American Airlines has three awards charts that you can follow and depending on your travel plans, one could work for you more than the other so you should weigh your options before making a reservation.

The Explorer Award chart categorizes zones based on the amount of miles being flown on one ticket. So regardless of the number of segments or stopovers you make, all that matters is the amount of miles actually being flown. The perks of distance based award is that the cost of the trip will be based on the total amount of miles you have traveled rather than country or region traveled to.

For example, Los Angeles to New York is a 2475 mile flight. Hypothetically, this would place you in Tier 2 which are flights from 1,501 to 4,000 miles and would cost you 35,000 miles. This is expensive for a domestic flight, so the real benefit of Explorer Awards is when you’re looking into multi-city routes or RTW fares, for example Los Angeles-Paris-Vienna-Spain.

 There are some restrictions and rules that you must follow in order for it to be a valid Explorer Award:

1. There must be at least 2 one world alliance segments that are not on American Airlines.
2. The max number of segments your flight can have is 16.
3. To book your flights, you have to call an AA agent to make the reservation.

Let’s look at how we can maximize AA miles using the Explorer chart.

Los Angeles-Paris-Vienna-Madrid: Say that I would like to stick to this itinerary, but with a few more stops along the way in Dubrovnik and Rome.

The maximum amount of segments we can have is 16 so with seven cities on the ticket, I will have to make sure that I don’t go over the 16 segment limit. You also want to make sure that you stay within the tier that you have enough points for. One way to find out the total amount of miles your flights are going to entail, is by using the Great Circle Mapper.

The Great Circle Mapper calculates the distance for the entire trip and breaks down each segment. Why this is great is because you can decide whether you should eliminate a segment that’s costing you extra miles, decide on cities closer to each other or realize that you have room for more miles without bumping up into the next tier.

With my example, the total trip including the return flight would be 14950 miles which falls into the Zone 6 category. For Zone 6, the total trip miles are 14001 to 20,000. This means that if I wanted to maximize my miles, I have about 5,000 miles more I can fly, so why not?

The next step would be to actually find flights that match the segments on AA and at least two one world partners on their own website because AA does not display partner airlines.

List of Oneworld partners you can book Explorer Awards with:

  • American Airlines
  • airberlin
  • British Airways (affiliate airlines: Cityflyer, Comair, Sun-Air of Scandinavia)
  • Cathay Pacific (affiliate airlines: Dragonair)
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • Qantas (affiliate airlines: QantasLink & Jetconnect)
  • Japan Airlines (affiliate airlines: JAL Express, J-Air, Japan Transocean Air)
  • LAN (affiliate airlines: LAN Argentina, LAN Ecuador, LAN Express, LAN Peru)
  • Mexicana (suspended indefinitely)
  • Royal Jordanian
  •  S7 (affiliate airlines: Globus)

Segment Options

Explorer Awards

Segment 1: Los Angeles to Paris
Airline Options: American Airlines, Finnair
Distance: 567 miles

Segment 2: Paris to Dubrovnik
Airline Options: American Airlines
Distance: 878 miles

Segment 3: Dubrovnik to Rome
Airline Options: Air Berlin
Distance: 313 miles

Segment 4: Rome to Madrid
Airline Options: Air Berlin, Iberia
Distance: 829 miles

Segment 5: Madrid to Vienna
Airline Options: Air Berlin, Finnair, Iberia,
Distance: 1124 miles

Segment 6: Vienna to Los Angeles
Airline Option: Air Berlin, Finnair, Iberia,
Distance: 6137 miles

Total: 14,950 miles

While British Airways offers flights to and from most European cities, they charge high taxes and fees from $100+ so I did not list them in my segment options because I would rather not pay it. The taxes and fees are a combination of government and carrier imposed fees such as fuel surcharges.

At 14,950 miles, this puts the itinerary in a zone 6 category which is 100,000 miles. 950 miles is a significant amount of miles that increased the tier level from zone 5 to 6 thus increasing the amount of miles required for this award trip by 10,000 miles. If you needed to drop down to zone 5, an option can be to eliminate a segment. This is when you can go back though and fine tune your segments to get back down to the lower zone category. The segment that uses the most amount of miles within my example trip is Madrid to Vienna at 1,124 miles. Eliminating this segment would bring the total back into zone 5 which and ultimately knocking 10,000 miles off the total award. Note: You would have to also make an adjustment with the return flight to LAX from Madrid instead of Vienna.

Bottom line

Once you’re satisfied with your segments and itinerary, you have to call in to the American Airline’s reservation line to finalize the Explorer trip. Explorer Awards are one the best ways to maximize your American Airline miles if you itinerary has multiple segments and the fact that it is priced out based on miles flown makes it possible to organize creative trips that fly in to many different cities.

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