Google+

Taking (AA)dvantage of American Airlines Third Award Chart, the OneWorld Explorer Awards

OneWorld Explorer Award Chart

If you’re reading the title and thinking “wait, Americans Airlines has 3 award charts?”, you’re not alone.  Many, many people don’t realize (or forget) that American Airlines actually has 3 different award charts.

These award charts can be used in different circumstances and of course, can be maximized in different ways.

By understanding how all of these award charts work, you’ll be able to make the best use of your American Airlines miles.  Remember, the more miles you save, the more miles you’ll have to for even more free flights.

The first two charts are very similar to each other, so I’ll just give a quick overview of how they work before tackling the real meat of this post and discussing the oft-forgotten but extremely valuable OneWorld Explorer Award Chart.

Chart #1:  American Airlines Award Chart

This chart can only be used when you are flying on American Airlines directly or on American Eagle or American Connection flights.

You can see the American Airlines Award Chart here.

So if you are able to find availability on American Airlines flights, and don’t need to fly on any partner airlines, you can use this chart.  For most international travel, you will not be able to use this chart, since you’ll have to fly on a partner airline at some point.

In reality, this chart is almost identical to the oneWorld and Other Airline Award chart (chart #2), so there isn’t really much reason to talk more about this chart, since all the same rules apply to these two charts.

In fact, for the rest of the post, these two will simply be lumped together as “zone-based” award charts, but I wanted you to be aware that an AA only chart did exist (for what it’s worth).

Chart #2:  OneWorld and Other Airline Award Chart

This is the American Airlines chart that most people are familiar with.  It is a zone-based award chart that allows you to fly on American Airlines, any of their OneWorld partner airlines, or any of their other partners.

Here’s a look at it:

OneWorld and Other Airlines Award Chart

With this award chart, you can fly on any of the airlines listed below (or a combination of them):

  • American Airlines
  • British Airways*
  • Air Berlin*
  • Iberia*
  • Finnair*
  • LAN*
  • Cathay Pacific*
  • Qantas*
  • Malaysia Airlines*
  • Japan Airlines (JAL)*
  • Royal Jordanian*
  • S7*
  • Air Pacific
  • Air Tahiti Nui
  • Alaskan Airlines
  • Cape Air
  • El Al
  • Ethiad
  • GOL
  • Hawaiian Airlines
  • Jet Airways
  • Kingfisher Airlines

* denotes OneWorld Partner

For simple roundtrip travel, either domestic or international, this award chart almost always makes the most sense and will be the cheapest.

A few important things to note about this award chart:

  • It is zone-based.  That means if you fly from anywhere in North America to anywhere in Europe, you’ll pay the same amount of miles, regardless of the cities.
  • You are allowed to purchase one-way tickets for half the price of a roundtrip ticket.  The award chart itself shows prices for one-way tickets, whereas third party sites like milez.biz may show the roundtrip amount.
  • There are some awesome off-peak times with AA.  For example, off-peak to Europe is any time from Oct. 15th to May 15th and only costs 20k miles each way, as opposed to the regular rate of 30k.
  • If you use American Airlines miles, you’ll only have to pay a fuel surcharge if you fly on British Airways or Iberia flights.  The surcharges are astronomical on BA ($400-700), so avoid them at all costs.  On Iberia, it is much more reasonable (approx. $150).
  • AA.com will show you availability for American Airlines, Alaskan Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Qantas, Air Berlin, British Airways, and Finnair.  However, it will NOT show availability for LAN, Iberia, Cathay Pacific, Royal Jordanian, JAL, or S7.  If you can’t find what you want on AA.com, call in and speak to a rep.  There may be availability on the other airlines that don’t show up online.
  • American Airlines does allow a stopover but only in North American “gateway cities”, meaning you can’t stop anywhere outside of the US. (read this comprehensive post for all the details)

Chart #3:  OneWorld Explorer Award Chart

This is the one that is really different from the other two, and the one that many people don’t know about.  Whereas the other two award charts are zone-based award charts, the OneWorld Explorer chart is distance-based.

