There are five cardinal rules of American Airlines award tickets that I wanted to put together in one place for reference. All AA awards must comply with these rules and several other minor ones.
You should consult this post when planning an AA award, especially if you are trying to add a stopover or free oneway.
1. Stopovers are not allowed on American Airlines awards.
All connections on purely domestic itineraries must be less than four hours. All connections on international awards must be less than 24 hours.
2. Each of the two directions-outbound and return–must not exceed AA’s Maximum Permitted Mileage for your origin and destination by more than 25% as flown.
This is not as complicated as that sentence makes it seem. Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) is a term of art. It is a number of miles that the airline puts on all city pairs for which it publishes a fare. MPM is not the direct distance between two cities; it is usually a larger number.
You can find the MPM for a city pair on Expert Flyer, the KVS tool, or by asking an AA agent. Here’s how to do it on Expert Flyer.
Example: Say you want to try this routing, LAX-BOS-NRT-TPE, from Los Angeles to Taipei.
First I would head to Expert Flyer, and I would look up the MPM for LAX to TPE since that is the origin and destination.
LAX-TPE has an MPM of 8,137 miles. (Note that this is much farther than the direct distance between the two, which Great Circle Mapper lists as 6,799 miles.)
Next I would multiply the MPM by 1.25, since we can exceed the MPM by 25% on awards. 10,171 miles is 25% greater than the MPM of LAX-TPE. Now, I can go to gcmap.com and check the distance of our putative routing. LAX-BOS-NRT-TPE is 10,669, which exceeds the allowable 10,171, so this is not a valid routing.
That means that AA would break this into two awards–LAX-BOS and BOS-TPE–and you’d have to pay more.
3. The airline that operates the flight that connects the two regions must have a published fare for your origin and destination city pair.
This is a rule that trips up a lot of otherwise awesome awards. It’s frustrating, and it’s not clear why the rule exists, but you have to know it.
Example: You want to fly MEL-LAX-JFK-BWI and will fly on Qantas from MEL-LAX. That means Qantas–the region connecting carrier–has to have a published fare from MEL-BWI for the routing to be valid.
How do you figure out if there is a published fare between a city pair? I check on Expert Flyer. Here’s how. Another free, roughly accurate, way is to see if you can book a ticket between the city pair on the operating airline’s website or kayak.
Or you can just see if you can have it price as one award over the phone. If you can, you have a legal routing and stopover.
4. All award travel must be completed within one year of its booking.
You can change your award to a later flight as many times as you want, subject to the fact that all travel must be completed within one year of the ticket’s issue.
5. Awards between Region A and Region B cannot transit Region C unless specifically allowed.
Most airlines let you route however you’d like as long as you don’t exceed MPM. But not American Airlines. If you want to go from the USA to Australia, you can’t transit another region, say Asia, no matter what.
Another annoying one is not being able to transit the Middle East en route from USA to Africa. That makes it impossible to use Etihad.
Here is a list of regions you can transit from flyerguide.com, which I believe is complete and accurate.