How Much is an AAdvantage Mile Worth? The Value of American Airlines Miles Part 2

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This post is part of a four-part series. In Part 1, we looked at the mechanics of the AAdvantage program. In Part 2, we’ll look at the mechanics of a stopover, including how to use them to get free oneway trips within North America. In Part 3, we’ll value specific AAdvantage awards. In Part 4, I’ll put a number on one AAdvantage mile.

I touched on stopovers in Part 1, but they are such a crucial part of maximizing the AAdvantage program that they are getting their own post right here.

In this post, we’ll cover all the rules related to stopovers, how to book a normal stopover, and how to turn your stopover into a free oneway trip to Hawaii or somewhere else.

First let’s define a stopover vs. a connection that doesn’t trigger stopover rules. Connections that don’t trigger stopover rules are connections of four or fewer hours domestically and 24 or fewer hours internationally. So feel free to stop at every European city on your route for 23:59 because those aren’t stopovers. Stopovers are connections of more than four hours domestically or more than 24 hours abroad.

AA rules only allow one stopover each way, and the stopover must comply with the four rules below. What if the stopover doesn’t comply with the four rules below? If the stopover is illegal, then it causes the award to be broken into two awards.

Example: You fly LAX-LHR enjoy a stopover for three days then fly LHR-ATH. Under AA rules, you will never be able to have a legal stopover in London- London isn’t in North America, see below- so the award will be broken into two parts. Instead of paying 50,000 miles in business class for this oneway award from North America to Europe, you have to pay 50,000 for the LAX-LHR portion and 20,000 more for the Europe to Europe portion, so 70,000 total for this award trip.

The four rules with which stopovers must comply:

1) Stopovers must occur at the North American International Gateway City. The North American International Gateway City is the last city in North America you fly out of on awards to other regions from North America. On awards from other regions to North America, the North American International Gateway City is the North American city in which you first arrive.

Examples: On the itinerary LAX-JFK-BOS-LHR, the North American International Gateway City is Boston because it is the city from which you leave North America, and it is the only place on the itinerary you can have a free stopover. On the itinerary MEL-SYD-HNL-LAX-JFK, the International Gateway City is Honolulu because it is where you enter North America. It is the only place on the itinerary where you can have a free stopover.

2) Stopovers must be included in part of a legal routing. A legal routing for an award is one which exceeds the Maximum Permitted Mileage for an origin and destination pair by no more than 25%. Maximum Permitted Mileage (MPM) is a number of miles that the airline puts on all possible city pairs, and awards can exceed it by 25%. 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. In practice, I do none of the above. I simply call AA with a routing in mind and try to book it. If it books as a free stopover, I know I have a legal routing!

3) The airline that operates the flight that connects the two regions must have a published fare for you origin and destination city pair.

Example: You want to fly MEL-LAX-JFK-BWI with a two month stopover at LAX and will fly on Qantas from MEL-LAX. That means Qantas has to have a published fare from MEL-BWI for the stopover to be valid and to avoid this being priced as two awards.

How do you figure out if there is a published fare between a city pair? You can see if you can book a ticket between the city pair on the operating airline’s website or kayak. Again, in practice, I just see if I can have it price as one award over the phone. If I can, I have a legal routing and stopover.

4) A stopover’s length is only limited by the fact that all award travel must be completed within one year of its booking.

Example 1: On January 1, 2013, you book MEL-LAX-JFK with a stopover in Los Angeles. MEL-LAX is January 2, 2013. Your maximum stopover in Los Angeles can be for nearly a year, you just need to complete LAX-JFK by December 31, 2013.

Example 2: On January 1, 2013, you book MEL-LAX-JFK with a stopover in Los Angeles. MEL-LAX is November 15, 2013. Your maximum stopover in Los Angeles is about a month and a half. You need to complete LAX-JFK by December 31,2013.

Those are the rules. Taken together, they mean that there are two types of possible stopovers: vanilla stopover and free-oneway stopovers.

First, vanilla stopovers are what you would ordinarily think of as a stopover. You live in City A, your destination is City C, and City B is a city on the way which you fly through. You stop at City B along the way.

