American Airlines generally has more limited rules about how you can book open jaw and stopover flights on award tickets compared to United Airlines’ MileagePlus, but it is valuable to know the rules so that can maximize your miles. Since American Airlines is part of the OneWorld alliance you can book award travel using any of the partner airlines to optimum optimize your itinerary.
Stopovers are the best way to maximize your awards ticket because airlines don’t charge extra miles for them, you just have to follow AA award guidelines to make it happen. Stopovers are destinations that are on the route of your final destination and is where you would be able to make a connection.
American Airlines stopovers are limited to North America and they must be made at International Gateways. Before this rule disappoints you, realize that this means you can make stopovers in the Bahamas, Canada, Mexico and other countries as long as they are an international gateway and are a part of the continent. Basically, you can turn 50k Explorer points into a money-saving, well-traveled mile.
List of North American International Gateway Airports and their One World Alliance Members
Cost of AA Awards Flights
If you’re traveling to Europe, it’s likely it will be out of the east coast and based on AA’s Explorer chart you would be able to maximize your Explorer points the most during the off-peak season. Coach during this time frame costs 20k points and 50k for business, so if you’re able to make your travels between October and May, this is when you would be able to maximize your miles the most.
Some people confuse layovers and stopovers because they seem similar, but a layover is a connection that’s less than 4 hours. American Airlines considers a stopover to be a connection of at least 4 hours for domestic flights and 6 hours for international flights. Your stopover can last for up to one year from the day the ticket was purchased so this can truly create a double vacation.
For example, say you wanted to take a three-week vacation in France over your summer break from college in Oregon, but your home base is in Washington D.C. and you wanted to spend time with friends and family before heading out to Europe. The rule is that your stopover would have to be out of a North American International Gateway and Washington’s Reagan Airport would be just that. You would be able to spend at least a month in Washington D.C. before going to Paris and from Paris you would fly back to PDX for the price of one roundtrip award ticket.
Another stopover scenario would be a trip to Costa Rica from LAX. After spending two weeks adventuring in Costa Rica, you decide that you would like to take a relaxing vacation in the Bahamas. Bahamas Nassau airport is also a North American International Gateway so a stopover would be allowed.
American Airlines doesn’t allow it’s passengers to book domestic stopovers on awards tickets. What this means is that your travel plans have to include an international destination, but your stopover can be domestic as long as it’s at an International Gateway. Also note that your stopover can either be on the segment you arrived into your destination or on your return from your international destination, so either portion.
LAX → PDX(Stopover) → DCA → LAX
Why? It’s not an international trip
LAX → JFK (Stopover) → MXP → LAX
Why ? The trip’s destination is to Milan, Italy so It’s international. JFK is an allowed domestic stopover because it’s an International Gateway.
Stopovers on One Way Flights with AA
Allowing for stopovers on one way flights is one thing that AA has over United Airlines, which doesn’t allow them. With one way flights you can create a trip with two stopovers or four segments. For example your first segment could be LAX to JFK with JFK as your stopover, then the second segment being JFK to CDG. On your second one-way flight back to your originating destination, you can essentially leave from anywhere in Europe, fly to another country that is a North American International Gateway and come back to the final destination in the US. Here’s an example that works to maximize two one way awards tickets:
1st oneway flight: LAX → JKF (stopover) → CDG
2nd oneway flight: CDG → YYZ (stopover) → LAX
Another benefit of booking one way AA tickets with a stopover, is that if you wanted to return with another airline because of availability, cost factors or award redemptions, that option can be granted.
Open jaw tickets means that you arrive to your destination from one airport, but return from a different one. Normally, people book roundtrip tickets that arrive and depart from the same city, for example if you fly into De Gaulle, you’re likely to return home from De Gaulle as well. In the case that you do create an open jaw itinerary with American Airlines, there’s the potential of maximizing your miles even more. How you get to the other airport would be your responsibility whether you get to another destination by train, bus, or cheap economic flight through an international airline.
An example would be to fly to London from LAX, then taking a train to Paris (avoiding London’s exit fee), and returning to LAX with an AA flight from Paris.
LAX → LHR then CDG → LAX
16 Segments + One Open Jaw
American Airlines allows for up to 16 segments with awards which includes an open jaw and five stopovers. Though your open jaw needs to be either with the first or last part of your awards trip in order to make this possible.
Also keep in mind that you can go through the same city twice with a connection as a layover, and go through it a third time with a stopover, but the stopover could only happen one time per AA’s rule. Don’t attempt to create a stopover in your originating destination because once you land there, it’s considered to be the end of the trip.
I suggest that you do not book your travel plans until you are completely satisfied with your itinerary. After you have booked your ticket, you cannot make airline or destination changes without paying a fee that can be over $150. The only changes you would be allowed to make without having to pay a fee are date changes.
Take advantage of stopover opportunities and refer to American Airline Explorer award chart so that you can create an itinerary that works for you and your wallet. With 20k points you can create an adventurous world trotting itinerary. Even though the stopover must be made through a North American International Gateway, there are plenty of options to visit and stay in desirable locations.