American stopovers at North American gateway cities — when are they allowed?

As many of you probably know, American largely eliminated free stopovers on partner awards a few years back when they introduced one-way awards, though they do still allow a stopover at the North American gateway city on an international award. To many this translates to a “free one-way ticket” you can save for a later date. For example, if you book an award ticket from Hong Kong to New York, you can tag on a flight from New York to Los Angeles for a later date, be it a week later, a month later, or several months later.

I’ve written about it in the past, as have many other bloggers, though there are still a lot of misconceptions about what’s allowed and what isn’t. Many seem to think that they can tag on any flight within the US, but that’s simply not the case, so I figured I’d explain what is and isn’t possible.

First the basics:

  • The North American gateway city is the city in which you get on/off your transoceanic flight
  • All travel has to be complete within one year of the date the ticket was issued
  • American allows you to exceed the maximum permitted mileage for a city pair by 25%, though the maximum permitted mileage is based on the origin and final destination. That means if you want to fly Hong Kong to New York, have a five month stopover, and then fly from New York to Los Angeles, you’d need to make sure you’re within the Hong Kong to Los Angeles maximum permitted mileage. The Hong Kong to New York maximum permitted mileage would be irrelevant.
  • As discussed here, in order for a routing to be legal, the overwater carrier has to publish a fare between the origin and destination. For example, while Etihad publishes a fare between New York and the Maldives, they don’t publish a fare between Los Angeles and the Maldives, so you couldn’t include a segment between Los Angeles and New York on an award.

So how do you find the maximum permitted mileage (MPM)? Let’s do it in the form a few examples that involve transpacific travel on Cathay Pacific, assuming you’re originating in Hong Kong, live in New York, and want to tag on an extra flight to somewhere fun.

You can use a subscription service like ExpertFlyer to look up the MPM. Once logged in click on “Fare Information.”

Then enter the origin and destination, an arbitrary date in the future, and the operating carrier. Let’s assume you live in New York and want to fly from Hong Kong to New York on Cathay Pacific.

The next page will show you a bunch of fares. When you find the most expensive fare, you’ll see three buttons on the right. Click the center one, which will show you the routing rules.

The next page will show you the MPM.

As you can see, the MPM is 9,666 miles. Keep in mind that you can exceed the MPM by 25%, meaning you could actually fly 12,083 miles between Hong Kong and New York.

But let’s say you live in New York and you want to have your stopover in New York and add on another destination a few weeks after you arrive back in New York. The MPM for HKG to JFK is useless, since you need to know the MPM between the origin and destination.

So instead let’s say you want to fly from Hong Kong to New York, have a stopover, and then later fly from New York to San Francisco. Could that be included on the ticket at no extra cost?

To find out I pulled up the MPM for Hong Kong to San Francisco (using the same steps as above).

So it’s 8,298 miles between Hong Kong and San Francisco, and with the 25% bonus that comes to 10,373 miles.

Hong Kong to New York to San Francisco is 10,658 miles, so that wouldn’t be allowed.

But let’s try Hong Kong to Los Angeles, for example.

The MPM is 8,698, so with the 25% bonus that comes to 10,873 miles.

Hong Kong to New York to Los Angeles is 10,547 miles, so that would be allowed.

What about Honolulu?

The Hong Kong to Honolulu MPM is 6,781 miles, so with the 25% bonus that’s 8,476 miles.

Hong Kong to New York to Honolulu is 13,055 miles, so that’s not even close to being legal. Even Hong Kong to San Francisco to Honolulu is 9,325 miles, so wouldn’t be legal.

Now, remember how above Hong Kong to New York to San Francisco wasn’t within the MPM? Let’s take a look at Singapore to San Francisco, though.

The Hong Kong to San Francisco MPM is 10,130 miles, so with the 25% bonus that’s 12,663 miles.

Singapore to Hong Kong to New York to San Francisco is 12,246 miles, so would be legal. That’s right, Hong Kong to New York to San Francisco isn’t legal, while Singapore to Hong Kong to New York to San Francisco is.

So as you can see there’s quite a bit of fun you can have with this, though not everything is possible.

If anyone has any questions about the above, wants me to check MPMs, or anything else, please let me know!