This chart is great for long, multi-city international trips because it allows you to make multiple stops in different countries.

You can see the full OneWorld Explorer Award Chart here, or check out the first portion of it below:

OneWorld Explorer Award Chart

Note that there are zones 6, 7, 8, and 9 but that they wouldn’t fit on the screenshot.

As I stated before, it is distance-based.  For example, if you fly 8,000 miles, you’ll fall in the “Distance Zone 3 tier” and you’d pay 60k AA miles for economy, 80k for business, or 100k for first class.

Some notes about this award chart:

  • You can only fly on American Airlines and OneWorld partners, NOT on all AA partners.  With this award, you could fly on:
    • American Airlines
    • British Airways
    • Air Berlin
    • Iberia
    • Finnair
    • LAN
    • Cathay Pacific
    • Qantas
    • Malaysia Airlines
    • Japan Airlines (JAL)
    • Royal Jordanian
    • S7
  • You must fly on at least 2 OneWorld partner airlines, excluding American Airlines, during your trip.  You can fly on more than 2, but you must fly on at least 2.
  • You can fly a maximum of 16 segments.  A segment is defined as “a flight with a single flight number between two cities, whether or not it stops between the origin and destination, and whether or not there is a change of aircraft along the way.”
  • The fuel surcharge rules still apply here.  If you fly on British Airways, you’ll pay massive fuel surcharges and if you fly on Iberia, you’ll also pay them, albeit much smaller ones.  Avoid BA at all costs, and try to avoid Iberia if possible.
  • You must complete all travel within 1 year of making the ticket reservation.
  • To book a trip with the OneWorld Explorer Chart, you must call AA directly at 1-800-882-8880. You’ll have to pay the $25 phone booking fee, but it’s well worth it!

The beauty of this ticket is it gives you A LOT of freedom to stop where you want and to visit multiple places.

How to Maximize the OneWorld Explorer Award Chart

Simple roundtrip flights

Example:  New York to Paris, Paris to New York

If you have a simple, over and back flight, then the choice for you is almost always going to be the “regular” zone-based award chart (chart #2).  You WOULD NOT use the OneWorld Explorer Award Chart.

To best maximize this, make sure you look in to flying during off-peak season to certain destinations, and remember, avoid British Airways and their fuel surcharges.

Multi-city flights

If you have multi-city flights, then the AA Explorer Chart is going to be your new best friend.

There are two tools that are going to come in really handy when playing around with itineraries and routings:

1.  The Great Circle Mapper- This will allow you to put in any number of cities and tell you the distance between them, as well as drawing it on a map.  All the images below in my example are from the Great Circle Mapper.

2.  The OneWorld Interactive Map- This will show you all the routing that OneWorld flies between cities, and will allow you to see which airlines fly them, so you can avoid BA.

Let’s put together an example so you can see just what is possible, and how to do it.

An Around Europe Extravaganza

So that you can see just how to do this, I am building this trip as I go.  I have no pre-conceived plans.  I am simply putting cities in to the OneWorld Interactive Map, seeing what destinations I can fly to without a connection and avoiding BA and their fuel surcharges, and then building on to it.

Take some time to get familiar with the OneWorld interactive map and you can do the exact same thing.  It really is amazing and opens up a world of possibilities.

First segment:  New York to Helsinki

I’ve always wanted to go to Finland, so why not?  Finnair flies this route directly (so we avoid BA when flying to Europe, hooray!).

Distance : 4117 miles.

Second segment:  Helsinki to Moscow

Another place I’ve always wanted to visit.  Since the OneWorld interactive map shows me that Finnair flies this route direct, and I’m already pretty close, I might as well go see Red Square!

Distance:  545 miles

Third segement: Moscow to Vienna

I used the OneWorld Map to show me where I can go from Moscow direct, and lo and behold, I can head to Vienna on Niki Airlines (which is part of airBerlin).  Might as well add some culture to this trip!

