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Qatar Airways has fantastic Business Class award space on its Dreamliner and on its routes from the US to Doha and beyond in 2014. These routes are a high-value way to use Avios or American Airlines miles on a recent addition to the oneworld alliance.

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 10.30.20 PM
Your Bed in Business Class on a Qatar 787

Where do Qatar’s Dreamliners fly? Where does Qatar fly in the US? How many American Airlines miles or British Airways Avios do you need to fly Qatar?

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Last month I wrote about using American Airlines’ distance-based Explorer Award chart to save miles and add stopovers traveling to Europe. Check out Get a Roundtrip Business Class Award to Europe with Three Stopovers for 90k American Airlines Miles before proceeding. This post compares that Explorer Award option with a “regular” award option.

On a roundtrip from New York to Eastern Europe, I was able to add three stopovers and save 10k AAdvantage miles (90k vs. 100k) on the cost of a roundtrip business award.

Old Award

I didn’t go through with this award because it might not best use of miles. I could book a better award instead which opens up the potential for three vacations on one award. It’s slightly more expensive but adds tremendous value!

What’s better than a 90k Explorer Award to Europe? How did you maximize your AAdvantage miles? Does the new award include great free oneways?

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The American Airlines Explorer Award is an incredible use of miles. An Explorer Award is a distance-based award that allows multiple stopovers, so it’s a versatile award perfect for globetrotters on round-the-world itineraries or cramming many trips onto one award at a steep discount.

I want to illustrate how a relatively simple award routing to Europe can also be a great use of an Explorer Award by saving miles and adding free stopovers that wouldn’t be permitted under normal circumstances.

I’m planning a trip to Sofia, Bulgaria this summer and uncovered a great value. My business class award to Eastern Europe would only cost 90k American miles + government taxes and include two stopovers. A traditional “saver” business class American award is 100k miles per person and does not permit an international stopover. So I am saving 10k miles and stopping in two extra cities by using an Explorer Award.

GC Map

I am writing an Anatomy of an Award on this particular booking to illustrate:

  • The cost/benefit analysis of an Explorer Award vs. a standard award–even when you have no interest in going around the world
  • Trouble shooting the rules of the Explorer Award
  • Searching for oneworld award space on AA.com and BA.com

How do you construct this trip? How can you use the Explorer Award chart to your advantage? Is this really a good use of AA miles?

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I’ve written several posts about Explorer Awards from American Airlines. My favorites are:

American Airlines Explorer Awards are by far the cheapest option for round-the-world awards and a great option for hopping around one part of the world with many stops.

Explorer Awards are also incredible for combining many trips onto a single award at a huge discount. Reader Jason reminded me of this with his email to thank me for inspiring him to book a twelve segment award that included the flights for 2.5 vacations to South America and Europe.

The trip reminded me that one Explorer Awards is an ideal vehicle to combine several distinct trips. And it showed me a new trick: start your Explorer Award outside the US to maximize how many trips you can fit into one award.

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All This in Business Class for 150k Miles

Why should you start your Explorer Award outside the US? How can you jam several vacations onto one award for a huge discount?

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I recently booked two flights for only $102 total on Asian low-cost carriers. Asian low-cost carriers are so cheap that there are effects on United and American awards you might be considering booking.

I booked Kuala Lumpur to Lankawi for $27 on Air Asia, and I spent another $75 on a Firefly flight from Penang to Phuket. (I ferried between Langkawi and Penang for $19.)

What important effects do Asian low-cost carriers have on award booking strategy?

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Key Links:

Combined, the cards offer enough American Airlines miles for a round-the-world business class award with up to 15 stopovers.

You could take this trip in business class.

How can you go around the world in business class for just the taxes?

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A few weeks ago, I shared my thoughts on The Coolest Thing You Can Do with 57.5k United Miles and 10k Avios, which arose from daydreaming about booking myself more award trips.

