American Airlines has eliminated Saver and Anytime awards, and replaced those award charts with a new ‘starting from’ pricing chart for American Airlines flights. There are no changes to partner awards or upgrade awards. And since most American awards were already dynamically-priced web specials, in practice little changes at all once this fully cuts over this afternoon. But there’s still a lot to unpack.
Here are the full details.
How New Flight Awards Work
“Flight awards” are the new name for travel redemptions on American Airlines, with the end of MilesAAver and AAnytime. These replace web specials, but as essentially web specials (that are no longer limited to online redemption anyway).
The new flight award chart shows the starting price for travel between two regions for each class of service. However the chart only shows pricing for travel to and from North America.
- They do not ‘need to’ show travel between other regions of the world, since American doesn’t operate 5th freedom routes elsehwere.
- What this means though is that there are no longer ‘deals’ for travel from Europe (say) to South America via North America. Instead, all long haul travel prices additively (Europe to North America plus North America to South America).
This isn’t an issue for most members of the program, but those based outside of North America who actually redeem their miles for American Airlines travel to destinations other than North America will not do well. For American, this reduces complexity, as there’s less special pricing to maintain.
Last seat availability for redemptions will continue to be available with dynamically priced flight awards, as it has been for AAnytime awards.
New Award Chart And Rules
American Airlines has a new award chart for ‘flight awards’ and it presents pricing as ‘starting from’. Note that they’ve also collapsed some regions – Asia is no longer more than one region. Middle East and India and also South Pacific gets combined in.
‘Starting From’ pricing tells you not to expect to find prices less than this amount, but tells you nothing about what to expect as ‘regular price’.
Routing and regions:
- Domestic U.S. and Canada redemptions permit up to 3 segments in each direction
- Other award (including Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands) permit up to 4 segments in each direction
- Caribbean includes Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands; South America “Short Haul” is defined as Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru; and South America “Long Haul” is Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay.
The Chart Itself Looks Like A Devaluation, But Maybe It Isn’t?
The new award chart appears to have some surprising price increases. We can compare it both to current web saver redemptions and to the milesAAver awards which are going away (where American rarely made space available).
The airline now promotes “Flight awards are available for as low as 7,500 miles each way” – however,
- Up until a few months ago web saver coach awards started at 5,000 miles
- This went up to 6,000 miles and that’s how things have been pricing on many routes.
- So does this represent marketing a 25% increase (and 50% in a matter of months) for the cheapest awards?
I’m told that there’s actually no change in how web savers (now flight awards) are being priced, and they wanted to show prices in the chart that will have plenty of availability rather than prices that are sometimes available.
As a result there’s nothing in these changes that should eliminate the 6,000 mile awards, for instance, Los Angeles – Las Vegas.
Meanwhile comparing the cost of published saver award prices with the lowest prices on the new ‘starting from’ Flight Award chart makes things look pretty dramatic. I’ll explain why this isn’t quite what’s going on in a moment.
Here’s a breakdown of business class prices, and how they are changing from milesAAver to flight awards:
|Business||Flight Award||Change||% Change|
|Domestic U.S. (under 500 miles)||15,000||15,000||–||–|
|Domestic U.S. (500+ miles)||25,000||15,000||(10,000)||-40%|
|South America Short Haul||30,000||30,000||–||0%|
|South America Long Haul||57,500||90,000||32,500||57%|
|Mideast and India||70,000||95,000||25,000||36%|
First, there’s no actual change to current redemption pricing. milesAAver prices simply weren’t available much on many routes. And the ‘starting from’ chart doesn’t actually show the lowest prices.
Furthermore, it collapses regions – for instance combining Alaska and Hawaii and combining Japan with Australia.
This chart shows Alaska awards, say Phoenix – Anchorage one way in domestic first class, going from 30,000 miles (saver) to starting from 60,000 miles (flight award). Wow. U.S. – Japan in business class going from 60,000 to 95,000 miles one way at the lowest level? It shows Europe going from 57,500 to 75,000 miles one way.
In reality, American assures, nothing actually changes. U.S. – Europe isn’t available much in the 50,000s and very rarely in the 60,000s, so this presents a realistic picture of prices rather than the lowest possible price going forward. I’d suggest this charge shows devaluations that have already happened rather than anything new with today’s change.
No More Itinerary Changes
Flight awards cannot be changed once ticket. You can cancel and redeposit the miles (and that’s free for all members) but if you want to alter an itinerary you have to start over from scratch if it’s entirely on American Airlines.
You might have gotten a great price on an award from Austin to New York to Doha but then you moved to New York. You can no longer just drop the Austin – New York segment (as you could with a saver award, but not with a web special). Instead you have to start over, book New York JFK – Doha, at whatever the then-prevailing price may be.
I’m told that “for now” flight awards reflect web special product rules, though changes to awards is something that AAdvantage is looking at.
In Practice (Almost) Nothing Changes?
The way to think about this change is existing ‘web specials’ (no longer bookable only online) officially replace saver awards, and nothing changes with partner awards. And that’s really the status quo, since web specials mostly replaced saver awards already.
- Saver awards began to get less relevant at American Airlines after US Airways management took over, and their revenue management approach went into effect – which was, more or less, not to intentionally offer saver awards.
- Then when American launched web special awards in 2019 that became ‘what awards usually cost’ since they were generally cheaper than whatever the lowest prevailing price already was.