Also, since we have now flown on Finnair and airBerlin, we have fulfilled the requirement of flying on two partner airlines.

Distance:  1039 miles

Fourth segment:  Vienna to Paris

No trip to Europe is complete without seeing the city of lights, so we’ll hop back on Niki Airlines and go to Paris.

Distance:  645 miles

Fifth segment: Paris to New York

Paris is a great ending place for my trip because I can fly directly back from Paris to New York on American Airlines.  Once again, I’ve avoided British Airways and therefore, don’t have to pay the fuel surcharge.

Distance:  3635 miles

Total Distance for the trip:  10,020

Return to JFK

If I was to keep this exact trip, I’d fall in to the Distance Zone 5 category, which would cost me 90k AA miles.

AA Explorer Zone 5 Highlight

 

90k AA miles is not bad for this type of trip, but…I only went over by 20 miles!

If I could get under that 10k mile threshold for total distance, I could save some big time miles, and you better believer I’m going to try.

There are two ways to do this.

Change Your Destinations

One, would be to change around where I go on this trip.  For example, instead of going to Moscow, I might consider going somewhere closer in Europe.  You can easily play around with different itineraries and figure out what places keep you under that 10,000 threshold.

Since there are so many places in Europe, this is easy to do.

And, if you’re a big nerd like me, it’s actually really fun to do!

Change the City You Fly Back To

However, if I knew I wanted to go to all four of those stops (Helsinki, Moscow, Vienna, and Paris), then I could consider flying back to a different, closer US  city.

This is allowed because the Explorer Award allows you to have one open-jaw, which means you can leave out of one US city and fly back to another.

When I go in to the OneWorld Interactive Map, I see that I can fly from Paris to Boston direct instead with AA.  Yeahhhhh!

This is perfect because we avoid BA since I’ll be flying on American Airlines, and it is also 200 miles less.  

If I flew back in to Boston my total distance for the trip would be 9834.  

Return to Boston

Now, my trip would fall in to the Distance Zone 4 category instead, which would only cost me 70k AA miles in economy.

AA Explorer Zone 4 Highlight

I just saved myself 20k AA miles by routing to a different city.  Or, if I really wanted to spoil myself, I could fly business class for the same price (9ok) as it would have cost me to fly back to New York in economy.

I’ll gladly spend the $59 on train ticket from Boston to Philadelphia to save 20k miles or fly in style!

Final Word(s)

Using the American Airlines Explorer award chart is all about maximizing value and finding the right amount of stops and cities to fall right under the threshold.

It’s like playing Tetris, except in the end, your prize is much bigger:  Free travel to multiple awesome destinations!

If you are someone who is looking to travel to many places at once, then you definitely need to start thinking about using the AA Explorer Award.

It is one of the best values out there, especially if you are looking to fly business or first, since their prices aren’t that much higher in some of the zones.

Also, don’t forget that the only airline you really need to avoid is British Airways, since they will add fuel surcharges.  All other AA partners will not add fuel surcharges if you fly on them, so feel free to book away on them!

So play around with the Great Circle Mapper and the OneWorld Interactive Map and see what you can put together.

The OneWorld Explorer Award Chart really does open up a ton of opportunities that you can’t get with the “regular” zone-based AA award chart, so don’t forget that it is an option!

Has anyone used the OneWorld Explorer Award Chart before?  If so, what type of trip were you able to put together?  If you haven’t used it yet, what trip are you dreaming about putting together?

(photo courtesy of jonathanb1989)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Comments

  1. Can we have an open jaw in between the routes or it has to be between origin-destination only. For example SFO-HKG-BKK-KHI and then DXB-HKG-SFO.

    • @caveman- Good question. Yes, you can have an open jaw in between the routes. You should not get charged for the mileage between the two open jaw segments (ground transportation). You’ll only get charged mileage for the stuff you actually fly, which makes sense, but just wanted to be clear on that.

