New Award Routing Rules from USA to Africa Save 90% Out of Pocket


You can now route through the Middle East on Qatar Airways on your way from the United States to Africa with American Airlines miles.

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American Airlines has a unique routing rule that you cannot transit a third region on an award between two other regions. Under this rule, flying from the United States to the Middle East to Africa would require two awards, one from the United States to the Middle East and one from the Middle East to Africa. Two awards meant spending more miles for a single trip.

There have always been exceptions to this rule, like being able to transit Europe on the way between the United States and Africa or being able to transit North Asia on the way from the United States to Southeast Asia.

Now transiting the Middle East from the United States to Africa has been added to the acceptable exceptions list, which is great news, because it saves 90% on the out-of-pocket costs of booking an American Airlines award to Africa.

  • What are the new routing rules for American Airlines awards to Africa?
  • How can you find award space to Africa with American Airlines miles?
  • How can you limit the out-of-pocket cost of your award ticket?
  • Which carriers are included in the new routing rules?

New Award Routing Rules to Africa

American Airlines has this one really strange routing rule: with a few exception, you must fly directly from your origin region to your destination region without transiting a third region.

Some of the exceptions make sense; from the United States:

  • You can transit Europe on the way to Africa.
  • You can transit Asia 1 (Japan, Korea, Mongolia) on your way to Asia 2 (the rest of East and Southeast Asia.)

The full exception list can be found here.

But this rule arbitrarily trips up some otherwise simple and direct routings. For instance, from the United States:

  • You cannot transit East Asia on your way to India.
  • You cannot transit Peru or the rest of Northern South America on your way to Argentina and the rest of Southern South America.

For the longest time, another of the “can’ts” was routing from the United States to Africa via the Middle East. Such a routing would price as two awards with a total one way cost of 75k/97.5k/120k American Airlines miles in economy/business/first class.

That’s way more than stated price on American’s chart from the United States to Africa, which is 37.5k/75k/100k each way in economy/business/first.

The only two legal ways to get from the United States to Africa at the stated price were on a direct flight from the United States to Africa (none of American’s partners have such a flight) or via Europe. Routing via Europe basically meant flying British Airways and paying big fuel surcharges.

Two weeks ago, the Wandering Aramean wrote that American Airlines has started allowing awards from the United States to Africa to transit the Middle East. This means that a one way award to Johannesburg, South Africa via Doha in economy now prices at 37,500 American Airlines miles. The same award would have previously priced at 75,000 miles. That’s 50% fewer miles!

Booking an Award to Africa via the Middle East

To double-check all of this, I headed over to to check on award availability on Qatar Airways. If you need a refresher on how to search a oneworld award using the British Airways website, click here. Award space was wide open on Qatar Airways between New York and Doha and Doha and Johannesburg.

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After noting the flight number, cabin, and date of an economy and business class itinerary, I called American Airlines at 800-882-8880 to price out the awards and put them on a five-day courtesy hold.

New Routing Rules Mean Less Out of Pocket

The one way economy award from New York to Johannesburg via Doha priced out at 37,500 American Airlines miles and $11.30 in taxes plus the $35 phone ticketing fee. The return one way flights in Business Class, using the same routing, priced out at 75,000 miles and $72.00 in taxes and fees.

I priced out a similar award using American Airlines miles, but flying on British Airways, to compare the out of pocket cost.

The British Airways flights would have incurred nearly 10 times the out-of-pocket cost. The outbound to Johannesburg in economy priced at $330 and the return in Business Class had $706 in taxes and fuel surcharges. That’s $952.70 more than if the award to Africa is routed through the Middle East on Qatar.

Do these rules apply to other Middle Eastern carriers?

Since I had an American Airlines agent on the phone, I tried booking a similar itinerary to South Africa except flying Etihad rather than Qatar and connecting in Abu Dhabi.

Unfortunately, award booking is still unavailable on Etihad using American Airlines miles, and the agent was unsure when this issue would be resolved.

Getting the Miles

Citi offers the American Airlines Executive Card with 100,000 bonus miles after spending $10k in the first three months.

Beyond the sign up bonus, the other huge benefit that cardholders get is free lounge access in Admirals Clubs.

The card has a gigantic $450 annual fee, though it is partially offset by $200 in statement credits on your first $200 in purchases on the card.

I just got this card for myself a few weeks ago.

Landing Page: Citi Executive / AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard


American Airlines’ routing rules have eased a bit for travel to Africa. You can route through the Middle East on Qatar on a single award. I was unable to test whether you can route through the Middle East on Etihad to Africa also.

Flying Qatar instead of British Airways to Africa cut the out-of-pocket cost by 90% on the sample award I dummy booked.

You can get 100,000 bonus American Airlines miles from the Citi Executive / AAdvantage World Elite MasterCard after spending $10,000 in the first three months.


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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    • If you want a few days in the Middle East, specifically Dubai, try an Alaska award on Emirates. That’s a great free stopover possibility.

  1. I notice that most of your comments regarding United refer to “Award Miles” as apposed to “Standard Award “miles.Can you clarify this?

  2. Can you book an Award to Africa from the US via Europe without flying British Airways to avoid the fuel surcharges?

    • I don’t know of any Europe to Africa routes on other oneworld carriers without fuel surcharges. There may be some. Check the destinations page of each European oneworld carrier.


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