The last few days I’ve worked myself into a frenzy planning an incredible-value American Airlines Explorer Award around the world in business class for 130k American Airlines miles and the most opulent Explorer Award possible for 280k miles.

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This is the sixth part of a multi-post Anatomy of an Award series about American Airlines Explorer Awards, which are ideal for around-the-world trips, trips with multiple destinations, and other “trick” itineraries. The first five parts dealt with a round-the-world example. To understand Explorer Awards, see The Rules.

American Airlines Explorer Awards aren’t just ideal for round-the-world trips. They are also the ideal vehicle to take a trip to one region with many stops.

Normally you cannot take any stopovers outside North America on American Airlines awards unless you know some tricks. But on Explorer Awards you get 16 segments and you can stop after each one if you’d like.

That means if you want to stop in several cities in Australia and New Zealand, you want to use an Explorer Award. If you you want to see five cities in Asia, use an Explorer Award. If you’re dreaming of a South American adventure traversing the continent from north to south, use an Explorer Award. If you plan to backpack through Europe–but not by train–use an Explorer Award.

Imagine you live in Los Angeles and want to visit Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, Phuket, and Kuala Lumpur.

Image from gcmap.com

Doing this entire trip in business class would cost 200k miles per person using American Airlines miles and booking each leg as a “normal” award. But we can do a lot better by booking this as one Explorer Award.

Image from gcmap.com

Booking this award as one Explorer Award would cost only 130,000 miles since the business class award chart for Explorer Awards is almost uniformly awesome.

The great thing about using an Explorer Award to East Asia is that there are several oneworld partners there, so you can visit a number of countries with direct flights. That’s important not only for comfort, but because you need to fly two oneworld airlines besides American on all Explorer Awards.

For the same reason, it’s also very easy to plan Explorer Awards to Europe where you can fly British Airways, airberlin, Finnair, Iberia, and Royal Jordanian.

Image from gcmap.com

These eight cities in Europe and the Middle East can be reached with 19,993 miles of flying.

Image from gcmap.com

That means you can take this trip for only 130,000 American Airlines miles in business class, which is an absolutely incredible value.

The limitation of this many-stops-in-one-area idea is the fact that you have to fly two partners other than American Airlines on an Explorer Award.

Imagine you live in Los Angeles and want to visit Brisbane, Perth, Melbourne, and Sydney, Australia plus Queenstown, New Zealand.

Image from gcmap.com

Doing this entire trip in business class would cost 195k miles per person using American Airlines miles and booking each leg as a “normal” award. (US to Australia 62.5k each way; the intra-Antipodes routes are 17.5k each.)

And you can’t book this as an Explorer Award because every flight would be operated by Qantas, thus failing the two-partner test.

Image from gcmap.com

That’s a shame because if you could book this as an Explorer Award, it would only cost 150,000 miles.

What’s the remedy? Either stop in Asia one direction, thus bringing in an Asian partner, or add another oneway trip somewhere.

Changing the first leg from Los Angeles-to-Brisbane to Los Angeles-to-Hong-Kong-to-Brisbane on Cathay Pacific would add the second partner and make the award valid.

Or you can try to add a oneway trip from Los Angeles to somewhere else after the Australia trip. The problem here is that you can’t take a stopover in your origin city on an Explorer Award. So you’d need to do something a little tricky like take the stopover in San Diego.

Example: Onto the Australia/New Zealand award above, you can add a leg to San Diego, a stopover, then a continuation from San Diego to Los Angeles to Lima. You would have to fly the San Diego legs and get to and from San Diego airport, but you’d have a great value award.

Image from gcmap.com

You’ll have a similar problem on Explorer Awards that only fly in South America. For the moment, the only South American oneworld partner is LAN, so you’d only have one non-American Airlines partner.

You can solve the problem by adding flights to another region to get another partner involved.


Explorer Awards aren’t just for round-the-world trips. Trips with many stops in one region are great candidates for Explorer Awards. This is more true in areas like Europe and East Asia with many oneworld partners and less true in South American and Oceania, which each only have one partner.

