Today I am happy to share a guest post by Scott Grimmer, author of MileValue.com. While I usually focus on revenue (paid) trips, Scott’s specialty is award travel, and he has a particular knack for getting extra stopovers and segments that can turn one award redemption into multiple trips. Be sure to check out his blog for more useful tips and help booking award travel!
This post will be about using a combination of American Airlines miles and British Airways Avios to greatly increase the number of cities where you can enjoy an almost free stopover on an AA award.
Regular MileValue readers know that one of the stringent requirements for a free stopover on an AA award is that the stopover can only be at the international gateway city. While the list of such cities is long, it doesn’t include every airport or any tiny regional airports, where a number of people live.
But by pairing Avios with our AAdvantage miles, we can greatly increase the possibilities of almost free stopovers to include smaller airports. Here’s how:
We’ll book two awards. The first will be the main international award with AA miles. We must choose an international gateway city near the city where we want to stopover. We must also ensure that there is a direct AA flight between the international gateway city and the desired stopover city.
If that sounds complicated, it really isn’t, and an example should clarify.
Example of an almost free stopover: Next spring I want to book a oneway award from Los Angeles to Montevideo, Uruguay with AA miles. I want a stopover in Tampa. On one award this would be impossible. AA awards can only have stopovers at the international gateway city, which would be Miami on this award, since this award would route LAX-Miami-Montevideo.
But what if I book a separate Avios award MIA-TPA-MIA? For 9,000 Avios, I’ve added a stopover in Tampa. Here’s how the flights would look with some example dates:
April 16: LAX-MIA <— part of AAdvantage award
April 16: MIA-TPA <— Avios award 4,500 Avios
April 24: TPA-MIA <— Avios award 4,500 Avios
April: MIA-MVD <— part of AAdvantage award
To recap this example: I would book two awards.
- A oneway from LAX to Montevideo with a free stopover in Miami.
- A roundtrip Avios award on AA planes from Miami to Tampa.
Even though I booked LAX to Montevideo and Miami to Tampa roundtrip, my flights turned out to be LAX to Tampa then Tampa to Montevideo. What are the benefits to booking this way? Lower cost.
If the LAX to Montevideo award is in coach than these awards cost 30k AA miles, 9k Avios, and small taxes. If instead, I booked what I flew–LAX to Tampa and Tampa to Montevideo–on two AA awards, that would have cost 42.5k AA miles and about the same taxes.
So the method of pairing Avios and AA miles saved 12.5k AA miles at the cost of 9k Avios. To me that’s a savings of $68.25 worth of miles according to my values for those miles–1.77 cents per AA mile, 1.70 cents per Avios. That’s a nice per person savings each way. But this trick works even better for premium cabin awards.
An LAX to Montevideo business class award would cost 50k AA miles, so adding in a stopover on a business class award would cost 50k AA miles, 9k Avios, and small taxes. If instead, I booked the awards LAX to Tampa and Tampa to Montevideo in business class that would have cost 75k AA miles and about the same taxes.
So combining this trick with an AA premium cabin award results in huge savings. In my example, the savings would be 25k AA miles for the cost of 9k Avios. According to my valuation of those miles, using this AA-plus-Avios trick, we would save $289.50 worth of miles.
How would I actually exploit this trick in practice? It’s important to make sure that both awards–the AA award and complementary Avois award–are booked so we aren’t left with a stopover we don’t want or an Avios roundtrip we can’t use.
So the first thing I would do is search for the AA award with the appropriate stopover. If you are flying AA, Hawaiian Airlines, British Airways, or Alaska Airlines, you can search for the award on aa.com, and it will even price correctly with the stopover. (If you don’t know how to book a free stopover online on an AA award, see this post.)
To continue the example from earlier, I would search for LAX-MIA//MIA-MVD on aa.com. But after searching and selecting my itinerary, I wouldn’t purchase it. Instead I would select AAdvantage Hold on the screen that asks if you want to purchase the itinerary. This reserves the itinerary for five days and generates a record locator.
Now we can go ticket the Avios itinerary. If you don’t know how to book AA flights on ba.com, here is an example of my booking such an award on ba.com. This booking is a snap. I just need to find a flight from MIA-TPA that minimized my layover in Miami, and a return TPA-MIA that minimizes my layover in Miami. Here is such an itinerary.
I’ll splice the images to make it easier to see how these two awards combine into the two journeys we want, LAX-TPA and TPA-MVD. Note the reasonable layovers of 1:40 in Miami en route to Tampa and 2:00 en Miami en route to Montevideo.
With the BA award ticketed, I would sign back into AA and ticket the reserved AA award.
The best part of this trick is that oneworld airlines, like AA and BA, have a policy of taking responsibility to get you to your final oneworld destination even if your flights are on multiple tickets. In plain English, that means that if your first flight LAX-MIA is delayed, so you miss MIA-TPA, AA won’t say, “Tough luck, MIA-TPA was a separate ticket. We’re not responsible for your missing that.” Instead they’ll treat you the same as any passenger on an LAX-MIA-TPA connecting ticket. That is, they’ll get you a seat on the next MIA-TPA flight.
So this trick can be a real mile saver, and a mile saved is a mile earned. Astute readers probably see the possibility to get even more value out of this trick by booking an almost free oneway.
I hope everyone enjoyed learning something new about AA! I know I did, and I hope to be flying them a lot more often with my new EXP status. Be sure to join the MileValue.com follow Scott on Twitter to continue learning more.