  2. Used it for a month long trip around Asia and Australia. Priceless. I will note though, that when we used Great Circle Mapper and the One World interactive map, the miles added up there DID NOT match what AA said when we called to book. I don’t know why there is a discrepancy, and it was small, however we had to change our itinerary due to this. So, for those that look into this seriously, please keep that in mind!

    • @Curtis- You’re right, the Great Circle Mapper is not always 100% exact with what AA will quote you. They should be really close, but if you are cutting it within a few miles, you might want to call up and do a dummy booking with AA first to see how much they will quote you at.

      Glad you’ve used it before. Nothing beats it for multi-city trips!

  3. WOW. with about 110k AA miles in tow (soon to be more, as i’m about to apply for the business card), this CERTAINLY seems like the best bang for your buck for AA miles. wow.

    • @benjamincahn- 110k AA miles will get you a lot of places if you use the Explorer award right. Start planning and have fun with it!

  4. So you can stay in a particular city as long as you like, provided the total trip is under 365 days? Also, I’d be interested to know what your trip would cost in $$ for an average time (not peak and not dead of winter)

    • @Scott- Yep, you have 365 days to complete the whole trip. So if you decide to spend 350 of them at your first stop, and then remaining 15 at your other stops, that’s fine. You can slice it any way you like, as long as it is completed in less than 365 days from when you first start.

  5. I love this award! I booked at Boston,Paris,Berlin,Oslo,Helsinki and back to Boston in July for 70k

    • @Hutch- It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. Just out of curiosity, do you remember your cost for taxes and fees?

  6. James K. says:

    Can you book them online or do you have to call in?

  7. I’d love to do a few EU destinations but coming from Denver really screws me. It takes 1,700 miles just to get from DEN-BOS before heading to DUB. Then another 1,700 miles getting back to DEN. Is it worth it going west to Asia from DEN? Wife just found out she was hired at a public school so I’ll have 2 and a half months of vacation time every summer to plan.

    • why not just buy a ticket from DEN > NYC? i’d like to do a similar trip, but im near LAX…haven’t done the math on whether that puts me at a disadvantage. was thinking of just using my US airways miles for a trip to NY, then using the AA miles to do the eurotrip.

      next step for me: save up enough money and miles for the next year to do the trip some time in the future. ha. what’s hard is deciding between splurging and going 1st class, or saving those miles for another trip!

    • @Ken- Yeah, coming from the middle of the country does make it worse for you…unless you look at it as you can to either Asia or Europe and not pay as much as the West and East coasters, respectively!

      Another thing you could consider doing is finding a cheap flight to New York or Boston or something like that, if possible, pay for that out of pocket, and save the AA miles. I know Frontier Airlines flies that, maybe if you can get a ticket for under $200, it’d be worth it?

      Asia would definitely be worth it, because you can bounce around a lot of places there and still get really good value. Tell your wife congrats on the job…that’s awesome!

  8. Fun, I guess, but let’s remember that NONE of this is FREE. All of us have paid higher basic fares than really necessary just to support these ‘award’ programs. In addition, the ‘award’ and inter-line restrictions have become extremely restrictive and are growing more so, because ‘experts’ like you miss no opportunity to abuse – OK, misuse what used to be very generous rules. This kind of misuse has also resulted in reduced award seat availability, especially on the partner airlines and much greater difficulty in making even a simple primary+partner booking. Truth be told, most users of ‘award’ tickets are perfectly happy with a convenient, R/T ticket (or a pair) from home to a desired destination – and certainly without trying to ‘screw’ the multiple airlines out of the maximum possible number of miles, legs or meals. I don’t mind flying and like most folks, it is easier toward the front of the plane. Speaking only for myself here, that annual ‘award ticket’ is a way to get to Point B and have a nice visit, not some misguided attempt to spend the entire vacation with an airplane strapped to my behind. There IS a difference, but some – many of the bloggers on Boarding Area seem to have forgotten the purpose of the many ‘award’ programs.
    Just once, consider cooling your jets and spending a week or two in one, carefully selected place, learn a bit out the place and learn to enjoy a bit of their culture. Culture? Ahem, yes, damn it! There IS a wealth of wonderful, different and exciting Culture, well beyond the confines of a First Class seat and an attractive FA that brings ‘free’ booze until she is forced to cut you off. There is life beyond an airplane seat!