American tells me that 85% of awards are being booked below the lowest MilesAAver or AAnytime price that’s available today. That’s just a function of there not being much saver space, and when there is it’s only because the saver price is high relative to the cash price of the ticket. And AAnytime awards actually had 5 levels, 3 of which were unpublished to begin with, and they could almost always price an award a little lower than AAnytime level 5.
Since MilesAAver and AAnytime awards were no longer relevant – indeed, a very small portion of what was actually being booked – you might wonder why American is bothering to get rid of them? Why not just keep saver awards, and the saver award chart, and continue to price awards in a way that makes them less and less relevant? This seems more of a cleanup exercise than anything else, simplifying things they need to manage and reducing confusion, and setting member expectations.
American’s New Award Charts Aren’t Very Useful
In some sense this doesn’t matter, because partner award charts remain fully in place and because there was very little award availability at the saver level – and most of the time that there was, this was more or less only on flights they were able to offer awards below the saver level. So the previously-existing chart didn’t matter.
But the new way of displaying award pricing doesn’t tell us very much. They’ve adopted a ‘starting from’ display for flights to and from North America. But the old saver award chart used to be the price you could expect to get, if you were on top of things and a little bit flexible. Now it’s the lowest price you could possibly get, rather than the prevailing price or prevailing ‘deal’ price.
Put another way, what the new chart tells us is only the you will not get an award for less than price, rather than the price you can expect. And it doesn’t even tell us that since the starting from price doesn’t show you the lowest price they’ll ofer.
Providing an actual lowest price chart along with some indicator of what people are usually paying in practice would seem more useful once we concede that ‘this is how American is going to price awards’.
Instead, by showing you how low a price might go but not the usual price, American obfuscates price increases. We’ve already seen this – this is nothing new with the elimination of traditional saver awards at other airlines. They’re more easily able to raise how much they charge for a given itinerary, without telling members in advance that awards cost more. This is part and parcel of devaluation. But at American it already happened four years ago, they’re just now changing the nomenclature.
To be clear, we’ve seen it at every airline that’s eliminated traditional fixed price awards. American already effectively eliminated them before making this change through the drying up of saver award inventory. Since this change just makes it all official there’s not really any new devaluation in these current changes.
Partner Awards Remain Unchanged
Award redemption on partner airlines – where you’ll generally find the greatest value for your AAdvantage miles – remains unchanged. There is still a partner award chart, and there are no changes to how partner awards work and “no current intention” to change those (including changes to pricing). You can still make changes under the same rules with partner awards.
In fact, even including American Airlines flights as part of partner awards doesn’t change. American will still have the same saver award inventory buckets as before – T, U, and Z – and use those for partner award bookings. If you wanted to fly Austin – Los Angeles – Tokyo with the Austin – LA flight on American included in the award, you’d need T (economy) or U (domestic first) space available to do so.
Any time you book an American flight at the saver level in conjunction with a partner award that’s a partner award, subject to partner award rules.
They aren’t improving combining American flights with partner awards, along the lines of Air Canada and United, where if saver award space on their flight isn’t available you can spend a few more miles to include it. If saver (T, U, Z) space isn’t available, you’d be pricing two separate awards additively.
Using Partner Airline Miles To Book Awards On American Doesn’t Change, Either
American is keeping their saver award inventory buckets, that they use for booking their own flights in conjunction with partner awards, and those same buckets will remain exactly how partner airlines like British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Etihad and others access availability when letting their members redeem points for travel on American.
That means for using partner miles to travel on American, nothing changes. But that remains my big worry. Can they really sustainably offer a partner award chart showing 57,500 miles each way for business class between the U.S. and Europe on a partner airline, and a chart that says actually flying American starts at 75,000 miles? It seems like there will be pressure to devalue partner award pricing, since it’s so much lower than American Airlines pricing.
I’m assured that changing partner award pricing is a major undertaking (given bilateral agreements), and that it is not currently underway. Still, there did not used to be a published price gap between the saver (American Airlines) and partner charts. And now the gap is rather large. It makes American redemptions look expensive by comparison. And they are! Partner redemptions are often the much better value, except on British Airways where fuel surcharges are a kick in the teeth that can run an extra $1500 roundtrip. I worry about the sustainability of the outstanding value in AAdvantage partner award pricing, which hasn’t changed in six and a half years.
Expanded Award Availability For Executive Platinum Members Eliminated
For years one benefit of Executive Platinum status has been extra coach saver award availability on American Airlines flights.
- This wasn’t available online, you had to call
- And agents, in my experience, would deny it even existed. That’s because agents wouldn’t see the availability any differently when searching using your account.
I hadn’t actually seen this benefit bring up extra award space in the wild in many years, but American re-assured last summer that it was in fact still in place.
However the benefit goes away. American says that ‘usage was very low’ but of course that’s because you had to call to ask about availability, most members didn’t realize this, and there didn’t seem to be much extra availability in any case. So in practice, again, little changes.
Notably, though, American isn’t doing anything like United (which offers lower redemption prices to elites and co-brand cardmembers), like Delta (which offers a 15% discount for cobrand cardmembers, which is really an upcharge for those without the card), or Air Canada (which offers up to 11 ‘Priority Rewards’ to elite members for 50% discounts on redemption prices). There’s no elite redemption benefit as part of these changes.