsides to American Airlines’ redemption program is that stopovers are not allowed.
A layover that is four hours or longer on a domestic award or 24 hours or longer on an international award is considered to be a stopover, and will cause your itinerary to price as two separate awards.
When you are putting together an international award, the 24-hour limit applies to your domestic connections in addition to your international ones, so if you run into options that exceed this your award won’t price and you won’t be able to book it as one award.
One exception to the 4 hour rule for domestic connections is if the next scheduled flights is more than 4 hours away (including overnight). You won’t have to pay for two separate awards if that’s the case.
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