    • @Cook- I believe that miles should be spent in whatever way people want to spend them, whether that be on a simple Point A to Point B trip or that be hopping around from city to city on a multi-city trip. Whatever the individual’s travel goals are, then that is what they should use their miles for. I am just presenting all the facts, and if your goal isn’t to go to multiple places, then I agree, you have no use for the Explorer award.

      I do disagree with the fact that this is “abusing or misusing” the system. The Explorer Award is in place for EXACTLY what I talk about; the multi-city or around the world trip. It even says it right there on AA’s website. This ticket is intended for people who are going to multiple places and is not some sort of loophole at all. AA knows it exists, and promotes it for just such a use.

      Lastly, I actually HATE being on a plane, almost never fly business or first class, and never drink on a plane because of my motion sickness. So the idea of being on a plane is awful to me. I’m planning on using this award to go to place to place TO GET culture, and on my vacations, I almost always stay more than a week in each destination. I prefer long, slow travel rather than quick, 1 day here, 1 day there stuff. Since this award is good for a year, you could easily spend 2 months in Sweden, 2 months in Russia, 2 months in Vienna, and 2 months in Paris (assuming your budget could afford it). There is nothing about this award that means you have to hop on and hop off, but if you are going multi-city, it is a much, much better alternative.

  9. is there any way to take advantage of this using ultimate rewards through transfers?

    • @Drew B- You won’t be able to do it without a workaround and it won’t give you good value, but it is possible. For example, you could convert Ultimate Rewards to Hyatt at 1:1. So, if you have 100k Ultimate Rewards, you can transfer them to 100k Hyatt. Then, you can transfer Hyatt points to AA at a 2:1 ratio, meaning 100k Hyatt will turn in to 50k AA.

      Again, not great value, but if you do the math and it works out for your specific trip, then it might be worth it.

  10. Not LAN?

    • @Jeff- Whoops, somehow I forgot to put LAN on there. And also, Malaysia Airlines just joined in February, so they should be on the list as well. I’ve added them now. Thanks for the pickup!

  11. Brandon says:

    Hi, in order to use Chart #3 (the AA Explorer Award Chart), do I have to do a round trip? Can I go from B to C to D to A? Instead of A to B to C to D to A? I am going to be flying a different airline to go from A to B.

    • @Brandon- You are allowed an open jaw anywhere on the itinerary. This means that if you want want to leave from B (let’s say New York) and return to A (let’s say Boston), that would be ok. So yes, your itinerary above would be fine.

      • Brandon says:

        Hi, thank you for the response. Does my open jaw have to be within the same country? My B to C to D to A is actually Hong Kong to Seoul to Tokyo to New York. Do you think that would still qualify for Chart #3?

        • @Brandon- According to the Flyertalk thread, there is no limit on the open jaw, meaning you should be able to open jaw between countries, and apparently, even regions. I haven’t tried this specifically, but some knowledgeable people seem to think it is ok.

          Open jawing between regions would be pretty neat! I’m thinking of trying to do the world’s longest open jaw by taking the Trans-Siberian Railroad all the way across Russia to China and continuing from there!

          • So I looked it up, it’s 5,700+ miles from Moscow all the way to the east. That’s a LONG train ride with thousands of miles of not much to see. 8 days too. You’re nuts!

          • Brandon says:

            Thanks Trav! HOLY COW, The Trans-Siberian Railroad, WOW!! Good luck with that!! I don’t know if I could do that, I need my first class seats on planes!! lol

  12. This might be a dumb question but does regular (spotty) award availability have to be there for each segment just like regular AA chart 1 award bookings? I’m thinking that this could be tricky trying to book something with so many stops. Regardless—this is one of the most interesting blog posts I’ve read in awhile! I gotta figure out how to do one of these.

