Taking (AA)dvantage of American Airlines Third Award Chart, the OneWorld Explorer Awards
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:
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*
- Cathay Pacific*
- Malaysia Airlines*
- Japan Airlines (JAL)*
- Royal Jordanian*
- Air Pacific
- Air Tahiti Nui
- Alaskan Airlines
- Cape Air
- El Al
- 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:
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
- Cathay Pacific
- Malaysia Airlines
- Japan Airlines (JAL)
- Royal Jordanian
- 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!
- If you want to read about all the other minituae of this ticket, you can see this Flyertalk thread or Scott’s great writeup over at Hack My Trip.
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.
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
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.
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.
Now, my trip would fall in to the Distance Zone 4 category instead, which would only cost me 70k AA miles in economy.
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!
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)