Book American Airline Award Flights Like a Pro: Part 1 – Introduction

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American Airlines Award Travel

Book American Airlines Awards Like a Pro:

Introduction

American Airlines miles are among the easiest to redeem for both domestic and international trips and will let you have lots of Big Travel with Small Money. 

You can book 1-way awards which gives you terrific flexibility (albeit at the cost of a stopover except at the North American gateway city on international itineraries).  For example, you can fly to Europe using American Airlines miles and fly back using United miles.  And you can redeem American Airlines miles, but fly on American Airline partner airlines.

In my experience American Airlines has some of the best telephone booking agents and some of the best availability for award seats for both domestic and international destinations.

I can usually complete my American Airlines award travel booking in about 7 minutes with American Airlines compared to the hours it could take with, say, US Airways.

Oneworld and other airline partners

More importantly, you can redeem your American Airline miles for travel not only on American Airlines (this is very important!), but ALSO on Oneworld partner airlines and other (non-Oneworld) partner airlines which have partnered with American Airlines.

The oneworld alliance is a group of 12 airlines (American Airlines, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Finnair, Iberia, Japan Airlines, LAN Airlines, Mexicana, Qantas, Royal Jordanian & S7) which together fly to over 750 destinations.  Air Berlin, Kingfisher, and Malaysia Airlines are scheduled to become oneworld airlines soon.

American Airlines Award Travel

You can redeem American Airlines miles for travel on Oneworld alliance partner airlines

American Airline has also partnered with other airlines (outside of the oneworld alliance) such as Jet Airways and Hawaiian Airlines.  You can also redeem your American Airline miles for travel on these other partner airlines!

American Airlines Award Travel

You can redeem American Airlines miles for travel on other airline partners

This is a BIG deal (no, it is a huge deal!), because between Oneworld and other partner airlines you can use your American Airline miles to fly to places where American Airlines doesn’t fly themselves.

Unfortunately, you have to call American Airlines (NOT the partner airline) and pay a $25 telephone booking fee to book most partner airlines, but it is well worth it.  I’ll cover how to find award availability on partner airlines in future posts so that you don’t have to rely on the phone agent to find the seats you want.

Where can American Airline miles take me?

Almost anywhere in the world!

Your American Airline miles can take you to places where:

1)  American Airlines fly themself

2)  American Airlines’ oneworld partners fly

3)   American Airlines’ other partner airlines fly

The easiest way to see where American Airlines and their oneworld partners fly to is to use the oneworld online tool. 

A more time consuming, but more thorough way, is to individually visit the oneworld partner and other partner airline’s websites and see where they fly.

Use miles to fly where American Airlines doesn’t

Let’s take 2 out of many possible examples:

1.  Bangkok, Thailand.   You can redeem American Airlines miles for travel on Cathay Pacific from the US to Hong Kong and from Hong Kong to Bangkok.

American Airlines doesn’t fly its own planes (sometimes referred to as “AA metal”) from the US to Thailand, but you CAN redeem American Airline miles to fly on Cathay Pacific (a Oneworld partner) from the US to Hong Kong and then connect to another Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to Bangkok.

You won’t be able to search for Cathay Pacific award seats online at AA.com, because you can only search for flights on American Airlines or Alaska Airlines online at AA.com.  However, there are plans to make more award bookings via partner airlines available online.

Currently, you have to call American Airlines (NOT the partner airline) to book awards on partner airlines such as Cathay Pacific.

But don’t worry!  I’ll show you how to find availability on many of American Airlines’ partners before you call and we’ll walk through how to call American Airlines and get the agent to book your $15,000 First Class seat using miles and  only a few hundred dollars in taxes & fees.

2.   Anchorage, Alaska.   American Airlines has limited service on its own flights to Alaska.  But since Alaska Airlines is an American Airlines partner airline, you can use your American Airlines miles to fly on Alaska Airlines routes to Alaska.

For example, American Airlines doesn’t fly from Seattle to Anchorage directly.  You would normally have to fly from Seattle to Dallas and then  from Dallas to Anchorage during the months when American Airlines flies from Dallas to Anchorage.

But because Alaska Airlines (an American Airlines partner) flies from Seattle to Anchorage you can redeem your American Airline miles, but fly on an Alaska Airlines plane from Seattle to Anchorage.

