Tips When Using American Airlines Miles

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If you want to book an award ticket using your airline miles you should be able to just log on to the airline’s website, put in where you want to start, where you want to end, press search and then book the ticket in your preferred cabin with your miles, right?  Well, sometimes it works that way, but a lot of times it doesn’t.  The more complex the award, the more likely it is that many of your redemptions options aren’t displayed if you just search that way, and the more rules that you may or may not know about come into play.

I recently helped some family members book business class award tickets from Kansas to Budapest using their American Airlines miles, and while we got the tickets we wanted (yay!), in the middle of the process I found myself saying “I can understand why people redeem their miles for toasters”. 

I don’t book using American Airlines miles as often as I dabble in Star Alliance, so after I found some flights that looked pretty decent to me given the available options, I reached out to a friend to make sure this was as good as it gets.  The trip we booked was:

Wichita – Dallas – Miami (stop overnight) – Berlin – Budapest

The first two flights are in domestic first on American Airlines.  They will then stay in Miami for the night due to availability issues, but it is also probably good to break up the trip a little.  The over-water segment from Miami to Berlin is in business class on airberlin, and the final short hop from Berlin to Budapest is in coach on airberlin.  This will be my in-laws first time in international business class, so I am so happy they will get a chance to arrive for their big trip on a cruise through Europe a bit more comfortable than if they were in coach the whole way.  Goodness knows my mom enjoyed the heck out of her first business class trip a couple months ago!

airberlin business class

airberlin new business class

Once I found the routing that looked best given all the options I knew of, I emailed my friend and super award booker Gary Leff from View From the Wing.  Not only does he book tons of awards via his award booking business, but I knew that he personally utilizes American Airlines and OneWorld partners more than I do for his own flights.  It pays to have friends in this hobby to bounce things off of as we can’t all be experts in everything.  He agreed that was probably as good as it gets given limited availability in business on AA operated flights across the pond, wanting to avoid British Airways due to the high fuel surcharges, and limited OneWorld options getting specifically into Budapest.

During our email exchange we rehashed some things to keep in mind when booking award tickets using American Airlines miles, and I think these points (plus a few others) are worth sharing.

  • You can make bookings 330 days out
  • One-way tickets are half the price of a round trip
  • You can put many AA award tickets on hold for five days while you wait for transferred or purchased miles to post or just take the time to decide this is really the itinerary for you
  • On big international awards to other zones, you can have a connection of up to 24 hours (which is how we did the overnight in Miami)
  • You can use miles from one account for anyone you designate
  • You can have multiple types of award on one ticket (we had business and economy flights on the same award – will price at the level of the highest cabin used)
  • The overwater carrier must publish a fare between the origin and destination to ticket as one award (luckily AirBelin does publish a fare from Wichita – Budapest)
  • Have to follow the carrier’s published routing rules (wasn’t a real issue with airberlin, could be trickier with some other partners)
  • Ticketing less than 21 days prior to departure $75 (Waived for AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum and Gold members using miles from their account.
  • A $150 USD charge or additional miles will apply for a change to an eligible origin or destination.  This additional charge or miles are waived when voluntarily upgrading to a higher award level in the same region
  • A $75 USD award processing charge will apply for a confirmed change to the date on an award ticket if the change results in a new outbound travel date that is within 21 days of the original booking date
  • Search segment by segment instead of expecting the computer to put together all available options, then call to book over the phone

Some of these things are pretty straight-forward, but when you start talking about routing rules, published fares, searching by segments, booking over the phone etc. I think you lose a fair amount of “normal” folks.  They then just cash miles in for toasters…or simply stick to the options (or lack thereof) that the AA search engine feeds them online.  And I totally understand why.  Truly, having to know all those rules and tricks plus some more is a little bizarre.  This is why I frequently say that earning miles is the easy part – knowing how to effectively use them is harder, but as you can see, not impossible for those willing to do the work.

For a grand total of 50,000 miles + minimal taxes/fees each my in-laws are flying to Europe in business class!  It took using the knowledge I had plus calling in back-up to make sure we were doing it right, but it got done.  This is something you can do too, you just have to be willing to use your friends (or friendly bloggers), do some Google searching, and sprinkle in some patience and humor.  Or, say %@#$ it and call in an award booking service to do it for you.  There are several good ones out there including Gary’s service Book Your Award, Lucky’s service Points Pros, and Award Magic who offers a family discount if you ask.

Now we just have to work on getting them home from the end of their cruise….


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  1. An informative write up. It’s good to know what people such as yourself (expert bloggers) go thru to book an award that finally works. Is pretty much the same patient yet persistent process that we (mortals) have to go thru to get an award.

    Moreover, this sort of “refresher course” on how to book an AA award is really neat, especially for folks who deal primarily with Star Alliance bookings as you mentioned, thanks. I’m in this group!

  2. I’m just curious. Were the travel dates firm or were you so flexible that you looked to see when Save rates were available and worked the trip dates around that. I have often found it difficult to get things to work unless I was willing to schedule the trip around the best mileage rates.

  3. Aptraveler, ha ha. Yeah no different process whether blogger or not. 😉 OneWorld is a bit different than Star Alliance for sure. Same principles but different options and nuances.
    Tex, yes AA charges 50k miles each way in business class to Europe. One of the lower prices these days compared to others actually.
    David, dates were firmed tied to cruise dates, but these are the saver rates.

  4. Glad to hear that it worked so well for you (your in-laws). The carrier and alliances Could modify their IT systems to make this kind of award booking relatively easy for the end-user (pax), they they have no real incentive to do so. When booking award tickets I almost always use a paid ‘consultant.’ Even if they simply verify what I’ve already found, it is usually worth the modest fee. And, if one uses the right consultant, they can also be of tremendous help when the hiccups occur. I am often surprised that so many folks do not appreciate the often HUGE savings available by by-passing UK connections, unless that is an essential destination. BA’s surcharges and the UK’s class-based flight charges are horrible. I cannot help but believe that they are 1) shooting themselves in the foot or 2) Truly do not want the business. I hope your in-laws have a pleasant trip.

  5. Great post. The only thing i do not seem to be able to do anymore is book the extra leg free segment that I used to be able to do.

  6. Good post. Also, if you are keeping the origin and destination the same, you can change flights and/or dates for free. So, if AA were to open up a Wichita-Budapest nonstop flight with award space, you could switch the itinerary to that flight (silly example but you get the idea). So, it can be worth checking on space after the initial booking to see if your dream itinerary opens up.

  7. AA online booking shows a really poor schedule from lax to bkk
    ( for instance)

    calling in gets better choices (CX via HKG verses AA via DFW and RJ via HKG)

    using the united site gives a full range of options for the same trip.

    • Mike, yeah you can often find more options than are displayed on the website for sure due to different routing options and partners that are not displayed online. United will display Star Alliance options so not helpful when using AA miles, but would be helpful if using miles via a Star Alliance carrier.

  8. Do you mind explaining how you went about booking Wichita – Dallas – Miami (stop overnight) – Berlin – Budapest ? I am trying to book BOS – DFW (stop overnight) – LHR-AMS on coach but it shows the BOS-DFW as one leg and DFW-AMS as another and charges separate miles. Total of 12,500+30,000 as opposed to just 30,000. Even tried to see if it shows 30,000 for DFW – BOS (stop overnight) – LHR-AMS, but again it shows 42,500. Whats the trick to get a <24h stopover? Thanks.

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