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American AAdvantage routing rules explained and listed

by on Wed May 18, 2016 • 7 Comments
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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 and you’ll want to keep an eye on 6 factors to keep your award plans ‘legal’ at the lowest possible price:

Zone definitions

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:

ZoneCountries Included
North AmericaU.S. (including Alaska and Hawaii), Canada, Mexico
CaribbeanAnguilla, 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 AmericaBelize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama
South America Zone 1Brazil (Manaus only) Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela
South America Zone 2Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil (excluding Manaus), Chile (excluding Easter Island), Falkland Islands, Paraguay, Uruguay
EuropeAlbania, 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 ContinentBangladesh, India, Kazakhstan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan
Middle EastBahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates
AfricaAlgeria, 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 1Japan, Korea
Asia Zone 2Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam
South PacificAustralia, 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

Routing exceptions

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).

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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:

  • You can go to India via the Middle East (letting you use Qatar and Etihad), Europe, or Hong Kong (on Cathay Pacific only)
  • You can go to Africa via Doha on Qatar Airways, or via Europe (which is less attractive because of British Airways surcharges), but you can’t go via both Doha and Europe, and you can’t go via any other Middle East city like Abu Dhabi on Etihad
  • You can go to Asia Zone 2 (China, Hong Kong, Southeast Asia) via Asia Zone 1 (Japan, Korea) – letting you fly Japan Airlines

Zone 1Zone 2Allowed Transit Region
North AmericaIndian SubcontinentEurope, Middle East, Hong Kong*
North AmericaMiddle EastEurope
North AmericaAfricaEurope, Doha**
North AmericaAsia Zone 2Asia Zone 1
Central AmericaIndian SubcontinentEurope
Central AmericaMiddle EastEurope
Central AmericaAfricaEurope
South America Zone 1Indian SubcontinentEurope
South America Zone 1Middle EastEurope
South America Zone 1AfricaEurope
Central AmericaSouth PacificSouth America Zone 2
South America Zone 1South PacificSouth America Zone 2
South America Zone 2Indian SubcontinentEurope
South America Zone 2Middle EastEurope
South America Zone 2AfricaEurope, Doha**
EuropeAsia Zone 1Asia Zone 2, Doha**
EuropeAsia Zone 2Doha**
EuropeSouth PacificAsia Zone 1, Asia Zone 2, Doha
Indian Sub ContinentAsia Zone 1Asia Zone 2
Indian Sub ContinentSouth PacificAsia Zone 2
Middle EastAsia Zone 1Asia Zone 2
Middle EastSouth PacificAsia Zone 2
AfricaAsia Zone 1Asia Zone 2, Doha**
AfricaAsia Zone 2Doha**
Asia Zone 1South PacificAsia 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. 

Maximum Permitted Mileage

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.

Most Direct Routing

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.

Published Fare

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.

Stopovers

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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7 thoughts on American AAdvantage routing rules explained and listed

  1. boxerlola

    I booked LAX-NRT-HAN on JAL F/Business prior to AA devaluation. Just learned yestarday Vietnam increased visa fees to $135 as of August 2016 + visa approval letter fee $60-$120 depending on agency used (adding $400 – $500 for 2 on visa fees) just to enter Vietnam for 4 days). Considering changing segment NRT-BKK or MNL. Is this possible routing change? Or can I just drop the HAN segment altogether. I’m a newbie, any suggestions greatly appreciated. We have to end up in SIN as return on a separate booking SIN-HKG-LAX on CX Business. Thank you

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @boxerlola – You can just not show up for the last segment. Changing the destination would be a routing change. Or just see if you can transit within the airport in Vietnam without a visa, and book a ticket from there to BKK.

      Reply
  2. nathan hendrix

    Hoping for better understanding here. Looking to book a one way partner award with AA miles on Iberia. Transatlantic flight is from Madrid to Chicago with 57.5k miles in business. However, I’m starting from Paris and actually ending in Detroit. Can I get either CDG/ORY-MAD-ORD-DTW as the one award at 57.5k miles as long as I obey the connection time rules? Thank you in advance.

    Reply
  3. RR

    The biggest changes that I have seen are the very limited options when searching for award booking, especially to Europe. With exception of Spain, every flight I looked at wanted to do the very pricey option of using British Airways that lands in Heathrow, where not only will you sacrifice many, many points,but be charged often over $500 in taxes/fuel surcharges. If you eliminate BA in the search, you likely will not find anything to choose from. Found out that AA has direct flights to Frankfurt from Dallas and Charlotte, but you are not given those options when booking with awards. I entered Dallas to Frankfurt when choosing award travel, but it was not listed as option, however, Charlotte to Frankfurt was offered, when I entered this a preference, but would not offer it to me as option otherwise. Both domestically and internationally, often what you are offered with booking with their awards travel has impossible or very risky short connection times for next fight or extremely early morning hours, or arrival late night and sometimes extremely long wait for next connection. Increase in terminal changes for second flights too.

    I am not a fan of their smaller Eagle jets either. AA no longer staffs these flights, it is as though a “rent a crew” from various other small airlines, such as Republic. There really is no first class experience in these small jets, it is only free alcohol and snacks and slightly bigger seat. For short flights of 2 hours or less, no problem, but find it offensive that on 3 hour flight from Miami to Cleveland, the only direct flight uses this small jet. Yet they insult by offering first class on this small jet with no meal. 3 hours is hardly a short flight. Domestically, much of what could be considered the “first class elite experience” is being broken up when booking from Miami, with use of small jets from here that want to first stop in Charlotte, etc., then route you to another short flight with a small jet to your destination.

    Reply
    1. MileCards.com

      @Presi – We’ll note that. Yes the Hawaii award chart for AA notes that intra-Hawaii awards are per segment.

      “++Levels are per segment, only valid on Hawaiian Airlines”

      Reply
      1. Presl

        Thank you. Found out about it before AA devalued their award chart. I thought it would be a good way to use 5000 AA miles considering one-way KOA-LIH costs $250, but miles required was doubled to 10k. Even worse now that award chart was devalued.

        Reply

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