Comments

  1. It’s always good to note that the Caribbean isn’t allowed as a North American gateway, I see people trying to get awards to work that way a lot. It’s usually a non-issue due to the published routing requirement though.

  2. Thanks for the post, Ben! It is becoming clearer.

    If you wanted to make the SIN – SFO reservation as described above, would you have to call AA or could you do it online using the multi-city tool?

  3. @ Jeff — You’d have to do it over the phone since Cathay Pacific award availability doesn’t appear on aa.com.

  4. One nice thing to remember is that if you choose a direct flight you can stop over in a city that is not truly your gateway. For example, one could fly AA 154 which is a one-stop NRT-ORD-BOS with a change of planes (772 to 738) and then stopover in BOS before continuing on months later to your final destination. AA.com does not display direct flights as a single flight when searching for awards but the stopover is still permitted and automatically offered when booking online.

  5. Well, if you already have access to EF, why would you go through the rigor morale instead of just using the MPM lookup tool?

  6. Are you permitted to change the date of the “extra” flight after the initial segments? I may not know when my next trip will be, but I know I have to book it initially.

  7. As always, I love reading your blog! You gave me such great travel ideas for my trip last month, that I thought I would ask what your ideal trip would be from LAX first class anywhere in the worl to maximize your Us Airways miles with stopovers, layovers, etc. thinking maybe Asia Europe again— or all Europe !?

  8. @ Arthur — Thanks! Ideal would probably be LAX-ZRH-BKK in Swiss first class, BKK-NRT in Thai first class, and NRT-FRA-LAX in Lufthansa first class. Unfortunately the chances of actually finding availability on that are almost non-existent.

  9. Makes me long for the good ol’ days of 2005 when we got married in Nashville and did this on a 120K AA/QF J ticket: BNA-CNS (via LAX and Syd)-SYD-PHL (via LAX and ORD).

  10. I just booked KUL-HKG-JFK on CX b4 I read this. Can I make a change to KUL-HKG-JFK-MSY ? Would AA allow me to add the MSY segment and do I have to pay any change fees? thx.

  11. @ Lee — You sure could, though you would have to pay a change fee to do so unless you’re an Executive Platinum member with American.

  12. Thanks and Love your post. I live in SFO and usually visit SIN once a year. Is it possible to add a side trip to Vancouver BC? The east coast is probably out of range right? Thanks.

  13. @ Jo — Vancouver would work, though the east coast is well within range as well. Keep in mind that San Francisco is between Asia and the east coast, so you’d be good to go. 🙂

  14. Hi Lucky,

    Your blog is great. Even though you spelled out this option very well in your posting, could you confirm for me whether I can or cannot add on a free leg from Boston to Honolulu if I used AA miles to book a round trip form Boston to Tokyo?

    Thanks!

  15. @ AlohaGirl — You couldn’t, unfortunately. The MPM between Tokyo and Honolulu is 4,597 (5,746 with the 25%), while Tokyo to Boston to Honolulu is 11,796 miles. That’s more than double the number of miles that are allowed.

  16. Also when you are not executive platinum you have to pay for your baggage if your do a stop of more than 24 hours. I recently learned about it when we stop at JFK going to Abu Dhabi, UAE.

    Have to pay 25 for first bag and 35 for 2nd bag. ($60 total).

  17. to AlohaGirl’s question, can’t you go BOS-HNL-NRT and treat HNL as a stopover? that way BOS or NRT would be the origin and destination. Does any OW partners fly HNL-NRT?

  18. @ Arthur — Destination could be Tokyo and stopover could be Frankfurt, Zurich, or Bangkok, for example.

    @ Tao — Yes, though it sounds like AlohaGirl wanted to take a separate trip to Hawaii and not include it as part of her ticket, so she’d have to do that at the same time. JAL flies HNL-NRT.

  19. @ Lee — With the 25% the MPM is 12,093, and the distance is 12,068, so you should be good to go.

