Earlier this month I wanted to book two flights for myself and a family member to visit Japan next year using my American Airlines miles.
Unfortunately, there weren't any great options found when searching award travel on aa.com (American Airline's website) for the route I wanted on my travel dates, despite the fact that I was searching 9 months in advance of travel.
On top of that, there were no Business/First MileSAAver flights (discounted award flights in business or first class) for 60K miles. This was disappointing as given the amount of miles I had saved, I hoped to book in business class for 60K per leg versus 120K per leg for Business/First AAnytime awards.
I know that American Airlines is in alliance with Japan Airlines, so I was frustrated that there were such limited award flights available to Japan considering I was searching well in advance of the trip.
I started researching the best ways to utilize AA award travel and discovered a way to use American Airlines miles to book award travel through AA’s partner airlines, such as Japan Airlines.
The trick is so easy!
You simply need to search for the award travel flights on a partner airline website (such as Alaska Airlines or British Airways), and then call American Airlines AAdvantage at 1-800-882-8880 to book your award travel over the phone.
Since the flight can’t be booked online, American will waive the phone booking fee as well.
It really is that simple, and but below is a more detailed guide on booking this way, and my personal experience with this travel hack.
American Airlines Online Search Experience for Award Travel
First, to search for award travel with American Airlines you:
Go to AA.com
You will see “Book Flights” section towards the bottom right of the homepage. Underneath that header all the way to the right check the box titled “Redeem Miles”
You can also click on “Plan Travel” then “Flights” and click “Yes” under “Book with miles?” at the top of the page to begin searching to your specifications.
The AA guide to booking with miles can be found here - details on award travel and how to book - and below are some excerpts from the how-to guide:
Miles shown are for one-way travel.
Each award is subject to taxes and carrier-imposed fees starting from $5.60 per person, per award. These taxes and fees vary by itinerary and are based on trip origin and destination. The exact amount of taxes and carrier-imposed fees that will apply will appear when searching for a particular itinerary.
For flights offering only two classes of service the Economy and Business / First Class awards apply. For flights offering three classes of service Economy, Business / First and First Class awards apply.
There are two types of awards for travel offered by American Airlines:
- MileSAAver awards (7,500 - 80,000 miles per leg depending on destination and cabin class)
- AAnytime awards (20,000 - 195,000 per leg depending on destination and cabin class)
You can see the detailed flight award chart on aa.com here.
My Personal Search Experience on AmericanAirlines.com for Award Travel
When I first searched AA award travel round trip in and out of Tokyo from LAX, I could see some choices for “Economy MileSAAver" awards for 35K miles per leg (the lowest mileage cost award possible for that route). These "Economy MileSAAver" options did include some direct (nonstop) flights.
However, despite searching 9 months in advance and LAX being the most efficient US city to use to reach Japan nonstop, many dates still required “Economy AAnytime” awards for 80K miles per leg. I was not willing to spend that many miles (80K) on an economy class ticket.
Additionally, for my particular dates, there were zero Business/First MileSAAver options (discounted business/first class awards), which I had planned to book for one leg given the amount of miles I had saved.
AA.com only offered in and out of Tokyo from LAX on my travel dates the following award travel options:
1) 35K miles per leg for MileSAAVer award flights on select dates
2) 80K miles per leg for Economy AAnytime award flights on most dates
3) 155K miles per leg for Business/First AAnytime award flights on most dates
The total minimum cost for 2 tickets was going to be 140K miles and $91.52 for Economy MileSAAver economy class flights round-trip LAX-Tokyo.
However, I wanted to fly into Osaka and out of Tokyo to have the trip make the most logistical sense as I wanted to visit Osaka, Kyoto, and Tokyo in that order.
I found AA.com had zero flights using award travel miles flying into Osaka.
I saw there were no award flights to Osaka the entire month of May, April or June on aa.com.
I could also see there were no “Japan Airlines” flights showing up in my search on AA.com, even though Japan Airlines is a partner of American Airlines.
This lead me to look further into what partner airlines are shown in searches on AA.com.
American Airlines Partner Airlines & display rules
The full list of American Airlines partner airlines can be found here: https://www.aa.com/i18n/aadvantage-program/miles/partners/partner-airlines.jsp.
After reading read Eric Rosen’s post on American Airlines Award Routing Rules on TPG, I confirmed AA does not show routing on Japan Airlines (JAL).
I discovered only these airlines will show up in an award travel search on AA.com:
- Air Berlin
- British Airways
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Qantas Airways
- Alaska Airlines
- Royal Jordanian Airlines
- American Airlines (obviously)
(While these are the possible airlines that will show in an award travel search on AA.com, you won't necessarily see all of these airlines as options depending on your destinations and travel dates.)
