The dark side of American’s award ticket rules…

A couple of days ago I shared my thoughts on the increasing value of American miles, both in absolute and relative terms.

The funny thing about American’s award routing rules is that they’re simultaneously the most generous and least generous of just about any airline.

They’re the most generous because American lets you exceed the MPM (maximum permitted mileage) for a city pair by 25%. For those of you that have no clue what an MPM is, for many international fares airlines publish the maximum permitted mileage between a city pair, which is often roughly 10% over the direct distance, accounting for the fact that connections are often necessary. On partner awards American lets you exceed that by an additional 25%, which is incredibly generous.

Take, for example, Hong Kong to Los Angeles. Cathay Pacific publishes an MPM of 8,698 miles, meaning American will let you fly a total of 10,872 miles to get from Hong Kong to Los Angeles.

In practice that means you can fly from Hong Kong to Los Angeles via New York, which is pretty awesome given that American allows stopovers at the North American gateway city (meaning you could stop in New York for as long as you wanted).

The next most generous airline is United, which lets you exceed the MPM by 15%. Actually, I guess I should really say that US Airways is the most generous, since they let you do whatever the hell you want, not intentionally, but out of incompetence. But that’s neither here nor there.

But that’s the end of my American love fest, in this instance. While American lets you go 25% over the MPM, they’re total c%&*blockers beyond that, given that they’ll do just about anything to prevent you from maximizing your routing.

This is because American has two rather silly restrictions on award tickets:

1) The transoceanic airline has to publish a fare for the city pair you’re flying. This has to be the silliest rule of all. With American you can only fly between a city pair if the airline you’re flying on your transoceanic flight publishes a fare between the two cities. Say, for example, you want to fly from Los Angeles to the Maldives on Etihad Airways via New York and then Abu Dhabi. It’s about as direct as routings get to the Maldives, but the award can’t be booked.

Why? Because Etihad doesn’t publish a fare between Los Angeles and the Maldives. Using ExpertFlyer I searched for Etihad fares between Los Angeles and the Maldives:

And unfortunately it returned no results:

So this means there’s no way to book an Etihad award between Los Angeles and the Maldives using American miles on a single award. You could however book Los Angeles to New York on one award, and then New York to the Maldives on a separate award, given that Etihad does publish a fare for that city pair.

2) With few exceptions, you can’t transit a third region. Per this FlyerTalk post, you can’t transit a third region when booked on an American partner award with the following exceptions:

To/From Via
North America to/from Indian Sub Continent/Middle East can connect in:Europe
North America to/from Africa can connect in:Europe
North America to/from Asia 2 can connect in:Asia 1

Central/South America to/from Indian Sub Continent/Middle East can connect in:Europe
Central/South America to/from Africa can connect in:Europe
Central/South America to/from South Pacific can connect in:S. America 2

South America 2 to/from Indian Sub Continent/Middle East can connect in:Europe

Indian Sub Continent/Middle East to/from Asia 1 can connect in:Asia 2
Indian Sub Continent/Middle East to/from South Pacific can connect in:Asia 2

Africa to/from Asia 1 can connect in:Asia 2

Asia 1 to/from Europe can connect in:Asia 2
Asia 1 to/from South Pacific can connect in:Asia 2

Let me put this in terms of an example. Say you want to fly from San Francisco to Delhi. Using OneWorld carriers, the most direct routing would be to fly from San Francisco to Delhi via Hong Kong, the distance of which is 9,257 miles. The problem is that Hong Kong is in “Asia 2” region while India is in “Indian Sub Continent/Middle East” region, and you can’t transit another region on a partner award. The only exception for travel to India is as follows (per the chart above): “North America to/from Indian Sub Continent/Middle East can connect in:Europe.”

So in other words you can fly from San Francisco to Delhi via London, the distance of which is 9,558 miles, while you can’t take the more direct routing via Hong Kong without paying for two separate award tickets (one between the US and Asia 2, and one between Asia 2 and India).

The irony of it all? The MPM between San Francisco and Delhi is 11,922 miles, and American will let you exceed that by 25%, meaning you could fly 14,902 miles. Despite the fact that the routing via Hong Kong is over 5,000 miles under the MPM, it’s still not allowed.

Filed Under: Advice, American
  1. The published routing was an issue for some time on Etihad flying JFK-AUH-MLE as well, though now seems to be OK.

