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How to Book an Award Flight on American Airlines

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Okay, so this seems like it should be pretty easy right? Just search dates, destination, and then book! Isn’t booking an award flight the same as booking a regular flight, but with miles? Is it really necessary to read an article about how to book an award flight on American Airlines?

Oh how much more complicated it can be…

To be fair, some airlines have simple search portals that include their alliances, making searching for the best flight and having ample availability pretty easy. When I say some, I really only know of Qantas (Oneworld), ANA (Star Alliance), United (Star Alliance), KLM/Air France (SkyTeam), and British Airways (Oneworld). And the only one I’ve had the easiest time with is United’s portal. Basically, while using miles can save you thousands of dollars on your flights, airlines lose money when you book award tickets. This means that they try to make it a little more challenging to book these. It’s definitely not impossible, but it takes a little work.

So back to the question at hand, how to book an award flight on American Airlines, it definitely isn’t as simple as entering in your dates and destination and booking the flights.

For instance, a couple of months ago we decided that in 2019 we’re going to Peru. We find it best to have a trip booked in advance of another trip just so when you come back, you’ve got something new to look forward to soon! And while Chris is in charge of the planning process (his first time!), I was in charge of getting the flights. I had accumulated over 130,000 American Airline miles thanks to the AA Advantage Red Aviator Card and the AA Advantage Gold Card sign up bonuses earlier in the year, so we figured, why not book an American Airlines flight?

Hiking up stairs in Peru mountains.

Because who needs a reason to want to visit Peru?

So many valuable lessons learned…

When the flights were starting to become available for May of 2019, we started seeing the Award Saver miles of only 17,500 miles per person each way! We were so excited, but when we went to book, the times weren’t great. It was either a super long layover, really short layovers, or flights at odd times when Chris was hoping to leave in the evening. In short, we weren’t being really flexible, and we decided to wait for a better flight time.

Low and behold, each day the flights weren’t getting better. In fact, they got worse! It went from having so much Award Saver availability every day of the week to not having them on the days we were available. Sure, you could find award availability, but some of the miles required were up to 50,000 miles per person each way! As we like to save miles for future trips, we wanted to only book the Award Saver miles of 17,500 miles per person each way. Basically, all of our award saver dates we wanted were disappearing and we could either rearrange our schedule and book before even the last dates disappeared or wait around and hope better availability comes up.

In short, we weren’t being really flexible, and we decided to wait for a better flight time.

As we definitely had specific dates in mind, we decided not to risk losing any and all availability. So we ended up finding the best flight we could that would leave us with a super long layover in Miami (overnight, so we’re using hotel points for a room) and have us land the following evening in Lima. It’s not ideal, but we got it for only 17,500 miles per person.

The flight home, however, wasn’t available at all. So, we used our resources. Chris and I checked all of our Chase points and realized we just barely had enough for a United flight home. So we transferred our points from Chase to United and booked the flight home from Lima for 20,000 miles per person.

American Airlines Award Availability calendar

From the American Airlines award calendar, it looked like there was a lot of availability… however, the times we found weren’t always the best, and of course we wanted to fly out Thursday or Friday….

In the end, we could’ve saved ourselves 5,000 miles by booking through American Airlines the whole way, but we still ended up getting flights to Peru for under $100 a person and 75,000 miles total. After this whole crazy stress of trying to book flights, here is my advice on how to book an award flight on American Airlines:

1. Book Early.

Yup, even if that means booking 331 days in advance (when American Airlines releases the first award seats), booking early can save you a lot of unnecessary drama. It’s also great if you’re wanting to fly somewhere during a big event (World Cup, Olympics, etc.). If you’re like Chris and I and plan trips super far in advance, this shouldn’t be an issue, as you’ve probably already been waiting to book. However, if you’re a last-minute traveler, you may get lucky and find a spot, but you also run the risk of having no Award Saver availability on American Airlines and wasting a ton of miles.

2. Depending on the Region, You May Have An Easier Time.

I’ve been semi-looking into a Christmas trip next year to Europe for the Christmas markets. When I look up award flights with American Airlines, I find availability during that time super easy to find (and it’s only 45,000 miles roundtrip)! However, with a trip like Peru, American Airlines only has a few flights a day going here from only a few select cities and therefore it can be difficult to find availability. But with Europe, they have several flights from several cities going out (and they have more alliance partner airlines in Europe). Therefore, if you have a region you’re flying to like North America or Europe, you may find better award availability.

3. Be Flexible!

We should’ve known this fact, as flying with miles usually takes a little flexibility. Award Saver miles aren’t super common to find on weekends or peak travel times (holidays, summer, etc.). While annoying, we would’ve gotten a better flight without an overnight layover had we just been flexible in the beginning and booked as soon as we could. You can definitely find better deals and availability if you are flexible with dates and times of the day.

4. Don’t be Afraid to Mix and Match!

While we mixed it up and ended up booking two one way flights with different airlines to maximize our rewards, you don’t have to do a round-trip ticket on American Airlines. Instead, you can book two one ways! For instance, if you wanted to visit Lima, Peru, and Cartagena, Columbia, you could book a one-way to Lima and a one-way home from Cartagena. You could find decent mileage awards and increase your chances of finding availability.

5. Check their alliances!

This is a great option too. British Airways and Qantas will show American Airlines availability, as well as other partner’s availability, so create a British Airways or Qantas frequent flyer account and see if you can find availability. If you see a flight you’d like, just call American Airlines and book it using the exact information from British Airways or Qantas.

Now American Airlines will probably show more award availability for their own flights on their own portal, but it doesn’t hurt to check, right?

As much as we’d all wish that booking an award flight would be as easy as booking a regular flight, the amount of money that you end up saving is so worth it. Had we booked the cheapest flights round trip to Peru we would’ve spent $700 a person. This means that $1,400 of our budget would’ve been taken away and we would’ve had to find more ways to save while in Peru. Luckily, as we spent less than $200 for our flights, we have $1,200 extra that we can use to splurge on unique Amazon accommodations like the Tambopata Research Center, or just save that money for future trips!

Just be sure to follow these steps on how to book an award flight on American Airlines, and you’ll be sure to save quite a bit of money on your future trips too!

Where would you book a flight to? What’s your preferred airline for award flights? Let me know in the comments!

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