Planning A OneWorld Explorer Award

I’ve always found the best use of American AAdvantage miles to be for travel in Cathay Pacific first class. Not only is Cathay Pacific historically extremely generous with releasing first class award space (though perhaps less so recently), but American also has really attractive award rates between the US and Southeast Asia, at just 67,500 miles for a one-way ticket.

For that matter, I generally try to go out of my way to redeem miles for first class over business class, given that first class is quickly becoming a thing of the past as airlines continue to eliminate it in favor of a “premium” business class product. As a result I’ve redeemed hundreds of thousands of miles for Cathay Pacific first class, and have reviewed it many times (including here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, just to name a few). Beyond that I’ve actually reviewed all other OneWorld first class products as well, including American, British Airways, Malaysia, Qantas, and Qatar.

Now my focus is on reviewing as many new products as possible, so I’m planning out an AAdvantage distance based OneWorld Explorer Award.

I wrote a post about American’s distance based OneWorld Explorer Award rules just a couple of weeks ago, and as the name suggests, the number of miles you’re charged is based on the number of miles you fly (as opposed to American’s traditional partner award chart, where you’re charged based on the regions you fly between).

The other benefit is that you can fly up to 16 segments, and you’re allowed to stopover in as many cities along the way as you’d like.

Anyway, I’m looking to book either a zone six or zone seven distance based award, which I consider to be the “sweet spots” on the OneWorld Explorer chart.

  • A zone six award allows you to fly 14,001-20,000 miles in business class for 130,000 miles
  • A zone seven award allows you to fly 20,001-25,000 miles in business class for 150,000 miles.


So I’ve been trying to come up with a routing that would allow me to accomplish a few things:

  • Try as many OneWorld business class products as possible
  • Escape the dreary weather in Seattle in January (which is probably the worst month there)
  • Visit some new cities, in particular in the Middle East

Since Qatar Airways just joined the OneWorld alliance I’d obviously like to try them in business class, in particular on their 787, which looks like quite a nice product. I’d also like to try Qantas business class, as up until now I’ve only flown them in first class. And while they may not be amazing products, I’d also like to try the new business class products offered by Air Berlin and Iberia.

With that in mind, here are the segments I’ve potentially been looking at:

  • Cathay Pacific 777-300ER new business class Vancouver > New York — perhaps the most comfortable way to fly coast-to-coast
  • Iberia A330 new business class New York > Madrid — looks like a nice new fully flat business class product
  • LAN 787 new business class Madrid >  Frankfurt — fun fifth freedom route for trying LAN’s 787
  • Qatar Airways 787 new business class Frankfurt > Doha — looks like a great product since they have reverse herringbone seats, which I’ve enjoyed on American, Cathay Pacific, and EVA
  • British Airways 777 business class Doha > Bahrain — if I’m not mistaken this is the world’s shortest 777 flight
  • Qantas A380 business class Dubai > London — would be interesting comparing Qantas to Qatar between Europe and the Middle East
  • British Airways business class London > Dusseldorf — nothing exciting
  • Air Berlin A330 new business class Dusseldorf > New York — probably not an aspirational product, but would like to try this transatlantic OneWorld business class product


Now, this itinerary isn’t actually anywhere close to complete, as it’s “only” 17,345 miles. I’m leaving either ~2,655 miles on the table if I’m going for a zone six Explorer award, or ~7,655 miles on the table if I’m going for a zone seven Explorer award.


So while the above itinerary gets me onboard many carriers I’d like to try, now I’m trying to figure out how to get to the destinations I actually want to visit. I think Qatar Airways hugely increases the value of American’s distance based awards due to how central the Middle East is to many destinations. But the one thing I overlooked with them is that they market their forward cabin on flights within the Middle East as first class.

Qatar flies the same two cabin planes within the Middle East that they fly on longhaul flights, except that forward cabin suddenly goes from being business class to being first class. As far as I know this means on a business class OneWorld Explorer award you’d be stuck in coach on that regional flight. I suppose that’s not the end of the world given how short these flights are, though at the same time I’m trying to figure out if there’s a better way to maximize the award.