    Distance based chart is a good sometimes but you have to keep in mind a couple of things.
    1) Valid only on OW carriers. So Etihad would be excluded.
    2) Must travel on 2 carriers. So just flying CX ain’t gonna work.

  2. About a month ago, I needed to go to both Hong Kong and India. Being SFO based, I ended up using 130K AA miles with a distance based award in J that got me the following routing:

    ELP-LAX-SFO (AA F, I used this open jaw since I was in ELP to begin with for another trip prior to my Asia trip and to maximize my distance allowed under the award),

    SFO-HKG (13 hour layover, CX J),

    HKG-DEL (stop, CX J),

    DEL-HKG(stop, CX J),

    HKG-NRT (layover, CX J),

    NRT-LAX (JL J… the only angled flat segment… excellent food, but the hard product sucked).

    Could I have priced this award out using another option under AA? If I could, Lucky, I would hire you next time to book it for me!

  3. This may sound silly, but I would’ve never thought the route from NYC to Hong Kong would be over the Arctic. I’m sure it is after seeing the picture, but I would’ve assumed Pacific without any thought. Neat!

  4. I am trying to fly LGA-ORD(Stop on 6/10). Resume on 1/25/13 ORD-AUH-MLE. EY publishes a fare from LGA-MLE, and it seems to be within the MPM, but AA won’t let me do this. Am I missing something?

  5. It looks like distance based is my answer to get my wife from NRT-LAX thru SYD(to visit aunt). Any better options out there?

  6. @ Ken — What you did is by far the best option. If you had done a partner award it would have cost 135,000 miles, so you saved miles by doing what you did. Well done!

  7. @ Keith — What reason are they giving you?

    @ AdamRx — Yes, that’s definitely your best bet.

  8. Hi guys, on Distance based AA awards, what if i am traveling with an infant , how much would that be, is it 10% of miles or ticket prices, also what happend when i start the travel my infant will be less than 2 sitting on lap but the infant turns 2 during the middle of the trip, can anyone shed any light on this, i would highly appreciate it, i am trying to take advantage if travel before she turns two years old, thanks so much

  9. I perceive a diminishing value in the AA miles earned from flights for use for flights. AA instituting fuel surcharges on a huge proportion of TATL mileage tickets is part of the picture. AA’s insituting some sort of blackout periods for some flights are part of the picture of using AA miles for tickets too. Neither of those practices were in place a handful of years back and for the decades prior. Also, within the past two calendary years, AA has restricted/eliminated a bunch of the free stopover possibilities that were previously allowed.

    All of this has me seeing AA miles devalued more in the past two years than has happened to them in any other comparable period within the past 15 years.

  10. The “published fare” rule is even more frustrating for those of us who don’t live near major metropolitan airports – the frequency of not having a published fare for partner overwater carriers is even higher, IME anyway. Sure I can drive several hours or get a separate ticket to the appropriate airport, but that starts to make the whole thing less attractive compared to other FFPs.

    I agree with GUWonder’s comments, too. I hope AA doesn’t spiral down to be as lowly as SkyPesos in the years to come.

  11. Thank you! I just booked DEL-HKG-JFK on CX in J (DEL-HKG) and F(HKG-JFK) and was wondering why it booked as 2 awards for 97,500 miles. Since it’s 2 awards, I think I might need to build in a day stopover in HKG. That should be doable, right?

  12. @ Phuc Nguyen — You sure can.

    @ Keith — I can’t imagine it’s the case, though try routing out of JFK instead. The fare is published out of JFK. It shouldn’t have an impact, but I’m otherwise out of good reasons…

  13. @ Talha — If the infant turns two during your travels you’d need to buy a seat for the whole ticket. The infant fare is actually 10% of the cash fare for the routing you’re flying in the cabin you’re flying when booked through American. So that can get pretty expensive for first or business class tickets.

  14. @ GUWonder — For transatlantic travel they’re not great. Yes, there weren’t fuel surcharges a few years ago on BA, but you also couldn’t book them nonstop between the US and Europe, so it’s a tradeoff.

    But it’s tough to deny that there have been a few REALLY positive changes, including the Etihad partnership and the fact that Cathay Pacific has massively increased the number of award seats they release.

    @ PanAm — I don’t envy those living near small airports!

    @ Becca — Correct, since it’s two awards you can stop over for as long as you’d like.