Even better, you can book this ticket online at AA.com because Alaska Airline is the only partner airline which can currently be booked online.

 To be continued…(next post: award types, fees, and rules)

These responses 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.

167 Responses to Book American Airline Award Flights Like a Pro: Part 1 – Introduction

  1. Hi there — New to your site. Very basic question. My husband I are thinking of taking a trip to South Africa in late 2014 or 2015. To avoid paying for tickets we want to open up a credit card with a company that uses miles and we thought we’d start with American Airlines. (United Airlines is out for us. We can’t stand their airline.) Can you tell me how many miles one needs to travel round trip from California to Capetown using AA miles? Many thanks.

  2. @Julie – You’d need 37.5K for a 1-way coach award. But you’d pay high fuel surcharges b/c the main way to get to South Africa involves flying on British Airways from London and you’ll pay ~$300 in surcharges on that leg, which means that it isn’t worth redeeming in coach.

  3. What flights give you the most bang for your miles? I keep hording miles because I never think they are worth giving up the miles. For instance: I am flying to India next summer from New York. I can buy a ticket for $600, or I can use like 30k (or was it 45k?) miles, and get it for free – with just $350 in fees/taxes – are you kidding me?!

    My theory is that miles are best used on hard to reach domestic locations. Any input you might have on this subject would be greatly appreciated.

  4. @Jack Doctor – You usually get the highest “value” when you use them for international or business class trips or last minute domestic flights. That said, the best value is using the miles to get to where you want to go!

  5. I have enough miles to go first class one-way on a milesaaver (62,500) from Miami to London in March 2014 on American Airlines. I want to avoid british airways due to high surcharges. What is the best way to find/book award flight while avoiding BA?

  6. @Joe – Just make sure to select the “AA, American Eagle and AmericanConnection®” only when you search. That way, you won’t see British Airways results. And also check for awards on the Iberia flight to Madrid which has no fuel surcharges and you can then connect on Iberia or British Airways to London.

  7. Hey Darius,

    Excellent web site thanks for sharing all your knowledge. how many miles does it typically cost to book a roundtrip from LA >> Bangkok? I am wondering if it is more worth it to use my 50,000 or so miles for that flight or rather to use it for my other flights from say bangkok>Bali or Bali>perth or perth>melbourne. If I search on the oneworld online tool I notice that there are Leg1 and Leg2 to get to bali from bangkok, does this count as 2 separate awards aka 4 awards for a roundtrip? Any advice or links you could lead me to would be much appreciated! thanks so much!

  8. I have used your great tips to find award tickets. Even after calling I was only able to find the return trip tickets and have put them on hold Until 12/10/13 ( BA 62.5K first BCN/SFO on Sep 19.). Can’t find anything on SFO/MAD Aug 28, 29, 30 for 2 accept 60K anytime award even changing to LAX airport. Looks like lots of avail on 60,000 seats. (AA site shows 1 choice on Airberlin but when calling told no availability.). Is there a $150 charge on anytime tickets if i later find 50K seats and want to change reservation? Seems like i am safe in trying another month or so before i need to book the Sfo/Mad.

  9. @Erica – It is 55,000 miles in coach for a return trip from the US to Thailand. I’d compare the prices of the flights and then use miles to save the most money. You can’t get stopovers on regular American Airlines awards, but you could use miles for an Explorer award which gets you extra stopovers.

    @Valinda – Why not book the Air Berlin flight online if you can see it?

  10. I tried that first but as soon as I try to get even one seat the message comes up no longer available. Same thing happens on every day or even Sacramento, San Jose or San Francisco airport departures. Seems like any flight on Air Berlin shows on the initial available flights screen but when you try to book them, the same message occurs. When I called the AA advantage phone number, they also said the flights weren’t available. My thinking is book economy AA metal anytime award seats and keep checking to see if 50K or 62.5K business/first become available and switch. Don’t want to have to pay the $150 fee to switch though. Any ideas?

  11. @Valinda – Not sure what is happening with Air Berlin. You could wait for a week and then try again. If you still can’t book them, you could lock in the high level seats and pay the change fee to switch. Is that happening with all Air Berlin flights?