For example, I’d really like to visit Muscat as I’ve heard great things about it, so if need be I’ll just add a roundtrip between Doha and Muscat in coach on the business class award. But I’m still trying to figure out if there’s a more creative way to do it.

Anyone have any thoughts on the above itinerary, or other airlines/routes you think it would be fun to include? I’m not opposed to flying another 7,000 miles, I just can’t figure out where else it would make sense to go on the same award. Also, has anyone been to Bahrain? If so, is it worth a visit, and for how long? Any other cool Middle Eastern cities to visit? I’ve only been to Qatar and the UAE thus far.

I’ve gotta say, planning these OneWorld distance based awards can be a fun challenge…


  1. If you’re visiting Muscat, you should go to the Shangri-La. Really awesome over there.
    Have been in 4 different hotels there and liked the Shangri-La the best.

    As for food and drinks, go to the “suburbs” of Muscat to discover amazing genuine food.

    Also on Al Shati street, you’ve got next to the Starbucks the most amazing fruit cocktails…
    And the best beach (especially if you like snorkeling is here: 23.639148,58.491456)

  2. I notice one Oneworld business class product not included in your itinerary

    If you need another awesome middle eastern city, how about Royal Jordanian to TLV? 🙂

  3. Lucky,
    If you want to eat some really good Indian street fare without the messiness of India let me know. Some really nice places to try out some off the beaten track items in Dubai!

  4. If the AA/US Air merger goes through a lot more options open up. You can bypass LHR (and the fuel charges) by heading out of Philadelphia to many cities in overseas.

  5. @Lucky #5…. Well aware 🙂

    No, but seriously, it would be borderline criminal to be hopping around middle east and not stop in TLV/Jerusalem

  6. We’re tempted to pull the trigger on booking an Explorer award. But I still haven’t seen what specific steps you need to take to book — from figuring out what flights are possible, to knowing if and when you get actual tickets for each leg. A Part 2 post would be great.

  7. @ Ray — Will have a post soon about searching OneWorld award space, but generally speaking you can use a combination of,, and to find saver award space. Once you’ve found saver award space you have to call American to book.

  8. Lucky,

    Two of the best adds to 1W have been MH and QR. That adds so much flexibility for visiting SE Asia and MLE, and then letting you get back to the US East Coast. My proud score for my 1W Explorer trip, all in J (or domestic F): DCA-AA-ORD-JL-NRT-JL-ICN-STOP-GMP-JL-HND-STOP-JL-ITM-STOP-JL-KIX-CX-HKG-MH-BKI-SDK-STOP-MH-BKI-MH-HKG-STOP-CX-ORD-AA-DCA.

  9. Missed opportunities without Finnair and S7 in there. S7 flies to DME from FRA, though I’m not so sure one would want to visit Russia. 🙂

    Also keep in mind if you want to get to MCT (which is on my short list!), BA also flies there as a 5th freedom from AUH. If you’re going to open jaw there to get to DXB you can book a one way on Swiss which operates the route daily.

  10. How about ADD? It adds 2800ish miles from the middle east (rt on QR from DOH), but the extra 150ish miles could be made up for elsewhere..

  11. We are family of 4, and thinking of going to HKG next year in CX F class. we have enough AA miles for tickets, but wondering if CX release 4 F seats per flight. Thanks

  12. I lived in Kuwait for three years after the second Gulf War. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia do not allow visitors on the ground but there is not much to see. I did not visit Saudi Arabia at the time because people suggested to see Friday public execution,such as beheading and stoning, and human market, where you could buy and sell slaves, which sounded so barbaric to me. If you manage to obtain entry visa, only married couples are allowed in. I strongly recommend visiting Israel, Jordan and Egypt when things improve. While in an Arab country, make an effort to see gold shouks and Persian carpet stores that sell hand-made carpets. Also, try Arab foods that are tasty but quite unhealthy. Bahrain is not different from any other Gulf States. Dubai is a black sheep among the cities in the Gulf States. I hope I’ll be able to visit Iran and Syria in the next two decades as long as the psychotics are out of power. Jerusaleum, the Dead Sea, Petra, Aman, Luxor, Cairo are great destinations to visit but not at the present time. How about Lebanon? I only had one day visit there but the city did not recover from the civil war two decades ago.

