How to Book Free Flights Using American Airlines AAdvantage Miles

One of the great benefits to booking free tickets on American Airlines is the ability to see more than one city, using the same award ticket, for the same amount of miles.  On international tickets, American allows open jaws on both legs of the trip and allows a stopover in a North American gateway city on both legs of the trip.  If you’re not sure what that means, keep reading!

Know the Tricks

Stopovers:  If you’re flying internationally, American allows you to stopover in one of their North American gateway cities on both directions.  For example, if you wanted to fly from Washington D.C. to Lima, Peru, you could include a stopover in Dallas and stay for up to a year before continuing on to Lima.  You can do the same thing on the return trip.  For example, on a flight back from Rio you could stop over in Los Angeles on your way to back to San Francisco.

The rule on stopovers, is that you can go “out of the way” up to 25% of the direct mileage.  For example, a direct flight from New York to Paris is 4,362 miles.  Multiply that times 25% and you’ll see that you could “stopover” anywhere in North American within 1,090 miles of New York.  You can use this this trick to stopover in Eastern Canada, or Chicago, or even to spend a few days as far south as Orlando (943 miles) before heading over seas! However, you couldn’t fly from New York to London with a stopover in Los Angeles, because Los Angeles is more than 1,090 miles away.  Additionally, flights solely within North America do not allow stopovers, even if you are flying to Canada or Mexico.

Transfers:  For domestic travel, a transfer can only be up to 4 hours.  However, on international tickets you can have a transfer time of up to 24 hours without it counting as your stopover.  For example, you may fly into Paris in the morning, spend the entire day sightseeing and then board an evening flight to Asia without it counting as a stopover.

Open Jaws:  An Open Jaw is industry jargon for flying in and out of different cities on the same ticket.  For example, you could fly from Los Angeles to Germany, travel around Europe for awhile, and then fly back from Rome and land in New York all for the same amount of miles as just going direct from Los Angeles to Germany.  American allows one way reward bookings, which essentially allows open jaws on every award flight.

These tricks allow for some pretty exciting options.  Rather than spending 50,000 miles just to get to and from San Francisco to London, you could instead go from San Francisco to Washington D.C. and “stopover” there for awhile before heading off to London.  Then you could book your return flight from Paris to Honolulu with a “stopover” back in your hometown of San Francisco.  This basically gives you a free one way ticket to Honolulu that you can use any time in the next year!  That same 50,000 miles now allows you to visit 4 cities instead of one, and the only additional travel you would have to book are your trips from London to Paris and from Honolulu back to San Francisco.  This is the hidden value of award tickets!  For a great video tutorial on how to book these flights on aa.com, click here.

Now that you know how many places you can visit on one ticket, you need to learn how to actually get there.  Booking award travel on American isn’t always easy, but following these steps will make sure you’re rewarded in the end.

Booking Domestic Flights

Since American Airlines has no domestic airline partners, the best way to book free domestic flights is online thorough aa.com.  American lists all of its domestic inventory online, and if you book through the website you won’t have to pay any additional fees.

Booking International Flights

When looking for international free tickets, you should start with the online booking tool.  However, notice that American Airlines ONLY allows you to search for American Airlines operated flights when using the booking engine on aa.com.  None of their partner airlines are included in the search.  Therefore, if you wanted to book a flight to Moscow, the American website will show no availability.  However, many of American’s partner airlines fly to Moscow regularly and have a lot of availability.  You just have to call the AAdvantage desk at (800) 882-8880 in order to book these flights.

Tips for Getting the Flights you Want

1.  Look at the partner airline route maps.  At MARS Frequent Flyer we have direct links to the route maps of all American Airlines partners.  Simply click on the route maps and see which airlines fly to your desired destination.  Often times, there will be several airlines that fly into the same city, which will give lots of flexibility in your booking options.

2.  Piece together some different routing options.  Let’s say that you want to get from Dallas to Moscow.  There is no direct flight available, but there are many other options.  You could fly on British Airways through London.  Or you could fly from Dallas to a European gateway on American Airlines, and then connect through Germany on Air Berlin or through Spain on Iberia to get the rest of the way.   You don’t have to stay on one airline, so feel free to mix and match in order to piece your trip together.

3.  Work with the agent on the phone.  Once you have your different routing options available, start walking the phone agent through all of your top choices.  Do not assume that the agent knows all of the different routes, because they don’t.  I usually call with my computer screen open to MARS and keep throwing different routings and partners at them until I get the best flight.

4.  Save time using MARS Frequent Flyer.  On the American AAdvantage page at MARS, we have all of the information needed to help make your bookings.  The direct links to award charts, online booking tools, phone numbers, and partner airlines will save you hours of time in putting together your trip.  MARS also shows you ways to earn hundreds of thousands of free frequent flyer miles so that you can travel the world for free!

5.  Make Sure You Are Getting Good Value!

Using AAdvantage miles to book free flights can be extremely rewarding.  Just remember, if you can’t get at least 2 pennies per point, you should purchase the ticket and wait for a better opportunity to use your points.  Frequent flyer miles are extremely valuable!  It’s not very difficult to find opportunities to get 2 pennies per point, especially if you have an emergency.  Often times you can get over 3 cents, and even up to 15 cents per point if you use them to book international business or first class.  Now that is great value!

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