As described in Part 1 here, American Airlines and US Airways are formally merging their operations on March 31 of 2014. Although it's not a guarantee, history has shown that mergers between airlines tend to wipe out some of the best values and "sweet spots" in each program's redemptions. Here are some more tips on what to book at the current redemption rates:
1. Explorer Awards
Even many folks in the know about the miles and points game aren't familiar with American's distance based Explorer awards. They're a bit more complicated than normal Point A to Point B awards, but there's tons of value to be had, especially if you have a lot of AA miles and you're looking to do a significant amount of travel within a year. Lucky from One Mile at a Time has a great write up on the Explorer Awards and like him, I think the best deals are Distance Zones 4-6 in business class. Again, these awards are not all that popular so it's a definite possibility that they may be on the chopping block after the merger. I need to take my own advice and put my hard earned miles to work on an Explorer award. Note that there are extra limitations and requirements for these awards so be sure to read up thoroughly on them here:
2. Take Advantage of Those Free One Ways
American Airlines allows stopovers in "gateway hub cities" when you redeem regular awards with them. So for instance, I live in Los Angeles and I booked a roundtrip first class award from Los Angeles to Bangkok for 135,000 AA miles. However, since Los Angeles is a hub city and the last American city before I leave US soil, I can actually tack on a free one-way segment from New York to Los Angeles before my LAX-BKK flight. Since I am "stopping over" in Los Angeles, I have up to a year to be in Los Angeles until my eventual flight to Thailand. Similarly, on the way back from Bangkok to Los Angeles, I can once again "stop over" in LAX and then "return" back to JFK at my leisure up to a year's time. These free one ways don't add any cost to the redemption rate save for $2.50 on additional taxes on the domestic LAX-JFK segments… plus as long as there's availability, you can fly in first class domestically as well.