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This is the fifth part of a multi-post Anatomy of an Award series about American Airlines Explorer Awards, which are ideal for around-the-world trips, trips with multiple destinations, and other “trick” itineraries. Previously: Asia West.

I had found a client the following round-the-world dream trip for 150k American Airlines miles and $278 per person.

Finding the award space should be the challenge, not booking the award, so here’s how to make booking your Explorer Award painless.

1. Call American Airlines at 800-882-8880 and have an agent start an Explorer Award reservation for you.

This isn’t as easy as it should be because the majority of American Airlines agents do not know what an Explorer Award is. Be very clear with the agent that you want to book an Explorer Award. If the agent doesn’t know what it is, hang up and call back.

(Just today, a friend told me that when attempting to book an Explorer Award, his agent put him on hold for a few minutes to ask a supervisor what an Explorer Award was. She came back to inform my friend that “she’s been working here 15 years, and she’s never heard of an Explorer Award.”)

Even if the agent claims that he knows what an Explorer Award is, you can never really be sure. On the award that is the subject of this post, I was reassured that we were working on an Explorer Award reservation only to find out when it was time to book that the agent had not, in fact, stored the reservation as an Explorer Award. Check and double check.

Write down the record locator you are given for future calls. This will be a six-letter code.

2. Hold Space as You Go.

Award space is dynamic. You don’t want to lose space because your planning takes a few days of sporadic searching.

I would hold my space after I found each longhaul segment. Finding longhaul award space is harder than intra-Asia or intra-Europe space, so I didn’t want to lose it.

To hold award space as you go, call American Airlines and give your six-letter record locator. Add, subtract, and change space as you wish then ask for the award to be put on hold again.

Like all American Airlines awards, you can hold the award for five days. That clock starts when you hold the first leg, so make sure you finish up within five days, or you’ll lose all your work.

3. Know What the Award Should Cost.

The taxes and fees should be calculated automatically. You are on the hook for government taxes, a $25 phone fee, and any fuel surcharges if you fly Iberia or British Airways. You can estimate taxes and surcharges with a high degree of accuracy by using the ITA Matrix.

Because taxes and fees are automatically calculated, they are usually calculated correctly–but not always.

The miles cost of the ticket depends on the total distance of the award. I believe agents have to manually calculate this since it has always sounded to me like the agent was adding up the miles audibly as I waited.

You can use the Great Circle Mapper to figure out the miles price of your award. Just keep in mind that the Great Circle Mapper’s distances will be very close, but not exactly the same as American Airlines’ official distances.

4. The moment of truth.

When the award segments are all held, ask the agent to ticket the award. This is when you’ll see if they price the award correctly and whether it has been correctly stored as an Explorer Award.

My most recent Explorer Award had not been correctly started as an Explorer Award by the agent. So I was told the award would be 400,000 miles or something similarly crazy. It took a competent Executive Platinum agent 25 minutes to reconstruct the award properly to get it to price at 150,000 miles.

If you have trouble on this step, ask for the problem to be resolved by the Rates Desk and state the error that is being made succinctly.


This five-part Anatomy of an Award has highlighted how to plan and book one of the best deals in the miles world: American Airlines Explorer Awards for round-the-world trips. But there’s a lot more. I want to talk about using Explorer Awards to visit multiple destinations in one region and using Explorer Awards for “trick” itineraries.

Next: Explorer Awards with Many Stops in One Region


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This is the fourth part of a multi-post Anatomy of an Award series about American Airlines Explorer Awards, which are ideal for around-the-world trips, trips with multiple destinations, and other “trick” itineraries. Previously: The Search in Asia.

I had already gotten my client from Raleigh to four destinations in Asia. Now I had him in Seoul looking to head to the Middle East.

I knew that the way to get him there would be to fly from Seoul to a oneworld hub and then on to the Middle East. I checked the Narita Wikipedia page to see the options on Japan Airlines.