Vanilla stopovers are a great way to visit two destinations on one award, and there doesn’t have to be anything vanilla about the destinations! Here’s an example of an award I just priced out by calling AA:

October 8: AA first class LAX-DFW 6:00 AM – 11:05 AM, AA business class DFW-CUN (Cancun, Mexico) 12:40 PM – 3:10 PM

October 11: BA Club World (business class) CUN-LGW 4:35 PM – 7:50 AM +1

This priced out at 50,000 AAdvantage miles and $407. 50,000 is the normal miles price for business class from North America to Europe. If this were not a legal stopover, this itinerary would cost 80,000 miles (30,000 to Cancun, 50,000 more to London). Note that the $407 in taxes and fees is because AA charges fuel surcharges on awards on British Airways.

Just to put in perspective how indirect this stopover makes the itinerary, LAX-DFW-CUN-LGW is 7,227 miles or 32% farther than LAX-LGW direct, which is 5,480 miles. But a stopover in CUN is permitted en route to LGW from LAX with AAdvantage miles.

How would you like to visit Cancun and London on one trip? Sounds good to me. You can do it by using a vanilla stopover on an AAdvantage award.

A free-oneway stopover is not what you normally think of as a stopover. Instead a free-oneway stopover is an itinerary that gets you home, and then days or weeks or months later, you take a free oneway trip from your home airport to anywhere in North America (that complies with the routing rules already mentioned.) Let me give you an example of a free-oneway stopover:

January 23: business class MEL-LAX 11:20 AM – 6:40 AM on a Qantas A380

February 6: AA first class LAX-DFW 10:40 AM – 1:45 PM, AA first class DFW – TPA 2:40 PM – 4:50 PM

I live in Los Angeles, so this is really two trips for the price of one. The MEL-LAX leg is my return home after watching the Australian Open. It costs 62,500 miles plus taxes and fees. I maximized the value of those miles and dollars by adding a free-oneway stopover. In this case, two weeks later, I am flying from LAX to Tampa. That’s a free one way in first class. (I’ll probably use Southwest miles to return to Los Angeles.)

The total cost of these two trips is 62,500 miles and $113. Without the free-oneway to Tampa, it would have been the same miles and $5 cheaper.

Free stopovers can also work in reverse. For example, I could take a free oneway from JFK to LAX then months later fly LAX to HKG. If I’m booking an outbound international flight from LAX with AAdvantage miles, I would get the free oneway to LA and before the main award flight.

Those are the two types of stopovers you can exploit when booking an international award to/from the United States with AAdvantage miles. Both types have their place, and I’ve booked both types.

To help you explore the possibilities of this stopover trick, I’ve compiled the most comprehensive and up-to-date list of possible North American International Gateway Cities anywhere. If your home airport is not on the list, then you will only be able to exploit the vanilla stopover option. If your home airport is on the list, you can exploit vanilla stopovers and free-oneway stopovers.

In Post 3, we’ll value some specific AAdvantage awards, several of which will include stopovers.

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83 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the great info about using AA miles. At some point in the future, will there be posts about United airlines as well?

    Thanks.

  2. Thanks Milevalue. Very helpful.

    I’m trying to figure out if I can fly from Hawaii to SFO on Hawaiian, have a stopover, and then SFO to Cuzco on LAn Peru as part of one booking for 15k or 20k points one way? Will AA allow that?

    • The stopover in SFO is legal since it’s the North American gateway. The routing is under 25% over MPM (MPM for the HNL-CUZ is 8509, so 25% over is 10636 – well above the TPM for HNL-SFO-LIM-CUZ of 7264). Only thing I’m not sure about is if LAN publishes a fare for HNL-CUZ.

      • Great analysis, Brandon. He’s right that it meets all the requirements as long as LAN has a published fare. I went to LAN.com and searched HNL-CUZ, and it gave me two routing options. I chose each, and both brought up an error screen that said there was an error pricing that routing.

        So to answer your question, I’m not 100% sure whether that stopover is legal, though I think it probably is since LAN offered me two routings.