  12. Yes – looks like no matter which day (entire month of late Aug and Sep shows availability) and no other airline is offered, it comes up no longer available. In looking at the AA website, it seems there is no change fee to change a 60,000 anytime seat reservation. Is that your take? If so, I could book the 60K seats and just keep on checking daily, hopefully with a 50K business or 62.5K seat coming up.

  13. @ Valinda
    I am having the same problem with trying to book from CDG to TUL. Same time period, AUG 2014. I keep having it show as available, then the message is “No longer available.”. AB flights are shown at same time as BA flights as available. But only the BA flights let me through — of course with the high Fuel charges. But the AB flights disappear as soon as I choose them.

  14. My husband and I are planning to visit Philippines (from LAX) in August 2014 and would like to use our mileage. I have about 100K with United and 100K in AA. My husband also has about 50K with United.
    My questions are :
    1. What is the best connection and airline with the least miles? I don’t mind flying coach.
    2. Do we have to combine our mileage to buy 2 tickets and is it allowed?
    3. How can we search Cathay Pacific flights (LAX-HK) online and using AA miles?

    Thanks for your comments.

  15. @Marjorie – See the links to 8 & 8b in the index above which will show you how to search for Cathay awards. The best airline (in my opinion) is usually the one which has seats on the days you want to travel. It is ~65K miles for a return ticket on both United or American Airlines. You could book 2 1-ways using United miles and 2 1-way tickets using American Airlines miles since you don’t have enough miles for 2 return tickets on only 1 airline.

  16. Carol Anne Schmidt

    Hi, I was about to dump my AA advantage card until I found your website (and I’m still contemplating doing so with suggestions of better ones. anyone?). I’ve accumulated about 700,000 miles over the course of about 15 years and currently have about 200,000 unused. I put a trip for 4 from LAX to Kona, Hawaii on hold from 6/22-7/23 . Coming back is great, I secured a direct flight (22,500 miles) (red eye) but going there is not going to be fun. LAX depart at 9pm to Las Vegas to Honolulu (22,500 +5000) and then to Kona at 5am with a 2 and 10 year old. I’ve tried calling them to get on Alaskan, Hawaiian and preferably a direct flight to no avail at that award level. They said that the awards partners might open flights or someone might cancel. How would I know? How often do I check? Where? You mentioned for Hawaiian I go on to see if they have 20,000 super saver miles? What about Alaskan? Do I book this trip in hope to change it later just to get my foot in the door? Bc worst case scenario we still want it? any feedback is greatly appreciated. Thank you!!!!

  17. @Carol Anne Schmidt – The American Airlines website now shows Hawaiian and Alaska Air flights. You should keep checking and then you can call to change the dates for free (as long as the origin or destination remain the same). I’d book the trip if you know you want to travel on those days and then look to improve it once it is booked.

  18. I think I have figured out something that works, but before I spend the money I wanted to see if I was missing anything big. Next Christmas I would like my sister in law and niece to visit me in Australia from the East Coast. Ticket prices this year around Christmas were over 4000 a ticket and I expect them to be similarly priced next. For a variety of reasons using credit card bonus to get American miles isn’t going to work well. However until the 31st American is running the special if you buy 60,000 miles you get another 15,000 for a total of 75,000. By my math on the American partner rewards chart, it is 37.5 a ticket each way for a total of 75000 round trip to Australia.

    If my wife and I, both of whom have AA accounts that are older then 14 days old, each buy the 60,000 miles plus the 15,000 bonus, we will have enough buy a round trip ticket for each of them. To buy these miles with the taxes it is about 1750 dollar per person (plus whatever fees are on the ticket themselves), much cheaper then the 4000 dollar tickets around christmas.

    Qantas actually shows availability 355 days out or so, and I have checked for every day before christmas and after that you can see (through the 29th right now) there is availability on the flights to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, and I presume that will continue to be the case for at least a little (until AA flights start showing up). From reading this article it seems if Qantas is showing availability, if I call AA they could book it. Now I have only checked from LA not from the east coast, because AA flights are not release yet, but I figure I should be able to get some sort of flight from the east coast to LA.

    Am I missing anything? This seems to me I can get these two tickets for about half price.