  20. Just wondering, if there is any option of going to Hawaii or Alaska as a stopovers, if I am planning on going back to China to either PVG or PEK.. I am based in Houston.. Thanks for the help

  21. Thanks for the response, Lucky. I just can’t figure out the routing on getting a trip to the east coast. So my normal trip is SFO-HKG-SIN; return is the reverse. How to build the trip so that I can include say JFK? Do I need to buy a one-way ticket somehow to/from JFK? Thanks a lot!

  22. @ Jo — You’d still have to buy a one-way ticket, though what you could basically do is book JFK-SFO, then have a stopover of several months, then fly SFO-HKG-SIN, and do the same on the return. It always only amounts to a free one-way ticket, though that’s still quite a value when it’s “free.”

  23. @ xiao — Well if it’s just a stopover you’re after you could do something like IAH-DFW-HNL(stopover)-HNL-PEK/PVG, since Honolulu would be your transoceanic gateway city.

  24. Lucky, I’m dying to see if there is anywhere from Asia that’ll let me go AnywhereAsia-HKG-JFK-YVR. My goal is to get to fly CX HKG-JFK-YVR regardless of where I’d need to begin. Any origins you can think of? 🙂

  25. @ Carberrie — Funny you should ask, as I’ve wondered the same thing many times and finally did the research. CMB-HKG-JFK-YVR is 13,014 flown miles, while the MPM plus 25% is 13,117. Awesome!

  26. @ Lucky – CMB is actually considered “Asia 2” instead of India/Middle East, so I guess there is one option… Now if only I can convince myself I want to visit CMB! Any tourist suggestions in CMB, or should I just forget about HKG-JFK-YVR?

  27. @ Carberrie — How about a side trip to the Maldives, which is only a short flight from Colombo?

  28. Lucky,

    Is there any other way to find MPM if you don’t have an Expert Flyer account other than calling up the airlines? If not, do you only need the basic Expert Flyer account or the premium one?

    Thanks for the post. I’ve been trying to explain NA gateway cities to people for a while…now I can just point them here!

  29. Lucky,

    I was wondering if its possible to save the Hawaii one way trip to a later date? Like a free one way trip for a later date?

  30. @ Jason — With the 25%:
    SIN-LAX: 13,143
    SIN-SFO: 12,662
    SIN-SEA: 12,098

    All should be legal… 🙂

  31. @ Extra Pack of Peanuts — I can’t think of any ways other than calling, or using KVS, ExpertFlyer, etc.

  32. Lucky:

    Would a trip like this work? PEK to SF/LAX to HNL and we can just changed the ticket from SF/LAX to HNL to a later date, and buy our self a ticket from IAH to SF/LAX?

  33. @ xiao — Unfortunately not. American only flies from Beijing to the US via Chicago, and Beijing to Chicago to Honolulu greatly exceeds the MPM.

  34. Great Post Lucky!

    I had heard of this trick before, but am still a little confused.

    Like a lot of folks here, I have a goal of getting a free one way to Honolulu. Would that be possible if I’m redeeming AAdvantage miles to fly direct DFW-EZE.

    If I can’t use a stop over to make it to Hawaii, how far can I go beyond DFW on the return?

    Many thanks!

  35. @ FlyerM — Yes, absolutely, You can book HNL-DFW, stop over, and then DFW-EZE for the same cost as just DFW-EZE.

  36. @lucky – just to clarify, would i have to take my trip to HNL first? or is that the leg where (after booking) I call ahead of the flight and change the date of HNL-DFW to some time AFTER DFW-EZE?

  37. @ FlyerM — Well the ticket would need to be in the correct sequence. Think of it this way. You’re booking a HNL to EZE ticket with a stopover in DFW. So HNL to DFW would need to be before DFW to EZE, and DFW to HNL would need to be after EZE to DFW. You can change the dates, though not the order in which you’re flying the segments.

    Does that make sense?

  38. Lucky, what routing in your mind is the best award redemption using UA miles for first class while with stopovers and open jaw. I have some Avois pts that can be used to build in side trips as well.

  39. Excellent post Lucky! I wonder if you can help me check the legality of HKG-ORD-JFK, I’d love to visit friends in new york from time to time.

