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8 American Airlines Award Booking Tips & Tricks!

The image shows an American Airlines aircraft in flight against a cloudy sky. The airplane is a twin-engine jet with the American Airlines logo and branding visible on the fuselage and tail. The landing gear is partially retracted, indicating that the plane is either taking off or landing. The photo is credited to "Aero Shots" in the bottom left corner.

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!

The image shows an American Airlines airplane in flight against a cloudy sky. The aircraft has the airline's logo and distinctive red, white, and blue striped tail. The landing gear is extended, indicating that the plane is either taking off or preparing to land.
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.

A person with an exaggerated, cartoonish facial expression is sitting in a forest. They are resting their chin on their hands and looking upwards with a wide, excited smile. The person is wearing a patterned sweater and red pants. The background is dark and filled with trees, giving a mysterious and whimsical atmosphere.
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).

The image shows a luxurious airplane seat in a first-class or business-class cabin. The seat is wide and upholstered in light-colored leather, with a large pillow and a smaller pillow placed on it. There is a seatbelt across the seat, and the area around the seat includes a side table with a wood finish, a reading light, and a window. The overall setting appears to be designed for comfort and convenience during a flight.
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.

A world map showing flight routes between Tokyo, Japan (NRT) and four cities in the United States: San Diego (SAN), Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW), Chicago (ORD), and Atlanta (ATL). The routes are depicted with red curved lines connecting Tokyo to each of the U.S. cities. The map highlights the geographical locations and the flight paths across the Pacific Ocean and North America.
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?


The image is a screenshot of an email from American Airlines. The email is about a schedule change to a reservation. At the top, there is the American Airlines logo and an image of an airplane. The email is addressed to "DEREK WINTER" and includes a date of issue, "13OCT15," and a record locator, which is blurred out. The email informs the recipient about a recent schedule change to their reservation and mentions that the current itinerary is listed below.
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!

The image shows three vintage rotary payphones mounted on a wall. Each phone has a black handset and a coin slot, with a coiled cord connecting the handset to the phone. The wall behind the phones is light-colored with a subtle vertical stripe pattern.
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.

The image is a screenshot of a flight booking webpage for a trip from New York (JFK) to Hong Kong on Monday, March 17. The search is for 3 adults. The table lists three flights with their departure and arrival times, flight numbers, and available seating classes (Economy, Premium Economy, Business, and First). The flights are operated by Cathay Pacific. The first flight departs at 00:30 and arrives at 05:00, the second flight departs at 09:00 and arrives at 14:05, and the third flight departs at 13:55 and arrives at 18:00. The Economy and Premium Economy classes have available seats, while Business and First classes show "No Seats" available.
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!

The image shows a black analog alarm clock with white face and black numbers, placed on a wooden outdoor table. The background includes a blurred brick wall and metal railings.
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!


The image shows a simple white line drawing of a paper airplane on a blue circular background.


  1. 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.

    1. 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…


  2. 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.

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


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


    2. 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.

  3. 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.

      1. 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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