  19. @nathaniel – American Airlines lets you book tickets only ~330 days out, so some of that Qantas availability will be gone by the time you book with AA miles. But you can see which Qantas flights are available at aa.com. So I’d go to aa.com and see if there are tickets available for the days you want to fly. If so, I’d buy the miles and book the tickets. I’d book them as 1-way awards so that you grab the flights as soon as they open up. Also note, that the 15,000 bonus miles may post later and not immediately. You can get these tickets for half price, but it depends on finding award availability. Good luck!

  20. Is it better to use American Explorer Awards or United. I hope to travel to Hong Kong, Viet Nam and Cambodia from Seattle on business class with multiple stopovers but round trip.
    Also since I have more than one business with separate Tax ID numbers can I apply for more than one AAdvantage Citi Business card?

  21. @Cheryl – If you’re going to have a lot of stopovers, the Explorer award could be better. I believe that you may be able to get multiple Citi business cards with distinct tax ID numbers.

  22. I got the Citi AAdvantage card and along, I will get 30k miles to fly. I can get to 70k miles by around May/June. I wanted to book a one way ticket to Mumbai for around Thanksgiving or December first week flying out of Boston. From what I understand, my only routing is via London by BA or via Amman by RJ. I really want to avoid paying over $330 to BA. So my primary route is via Amman by RJ.

    Now here is the problem, AA search gives me a result of using 67.5k reward miles flying business class from BOS-JFK-AMM-BOM for Nov/Dec 2014. Why is this so? Is it because its too early to make any booking? AA does not give consistent results for Economy class (45k miles) when searching random dates. When it does, I get the following route BOS-ORD-AMM-BOM.

    Would it be fruitful if I call their customer service to know what’s going on?

  23. @Darshan – You can also try to fly on Jet Airways from London, Etihad via Abu Dhabi or Qatar airways. But will have to call American Airlines to find award seats on these routes.

  24. JANIS FARRELL

    I would like to fly from Tampa, FL to SINGAPORE On Mar.1, 2015. I would prefer First/Business. I find the award charts to be extremely confusing. I understand from above that I need to call to redeem, is that correct? And what is the earliest I can call? Thank you for your help.

  25. My fiance and I are getting married in June of 2014. We want to go to St. Lucia for our honeymoon. If we each sign up for an AA card, we start with 30,000 each if we spend $1,000 in the first month. A round trip flight to St. Lucia is 55,000 miles. Do you think this would be a good idea? Also, can we converge both cards after we get married at some point?

    Thanks!

  26. @JANIS FARRELL – Award seats open ~11 months before departure.

    @ Janess – Congrats! The link on the Hot Deals tab should get you 50K American Airlines miles, so you will have enough miles once you complete the minimum spending requirement. You can’t merge the miles into one account but can each book flights for anyone. You could also consider the United card with up to 50K miles (and book 1-way on United and 1-way on American Airlines) and the Barclays Arrival card which will get you $400 towards any travel.

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  31. I want to use American miles for a multicity trip from LAX or SBA to Brussels, returning from Madrid to LAX via a stopover in Philadelphia. Amazingly I found availability for all those flights on the desired dates for 60,000 miles per person round trip. That’s the very good news. The very bad news is that the flights involve British Airways and the so called taxes and fees for two people for this “free” award travel are over $1400. Is there any alternative approach to take to either avoid these enormous fees or to avoid British Airways. I know there are flights with Iberia that go to Brussels via Madrid, etc, but they don’t come up when I look at the available award flights. Only BA shows up. Any and all help greatly appreciated.

  32. I would like to book a flight from Phoenix to London leaving around May 26th and return around June 24th. I would like to try and use my American Airlines miles to upgrade from premium economy to business. But there seems to be a huge price difference when looking on American they want $5677 for round trip premium economy and when looking on British Airways they want $2298 round trip premium economy. That is a $3400 difference for the same seat. I would appreciate any advice etc that you might have.

  33. @bl – See part 9 to find Iberia award flights.

    @ Juanita – Much better to pay the lower price for the ticket. Note that you can only upgrade the full fare tickets with your AA miles so it may not always be worth it.