    • @Matt- It’s actually a great question. To book Explorer Awards, there must be SAAver availability. With AA, there are two availability levels; SAAver and AAnytime. You pay half the price for the SAAver ones, such as 30k one way to Europe, and those are what we normally consider “regular (spotty) awards”. So yes, those must be available for each segment to book your Explorer Award.

      And yes, that means it might be hard to book them. Your best bet is to avoid busy seasons (like summer) and also to book as far out in advance as possible. Remember, tickets go on sale 330 days before the day you want to leave, so book as close to a year out as possible for the best availability.

  13. So converting UR points to BA Avios won’t work for the Explorer Award? Can’t you just avoid BA flights so you don’t incur the high fuel surcharges?

    • @Matt- I’m not sure how you would convert UR points to BA. And if you do have BA points, you’ll get high fuel surcharges on most of the flights they fly, even if they aren’t BA. They charge high fuel surcharges on most partners, whereas if you use AA miles, you ONLY get charged a fuel surcharge if you fly BA. This breakdown of BA Avios points should help you some.

  14. WOW now I finally understand why AA miles are so valuable!!! Your posts break it down to the simplest for us travel newbies! From your posts, I learned about why AA & UA miles are valuable & how I should apply for a business card if I need one. If we have a family trip in the future, I just might get you to consult for us.

    • @ZM- Glad I could help! Yeah, the Explorer award is pretty sweet! And definitely consider a business card. I’d be more than happy to help you book a trip should you need it in the future!

  15. Excellent info….although almost overwhelming. I hadn’t know about the third chart although I use British Airway’s similar chart to book on AA

  16. Hi Travis!

    Quick question. I need to book 5–yes 5—one way tix for our family from LAX to ATL on June 16th. I have enough Southwest points to get 3 of them free, but would really like to get all five. I do have 53,000 Amex platinum points that I know I can convert to avios for the 35% deal right now. If i’m reading the AA chart right, I would only need 12,500 miles per ticket, but how do I then use Avoios for that? Who do I call and is the chart different for Avios needed? How do I know before I transfer that the tix will all be availbale?

    Thanks,
    Tricia

    • @Patricia Jane Moores Cliff- If you convert them to Avios points, you need to use the Avios chart to determine how many points you’ll need for the flight. Every airline, even if they are in the same alliance, has a different award chart, and you always use the award chart of the airline whose miles you are using.

      So, for Avios points, you’d need to look at the Avios award chart. Unfortunately, BA Avios will charge you 34,000 for that flight, because you have to route through Miami and they charge you per each segment.

      BA Avios points can be tricky, so make sure to take a look at this post, which helps explain the nuances of the BA Award chart. Let me know if you have any other questions.

  17. Awesome deal, thanks for sharing. Not sure how much I can take advantage tho as I like visiting villages/parks outside cities and don’t have many vacation days. But maybe it’ll come in handy one day.

    • @Yuhao- Yeah, it really is tailor made for people with a little more time to travel. If you have time to make multiple stops in multiple cities, then you can really maximize it, but if you only have 2 weeks, it’d be hard to jump around to so many places AND get outside the main city where the airport is. Maybe some day, though, when a long trip is in order, you can really make those AA miles work for you!

  18. Thanks for the detailed post. This was super helpful for me booking my OneWorld Explorer flight! I’ve shared a few additional details that I learned along the way here:

    http://oneworldtwoexplorers.com/2014/04/06/oneworld-explorer-awards-traveling-the-world-for-under-250-usd/

    • @OneWorldTwoExplorers- Awesome…The Explorer Award is amazing. I’ll definitely check out your post for even more tips. Thanks for linking back!

Trackbacks

  1. […] Extra Pack of Peanuts:Taking (AA)dvantage of American Airlines Third Award Chart, the OneWorld Explo… […]

Leave a Reply