What airlines are partnered with American Airlines and will NOT show up in an award travel search on AA.com? The list is quite extensive and includes these airlines:
- Cathay Pacific
- Japan Airlines
- LAN Airlines
- Malaysia Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- S7 Airlines
- SriLanka Airlines
- TAM Airlines
- Air Tahiti Nui
- Eithiad Airways
- Fiji Airways
- And more seen here
Partner Airlines Online Search Experience for Award Travel
With the knowledge that many airlines partnered with American Airlines will not display on AA's website when searching for award travel, I knew I had to be able to search for them elsewhere.
I found the two most recommended AA partner airline websites to use for award travel searches are Alaska Airlines and British Airways.
I opted to use Alaska Air's website to search for award travel flights on which I could use my AA miles as using British Airways requires you to create an Avios account and login to search their award travel flight availability.
You can read more on my experience with the Alaska Airlines website search below.
Alaska Air and British Airways are not the only two airlines you can use to search award travel eligible for purchase with American Airlines miles either. One Mile At A Time did a great post "How to Use American Airline Miles," you can read that shows which airline websites to use to search for flights on particular airlines.
My Personal Search Experience using AlaskaAir.com for AA Mileage Award Travel
I was able to use Alaska Airlines website to search for award travel flights on which I could use my AA miles without logging in or providing any personal information.
For my selected outbound date, Alaska Air had two choices available for the only nonstop flight from LAX to Osaka (KIX): 1) 35K miles “Main Cabin” (economy class) award flight, or 2) 60K miles “Partner Business” (business class) award flight (which was less mileage cost than an "Economy AAnytime" award flight on AA!). They also had a number of 2-stop choices in business class for 60K miles.
For my outbound flight I opted for the business class "Partner Business" award flight for 60K miles from LAX to Osaka. That mileage cost was a mere 25K more miles than I would have spent on a nonstop flight to a destination I didn’t want (Tokyo) in economy class, not business, no less found on AA.com.
For my return date a week later, I found there was the same AA nonstop flight from NRT (Tokyo) to LAX for 32.5K miles which I had also seen on AA.com for 35K miles. Additionally, there were a number of 1-stop and 2-stop flight options for the return from Tokyo to LAX in economy or business class.
For my return flight, I opted for the economy nonstop "Main Cabin" award flight from NRT to LAX for 32.5K miles.
The total for a direct business class outbound from Los Angeles to Osaka and a direct economy class return from Tokyo to Los Angeles for 2 people was 185,000 miles + $141.52 copay found on AlaskaAir.com. Not bad at all!
I called AA to book, and they were happy to help when I let the representative with whom I was speaking know that I wanted to book award travel using my miles on partner flights I had found.
I provided the AA representative on the phone my travel dates, airlines and flight numbers I had found, and she quickly found my exact reservation. Since the flight couldn't be booked online with my miles, the fee for booking over the phone was waived.
The only hiccup I experienced when calling AA to book was that they still showed the return as 35K miles rather than 32.5K miles as shown on AlaskaAir, so I needed 2.5K miles more than I had expected to book. However the copay was also lower through AA at only $92.12 (versus $141.52 show on AlaskaAir.com).
In the end, I was very happy with the results of finding award travel flights on AlaskaAir.com, and then calling American Airlines at 1-800-882-8880 to book over the phone using my AA miles for the reservation.
Earning Miles with American Airlines to Use for Award Travel
This post isn't about earning miles, but I wanted to give some tips as you need miles to book award travel.
The most obvious and standard way to earn miles is to register for an AAdvantage number (account) with American Airlines, which is free. Then, you need to include that AAdvantage number in all of your flights with American Airlines and their partners Airlines to earn miles on each flight you take with them.
Another way I've earned miles with AA is by opening up a Citi AAdvantage credit card. By opening a credit card and meeting a minimum spend in a designated time period, you will be able to earn a huge bonus to boost the number of miles in your AAdvantage account. A typical credit card bonus is 25K to 60K miles.
Additionally, I have a Starwood Preferred Guest ("SPG") American Express card, and miles earned through SPG can be transferred to American Airlines. SPG points are able to be transferred to over 30 airline partners, so it is a valuable rewards card for travel.
Starwood Preferred Guest also has a great transfer deal where for every 20,000 SPG points you transfer, you will receive a 5,000 point bonus as well to the partner to whom you're transferring your points. And, there is a 1-1 transfer of SPG points to American Airlines (AA) miles.
So, given the SPG transfer bonus, when I transferred 20,000 SPG points to AA, I received the credit of 25,000 miles added to my AAdvantage account.
Final Word: Partner Airlines Websites Are an Easy Way to Find Great-Value Award Travel Deals for Using American Airlines Miles
I'm glad I learned the travel hack of searching award travel flights on partner airline websites to book the best flights possible with my American Airlines miles over the phone.
This travel hack definitely resulted in my finding much better options for a trip using my AA miles.
I hope this post will help you use this travel hack in the future as well.
For the many other ways of using your American Airlines award miles, I recommend reading the following publications:
Have you had success booking great award travel deals using American Airlines miles on partner airlines? What is your favorite award travel hack? Let us know in the comments below!