  34. Is anyone else having problems with American Airlines bonuses posting to their account? I received a 50,000 bonus from a Citibank card in January, but the 50,000 miles + 3000 miles from spending has not yet posted to my account. I’ve called Citibank 3 times, but all they tell me is that it will take awhile due to the American-US Air merger.

    Any idea on what I can do?

  35. Am I crazy to consider using AAdvantage miles to fly to Nairobi via Doha (on Qatar Airways) instead of via London (on British Airways)? I know the flight would be longer, but isn’t that a way to avoid hundreds of dollars in fuel surcharges?

  36. Hello, I am close to hopefully redeeming my miles to go from TPA to SIN on Mar.2, 2015. I found two choices and would like your advice as to which one I have a better chance of getting.
    First:
    AC departing 18:50 arr TORONTO 21:41
    CX 829 dep 1:25-6:05 ARR HONG KONG
    CX 691 8:00-11:50. ARR SIN
    Or
    JAL 5885 dep 7:00 to Boston
    JAL7 dep 12:00-15:35 to Narita
    JAL711 dep 17:45-00:35 to SIN
    I hope to get Business/First and I have over 78,000 miles
    Thank you

  37. Forgot to say AC. FL #1885 Tampa to Toronto

  38. @Karen – I’d wait until your next statement closes.

    @David – You can’t route flights to Africa via the middle east, unfortunately with American Airlines miles.

    @Janis – I can’t really say. I’d track the availability on those flights in the days leading up to when you want to leave. AC is not a oneworld airline, so you may not be able to use your American Airlines miles for those flights.

  39. Does anyone know what the fees/flexibility is to change the destination on an award booking. I see lots of information on changing dates and times, but not destination. We booked SFO to Paris via LHR in business. I’d like to change the end destination to Amsterdam instead. I suspect I could cancel and rebook, but I don’t want to risk losing the Club World seats from SFO-LHR. I’ve searched for hours looking for the answer with no luck and haven’t been able to dedicate the hour hold time to get through on the phone. :-) Thanks!

  40. @Erik B – You have to pay the change fee if you change your origin or destination.

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  42. Hi, I’m trying to fly via AA miles to guam from the east coast on JAL. they are giving me crazy schedules (we’ve done this before without any problem). How can I get the JAL schedules (and award availability) on my own?

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  44. Hi Would like to flight this summer from NY to rome with my wife.
    (july 9 – august 26) flexible dates.
    We have 41.000 miles each with two different AAdvantage profile.

    Advice?

  45. Parinya Chucherdwatanasak

    Hi,
    I and my wife have enough miles to go to Bangkok, Thailand. We plan to fly there at the end of May and come back to the US in August. We were trying to find the award tickets for many weeks on the AA website. However, they never show up on the website. Is this time too early to look for those award tickets? We plan to fly off from Detroit though. Please help. Thanks. Parinya

  46. @beth – Search for award flights on the British Airways website and then call AA to book those flights.

    @ bernial – It is 60K for a round-trip in coach from the US to Europe with AA miles.

    @Parinya Chucherdwatanasak – They won’t show on the AA website. But see the linked posts above on how to find them using the British Airways or JAL website on Cathay Pacific. Then call AA to book those flights.

  47. My son has a honeymoon of 2 wks. planned in Sept,’14, to arrive in Naples and return from Venice [leave & return from RDU]. I have 400,000+ AA Advantage miles which I have never used or booked before. I am so very confused trying to get possible flights on AA using its flights or its
    partners. I know I need an ‘open jaw’ type for return and can call and pay AA a $25 fee to book; however, your recommendation is to tell AA which flights to book? Should we go to BWI or JFK and book to Europe from
    either of those? Thank you for any help. Best Regards, JR

  48. @john rock, sr. – You can book this flight online. 1st one ay from RDU to Naples and 2nd 1-way from Venice to RDU.

  49. I would like to plan a trip using miles from DFW to Athens and then returning from Venice to DFW in October. The outbound goes through LHR which is OK but the return goes through Gatwick and then LHR resulting in train travel and an overnight stay at Gatwick or LHR. Also, the taxes for two people run just under $1,000.00. Since AA eliminated the one world partner airlines, I can’t see any other route. Is there a better way to plan this trip?
    Thank you.

  50. @Chris – Try searching for flights on Air Berlin, Iberia, or American Airlines to avoid the fuel surcharges by flying on British Airways.