Apparently Japan Airlines doesn’t serve the Middle East. I looked up the Hong Kong International Airport Wikipedia page.

I ran Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Dubai by him, and he preferred Dubai.

Award space for two passengers from Seoul to Hong Kong to Dubai on Cathay Pacific is excellent this summer.

A two week search in late June on Award Nexus. Every day labeled ICN-HKG-DXB has two business class seats on that route.

Some of these awards are during the day, and some are redeyes.

After selecting the Cathay Pacific flights, it was time to tackle the European section of the trip, where he wanted to see Turkey, Switzerland, and London.

The obvious choice from Dubai to Istanbul is Royal Jordanian, which is the only oneworld Middle Eastern partner until Qatar comes on board. That meant routing through Amman, which is right on the way.

courtesy of gcmap.com

I search Royal Jordanian space on ba.com. In a typical week, there is Royal Jordanian space on a few days.

Light blue shading means there is space.
Sample Itinerary

The next leg was Istanbul to Turkey, and here’s where oneworld’s footprint stymied us for the first and only time. There’s really no good way to get from Turkey to Switzerland on oneworld.

You don’t want to fly British Airways or Iberia and have to overshoot Switzerland. Finnair doesn’t fly to Istanbul. airberlin is the best option; one stop itineraries were possible through Dusseldorf.

But we decided to purchase a cash ticket instead from Istanbul (SAW) to Zurich (ZRH) on Pegasus Airlines, which I had never heard of.

My client had a strong preference for direct flights. Connecting in Dusseldorf would add a few hours to his trip. Plus the taxes added by putting the airberlin legs on to the award were likely to be a few dozen dollars, meaning the Pegasus ticket was not even a full $93 extra per person.

His last two legs would be Geneva to London and London home to Raleigh. I skipped to the London to Raleigh bit first, so he could plan his time in London around that.

London to Raleigh

American Airlines operates a direct flight from London to Raleigh, but there is no space all summer on this flight in business class (and very little in economy or first.)

LHR-RDU direct doesn’t have space this summer.

I continued my search on aa.com, looking for one-stop itineraries. The only ways to get from London to Raleigh with one stop are on American Airlines or British Airways, both of which I prefer to search on aa.com.

I explained to him that British Airways business class is nicer than AA’s but it costs $300 extra per person in fuel surcharges. He said he preferred AA business.

On his dates, the only flight I could find with space to from London to the US went to JFK and landed too late to connect to any flights back to Raleigh.

That meant spending the night in New York and flying to Raleigh the next day–not ideal, but it was something he was willing to do.

From New York to Raleigh, he also chose to fly economy class to snag a seat the next morning instead of having to wait until the next afternoon.

Now I just had to circle back and find the Geneva to London leg. Space is wide open on British Airways on the route. There is a small fuel surcharge in the tens of dollars. He picked a flight that gave him just under 24 hours in London. That decision saved him over $400 in Air Passenger Duties because he was considered a transiting passenger in the UK, not an originating passenger.

With the space all found, I called American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to put all legs on hold by their flight number and date.

More on that call in the next part.


From Asia back to the US presented a few problems, overcome by flexibility. He bought a cash ticket one leg to avoid an unfavorable routing. He overnighted in New York to be able to go through London. And he flew the last two hours in economy to return at the time of day he wanted.

A little bit of flexibility goes a long way especially when your award has a dozen segments. Perfection is often unattainable, but the level below perfect is still great!

Next: How to Book an Explorer Award


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This is the third part of a multi-post Anatomy of an Award series about American Airlines Explorer Awards, which are ideal for around-the-world trips, trips with multiple destinations, and other “trick” itineraries. Previously: Planning

My client’s first stop was Asia, but it didn’t much matter whether the first city was Seoul, Tokyo, or Hong Kong. He had a specific summer date in mind to start his month-long trip, but he had flexibility to begin a few days later if award space required. I set about to search the options into all three Asian metropolises.

