05 Apr 8 American Airlines Award Booking Tips & Tricks!

Booking American Airlines award tickets is complicated. Knowing all the various partner airlines in the oneworld alliance, the long-haul and fifth freedom routes they fly – it’s overwhelming! Of course, then you have to search for the award space – which is harder than it sounds – and after all that you have to actually book the ticket! And don’t even get me started on having to make any changes to that ticket!

Photo cred to aero-shots.boardingarea.com

What can you do, what can’t you do without extra fees – it’s tricky! We want to make it a bit easier for you, which is why we put together…

The 8 American Airlines Award Booking Tips & Tricks You Should Be Taking AAdvantage Of:

#1 – Award Holds

So, you found award availability but you’re not quite ready to book the award? American Airlines will allow you to hold award flights on AA and most partners for a 5-day period, as long as the flight is more than two weeks from departure.

So, if you are waiting for some miles to post to your account via a credit card statement, or perhaps transferring in miles from Starwood – you have the option to hold that award space a bit earlier!

#2 – “Extending” Holds

While the award hold mentioned above is valid for 5 days, it is possible to call AA and ask (very nicely) if the award hold can extend a few more days. So, if you are still waiting on a mile transfer or perhaps booking a round trip award through the end of the AA flight calendar, you might be able to utilize this type of request.

Try giving the phone rep the starry eyes… or maybe just be really extra nice!

I have been able to extend an award 10 full days on top of the initial 5-day hold period, but an additional 2-3 day grace period is more reasonable to expect. There is some debate on whether this operates as an “extension” or merely a cancellation & re-holding of an award ticket, but either way you gain a bit more time before deciding to book.

Keep in mind that this is only a request and not within AA policy, so they have every right to deny this request.

#3 – Mixed Cabin Bookings

The most important flight in any of my AA award bookings is the “long-haul flight” – often times, a flight crossing an ocean! Long-haul business class/first class space is a must for me. That is why in a multi-segment award itinerary (like NRT-ORD-TPA), I turn my focus to the long-haul premium cabin flight segment (NRT-ORD), and worry about the smaller segment(s) later (ORD-TPA).

Keep your eyes on the prize!

While long-haul premium cabin award space is tough to find, sometimes domestic award space can be even more sparse (which is ridiculous, AA).

That is when mixed-cabin bookings come in handy! Book the 12-hour long-haul in business/first, then the 2-hour domestic flight in economy! If you do use this – make sure the “voluntary downgrade” mixed-cabin booking is noted, or you may suffer subsequent cancellation…

AYP Tip If you find long-haul premium award space but see no space whatsoever on the domestic piece, it is possible to have the AA phone agents book a (hopefully cheap) paid fare on the domestic flight and link it to the same single record locator. Keeping the itinerary on one record locator is key, as it will allow you to avoid American Airlines bullsh*t baggage policy! If you are lucky, the AA agent might even show you some goodwill and book that last paid segment for you free of charge! This would definitely be an above and beyond move by the AA agent, but I have had it happen before!

#4 – Free Award Changes (except origin/destination)

AA does not charge award change fees – as long as the origin and destination remain the same! That means, dates, times, routing and partner airlines can all be adjusted, just so long as you start and finish your itinerary in the same airports as the original bookings! If you are sure on the destination, but still unsure on when you want to travel, consider booking the flights anyway to reserve the space and then adjust later on if your plans change.

Change NRT-SAN-DFW-TPA to NRT-ORD-TPA for no charge!

Note: The AA site includes changes in partner airlines as subject to the $150 change fee, though in my previous experiences this never resulted in a fee. I am not sure if this is a new move or if this has always been the language, so just make sure you are not charged a change fee.

#5 – The Schedule Change

You booked your award flight 10 months out. Plans change, and of course they require you to change the origin/departure city of your perfectly planned award ticket – meaning $150 down the tube, right?

WRONG!

If you regularly book AA Award tickets – know know this email all too well!

If you did book your award ticket that far in advance, chances are very good that American Airlines will incur a schedule change on one or more of your flight segments (especially the domestic pieces). When the (likely) schedule change does occur and it impacts your journey 2 hours or more, AA will allow you to change/cancel the itinerary free of charge!