  51. WanderingMiss

    Hi,
    I just called AA to try and book a flight from PER – JFK using miles from Aus. I found the availability on CX but AA are telling me that although the award chart between the US and AU are showing the charge for this one for bus / first somewhere between 62.5k and 72.5k miles, they can only price it as separate flights, coming to 90k miles. It is actually the most direct route – shorter time in the air by an hour, and the stop over is only 4 hours. I thought it might be because it was an anytime award instead of the mile saaver – but apparently not.
    From your understanding is this correct, or should I try my luck with the American service desk / another agent? I’m currently calling the Au / Fiji service desk.
    Thanks in advance for any help – I’m a bit stuck on this one. I broke my back in 3 places a few years ago and this will be my first long haul since healing so being able to fly flat is really important to me at the moment….

  52. @WanderingMiss – Unfortunately, that is correct. Transiting from Hong Kong will mean 2 awards.

  53. How many points will it take for a roundtrip from Miami, FL to Los Angeles, CA?

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  55. Hello Daraius,
    Great website. Tried your method, want to go from Chicago to Hong Kong in November, 2014. AA shows only business anytime, no business mile saver. Business anytime is about 280K round trip. However, Cathay Pacific displayed with 110K round trip. Does this mean when I call AA to make a reservation I need to pay 280K miles for a round trip business ticket ? Many thanks.

    BH

  56. @BH – You pay the regular rate for Cathay which is much lower than 280K.

  57. Quick question for you. A friend of mine offered to book me tickets from Los Angeles to Miami for Christmas of 2014 using his AA points.
    he did not need the points and offered. My question is, what happens, lets say, I get into a fight with him or he changes his mind? Can he just cancel my tickets all of a sudden if he decides and rune my Christmas vacation?
    Steven

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  59. Hi Darius,
    My husband and I are Hawaiiain airlines mileage people for the last 10 years. Rarely had to pay for a ticket. We are planning a trip to Indonesia. Im very confused on what is the right credit card for us to apply to get the miles and rewards. Any suggestions?

    Thanks for you time.
    Tanya

  60. Hi Darius,

    I am planning to use AA miles for a trip ( economy only ) – 3 sectors ; LAX – HKG; HKG – Tokyo: Tokyo – LAX. Any suggestions : Cathay or JAL; and how can I go around using AA miles ?? Thank you !

  61. @Raymond L. – Those airlines are probably the best option. You can check awards on the BA website and then call AA to book them.

  62. Hi Darius,

    I am planning my 2015 vacation. Every award travel trip I am getting more and more creative with your help of course. I was curious on the maximum number of connections for award travel. I will be traveling from MCO to AKJ First Class. I haven’t tried yet but I am looking at MCO-JFK-LHR-HKG-HND-AKJ with a combination of AA, BA, Cathay Pacific, and JAL and having the layovers being less than 24 hours. Is this possible?

    Thanks.

  63. @ISpaulding – That won’t be possible b/c AA doesn’t let you transit the Atlantic to get to Hong Kong etc.

  64. Hi, Darius.

    I just wanted to ask if I will get Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® and spend $3000, than I will get 50,000 AA miles. Could I buy ticket for my girlfriend and not to fly with her?
    Round trip to Europe from LAX cost exactly 50,000 points. So I will just need to pay tax’es? ~$150-200

    Best Regards,
    Ric

  65. @Ric – You can book the ticket for anyone with your miles. However, if you use AA miles to fly on BA, the fuel surcharges are much higher!

  66. Can I buy the tickets from AA and then later get a credit by using the award? I do not currently have enough Miles but will by the time I leave, but I am not sure the flight will still be available.

  67. Richard Sedivy

    I was trying to buy two RT tickets on AA, LAX-FCO in September 2015 with flexible dates, then use miles + co-pay to upgrade to business. I checked all the seating in business class on various AA flights on various dates – all showed every business class seat still available. When I call AA to try and book, they tell me there are no award seats available. The agent even checked their One World partners – no seats. Is there a secret to using miles to upgrade to the next class of service, or are they correct in telling me they have NO SEATS available almost 11 months in the future? In other words, is an upgrade using miles to/from Europe really an award that actually does not exist?

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