Raleigh to Hong Kong

The most important thing to my client was a comfortable trip. That meant short travel times and a good product. My first thought was to take him Raleigh to Hong Kong on American Airlines first and Cathay Pacific business on a two-segment itinerary.

My favorite place to search for Cathay space is ba.com. I attacked this award search the same way I attack any.

1. First I do the simple search. On ba.com, I just searched his date and Raleigh (RDU) to Hong Kong (HKG.) If ba.com could do the work of finding an itinerary for me, that would be ideal.

2. If that fails, I do the segment-by-segment search. Search engines are imperfect and often fail to return all the valid routings. That’s where a brute force technique comes in handy.

The possible one-stop routing options would be determined by the overlap in American’s route map from Raleigh and Cathay’s from Hong Kong.

Cathay’s US destinations: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, San Francisco

AA’s Raleigh destinations: Chicago, Dallas, London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York-LGA, Washington-DCA

I would search all the flights from Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York to Hong Kong on my client’s preferred date. If I found space, then I would search for space from Raleigh to the gateway city on aa.com.

Why do I start my searches with the transpacific Cathay segment? I start with the transpacific segment because it is less likely to have award space.

When I do the domestic-segment search on aa.com, I make sure to search both domestic first class and economy class. Sometimes only an economy class seat is available on a short domestic segment that connects to a beautiful business class on a long international segment. Most people find that to be a trade worth making, so I make sure to check for economy seats on domestic flights when I’m booking international business awards.

Neither method–simple or segment-by-segment–found any award space on my client’s preferred date. I did find space two days later. I knew that could work as a last resort, but I wanted to check space to Seoul and Tokyo before reserving it.

Raleigh to Seoul

American Airlines announced in October 2012 that it was launching daily Dallas to Seoul flights starting May 9, 2013. At the time, I surveyed the award space on the flight and found that most Tuesday through Thursday flight had a pair of business class award seats available.

That pattern was the same when I did the award searches last week. Unfortunately my client wanted to leave on a Friday, and couldn’t leave earlier, so this option to Seoul wouldn’t work. The Cathay flight would get him on his way a few days earlier and in a better product.

Dallas to Seoul space

I was bummed because routing-wise RDU-DFW-ICN was the ideal start. If he went to Seoul first, he could go on to Tokyo then Manila then Hong Kong all on direct flights, leaving him at a oneworld hub with direct flights to the Middle East. This would have been that perfect routing you dream of, but flying to Hong Kong or Tokyo first was acceptable and would only add one segment to the entire trip.

Raleigh to Tokyo

Raleigh to Tokyo would rely on the a Japan Airlines flight to Tokyo, searching for the space was an identical process to searching for space from Raleigh to Hong Kong using Cathay.

First I searched ba.com for RDU-NRT. Nothing came up, so I moved to a brute force method identifying overlap in AA’s route network from Raleigh and JAL’s route network in the US.

JAL flies to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York-JFK, San Diego, and San Francisco.

I first checked for JAL space on ba.com from Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, the cities where AA had direct flights from Raleigh. Finding none, I moved on to Boston, San Diego, and San Francisco.

I did find space out of San Diego, but the flight leaves so early (1:30 PM) that I couldn’t match the flight up with space from Raleigh that day. To use the JAL space, he would have to fly two segments into San Diego, spend the night, then continue on a JAL flight.

Since the JAL flight was the same day as the Cathay flight with space, he gave up his chance to fly a JAL Dreamliner in favor of the Cathay space that routed RDU-ORD-HKG two days after his ideal departure.


Now we knew where and when he would touch down in Asia. The intra-Asia legs were pretty easy. Remember in Planning I talked about the importance of spacing hubs two cities apart for maximum direct flights. That meant that if Hong Kong was the first city, Tokyo would be the third, placing Manila and Seoul second and fourth.

The flight between Hong Kong and Manila was on Cathay. The flights between Manila and Tokyo and Tokyo and Seoul was on JAL. I searched for all flights on ba.com.

