Epic Tutorial of American Airlines One Way Award Travel: How to Book Free Stopovers

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Last week I wrote a post abut flying to South America for only 15,000 AAdvantage miles more than a MileSAAver economy reward flight costs. That is possible because of the power of the  American Airlines stopover rule aka the North American Gateway City rule on one way award travel.

This rule is widely known across the reward travel community as the North American Gateway City rule. It is often used as a way to crank up the value on your AAdvantage miles reward flights for international trips.

The exact rule is as follows:

Q: Do one-way awards include any stopovers?

A: Awards between North America and Europe, India, Asia, and Central / South America allow a stopover at the North American gateway. However, other one-way awards do not allow stopovers.

You only get a free stopover on international itineraries and the free flight has to be to/from the airport you leave North America from on said international trip. When you fly from New York to Lima with a connecting flight from Miami to Lima then Miami is your North American gateway city that you have to route to/from on your free flight.

Think of it as the gatekeeper for international travel, your first point of entry in North America becomes the gateway city. Your last point of exit from North America to one of the international destinations listed above becomes the gateway city.

(Side note: The sole exception to the above stated rules applies when a flight continues to a second North American airport without changing the flight number.)

North American Gateway Rules Mapped of Possible Airports

One Way Award Travel Guide to Stopovers

Watch this short video to see how you can book two free flights with a roundtrip reward flight to Milan all on AA.com:

In the video you saw that you can book partner reward flights or even mix and match different destinations and still get the free flight. This is because you are essentially booking one way award travel and not a round-trip award ticket.

There is also the fact that if the airline you are flying with does not have published fare allowing such routing as you wish to do with your free flight you could get it priced into two separate awards. The only way to know is to read the fare rules for your international flights to see what types of stopovers they allow or to use AA.com and trust what they are telling you. through-fare rules of the over-water carrier determine whether a particular routing will be permitted on a single award

Stopover Rules

Even if you are unsure about if you can fly the free stopover segments there is no harm in finding a “dummy” date – just booking any day- and change the date later on. The date change should be free, unless you are changing carriers when you change the date of the post-stopover travel. But by changing origin/destination of flights American Airlines will hit you with an award change fee that is only waived for AAdvantage EXP.

The free stopover is valid for travel within one year of the award ticket issuance date regardless of the date of your other segments. you can always change the date for free.

Another rule that many people don’t know about is that the stopover has to be valid according to the fare’s routing language. Usually you don’t need to worry too much about finding this language because the AA.com will let you know when your stopover is invalid. The same goes for flights where you are allowed 125 percent of maximum permitted mileage on routes with mileage routing language.

You might run into those last two issues but if you do AA.com will not let you get the stopovers for free and you should just try a different free stopover. It is not the end of the world but if you need to you can read the fare rules to see what would be considered a valid routing.

The 10% AAdvantage Credit Card Discount

Free stopovers with American Airlines are pretty easy to book because of how good their online reward flight booking system is and the big discounts you can get on a lot of destinations. The best value proposition for your free stopover is going to be flights to Hawaii because those are more expensive than any other destination you can get a free stopover in and are pretty close to a lot of international destination’s Off-Peak MileSAAver price.

The best example is adding a free stopover onto a Business or First class reward flight to northern South America:

American Airlines stopover in Hawaii on North South America

That means your award flight to norther South America is 7,500 AAdvantage miles cheaper, 15,000 Roundtrip, than the free flights you get to Hawaii. If you also hold a AAdvantage Credit Card you can get an additional 10% of your miles back  on this flight which would only add further savings to an already incredible deal.

Some of the other big savings are from MileSAAver off-peak awards to Europe or deep South America for 20,000 in economy each way. Both of which would cost less than even a MileSAAver peak reward to Hawaii at 22,500 miles each way for economy class but the business cabins don’t see the same type of positive savings like northern South America rewards do.

To Your Frequent Flyer Miles Success!
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Head of Travel Swagger Squad at The Travel Abstract Headquarters

13 Responses to "Epic Tutorial of American Airlines One Way Award Travel: How to Book Free Stopovers"

  1. Reward Travel Academy: How to Book Free Stopovers on American … | Discount Travel Guides says:

    [...] Read this article: Reward Travel Academy: How to Book Free Stopovers on American … [...]

