Why American’s Award Charts Are Often Meaningless

by Miguel R. Quinones

When Delta decided to eliminate award charts about a year ago, I thought that was one of the worst decisions an airline had ever made with regards to its award program, not necessarily from a business standpoint, but from a customer relations standpoint. However, that pales in comparison to what American Airlines often does with regards to its award chart, which is acting as if it does not even exist.

You see, American Airlines has this longstanding rule that you cannot route via a third region. In other words, you cannot fly from Region A to Region C via Region B. Nonetheless, as is the case with most rules, there are exceptions to this routing rule. Even though these exceptions are not published officially by AA, they are commonly known. Among the most popular exceptions to AA’s third region routing rule are North America to Asia Region 2 via Asia Region 1 and North America to Africa via Europe or Doha (with Qatar Airways).

On the other hand, while you cannot travel on an AA award from North America to South Pacific via Asia Region 1/2 or from North America to South America Region 2 via South America Region 1 because of the third region routing rule, both absurd restrictions, at least it is possible to travel from North America to South Pacific and to South America Region 2 without having to connect in a third region. But what happens when a connection in a third region is necessary for a specific routing and AA does not recognize any third region routing rule exception? That is exactly the predicament I found myself in last week while working on a de-facto around-the-world award booking for a client.

This client needed to fly from Nairobi, Kenya to Melbourne, Australia. I found availability for an one-connection itinerary with Etihad (Abu Dhabi) and a two-connection itinerary with Qatar and Qantas (Doha and Dubai). As evidenced by their award chart, AA requires 50,000 miles per passenger on this route in business class:


I did not recall ever booking an AA award for this routing, so I did some research to see if there were any third region routing rule exceptions given that no AA partner flies non-stop from NBO to South Pacific. Unfortunately, I could not find any. However, I figured that if AA publishes rates for this routing on its award chart they had to allow us to at least book the Qatar/Qantas itinerary as a single award considering the impossibility of not connecting in a third region if traveling from NBO to South Pacific.

I spoke to four different people at AA, including two supervisors. They were mostly sympathetic with the situation, but none of them budged: if we wanted to book either of these two itineraries, two separate awards would be required for each, which meant that instead of paying 50,000 miles p/p, 90,000 miles would be required.

The fact that AA publishes an award rate for this route on its award chart cannot be considered anything other than deceptive advertising. Either AA has to remove rates from its award charts for routings that are impossible to book without connecting in a third region for which no exception is recognized or they have to eliminate the third region routing rule.

Have you ever found yourself in a similar predicament with American Airlines?

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


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Ben February 4, 2016 - 9:28 am

QANTAS flies JNB-SYD and then Comair flies to another 8 African destinations in 6 countries (including South Africa) from there.

Miguel R. Quinones February 4, 2016 - 9:37 am

Ben, I should have made it more clear that the issue is the NBO-South Pacific routing. I have alreayd modified the article to reflect that. Since Comair does not fly to NBO, the issue persists.

02nz February 4, 2016 - 9:43 am

I agree the rule is ridiculous. But I’ve been tripped up even more by the rule that requires a published fare between your origin and destination even though you’re booking with miles. That rule makes even less sense.

Miguel R. Quinones February 4, 2016 - 9:56 am

That is a bad one as well. Neither makes sense. If a routing is within the MPM limitations, it should always be allowed.

Ryan February 4, 2016 - 9:58 am

Totally agree with both Miguel’s article and the published fare issue being problems. I’ve only personally had roadblocks with the published fare thing but both are deceptive, in particular to have a rate published for something that is impossible to book under their rules. For that matter, not publishing all of these rules and nuances is not very good either.

Jason February 4, 2016 - 10:00 am

The award chart is from Africa not from NBO. It’s not deceptive advertising even if the JNB-SYD flight didn’t exist. Especially in the case of Africa to South Pacific where AA will never fly and cannot guarantee a possible flight, the chart is for a possible award. I hate the region transit restriction but in a sense it’s AA’s way of keeping award costs down which will hopefully lead to less devaluations. Other airlines do it with maximum allowed mileage. AA does have exceptions as you’ve noted but they just don’t help you here. Sorry to be blunt, but that’s not deceptive marketing. It’s just you whining.