All the routes had space the days we wanted in business class. This is exactly what I anticipated. Intra-Asia, intra-Australia, intra-Europe, and intra-South America space is usually wide open on all carriers.

The one interesting note from the intra-Asia searches is that JAL has a Narita to Incheon flight and a Haneda to Gimpo flight. I ran both options by my client, and because the “domestic” airports are closer to the city centers, he chose HND-GMP.

Choosing this flight added two segments to his count. Remember from the Rules that flying into one airport and out of another counts as a segment even if they are coterminal.

He was flying into Narita and out of Haneda (1) and into Gimpo and out of Incheon (2).

If my client had been brushing up against his 16-segment limit, we would have booked NRT-ICN instead to save two segments, but since he had segments to spare, he could choose the more convenient routing.

With all the space found to and within Asia, I called American Airlines to put the award space on hold. I will skip the details of that process now and talk more about it at the end of the posts on the searches.

Next: The Search to Europe

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This is the second part of a multi-post Anatomy of an Award series about American Airlines Explorer Awards, which are ideal for around-the-world trips, trips with multiple destinations, and other “trick” itineraries. Previously: The Rules

A client contacted the Award Booking Service wanting to book an around the world trip with American Airlines miles. He wanted to stop in Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, an Asian beach, a Middle Eastern city, Turkey, Switzerland, and London.

We got him and his wife this ten-stop, month-long trip around the world in business class for 150,000 miles and $278 each.

This 23,000 mile itinerary is three times the distance of, say, a Raleigh to London roundtrip for only 50% more miles.

Courtesy gcmap.com

The trip took a bit of planning, so I’ll go through how I turned my client’s goals into a dream trip.

His Goals

He wanted to go to these destinations heading west the whole way, but he had no order in mind for Asia:

  • Seoul
  • Hong Kong
  • Tokyo
  • an Asian beach
  • a Middle Eastern city
  • Turkey
  • Switzerland
  • London

He wanted as many direct flights as possible.

He wanted to spend three nights most places, with four nights at the beach, and five nights in Switzerland.

He had 460,000 American Airlines miles, but he wanted to use as few as possible while flying in business class.

My Concerns

We could have an issue with the 16-segment maximum rule. We will need to have as many one-segment trips between stopovers as possible. This was also one of his goals.

My trick here is to place oneworld hubs two stops apart. That allows you to maximize direct flight options. The two oneworld hubs in Asia were Hong Kong and Tokyo.

By placing those first and third (or second and fourth) in Asia, we make sure that we can have one-segment hops between all Asia cities. If we placed Hong Kong and Tokyo in a row, there would be more segments spent getting around Asia.

We ended up choosing Manila as the Asian beach destination. Hong Kong-Manila//Manila-Tokyo//Tokyo-Seoul was three segments to connect the four destinations. That was made possible by placing the hubs two stops apart.

My next concern was going to the Middle East with only oneworld partners. Etihad would be the perfect American Airlines partner to get to the Middle East (Abu Dhabi), but Explorer Awards must use only oneworld partners. Unfortunately Etihad is a non-oneworld partner of American Airlines.

Royal Jordanian is the oneworld partner in the Middle East, but it has an inferior product and a small route network.

There was no perfect solution to this concern, but we flew him to Dubai on Cathay Pacific on a fantastic business class product before getting him around the Middle East on Royal Jordanian.

My next concern was keeping this award in the 20,001-25,000 miles flown band. Smart routing could keep us in that band, which costs 150,000 miles per person in business. Careless routing would put us in the 25,001-35,000 mile band, which costs 190,000 miles in business class. I didn’t want to blow 80,000 of his miles if I could help it.

In the end, this concern didn’t materialize. We decided to purchase a cash ticket from Istanbul to Switzerland for about $90 per person because there was no convenient way to route between the two with oneworld partners. Taking care of this segment with cash meant we weren’t in jeopardy of breaking 25,000 miles flown and entering the more expensive band.

