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