A handful of clients have contacted Award Expert this week requesting help “maximizing” AA awards prior to the devaluation on March 22, 2016. I don’t mean the couples trying to get to Bangkok on Cathay Pacific or families booking summer vacations to Spain. Here, I am talking about the people who like flying for the sake of flying (and I count myself as one of those people).
There are two ways to look at maximizing awards — the conventional view is to use miles to book the most direct route between point A and B for the lowest price possible. The other “way” to maximize awards is to try to squeeze as many flights as possible just for the sake of flying.
Back in the days of US Airways, where routing rules were unclear and rarely enforced, you could get away with a lot of stuff — like flying from North America to Europe via Asia or Australia to North America via Europe and South America. After the AA-US merger, all award routings were auto-priced so any “maximization” of routing had to be done within AA’s routing rules.
I will not get too deep into the specifics of AA’s routing rules here, but keep in mind generally you cannot transit a third region when traveling between two regions. So for example, say you were trying to get from the USA to Australia. Even though two logical routings are via Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific or via Tokyo on JAL, AA does not allow routing through Asia to get to Australia and thus would count that journey as two awards — a USA to Asia award and Asia to Australia award.
But as long as you are not transiting through a prohibited region, AA’s routing rules are very generous. By that I mean that you can exceed the MPM (maximum permitted mileage) published between two city pairs by 25%! This is where you can have fun if you are creative.
Let’s not worry about where the MPM comes from or why it exists. Instead, let’s just stipulate that it is there and a great tool to check it out on is Expert Flyer. In the “Travel Information” section is an MPM tab in which you can input your proposed routing and find out if your routing will work or not.
So let’s take an example. Say you want to experience two A380 first class products and also want to check out as many business class products as possible. If you are okay with short flights, you can squeeze in a lot on a Middle East – Europe award for 40K miles in first class prior to the devaluation.
You will build your itinerary around two A380 first class segments — from Mumbai to Abu Dhabi on Etihad and from Doha to Paris on Qatar. But that’s not enough. Why not try out Gulf Air as well and Finnair? And why not go all the way to Iceland? It’s the same price after all.
So let’s say you come up with a routing like this:
- Mumbai to Abu Dhabi in Etihad First Class
- Abu Dhabi to Bahrain in Gulf Air or Etihad Business Class
- Bahrain to Doha in Qatar First Class
- Doha to Paris in Qatar First Class
- Paris to Helsinki in Finnair Business Class
- Helsinki to London in Finnair Business Class
- London to Reykjavik in British Airways Business Class
Does that work? Let’s plug BOM-AUH-BAH-DOH-CDG-HEL-LHR-KEF into Expert Flyer:
It does work! The MPM from Mumbai to Reykjavik is 6,994 miles. This particular routing is 8,167 miles. Since 25M (25% above the MPM) is 8,742 miles, the routing will be validated by the system.
Such routings won’t fly with all agents — AA routing rules also say something about taking the most direct route possible — but in my experience, this is rather difficult to enforce (especially with wonderfully geographically inept former US Airways agents) and if the computer validates the routing (and it will as as long as the award does not transit a prohibited region, has a published fare between origin and destination on one of AA’s partners, and does not exceed the MPM by more than 25%) you can have some fun forcing in some additional flying.
Keep in mind you can force in up to 23hr, 59min between flights, but you cannot have a stopover in each place. Thus, this sort of trip is really only for the people who want to spend time on planes and lounges or just brief periods on the ground.
Now I realize such routings appeal only to the av geeks among us, but if your goal is to experience as many business or first class products as possible prior to the devaluation, this is a great way to do it.