        If I were really interested in this routing, I would call AA and price the award to see if it priced as a free stopover, letting me make the itinerary for 17.5k each way (the same or less than just HNL-SFO!).

        If it doesn’t, you might try just HNL-SFO-LIM. You can get the LIM-CUZ for 4,500 Avios (3,000 MR points), so I wouldn’t stress too much if I couldn’t get it added for free although free is better than 4,500 Avios.

        By the way, great choice! Peru is my absolute favorite country to visit.

        • Thanks Gentlemen. I still have to convince my wife and kids. They are less interested in macchu picchu than I am, and they couldn’t care less about the finagle either.

          Having studied this for a while, the only options I have for the Hawaii + international via SFO stopover seem to be destinations via Lima. As far as I can tell, the Air Berlin SFO route is seasonal and does not operate during the spring when we would need to take the overseas trip during my daughter’s spring break and get the 20k mile deal.

          • Don’t forget BA’s flight to London (fuel surcharges) and Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong. I’m not sure if HNL-SFO-HKG(-and beyond) would fall within 25% of MPM or whether you’d want to putt yourself through that routing, but it could be an option.

            Also if you’re HNL-based, don’t forget about free-oneway stopover options. You can fly to/from Tokyo and Sydney and add in free oneways (to San Fran) if you want.

  3. I love the idea of free-oneway stopover! Always plan ahead, and maximize the value of every award ticket! Glad I am living near Chicago! That is truly one thing AA is better than UA in terms of one way ticket, but UA allows one stopover anywhere plus open jaw in case of a round trip!

    • Yes but AA offers a double open jaw and two stopovers on a “roundtrip.” The stopovers have more restrictions but the value proposition is still incredible.

    • You can combine oneworld and non-oneworld. I just booked MEL-SYD-HNL, stopover, HNL-LAX for my brother with his AAdvantage miles. The first two legs on Qantas, the last on Hawaiian.

  4. The stopover has made my head hurt as I’ve tried to figure it out for a few weeks. I have a trip planned to Cambodia next January (PHX-LAX-HKG-PNH) and want to do an anniversary trip to Cabo some time next year.

    I’m thinking of booking return in 1st PNH-HKG-LAX-SJD (LAX-PHX is economy only so why waste that right? I would pay for one way ticket from LAX-Prescott, AZ where I live) and then move the LAX-SJD leg out to mid-summer when those dates open up and use avios to get from PHX-LAX. Any fees? Should that work? Thanks!

    • It may work. The main question is whether Cathay Pacific publishes a fare from PNH to SJD. I don’t know if they do, but one way you can find out is calling AA to see if such an itinerary prices as one award or two.

      Another issue is that all award travel must be completed within one year of booking. So if you want to LAX-SJD mid-summer, you need to book the award mid-summer or later.

      Other than those caveats, great idea, and I like how you’re thinking about exploiting these routing rules.

  5. […] Regular readers know that American allows a free stopover on awards from the US to other regions and that the stopover, among other things, must occur in the International Gateway City. That is, the last North American city that you depart from when leaving the US or the first North American city you arrive in when entering the US. […]

    • I got to Australia on a oneway award on United. You can also get there on a oneway award using American miles to fly Qantas.

  6. Is it possible to take advantage of the free stop over and/or free one way if you live in Washington DC? I took a list at your list of possible North American International Gateway Cities

    It says: (IAD) British, Etihad

    But not sure how I could use this to my advantage.

    Thanks

    • What that means is that the only two partners of American that fly from IAD to foreign countries are British Airways and Etihad. So yes you can take advantage of free oneways on American Airlines awards from IAD, but only if you are flying British or Etihad as your carrier from IAD. Sample itinerary:

      20,000 miles one\way off peak
      LHR-IAD
      IAD-DFW-HNL <-- free oneway The only issue is that AA charges fuel surcharges if you fly BA, so you may prefer to fly Etihad to avoid those surcharges.

  7. October 8: AA first class LAX-DFW 6:00 AM – 11:05 AM, AA business class DFW-CUN (Cancun, Mexico) 12:40 PM – 3:10 PM

    October 11: BA Club World (business class) CUN-LGW 4:35 PM – 7:50 AM +1

    from where u got to london

  8. What about peak/off peak for AA? Does the date of my first leg (let’s say it’s domestic) count as whether the ticket is priced off-peak, or the 2nd leg where the restriction actually exists? e.g. JFK-LAX-LIM.