Miguel R. Quinones February 4, 2016 - 10:07 am

Jason, according to AA, there are over 50 countries that belong to the Africa region. If a specific award is only possible from one of those countries and you are not clarifying that in any way, shape or form on the award chart, then it is deceptive advertising. Of course, this would all be a non-issue if they got rid of the third region rule.

Jason February 4, 2016 - 10:44 am

You’re argument is weak as a case could be made from multiple region combinations and most importantly AA has been pretty clear about the allowed exceptions. Fact is these are the rules. The chart and rule set is a price schedule. If you don’t like it, that’s your prerogative. But it’s not deceptive. Just because you possibly over promised your clients and now you can’t deliver isn’t AA’s fault. The third region transit ban isn’t new.

Miguel R. Quinones February 4, 2016 - 10:58 am

You are entitled to your opinion. It is clear, I am not going to be able to change it, but just because these are the rules and they have been around for a while does not make it right. And to be clear, no one over promised here. Our clients were warned about the possibility that two awards could be required at the time the NBO-MEL itinerary options were presented.

James K. February 4, 2016 - 3:38 pm

Don’t bother; if this is his argument, he’s not worth arguing with

David February 4, 2016 - 10:01 am

I had a similar gripe last year when AA was still charging the phone-booking fee for awards that couldn’t be purchased online. Since some of those destinations were served by only a single carrier whose availability did not display on aa.com, and since some carriers only served destinations that were not bookable on aa.com, the phone booking fee was a de facto surcharge on any awards to those destinations (PPT, IPC, etc.) or using those carriers (TN, EY, etc.). I submitted a lengthy DOT complaint explaining that nowhere in the T&Cs was it mentioned that certain partners and destinations carried a mandatory surcharge. Your issue is similar, if they have a chart for the routing, then there should be a route which is bookable. If there is not, then they are misrepresenting awards which really are not available. Either remove them from the chart, add a routing exception, or add a conspicuous disclaimer.

Nick February 4, 2016 - 12:26 pm

There is a disclaimer.

ant February 4, 2016 - 4:53 pm

The prices on the chart don’t necessarily imply that you can book an award at that price. I thought it was more a “catch-all” approach, i.e. in case such a route did exist.

In any case, even though “Africa” to “South Pacific” only covers one route, a price is still needed for it. They can’t redefine “Africa” to make it “less misleading” for that redemption, because that would break the zone definition for other flights to / from Africa (e.g. to Europe, or Middle East).

I guess they could split up Africa into more zones, e.g. southern Africa, western Africa etc., so then clearly South Pacific to southern Africa has a price but no other African zones do. That would imply, that if one day a routing exception is made or, by some miracle, a partner airline establishes either a non-stop route between South Pacific and another African zone, or a direct service with a stop but one flight number, it would not be possible to redeem AA on that route until AA modify the chart.

Let’s not also forget that the more exceptions and what not that are added to a chart like aforementioned, the complexity of presenting that information increases. I think the first reaction from bloggers presented with a more detailed chart like that would not be, “this means less misleading information,” but rather, “AA’s award chart is now more Kafkaesque with double the number of zones”, or a gazillion fine print. I suppose it can all be solved by one thing – “get rid of the third region routing restriction”. That would probably be a more appropriate title for the blogpost than the current one.

I don’t see this as any prima facie deceptive advertising, and I think it’s a bit too easy to deem it so when the misfortune directly affects you. I think the more annoying thing out of all of this is that the free third region routing exceptions are not made clear on AA’s website. Whilst those of us “in the know” know how to get this information, if there’s anything misleading here is that the general public is broadly not aware of this specific information and cannot easily obtain it.


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