Another major concern was date flexibility. Like all clients, he had ideal dates. And like almost all awards, it wasn’t possible for to book all the ideal flights–hardly surprising since there were so many flights in this award.

I knew that some flights like intra-Asia, intra-Middle East, and intra-Europe were going to be wide open while others like Cathay Pacific business class to Hong Kong and a return from Europe to the US in the middle of the summer would be tough to find.

In the end, we came very close to the ideal plan with a few changes. That’s a basic lesson of award bookings: “You can’t always get what you want. Well if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”

My final concern was getting him in the best products I could for the three longhaul segments. The best options USA-Asia were Cathay Pacific or the JAL Dreamliner. We got Cathay Pacific, which we got again for the Asia to Middle East segment. The best product home from Europe would have been British Airways, but that would have incurred about $300 in surcharges per person, so we went with American Airlines.

Not Concerns

I was not concerned at all about two rules that could occasionally trip people up.

I knew we were going to easily meet the requirement of using at least two oneworld partners other than American. We used four.

I also wasn’t concerned about the rule limiting us to one stopover plus two layovers per city. Hong Kong was potentially going to brush up against that limit, but we avoided that by using JAL for some intra-Asia flights.

The Plan

American Airlines allows you to hold awards for five days. That rule also applies to Explorer Awards, so the plan was to put the USA-Asia segments on hold then get everything done in the next five days.

I just worked through finding space one segment at a time. An alternative approach would have nailed down the three difficult segments first–the three longhauls.

I called American Airlines three times to put everything on hold. The first call got him to Hong Kong, the second to Dubai, and the third got him home. I basically called to save each longhaul segment as I got to it.

Tomorrow: The Search

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This is the first part of a multi-post Anatomy of an Award series about American Airlines Explorer Awards, which are ideal for around-the-world trips, trips with multiple destinations, and other “trick” itineraries.

American Airlines Explorer Awards are an incredible value with three main uses:

  1. around-the-world (RTW) trips
  2. trips with many destinations in one region
  3. combining multiple trips within one year onto one Explorer Award

When I say “incredible value,” I mean 150,000 miles to go around the world with ten stops in business class. That’s only 50% more than a run-of-the-mill business class award to Europe.

I mean saving tens of thousands of miles on a trip to Asia while adding in more stops than you could have on a normal award.

I mean saving 100k+ miles on several trips to Europe.

In the coming weeks, I will be posting a lot about Explorer Awards. After the rules today, I’ll post an Anatomy of an Award about a recent around-the-world Explorer Award I booked for a client. Then I’ll discuss the other main uses of Explorer Awards–many destinations in one region and many trips on one award–in later posts.

How to Get the Miles Necessary for an American Airlines Explorer Award

I’ll talk more about getting the miles at the end, but if you want to get a head start, you should apply for these cards now.

Application Link: US Airways Premier World MasterCard with 30,000 US Airways miles after first purchase

Application Link: Citi American Airlines MasterCard with 30,000 miles after $3,000 in spending in the first three months.

For an explanation of why I recommend these cards, why I heartily recommend these cards today, and why a US Airways card is slipped in, check out How to Exploit the American Airlines/US Airways Merger.


The best copy of the American Airlines Explorer Rules I can find online are at http://aa-ow-awards.blogspot.com/.

There are 14 major rules.

1. Explorer Awards can only use award space on American Airlines and its oneworld partners.

That means you can’t use American Airlines’ other non-oneworld partners like Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines, or Etihad.

2. You must use at least two oneworld partners other than American Airlines.

You can use American itself, but you don’t have to.

Flying an airline and its subsidiary like Cathay Pacific and Dragonair only counts as one partner.

Valid Explorer Award 1: flights on American, Qantas, and Cathay Pacific

Valid Explorer Award 2: flights on British Airways and airberlin

Invalid Explorer Award: flights on American and British Airways; there need to be flights on two or more oneworld partners other than American Airlines

3. An itinerary may not exceed 16 segments.

Each flight number is one segment even if it is not a nonstop flight. For instance, Malaysia Airlines flies from Los Angeles to Kuala Lumpur via Tokyo on one flight number. Flying that flight would count as one segment.