  13. Very interesting your itrn. I am planning to visit, from IAD to Auckland NZ.& SYD,& Singapore,& back IAD. I want to use Economy, I have only 120k AA miles my dates are in Feb. 2014 I have 20 days to use it.

  14. @globetrotter,

    not sure about Egypt, but I was just in Israel and Petra and they’re perfectly safe

    I felt a lot more safe in Israel than I did in Dubai

  15. A very good value in Business Class, glad to see you redeeming this award. That is already a lot of flights, why not just fly AA JFK-LAX and redeem an Amtrak award on the Coast Starlight to get you home.

  16. I recall in earlier posts you mentioned about the possibility of visiting Nepal someday and also flying Oman Air business class so why not try the following itinerary?


    BAH-DOH on QR since you flew BA going there
    DOH-KTM on QR (one flight is a330)
    KTM-KUL on MH; open-jaw
    KUL-CMB on Air Asia X (biz class is $500)
    CMB-MCT-CDG all on Oman Air A330 business class is around $900!

    That’s a total distance of 24885 miles on 13 segments for the explorer award. It also lets you try Oman Air and Air Asia X business class products. You do pass DOH three times but I believe it’s ok to connect twice and stopover once in the same city.

    Good luck planning this award!

  17. Lucky, I have a question that’s a bit off topic. You mentioned that Cathay Pacific, Vancouver>New York as ‘perhaps the most comfortable way to fly coast-to-coast’.

    Well, does Star Alliance have anything that would compare when flying coast to coast?

  18. @ Mark — Nope, they don’t have any fifth freedom routes in North America that are tempting. Best option within North America is probably one of the internationally configured 777s or three cabin 767s that United runs on some domestic routes.

  19. @ realandyluten — Hmmm, is ADD actually worth visiting? Was thinking of booking an Ethiopian award through US Airways, so figure I might be better off saving that for then.

  20. @ Will — They don’t in advance. Their first class cabins have 6-9 seats, and the most they’ll release per flight in advance is two. You can potentially either split up and do passengers in business and two in first on the same flight, or book two separate flights in first class.

  21. @ Misterstuf — Hmmm, unfortunately both operated by regionally configured aircraft, eh? Wish there were a way to get there in comfort on a longhaul aircraft.

  22. Lucky, if you want you can visit Israel without using RJ – with an open jaw, which will also allow you to visit Petra in Jordan.

    Fly from Europe to TLV with either BA, IB, AY or AB. Have fun in TLV and/or Jerusalem. Take a short domestic flight to Eilat (the longest route in Israel – over 30 minutes!). Spend a couple of days there – best using HH points to avoid paying too much for local hotels. Cross to Jordan and tour Petra. Fly out of Amman with QR.

    Wouldn’t cost you too many extra miles given your initial route and you’d get to visit one of the most exciting cities in the Middle East as so many other readers are suggesting.

    If you get here before January 14th – I volunteer to be your personal guide for at least one day. Seriously.

  23. You can actually fly AY into Ovda airport right outside Eilat in Israel

    It would be one of the most unique flights you’ll ever have, as Ovda is a microscopically small airport

    Spend a few days in Eilat, and then head up Israel stopping at all the awesome sites, until you arrive in Jerusalem, spend a few days there, and then continue heading up to TLV (it’s a 40 minute bus ride between JLM and TLV), spend a few days there, and then head out from TLV on whatever airline you want

  24. If you go to the dead sea though (and you should!), do it on the Jordan side – the resorts there are far nicer than the ones on the Israel side

  25. I didn’t think that ADD was that nice. However, there are several amazing options in Ethiopia that I’d highly recommend. In April, I flew from Addis to Bahar Dar, took a road transfer to Gonder, then flew to Lalibela, Axum and back to Addis.

    A piece of advice if you do an Ethiopian tour: don’t book the internal flights in advance. They rarely sell out and only cost about $50 per leg, in person (versus more than $200 if you book in advance.)

