Update: I also wrote a follow up about changing to more convenient flights once the ticket is booked. You can find that here.
Last week I wrote about our last minute trip to Hawaii. In that post I showed how we used British Airways Avios to get our one way flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Today I am going to talk about our flight back and how we used a free stopover to combine our flight home from Hawaii with our flight to Tokyo in April.
Lets start by talking about a pretty well established and documented American Airlines rule for award bookings. American only allows for a stopover on an international ticket in what they call a North American “Gateway City”. (They do not allow for a stopover on domestic tickets.)
They define a “Gateway City” as the one where you depart or arrive to/from North America. For instance if I am flying from Las Vegas to London and my connection is in New York, (LAS-JFK-LHR) then New York is my “Gateway City”. This is a pretty standard and straightforward rule.
Previously we have used this stopover rule to fly into and out of Los Angeles and then arrange our own transport home to Las Vegas. For instance, we flew from Dusseldorf to Los Angeles (DUS-LAX) last April and then stopped over until June when we flew from Los Angeles to Maui (LAX-OGG).
Recently when booking our ticket home from Honolulu, I discovered something very interesting. American Airlines reservation system allowed me to book: Honolulu to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Las Vegas (Stopover), Las Vegas to Los Angeles and Los Angeles to Tokyo. (HNL-LAX-LAS-LAX-NRT).
In this example Los Angeles is the “Gateway City”, but American is allowing me to stopover in Las Vegas. While I didn’t understand at first why this was happening, it certainly made things more convenient for us.
Before I go into more detail as to why this worked, I want to reiterate something for those who are newer to miles and points. American Airlines charges 22,500 miles one-way in coach to/from Hawaii. They charge 25,000 miles during the off-peak season one-way between North America and Japan. Since I am flying from Honolulu to Tokyo via Los Angeles and Las Vegas (I know it sounds crazy), I was only charged the 25,000 miles total. A darn good deal.
It’s All In The Map
To narrow down why this booking was working despite it not being part of the rules, I did some experiments. I found that if I changed the ultimate destination from Tokyo to Dusseldorf or a few other European cities, that it still worked. In those examples it would connect me through different cities, but it would still only charge the miles for a one-way to Europe. My attempt to fly to Sao Paolo came up priced as two separate tickets though.
I also decided to try other Western cities for the stopover. When I tried to move the stopover to San Francisco, San Diego or Phoenix, the system priced it out as two separate award tickets. For some reason only Las Vegas was working.
The next step for me was to look at American Airlines route map. On the left in the “Leaving from” box I typed in LAS. I then unchecked “Add AA Connections” and “Add AA Partners”. Now the map is set to only show me direct flights to/from Las Vegas on American Airlines. When the list of destinations came up, I quickly figured out what had happened.
American Airlines lists Tokyo as a direct destination from Las Vegas despite it needing a connection in Los Angeles. Additionally, they also list Shanghai, Paris and Montevideo, Uruguay as direct destinations. Essentially they file a direct flight fare between these cities, so the computer allows Las Vegas to be the “Gateway City”.
This is a loophole I had not previously seen posted anywhere else and one I was excited to take advantage of for myself. While I didn’t have time to click the route map for every possibility, just by randomly poking around, I found similar loopholes for other cities.
American publishes a fare from Seattle to Rome via New York (SEA-JFK-FCO) as a direct flight, they do the same for Orlando to Tokyo via Chicago (MCO-ORD-NRT) and Austin to Dublin via New York (AUS-JFK-DUB). All three of these work when pricing out awards with a free one-way.
While this “trick” isn’t life changing, it certainly makes things more convenient for us. If you are looking into utilizing a free one-way and find yourself having to transport yourself to a “Gateway City”, check American Airlines route map to see if there is a more convenient possibility.
As always, I appreciate your feedback and questions. Please leave a comment below if you have anything to add or if you find other city pairs that work in the same way. Thanks!
Follow up on changing flights afterwards.