American Airlines Award Routing Rules and Restrictions

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After reviewing an award chart to identify the number of miles required, once you have enough miles to redeem for your dream trip the hard work is done, right? Not totally. In addition to having enough miles and being able to find award availability, you need to make sure the routing of your desired award fits within the constraints of the redeeming airline. Just because the award space is there, doesn't mean it'll price out to what you think it should be. Every frequent flyer program has their rules — let's go over American's.

American Airlines Aircraft

Award Routing Scenario

Imagine you want to book an American Airlines AAdvantage business class award from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tokyo-Narita (NRT). In your search, you find that there are no non-stop options with sAAver award availability, but you can find it for an itinerary with a connection in Beijing (PEK). As the flight from PEK to NRT is operated by AA partner JAL, you call AA to complete your booking; JAL award flights are not displayed on the AA website. Even though the AA agent can find all the flights you want, you are surprised when you're informed that you cannot connect in PEK on a single award itinerary if traveling from LAX to NRT.

Map Courtesy of Great Circle Mapper

The agent is correct; AA has a longstanding policy of not allowing travel via a third region on awards or “third region rule.” Since PEK is considered part of AA's Asia Region 2 and NRT is considered part of AA's Asia Region 1, the only way you could connect in PEK if traveling between LAX and NRT is if booking two separate awards. More information on AA's region definitions.

If you chose to cash in your miles, you'd have to redeem 100,000 AA miles for two awards instead of 70,000 miles for a single award.

Third Region Rule Exceptions

Fortunately, there are many known exceptions to AA's third region rule. Those exceptions are:

  • Africa to Asia Region 1 via Asia Region 2, Doha, or Abu Dhabi
  • Africa to Asia Region 2 via Doha or Abu Dhabi
  • Africa to South Pacific via Abu Dhabi
  • Asia Region 1 to South Pacific via Asia Region 2
  • Central and South America (both regions) to Middle East/Indian Subcontinent and Africa via Europe
  • Central and South America Region 1 to South Pacific via South America Region 2
  • Europe to Asia Region 1 via Asia Region 2, Doha, or Abu Dhabi
  • Europe to Asia Region 2 via Doha or Abu Dhabi
  • Europe to South Pacific via Asia Region 1, Asia Region 2, Doha, or Abu Dhabi
  • Europe to Africa via Doha or Abu Dhabi
  • Middle East/Indian Subcontinent to Asia Region 1 via Asia Region 2
  • Middle East/Indian Subcontinent to South Pacific via Asia Region 2
  • *North America to Asia Region 2 via Asia Region 1
  • *North America to Africa via Europe, Doha, or Abu Dhabi
  • *North America to Middle East/Indian Subcontinent via Europe
  • South America Region 2 to Africa via Doha
  • South America Region 2 Middle East/Indian Subcontinent via Europe

*North America includes the following regions: Contiguous 48 U.S. States, Hawaii, Canada & Alaska, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Therefore, even though you cannot book LAX-PEK-NRT as one award, you can book LAX-NRT-PEK as one award, among other exceptions.

The Importance of Qatar and Etihad to AA's Award Routing Rules

Qatar Airways joined the Oneworld Alliance in 2013. The partnership has resulted in AA expanding their third region rule exceptions significantly over the last three years.

Perhaps the most notable example of this is award travel to Southern Africa. Prior to Qatar joining Oneworld, the only option to redeem miles between North American and Southern Africa (South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mauritius) was by connecting in Europe. Since British Airways was the only Oneworld member that flew to this part of the world, anyone hoping to redeem AA miles for such an award had to connect in London and was, thus, forced to pay BA's hefty fuel surcharges.

Shortly after Qatar joined Oneworld, AA began allowing connections in Doha for travel between North America and Southern Africa. As a result, AA mile collectors were no longer forced to connect in London or forced to pay hefty fuel surcharges if wanting to redeem miles for travel between North America and Southern Africa.

It is worth noting that Iberia will resume flying between Madrid and Johannesburg shortly, so that will be another option for travel between North America and Southern Africa with AA miles without significant surcharges.

Additionally, all of the exceptions mentioned above that include Doha as an eligible connection have also been included as a result of Qatar joining Oneworld. In those cases where a connection in Doha is allowed as a third region rule exception, both the flight into Doha and the flight out of Doha need to be operated by Qatar Airways.

The same goes for flights into and out of Abu Dhabi that take advantage of third region rule exceptions. Both the inbound and outbound segments must be on Etihad metal for the third region exception to qualify as a single award with AA miles.

Notable Third Region Rule Exceptions Worthy of Consideration

Considering the limited number of options for award travel between North America and South Pacific, allowing connections in both Asia Regions for travel between North America and South Pacific (arguably the most difficult award to book with AA miles and something both United and Delta allow) is a standout that American needs to consider. Unfortunately, though, with AA adding flights to Sydney and Auckland the chances of this happening have likely diminished.

North America to Asia Region 1 via Asia Region 2 is another exception that should be considered. At a minimum in cases with only one connection in Asia Region 2.

Another exception, which seems terribly obvious, is North America to South America Region 2 via South America Region 1. However, please note that even though that routing is currently not allowed as one award, this is one of the few cases in which you come out ahead by booking two separate awards, at least for business class awards. Here's a breakdown between Miami and Santiago, Chile in business class:

  • Between Miami and Lima and another award between Lima and Santiago, Chile requires a total of 55,000 AA miles (30,000 for the first and 25,000 for the second)
  • A single award between Miami and Santiago in business class would require 57,500 miles

Bottom Line

When considering booking an AAdvantage award, it is important to understand both the exceptions and restrictions when it comes to their third region rule. Likewise, also keep in mind that even if the routing you want is not allowed as part of a single award, you can always book the itinerary as two separate awards. In an extremely limited number of cases, it might even be advantageous to do so.

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  • I understand that this is an older post so no one likely looks at the comments anymore; but I’ve been searching this site for all the information I can gather since I’m new to this game, and posts like this are INCREDIBLY invaluable. There is just SO MUCH that I never would have known if it weren’t for the AW bloggers. Thank you for bringing topics like this to my attention. Knowing information like this beforehand sure is going to save some future headaches!

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