You can even make a change to another American flight that isn’t showing any award availability!

Getting close and still no schedule change? Move the trip further out. Change again if you are ready to make the trip, OR continue to wait for an AA schedule change!

#6 – Phone Ticketing Fee Waiver

While AA will charge $30-$40 for reservations made over the phone, it is possible to have these fees waived!

Who ya gonna call!?

If your desired itinerary cannot be booked via aa.com, be sure to mention this to the phone agent who will note that the fee should be waived!

#7 – Searching Partner Awards on oneworld Partner Sites

AA.com is (somewhat) useful in searching for availability American Airlines own award flights, but for partner airlines it is terrible/impossible. I don’t waste my time with AA.com anymore – even for AA flights – and you shouldn’t either.

Search Qantas for that last minute Cathay First Class award space!

Instead, utilize Qantas (especially for close-in Cathay First availability), British Airways, and/or Japan Airlines (best for JAL award space) websites for all your oneworld award search needs!

#8 – Under 24 Layovers

American Airlines allows layovers of under 24 hours. Whether it is a quick 24 hours in a layover friendly destination like Hong Kong, or facilitating a more detailed award itinerary that requires a bit of positioning for long-haul segments – you can and should utilize this to your advantage!

24 hours in the layover city of your choosing – or where AA shows award availability!

It may not be as generous as Alaska Airlines stopover policy on award flights (link), but it can be quite useful!

Final Thought

Booking American Airlines award tickets can get complicated. There are a whole bunch of rules, can-do’s and can’t-do’s, that make the whole process quite tiresome.

But, with the 8 tips herein, you are armed and dangerous and ready to take on your next AA award booking like a pro!

Were you already familiar with these tips and tricks? Are there any tips/tricks not listed that you utilize make your AA awards work for you?

Happy AA Award Travels!

DW

11 Comments
  • Tom
    Posted at 09:28h, 05 April Reply

    I was surprised, recently, when I found Finnair space on AA, that wasn’t listed on BA. It was a lesson in using as many sources as possible to find what I need.

    • DW
      Posted at 11:29h, 05 April Reply

      Nice! If I am searching partner space, AA is the last place I look. Hell, even if I am searching AA space AA.com is the last place I look…

      DW

  • Scott Graton
    Posted at 11:26h, 05 April Reply

    I don’t even know why AA bothers to put the mile saver buttons on their domestic award searches anymore. I can search for months without finding one mile saver award in either economy or business/first. It is pretty much a joke.

    • DW
      Posted at 11:28h, 05 April Reply

      I hear ya brother! Absolutely ridiculous…Unless you catch them during a mass availability open window, it’s completely unavailable.

      DW

  • nick
    Posted at 11:42h, 05 April Reply

    What about award mile discounts for card holders? I am new to this aspect. no booking online with these? must call ? Not like IHG where they auto rebate your account?
    https://www.aa.com/i18n/aadvantage-program/miles/redeem/award-travel/reduced-mileage-awards.jsp

    • DW
      Posted at 11:57h, 05 April Reply

      Good call, thanks for the comment! Personally, these have never worked out for me, but I know that some cardholders get value from them!

      DW

    • Alex
      Posted at 13:28h, 11 April Reply

      I believe you must call. Last I checked, the reduced mileage awards for Citi cardholders were not bookable directly on the AA site (therefore, no phone booking fee), but I would check with the phone agent anyway – just to be safe.

  • Patrick
    Posted at 12:18h, 05 April Reply

    Regarding #5.
    I’ve been able to cancel an award flight with only a 1/2 hour schedule change. I had to whine a little bit but they went ahead and cancelled with no charge.

    • DW
      Posted at 12:22h, 05 April Reply

      Thanks for the data point! Cancel and redeposit the miles or cancel and rebook for a later date?

      • Patrick
        Posted at 10:35h, 06 April Reply

        I originally cancelled and rebooked for a later time that was several months out (hoping for a schedule change)
        The 1/2 hour schedule change finally happened and I asked to cancel and have the mile redeposited.

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    Posted at 19:56h, 08 April Reply

    […] 8 American Airlines Award Booking Tips & Tricks! […]

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