  2. AA Lover says:

    Please advise me.
    I have to be in Japan between 08/01 ~ 08/10 in 2013 but would like to visit South Korea and come back through Europe using AA miles.
    1) In the above scenario, can I take advantage of gateway stopover benefit?
    2) If no, I will just come back to USA and take advantage of stopover benefit.
    Please advise.

    • travel_abstract says:

      The gateway stopover is not valid for international flights to destinations in Europe. It is also only for flights to (from) the North American airport that you start (end) your international flight on.

      So if you fly from LAX to Japan your free stopover is only for flights involving LAX to Hawaii or USA, CANADA, Puerto Rico or Caribbean. 

      You would be better off trying to get a oneworld explorer award for lax-nrt-icn-doh-mxp-jfk for 100,000 AAdvantage miles in Economy (Distance Zone 6 
      Total Trip Miles = 14,001 – 20,000). Not sure exactly what your itinerary looks like but if you share it I can try to help.

      • AA Lover says:

         I am jumping up and down with joy!
        I have been to UAE,QATAR,KAJAKHSTAN,FRANCE,GERMANY,ITALY,UK so I wanna go somewhere else other than the place I’ve been to.
        I also wanna take full advantage of gateway stopover even for a later date.
        Please advise. I truly appreicate it.

        • travel_abstract says:

          Maybe you could try a oneworld explorer of LAX-NRT-ICN-KUL-AMS-JFK that is only ~19000 miles if there is award space on all legs. You could then use Avios points for your ATL positioning flights.

          Or if you want the Gateway stopover you need t say which North American airport you are flying out of to get to NRT.

          • AA Lover says:

            Thanks Thanks Thanks!
            I do not have avios so it will be better if we can find ATL.
            Where can I try this and that and see it myself?
            I tried their interactive map but it did not show a lot of details.
            I also I can go into city A and get out of city B.
            Please advise!
            Thanks and I hope I can see you either in FTU in Tampa, FL in Sep. or Chicago in Oct!!!

          • travel_abstract says:

            If you can fill out this form I can help you a lot faster:


            You would have to do multi-city searches but this type award flight can’t be booked online, you’d have to speak to an AAgent, and you’d need resources like BA’s site or Expertflyer to find award space.

          • AA Lover says:

             I filled out the form you sent me. Please advise if you received it. Thanks.

  3. Nick says:

    Hi, I live in LA and was hoping to do a trip to both Hawaii and Europe
    next year, although as separate trips, while taking advantage of a
    “stopover”. I’ve managed to find availability on HNL-LAX-BCN-LAX-HNL on
    AA in coach for only 40k miles, but was wondering if I can now change
    the dates of the first and last legs so that I end up with a LAX-BCN-LAX
    flight and then a LAX-HNL-LAX. Will AA let me change the dates and the
    orders of the flight after booking them? Thanks for the help!

    • travel_abstract says:

      No. You can’t change the ORDER of the flights but you can change the dates for a fee. Just remember the LAX-HNL has to be FLOWN within one year of your TICKET issuance, not the start of your trip.

      You also have to fly HNL-LAX or else you risk your entire itinerary being canceled. No showing on that first leg is not an option. I would suggest change the first or last leg into a different destination unless you want to go to HNL twice.

      If you need more of my help please use my FREE award travel concierge service, so I can focus on the specifics of your flight: http://www.thetravelabstract.com/free-reward-travel-concierge/

      I hope that information helps, even if it was not what you wanted to hear.

  4. Happy108 says:

    Des this also apply to gateways of partner airlines like LAN in Sfo for eg:

    And if the free one way is to SJC but the international flight connect through Sfo is that still eligible….

  5. DK says:

    Good video. Here’s my question. I’m going from LAX to New York (5 days) to Toronto and then back to LAX. I’d like to make NY the free stopover but from your video it appears that’s not possible. Is there something else I can do? Thanks.


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