    Thanks~

  40. @Flyer708, you will have absolutely no problem with HKG-ORD-JFK. In fact, I’d say it’s about as direct a routing with stopover as you’ll ever get

  41. To push things further, is it possible get a 2-in-1 deal? HKG-ORD stop over ORD-JFK stop over JFK-ORD?
    I know off the top of my head, LGA-ORD on UA metal is 770 miles. Worth a try…

  42. @ Tao — I’d say going just about anywhere in Asia via Europe would be your best bet. Stop over in either Frankfurt, Munich, or Zurich, for example, and terminate in either Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, or Singapore, just to name a few.

  43. How about this routing:
    SEA-LAX-ZRH(stop)-BKK-NRT
    PVG-FRA-SFO-SEA

    Does LX fly 380 on LAX-ZRH? I’m trying to fly as much 380 first class as possible on one RT award.

  44. @ Tao — Swiss doesn’t fly the A380. The only Star Alliance airline that releases A380 first class award space is Lufthansa. Other than that looks like a great routing!

  45. Lucky- This isn’t specific to American Airlines, but more of a general question regarding Expert Flyer and MPM.

    I just looked up a flight on Expert Flyer from NRT-EWR on United and the most expensive one is a flight that says via the Atlantic. However, at the bottom it says MPM 0.

    I guess my questions are this:

    1. If there is a published route that goes against the award ticketing rules of an airline, I’m assuming the award ticket rules take precedence?

    2. Why is it reading it as MPM 0. Is it because you can’t take that route on award bookings?

  46. @ Extra Pack of Peanuts — Sorry, there’s an easier way to search MPM I should have mentioned. Go to “Travel Information” and click on “Maximum Permitted Mileage.” Then enter the origin, destination, and airline, and it will show you the MPM via both the Pacific and the Atlantic. In this case the fare doesn’t allow routing via the Atlantic, which I suspect is why it shows the MPM of 0.

  47. lets say I use 90,000 aa points foran award from JFK to TLV – Israel & then back to JFK.

    cAN THE RETURN TO jfk be my stopover & then get a free one way from JFK to Hawaii?

    If I could what airline would it be on?

    If the original AA award was business class for135k miles what level seat would the JFK to hawaii be?

    Thanks for your help.

  48. how about MNL-SIN-LA and Final destination Newark?I would like to stop over for a week in LA its that possible?And Would Stay for a month in Newark back to MNL?What would you suggest?

  49. @ jun — How would oyu fly from MNL to SIN, and what would be the goal in doing that since you couldn’t have a stopover there? The LA stopover is possible and Newark can be your final destination, though.

  50. Lucky, are such stopovers allowed at european gateway cities (for ex. frankfurt)? i’m going to germany during the summer, and am curious if i could add another european city a week later.

  51. quick question, why does AA , NRT-LAX-OGG work? Those combined miles are WAY more than 25% over the distance from NRT to OGG

  52. Lucky, based on your SIN-HKG-JFK-SFO example, does that mean this routing would be allowed as well:

    CGK-NRT (JL)
    NRT-HKG (CX)
    HKG-JFK (CX)
    stopover JFK
    JFK-SFO (AA)

    What about JFK-YVR (CX) instead of JFK-SFO?

    Thank you.

  53. Yes, i have already completed the trip. I did NRT-LAX on Jal F last summer and last week completed the free one-way leg LAX-OGG in AA F.

    If you search using the multi-city option on AA.com you can also get this to price out as 1 award all on AA metal

  54. @ Arcanum — MPM’s are as follows:

    YVR-BKK: 8,802
    YVR-KUL: 9,546
    YVR-SIN: 9,556

    Hope that helps!

  55. I decided to sign up for EF since it seems so useful.

    When I go to check the MPM for YVR-CMB it’s coming up as 10250 (12812 with 25% bonus) via the Pacific. I could have sworn I got 10494/13117 like you a couple of days ago. Am I doing something wrong or have they amended it?

  56. Just spoke to the rep at AA and she told me that i can’t do KHI-IAD-HNL because IAD-HNL stop at LAX & it has to be a non-stop flight from IAD-HNL is this valid? I was under the impression that as long as you have the gateway city as your final destination then it should be fine. Please advise

  57. @ Tina — The stop shouldn’t be an issue. Which airline are you flying across the pond? British Airways?

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