American has extremely generous routing rules… as long as you don’t want to use them to your advantage

Reader Brad sent me an email asking the following:

I just tried to book an award ticket using American miles from Los Angeles to Hong Kong by way of New York. In a previous post you wrote this should be allowed since it does not exceed the MPM by more than 25%, yet the agent told me that routing would require two awards. Any clue why?

I believe Brad is referring to this post, in which I covered three major topics related to redeeming American AAdvantage partner awards, which I’ll very briefly recap:

1) American will let you exceed the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) for a city pair by up to 25% on an award reservation. For example, from Los Angeles to Hong Kong the MPM is 8,698 miles, and 25% more than that is 10,872 miles. Los Angeles to New York to Hong Kong is 10,547 miles, so in theory it should be allowed.

2) In order for an award routing to be legal, the transoceanic carrier has to publish a fare between the origin and destination. For example, Etihad publishes a fare between New York and Male, but not between Tampa and Male. So if you want to fly to Male using American miles on Etihad, you’d have to book your ticket from Tampa to New York separately.

3) On an award you can’t transit a third region (other than the region of your origin and destination), unless it falls on the exception table, listed in this post.

But back to the point of this post. Should Brad be allowed to route from Los Angeles to Hong Kong via New York since it exceeds the MPM by less than 25%? Sort of.

American has seemingly contradictory policies. On one hand they say you exceed the MPM by up to 25%, but on the other hand they also say say that “passenger must travel the most direct routing.” Those two seemingly contradict one another, don’t they?

That’s because American’s award routing rules are based on intent and not necessarily numbers. Back in the day mileage running was great because most airlines would let you make three or four connections in each direction on a domestic ticket. Why? Because the assumption was that nobody on earth would want to fly more than they have to, and that if someone was making multiple connections it was out of necessity based on availability. Of course we proved them wrong, and over the past few years airlines have tightened up the fare rules on domestic tickets, now that they’ve seen some of us actually do like making extra connections to earn more miles.

I think what it all comes down to is this clause from a memo on flex awards that’s posted on Traveling Better, which I think seems to apply to most American awards nowadays:

The number of awards assessed should be determined by the customer’s intentions. If the indirect routing is booked at the customer’s request, multiple awards should apply using Pricing Override Options – Force Fare Breakpoint. If the routing is booked based on lack of award availability on direct routes, then an exception may be made, allowing Sabre to price as one award.

So basically you should be allowed to exceed the MPM by up to 25%, but only if it’s not your intention to do that. So if you’re still intent on routing via New York, perhaps approach this a bit differently. When you call American don’t say “I’d like to fly from Los Angeles to Hong Kong via New York. I have the flights that are available, so may I give them to you?” Perhaps instead ask what’s available, and when they can’t find anything, say “shoot, I really need to fly on those dates, do you mind maybe checking award space via another Cathay Pacific gateway city?” See if they’ll suggest New York, which they might if they’re creative. Otherwise it can’t hurt to suggest it at that point if they don’t.

So it’s odd for a company this big to have rules based on intentions and not purely what the computer will price, though hopefully by understanding this you can modify your approach towards booking a “complex” routing using an AAdvantage partner award.

Filed Under: Advice, American
  1. Or you can book online and let the computer grant whatever you want.

    I recently booked SFO-TYO as SFO-LAX-JFK, layover for a while, then JFK-HND. All done on the website.

  2. @ Mike — Interestingly the website seems to allow lots of “exceptions.” If only Cathay Pacific award showed up on

  3. If your dates are flexible, you could also deliberately choose a date where first class availability is only to New York, or something like that. Effectively forcing the “non-intent” up-front.

  4. How about reserving Las Vegas-NY-HKG, putting it on hold, and then calling back and just changing Las Vegas to LA?

  5. I was stuck in similar condition a while back with trying to get SFO-BOS-NRT on JAL. The obviously did not show up any results and AA rep said not possible. I later booked SFO-JFK-HND (though SFO to JFK through DFW) on I have yet to fly on the later part of the trip, but can change JFK-HND to BOS-NRT for only $150 if I want. In the end, $150 is still less than paying for west coast to east coast.

  6. @ gavinmac — The routing would have to be validated at the time of ticketing, so it wouldn’t make a different. Just because something is put on hold doesn’t mean an agent would be willing to ticket it.

  7. @lucky. Good to know. So if you want to fly “CMB-HKG” you might not be allowed to route “CMB-KUL-SIN-HKG” if a more direct route is available?

  8. @ Murtuza — Correct, technically if it’s not the most direct routing then they don’t have to give it to you. That being said, within reason I find most agents don’t care what routings you take.

  9. @Mike you won’t be able to do it because AA is only that flexible on it’s own biggest “open -jaw ” was can’t even do the NRT flights stopping over in dfw,ord..
    As for the lax-JFK-hkg.tried that too with no success a couple of months ago.called back about 5 times but was always priced at 100k on F….

  10. I was able to book FOC-HKG-JFK-LAX in F back in January – and I did push the date out to December for the JFK-LAX flight. It definately can be done.

    It’ll be unfortunate not to be able to maintain this flexibility – particularly when US miles roll through to AAdvantage later this year or next.

  11. I’m still have lots of problems using Avios for domestic AA flights. Can you point me to the article that covers this please?

  12. Did NRT-JFK (stopover for 9 months) JFK-SFO-OGG last year as a single one-way redemption. Booked it by phone with no problem – the only restriction was that NRT-JFK had to be on AA metal, not JL.

  13. @lucky. Can never find any flights on BA website, sorry, I’m kinda new at this. Thought there might be an article that you can link me to.

  14. @Mike. Start at Select the redeem miles option and search for the “MileSaver” availability. Anything available can be redeemed using BA avios. Visit –> Executive Club –> Spending avios –> “search and book a reward flight”

  15. Agree that approaches on talking to the agents make the differences. However many agent are too lazy to deal with it and let the computer price it out. I always said “oh it is during Xmas so it is so hard to find the availability but I found one that may have a crazy routing but still legal”… etc.

  16. I booked 2 CX F via JFK-YVR-HKG and add SFO-JFK later on into one award ticket.
    One agent told me need separate tickets, called back and able to book it, not sure which agent is correct but happy to be ticketed.

  17. @ Mike — Murtuza’s space is spot on. I’d search for space on American’s website and once you find the saver space, go to to book.

  18. Soon AA will only accept flight bookings from customers willing to undergo a brain scan and upload the data to AA, which will read the scan to determine your intentions.

  19. @gavinmac – I don’t think CX publishes a non-constructed fare from LAS to HKG.

  20. All I ever get us no availability. I click in date to view partner airlines, nothing. Do I have to call in?

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