4. Flying into one airport and out of another airport counts as one segment. This is true even if the airports are coterminal. The only exception is that an open jaw between your very first city and very last city does not count as a segment.

Example: New York-JFK to Paris-CDG, Paris-ORY to Berlin, Berlin to London, London to Miami counts as five segments.

  1. JFK-CDG flight
  2. the hole between CDG and ORY
  3. ORY-TXL
  4. TXL-LHR
  5. LHR-MIA

The open jaw between the starting airport (JFK) and ending airport (MIA) is not a segment.

5. One open jaw is permitted anywhere on the itinerary.

In this case, an open jaw means flying into one city and out of another. Flying into one coterminal airport and out of another is not an open jaw.

Example: Flying into Charles de Gaulle and out of Orly in Paris is not an open jaw. Flying into Charles de Gaulle in Paris and out of Heathrow in London is an open jaw.

Here are the listed coterminal airports:

6. You can only stopover once per city.

If you route through a city more than once, you can only have one stopover in it. A stopover is defined as a layover of more than 4 hours within the US or more than 6 hours outside the US. But if there are no scheduled flights within 6 hours, you have up to 24 hours to make a connection without it being considered a stopover. (In practice, I expect you would have 24 hours in all cases at international airports.)

7. You may not stopover in the origin or destination city.

This rule limits our ability to cram together multiple vacations onto one Explorer Award by returning home after each trip and having a stopover at our home airport. But there will still be ways to cram multiple trips onto one award.

8. Other than rules six and seven, you can have unlimited stopovers on an Explorer Award.

Want a stopover after every segment? That’s fine.

9. You can only connect through a city two times.

These two connections are in addition to the one stopover, so you can go through the same city up to three times: one stopover and two layovers.

Example of valid routing:

  • Los Angeles to Hong Kong (stop for three days)
  • Hong Kong to Manilla (stop for three days)
  • Manilla to Hong Kong to Seoul (with just a two hour layover in Hong Kong)
  • Seoul to Hong Kong to Phuket (with a 20 hour layover in Hong Kong)
  • continuing on from Phuket however you’d like except that you can never go back through Hong Kong on this award since you’ve already stopped there once and connected two more times.

10. The total countable miles of a trip includes all miles flown, so layover and stopover cities are relevant.

Airlines don’t release their official distance for flights, but you can get very close by using gcmap.com.

Land segments do not count toward total countable miles.

11. All travel must be completed within one year of ticketing.

If you ticket an award on March 1, 2013, all travel must be completed my February 28, 2014 whether the first flight of the Explorer Award is March 15, 2013 or December 15, 2013.

12. After ticketing, you can change the date and time of a segment for free.

13. After ticketing, you cannot change the name of the passenger, the routing, or the airline for a segment at all.

You cannot change the routing at all including the connecting (non-stopover) cities. You cannot even change a Hong Kong to Tokyo flight from JAL to Cathay Pacific.

All you can ever change is the time of a flight as long as the airline and routing remain the same.

14. Most other American Airlines award rules and practices apply.

For instance, you can fly in economy class on a business class award and business or economy class on a first class award.

You will be responsible for government taxes, fuel surcharges on British Airways and Iberia segments, and a $25 phone fee.

Are all these rules enforced?

On the last Explorer Award I booked, I heard the AAgent adding up the mileage of the segments. If the computer isn’t doing that, I doubt the computer is enforcing many of these rules. That would mean a human is enforcing many of the rules, and I can assure you that few AAgents know all of the above rules.

That means Explorer Awards may be a US-Airways-award situation, where you can get away with more than the stated rules. Some rules you might be able to bend? One open jaw total and only one stopover/two connections per city.

Award Chart

The American Airlines Explorer Award Chart is online. I’ll discuss the best values in future posts with specific examples.

Read Next: Planning an Explorer Award

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