In one of my initial posts, I wrote about the best credit card(s) out there for international travel. The combination of applying for both the Visa and American Express credit cards at the same time and then meeting the minimum spending requirements will result in 100,000 American Airlines miles. And, if your partner does the same thing, you now have 200,000 miles! This is a lot of miles! American Airlines is part of the Oneworld Alliance so you can use these miles on any of their partner airlines (including British Airways, Iberia, Alaska Airlines, Qantas, Air Tahiti Nui, and Hawaiian Airlines, see the complete list for other participating airlines).
Some of the best values are found using the American Airlines Off Peak, Mile SAAver awards in economy. These include flights between the US and Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean for as low as 25,000 miles roundtrip. North America to Central America, Columbia, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela can be had for as low as 30,000 miles roundtrip. And, North America to Europe, Argentina, Brazil or Chile can be had for as little as 40,000 miles roundtrip! These are all great values if you do not mind travelling in economy class. Unfortunately, American Airlines does not have these low level redemptions for Business or First Class. You also have to keep in mind that these awards are called “Off-Peak” for a reason. These are low season redemptions.
But the best value found in American Airlines awards is in their “stopover” policy. You are allowed a stopover in the North American gateway city. This may not sound too exciting, but it is! The North American gateway city is defined as the last North American city you depart from before changing regions (like flying to Central America or Europe) or the first North American city you arrive in from another region. So, for example, if you are flying from Boston to Miami to Argentina, Miami would be your gateway city. Or, if you are flying from London to Boston to Hawaii, Boston would be your gateway city. You are allowed to stopover as long as you would like in the gateway city (keep in mind that your ticket expires 1 year from the date you first book your award).
The best way to maximize this policy is to “stopover” in your home city (or a city nearby) between trips. So, for example, my family is planning on travelling from St. Thomas, USVI to Boston for our winter vacation. Instead of just ending the trip there, we added on a leg to London and used Boston as our stopover city. It would have cost us 17,500 miles per ticket to fly from St. Thomas to Boston but it only cost us 20,000 per ticket to fly from St. Thomas to Boston, stopover for several months, and then continue on to London when we were ready for our Scottish vacation. Similarly, on the return, we will be flying from London to Boston and then continuing on to Hawaii. This time the mileage required is exactly the same as it would have been to complete our trip in Boston as American Airlines considers Hawaii in the same region as Boston when travelling from Europe. So, we will stopover again in Boston on the return until we’re ready for our Hawaiian vacation next year.
Some tips when taking advantage of this policy:
Only book your legs one way. In order to time your vacations correctly, you’ll need to wait several months between when you book the outbound and when you book the inbound due to the 1 year expiration of the ticket policy. So, if you want to book a trip from London to Boston to Hawaii for February, you should book the first leg 330 days before your desired travel date (you don’t have to do it that far out, but that’s when you’re most likely to find the best availability). You’ll then need to decide where you’d like to go next and book Hawaii – stopover city – new vacation spot 330 days from when you want to take your next vacation. This clearly requires a bit of advanced planning, but the value you get out of it is well worth it. Keep in mind that you can make changes to your travel dates as much as you like for free. You must make the changes over the phone and your entire ticket must be used within 1 year of when you first book it. Additionally, you cannot change the origin city or the destination city without paying a $150 re-ticket fee.
Another thing to keep in mind is that you may not be able to use your home city as your stopover for your desired destination. There must be a direct flight between your home city and the region you wish to travel to/from. So, using Boston as an example, it’s possible to fly from St. Thomas to Boston to London because there is a direct flight from Boston to London. Other European options include Madrid (on Iberia Airlines) and Paris. You can then connect from there to your desired destination. Similarly, London to Boston to Hawaii works because of the same reason. However, Hawaii to Boston to San Jose, Costa Rica, for example does not work because there is no direct flight between Boston and Central/South America. But, in this example, American Airlines does fly direct from New York City to Costa Rica. So, I could fly from Hawaii to New York City (stopover for many months) and then continue onto Costa Rica. This would require me to buy a ticket from/to New York City, but for a free flight, that may be worth it. It would also allow you to fly into Portland versus Boston. And the icing on the cake is that Hawaii to Boston is 20,000 miles each way whereas Hawaii to New York City to Costa Rica is only 15,000 miles each way! Enter your home city or destination city airport here to find where American Airlines flies directly to (keep the AA partners box checked but uncheck the AA connections box).
This stopover policy, when leveraged correctly, can really help maximize your American Airlines miles. But it is confusing. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them here or send me an email. I’m happy to help if you have a couple of destinations in mind and want to know if you’re able to take advantage of this policy.