    • It’s the flight that goes region to region that triggers peak/off peak, so in your case it is the LAN flight LAX-LIM that should fall during off peak dates.

      • In the example above, does this mean that one could use AAnytime award availability for the JFK-LAX leg with no change in the mileage charged? Thanks very much.

  9. I’m still wrapping my head around all this but here goes. I live in ORD. Is it possible to do something like HNL-ORD (stop) ORD-HKG? And then HKG-ORD (stop) ORD-HNL? Or is that where the MPM rule would kick into effect? What cities would you suggest for a free stopover on an ORD-HKG round trip?

    Thanks!

    • Yeah, the MPM rule would definitely come into effect. Because HKG-ORD//ORD-HNL would use the MPM for HKG-HNL, which you’d almost certainly be exceeding by more than 25%. To avoid running afoul of the MPM rule, you could definitely head to an east coast city, the Caribbean, and probably even west coast cities. But don’t forget that the overwater carrier from HKG-ORD must have a published fared from HKG to your desired stopover city. (And my answer is the exact same for the reverse HNL-ORD//ORD-HKG routing)

  10. Thank you so much for the great information. I think I understand everything pretty well, and had a good award itinerary that I could book online…but I ran into one snaffu. I think I know the answer, but I just want to confirm. If I’m not adding on the stoppover, I have a flight available on AA which avoids fuel surcharges. If I add in the stoppover, the only available flight is on BA. I read a rule that states it must be the most direct route, and since the BA flight is nonstop, and the AA flight goes from west coast to east coast first, my assumption is that it’s not allowable because it’s not the most direct route. If this is not true, and I SHOULD be able to book it, I would love to know so I can snag the free stopover.

    I also was wondering if I can route myself to LAX to take advantage of the Air Tahiti Nui flight from paris…I know this is possible, but was wondering if doing this voids me from being able to use the free stopover. Can I do say: CDG-LAX-SEA SEA-HNL?

    • You should book the international leg and domestic leg at the exact same time online or on the phone. the only exception is if the free oneway takes place between 11 and 12 months of the booking date. in that case, have the agent note that you’ll be adding the extra leg in a few weeks when the space opens while booking the international award.

      • My bro is using AA miles for the following award ticket JFK-LHR-MUM MUM-LHR-JFK. He leaves on Dec 17 and will be back on Jan 4. His award will be booked by Monday. Can he call in Nov to add a free one way JFK-LAX for let say March 2013.

    • Not on AA. The rules require AA stopovers to be in North America. Free oneways are possible on United awards originating in Europe.

  11. Trying to figure out my options here on a trip I’m booking in the next day or so. Return flight from DPS to JFK on Cathay. So my only real option for a free one way this way would be to YVR? That is following said rules.

    • I don’t know all of Cathay’s published fares off the top of my head, but I know they must have more than just DPS-JFK and DPS-YVR

      • Well I’ll be booking using AA miles to do DPS-JFK for sure…Looking to see how I could add on a free on way later on from JFK…seems to me YVR is only option? Maybe I’m missing something though

        • You probably have more options. If Cathay Pacific has a published fare from DPS to your desired free oneway destination and the routing of your award doesn’t exceed 125% of MPM on the routing you fly, you are fine. I don’t have a complete list of such cities. The only way to find them is to look up published fares and MPMs on expertflyer.com

          • Ahh gotcha..I was thinking they needed to have a published fare from JFK, which would leave only YVR. Thanks for the help.

  12. Thank you for this post, really learned something new today. So, lets see if I got it right.
    I just flew from CGK-NRT-DFW in first. CGK-NRT on JAL, NRT-DFW was on AA metal, and all was booked with AA miles.
    If I did read this post earlier I could’ve had a free stopover from DFW to LAS (example) in first lets say in October?

    Did I get this right?