  15. UA has regulations on MPM? Good to know. But I think you could build such an itinerary like HKG-FRA-LAX online, which may exceed the MPM by 30%? Have to say that CO’s website is really gooood.

  16. @ HF — They sure do, though you could actually use the Atlantic MPM when traveling via the Atlantic. So going from HKG to LAX via the Atlantic the MPM is 14,529, and you can actually exceed that by 15%, so you’re well below the MPM.

    @ Talha — For BA the same rule applies as far as the age, though you only have to pay 10% of the mileage instead of 10% of the paid fare, which is a much better deal.

  17. Actually, I guess I should really say that US Airways is the most generous, since they let you do whatever the hell you want, not intentionally, but out of incompetence. But that’s neither here nor there.

    One of these days, I am going to book SEA-ICN-BKK-PER-JNB-FRA-EZE-IAD-SEA in C on US just to see if it can be done.

  18. @Keith: The MPM only is applied if the fare being used is an MPM-based fare. EY’s NYC-MLE fare specifies connecting points as follows:

    10. NYC-AUH-MLE

    Therefore, NYC-CHI-AUH-MLE isn’t a valid routing.

  19. Lucky,

    I found your post interesting. Is this the reason MNL-AUH-AMM-TLV prices out as two one-way redemption as opposed to MNL-HKG-BKK-AMM-TLV which prices out as only one?

    MNL-AUH-AMM-TLV is on EY and RJ (5652 miles in distance) while MNL-HKG-BKK-AMM-TLV is on CX and RJ (6063 miles in distance).

    Cheers and thanks for your insights

  20. @ David — Both should be legal. They’re both not more than 25% over the MPM, both airlines publish fares in the markets, and in both cases you’re not transiting any zones you’re not allowed to. So I’d hang up and call again.

  21. Lucky – do you have the exact verbiage of the AA over-fare rule? Anywhere that it is written on

  22. @ Happy — You should be able to stopover in Los Angeles, as that would be the international gateway city. 55,000 is as low as it gets for business class!

  23. Sort of off topic, but question if booking two one-ways as a roundtrip on a single PNR to save on the phone booking fee.


    Does the fee date change rule still apply if I only wanted to change say just the return segment if it’s an open jaw roundtrip? I assume they’re still treated as separate origin/destinations? Thanks

  24. For EXP’s using their own miles to book for others, are the change and redeposit fees still waived if the EXP isn’t on the same itinerary?

  25. @ E — You still have to pay the $25 ticketing fee, though the change and redeposit fees are waived.

  26. Would the routing of IND-ORD-HKG-PVG (with the ORD-HKG segment on Cathay, HKG-PVG on DragonAir) be against the ‘published fare’ rule…?

  27. AA award agent stating that MLE-DOH-AUH-SYD not valid (pricing as two separate awards) on QR with EY overwater (EY does publish the fare). AA agent says MLE-SYD MPM is too low for those 2 city pairs– said partner airline MPM as operating carrier trumps AA MPM +25%.. Have you experienced this limitation or HUCA? Thanks

  28. @ fauxblogger — Agent is correct. Distance of that routing is 9,746 miles, while MPM plus 25% is 9,035 miles.

  29. Thank you Lucky for your quick response.. Since no more direct routing available on any OW carrier’s awards for that day/class of service, I was hoping to try the force fare breakpoint Sabre exception, but I don’t think that will work when MPM +25% sets the ceiling. Have you had luck with AA rate desk disregarding MPM +25% limit? Hard to believe adding a tag flight in same AA region blows up the MPM.

  30. @fauxblogger — I’m having the same problem with SYD-AUH-MLE. This is the most direct routing via the middle east 9,367 is greater than the MQM of 9,035, sadly.

    I was able to get around it by adding AKL-SYD tag on. So, AKL-SYD-AUH-MLE. That’s a total of 10,712 miles. The MQM on AKL-MLE is 8,806 + 25% = 11,007.5.

    Kind of a buzzkill, as I wanted to spend some time in SYD, but since I’ll be originating in AKL anyway, this will work — especially when an EY apartment is in play.

  31. Wanted to know if I can do JFK to AUH to DOH to ESB in F but get charge only 62000 mile since ESB is in Europe and only one world carrier flies there is QR
    MPM is 6250 but they say 25% is included am I missing something?

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