  26. I would suggest, either cut the Cathay part and start from the East Coast and then add Finnar Business HEL-NRT and back in JAL 787.
    Or maybe start from the west coast and try to include Srilankan Airlines Business Lie Flat.
    Just so that we can see something different and new.
    good luck!!!

  27. Georgia is a great choice – beautiful hiking and an interesting capital. ADD is not terribly interesting, but many many parts of the country are (and you can get the cheap flights in advance as long as you use an Ethiopian agent to buy the tickets). Sana’a is frankly amazing, but it’s a bit dicey at the moment. Oman is great, but you really want to leave Muscat and head up to the desert (and driving to Nizwa and the Jebel Akhdar are well worth it – 50 years ago, they’d have cut your head off in Nizwa if you tried to go without being a Muslim!). Jordan is fantastic – the desert is beautiful. I prefer Beirut to Tel Aviv and Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but it must be said that the old city of Jerusalem (and a quick side trip to Bethlehem) are must-sees during your life.

  28. Hi Lucky,
    How’s about, BA A380 from LAX to LHR sampling there business class on the A380. I know the business class is not new, but it would be a great chance to fly another A380. Then you could catch a short hop from LHR to Madrid. From Madrid you could catch a flight to Tel-Aviv on Iberia’s new business class on the A330. Unfortunately, if you wanted to go onwards from Tel-Aviv it would probably involve a short hop on Royal Jordanian (but it is a very quick flight from TLV to Amman and bad weather is not to likely to develop over the middle of the dessert so you should be fine.) From Amman, you can pretty much connect to anywhere. I know this itinerary would force you to delay your trip until February and it would force you to go back onto a Royal Jordanian flight. However, you said your goal is to visit some new cities in the middle east and Israel definitely does not lack in interesting new cities to go to. Anyways I’m sure you’ll organize for yourself a great trip plan!

  29. Hi lucky,
    How about rovaniemi, a city in finland, in the arctic circle with santa claus village… And you can try and review finnair

  30. This may break distance or your plans but how about coming down to Australia. Qatar fly a 777 daily DOH to PER and emirates fly 3 777s a day from Dubai under a qantas code. You could then route to the east coast on Qantas’ transcontinental bushiness class and fly back out Qantas 747 to Dallas (now the longest block time flight going), JAL SYD-NRT, Cathay from any east coast city to Hong Kong, Qantas, Malaysian or BA. There’s even the Emirates 5th Freedom routes to New Zealand.

    It will be proper summer down here, (which might restrict award availability) and you can settle, once and for all, whether Melbourne or Seattle makes the best coffee (hint it’s Melbourne).

  31. You could also get some different airlines/products by flying around the world and taking some fifth freedom flights.

    Eg yvr-nrt-han-bkk-kul-hkg-dxb-lhr-mad-fra-txl-jfk

    includes some 787 (JL and LA), A380 (MH and QF); 5th freedom (QR, QF and LA); AB

  32. Lucky, re: your comment #42, did this post get published? I did a search but couldn’t find anything. For what it’s worth I’d be interested in a post about fifth freedom routes (particularly OneWorld ones)!

  33. @ Lucky – Did you book this trip? I´m looking forward to your review of Qatar’s 787.
    Anyway, there is a program from Gol (Brazilian carrier) called Smiles that has a lucrative chart to redemptions on Qatar. FRA-DOH on 787 business class is just 22,5k miles and DOH-LHR on first class (which will soon be operated on a A380) is just 30k miles. You can earn miles on Smiles flying Delta or you can buy miles. They are selling 1k miles for about U$ 29 with 50% bonus until 20/feb. FRA-DOH would cost U$ 430, DOH-LHR U$ 580. Taxes are low, as I paid U$ 145 on FRA-DOH-MEL (plus 60k miles). Availability is generally good. I´m not just sure how long their partnership with Qatar will last, as I think with TAM joining Oneworld, it wouldn´t make sense to keep this alliance.

  34. @ Carlos — Wow, thanks for the heads up, sounds like a great value! Will have to look into that, as I haven’t gotten around to booking this yet.

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