    • Yes, in domestic first. To figure out if this was ok, I looked up fare information on expertflyer for CGK-LAS. I found there is a published fare on AA (your region connecting carrier) and the MPM is 10,999 miles. Your routing of CGK-NRT-DFW-LAS would be 11,102 miles, which exceeds the MPM by less than 25%, so you’d be ok.

  13. Awesome, classic post. Is there a fee to re-schedule the free one-way? Example: I want to fly HNL to ORD in December, tagging on a one-way from ORD to GIB for January (so I pay 20,000 miles + $100 instead of 17,500 miles for the one-way from HNL to ORD itself). Actually, I want to postpone that trip to GIB until November, but those flights/dates aren’t available at present, so I was going to use a January date as a placeholder. Was wondering about the logistics of that.

  14. Hi, Love your post! Quick question Can I do on AA:

    DTW – LAX (Nov 2012) / LAX – LHR – LHR – LAX (March 2013) / LAX – OGG (May 2013) ? and use DTW – LAX and LAX – OGG as my 1 way stopovers?

    Also, if you book a multi-city flight on AA with awards and it allows for a 1 way stopover (example LAX – LHR, LHR – LAX, LAX – OGG*) then is this considered a legal route since the online system allowed you to purchase using points (w 1 free stopover)

    • The Hawaii examples are all legal. I don’t know for sure whether DTW-LAX-LHR is legal. It might exceed MPM. You can try to make a dummy booking, check expertflyer, or call AA to find out.

  15. Argh! This is my first time looking into this and I’m envious of you all. There’s so much excitement it doesn’t appear that you get headaches deciphering all this.

    If I’m booking a trip from NRT to ORD to LIM (via MIA) then:
    ORD counts as my International Gateway
    to go from ORD to LIM I’d need a separate award since it isn’t direct from ORD to LIM

    Is that right? Am I missing a way to go from ORD to an international destination that isn’t served by direct flights from ORD?

    • NRT to ORD to LIM cannot be done on one award. It takes two. NRT to North America and North America to LIM. That means you will have two NA Int’l Gateway cities. The city where you land from Tokyo. And the city your flight departs from to LIM. You can take a stopover for free at both, meaning you can get two free oneways.

  16. Thanks for the post!

    Does this effectively give me 2 round trip vacations, for the price on 1? For example, I’m planning a trip to RIO and live at DFW. I can book:

    Segment 1: HNL –> DFW –> RIO
    Segment 2: RIO –> DFW –> HNL

    Will cost 40,000 miles in total, and I now have a round trip ticket to HNL and a separate round trip ticket to RIO?

    • If you live in DFW, you don’t have a r/t to Hawaii. HNL -> DFW is before DFW -> HNL. You have half of two roundtrips to Hawaii.

  17. Hi,
    I see that united allows free oneway in EWR To STT(i.e EWR- STT, STT-EWR-MIA) rountrip whereas AA does not allow. is there way to get free oneway in AA too?

    • There is no “best” in the abstract. I see space on American from Miami to St. Thomas, as well as space on United and US Airways from their hubs. Whichever has space the day you want to go is best for you.

  18. What does it mean when the calendar is grayed out and it says there’s no service currently available? I live by SFO, trying to book two trips, one from SFO to ORD and another from SFO to SGN (Saigon, Vietnam). Would I be able to use the free stopover somewhere!?!? Thanks!

  19. I want to fly SCL-CUN-stopover-JFK in business. This should be 50k for S. America zone 2 to N. America award, and I “should” get a free stopover at the North American gateway of Cancun, right?

    But the AAgent is trying to charge me 80k miles for two awards. What gives?

  20. I’m planning a trip Cincinnati (CVG)-Papeete(PPT) with a stopover in L0s Angeles on the way back. I’m trying to add the free one-way tickets both ways, such as YYZ-CVG or LAS-CVG before and CVG-JFK after, but the website is pricing them as extra legs with more points needed. Is it because CVG is not a gateway? Is there any way for me to take advantage of the free one-ways? Great Post, thanks!

  21. It is late. I’m trying to wrap my brain around this.

    I think I need pen and paper to make my old brain fire up. I am book marking to reread after some sleep.

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