Update: American Airlines recently changed its award rules and stopovers are no longer permitted. As a result, this is no longer possible.
Let’s take a look at redeeming American Airlines AAdvantage miles. A one way economy flight from Hawaii to New York costs 17,500 to 22,500 miles, depending on when you go. A one way economy flight from Rio de Janeiro to New York costs 30,000 miles. But how much do they cost together? It can cost as little as 20,000 miles! Not 47,500 to 52,500. Today we will learn more about adding “better than free” one-way trips on American Airlines where you SAVE miles by taking more trips.
Last time, we talked about how we can fly from the Caribbean in winter and then go to Europe in summer for 20,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles total. Now we’ll talk about how we can take a trip within North America in the fall or spring (US, Canada, Hawaii, Caribbean, Mexico) and then fly to South America in winter (or anytime we want, but winter in South America is nice!) for 20,000 miles total.
Samba for Miles and I are going to Rio de Janeiro for Carnival 2014. We booked her ticket with US Airways miles getting a round trip ticket from LA to Rio de Janeiro and adding a free one-way trip from Vancouver for 60,000 miles total. I am flying from New York. Since February is still high season for traveling to South America, a ticket from New York to Rio would cost 30,000 miles. But I managed to bring it down to 20,000 by adding a one-way trip from LA in the fall. More trips, fewer miles! Couldn’t be happier with that outcome!
In our strategy, we combine two aspects of American Airlines awards:
- American Airlines allows a free stopover in the North American gateway city on an award between different continents. This is the city from which you leave the continent.
- The AAdvantage award chart only charges only 20,000 miles when flying between North America and southern South America if your trip starts during the off-peak period between March 1 – May 31 and August 16 – November 30.
A stopover can be created by connecting a segment back from somewhere in North America to your home city and then from your home city to southern South America. The date of the award is decided by when the award starts. The date you fly to south America is completely irrelevant; the only restriction is it must be within a year from when the ticket is issued. If you start the award during the off-peak period between March 1 and May 31 or between August 16 and November 30, the entire award will price at 20,000 AAdvantage miles total.
In my example, I will explain how you can fly from Hawaii to New York and also from New York to Rio de Janeiro all for 20,000 miles! Of course, you’ll need more miles to get back, but this is big optimization compared to 52,500 miles.
Adding Free One-Way Trips on American Airlines
I previously explained how American Airlines’ award routing rules lets you add a free one-way if you live in an international gateway city. For a full refresher course, you can check out my post on how to add free one-ways on American Airlines, but let’s quickly recap:
- American Airlines transcontinental one-way awards allow a free stopover (for up to a year from ticket date issue) in the city from which you leave or enter the North American region.
- If you live in an international gateway city, you can add a free one-way award by creating a stopover in your home city.
Let’s go through a few examples for South America. I live in New York and want to go to Rio de Janeiro. If I find a direct flight from New York to Rio de Janeiro on American Airlines, New York becomes my international gateway city. That means I can add a one way trip from anywhere in North America to New York on the same award ticket. Any of the following gets a free stopover in New York and prices as a single one-way award ticket.
- LAX – New York – Rio de Janeiro.
- Rio de Janeiro – New York – LAX – Honolulu.
- Grand Cayman – Miami – New York – Rio de Janeiro.
American Airlines Off-Peak Award Dates: 20,000 AAdvantage miles from North America to Southern South America
American Airlines AAdvantage award chart has certain off-peak award pricing during their less-busy times on certain routes. Fewer people visit Rio de Janeiro in May than do in December so it makes perfect sense the awards should cost fewer miles. With Southern South America, the off-peak period is Mar 1 – May 31 and Aug 16 – Nov 30.
While one-way award ticket with American Airlines AAdvantage normally costs 30,000 miles the rest of the year, the award ticket only costs 20,000 between Mar 1 – May 31 and between Aug 16 – Nov 30.
So if you’re flying from Hawaii to Brazil in October, it will only cost 20,000 miles.
Two One-Way Trips for 20,000 Miles TOTAL
As I mentioned, I am going to Rio de Janeiro in February 2014 for Carnival. Since February is still during peak-season, an economy class ticket should cost me 30,000 miles. But what do I do make it cheaper? Instead of just booking a ticket from New York to Rio de Janeiro, I combined it with a trip to Los Angeles. My itinerary:
- Fly from Los Angeles to New York on October 14, 2013.
- Fly from New York to Rio de Janeiro on February 26, 2014.
This is still only a one-way trip with a stopover. New York is my international gateway city. But since my trip starts in October during the off-peak period, both trips together cost only 20,000 miles.
But what if I wanted to go to Hawaii?
No problem. If I started in Hawaii instead, it would still cost only 20,000 miles total as long as my trip from Hawaii starts in the off-peak season.
I can return from Maui in November, stop in New York for a few months and then take my trip to Rio de Janeiro for Carnival.
Important Note: If you miss a segment in your itinerary, the rest of your trip will get canceled. So if you add a one-way trip in North America during the off-peak dates before your actual trip, you do have to fly the first segment. That is, I can’t skip the Los Angeles to New York segment or my trip to Rio de Janeiro will get canceled.
You can skip your second segment, though. It certainly isn’t recommended, but at least your first segment won’t get canceled. So if you’re taking an international trip and might want to go somewhere else domestically afterwards, you may as well go ahead and add it on to your trip. You have nothing to lose and you could always just not fly that segment. So it’s like a free option on a domestic ticket. Don’t forget, you can change dates for free up to 21 days in advance or change destinations for just $75.
I go over in detail how to book these types of awards on the American Airlines website in my posts:
And if you live on the West Coast and like going to Hawaii, don’t forget to check out my post on how to optimize British Airways Avios to Hawaii: