Is American Airlines Award Availability About to Get Much Better?

At American’s Media and Investory Day airline President Robert Isom reported that AAdvantage members redeem 1.5 billion miles per day. (Update: American clarifies the 1.5 billion number as redeemed or earned each day.)

I’m skeptical of that number. According to American’s 2015 SEC 10-K they issued 315 billion miles and total mileage liability went up 44.6 billion miles, suggesting they redeemed 270.4 billion miles or 741 million miles per day (for a total of 8.3 million awards). This would mean a doubling of the number of miles members are redeeming in the past two years.

American did not report the number of miles issued, total mileage liability change, or number of miles redeemed in their 2016 10-K. Sad. So we’re left to speculate to make sense of this but of course the drying up of saver award space means if mileage redemptions are holding steady indeed it’s taking a lot more miles to redeem for travel than before.

American began to pull back on transatlantic business class award availability before it was taken over by US Airways management. So we can’t blame everything on that.

However American Airlines used to be the best US airline for award space. Even after the scaled back some of their availability, you could almost always get first class awards to Asia (until they began eliminating that on most aircraft) and you could certainly get domestic awards in both economy and first class.

Now award space on American Airlines flights is something of a unicorn. Maybe snuffaluffagus is the better analogy. Although instead of existing only on childrens’ television, it seems to exist for about 24-48 hours at a time and then disappears for awhile.

Similarly upgrade space has dried up as well. International upgrades in advance are hard. And it’s even hard to redeem for domestic upgrades.

  • American used to offer confirmable upgrade space on nearly every domestic flight outside of the New York JFK – Los Angeles and San Francisco routes

  • One upon a time systemwide upgrades were valid from revenue inventory when used domestically

Since January when American moved from using the A fare bucket to C for domestic upgrades those have mostly disappeared.

At Media and Investor Day AAdvantage President Bridget Blaise-Shamai acknowledged that award availability is an issue for the program. And she says they’re working hard on it and she expects it to improve.

Current AAdvantage President Bridget Blaise-Shamai with then-AAdvantage President Suzanne Rubin at the Freddie Awards in Atlanta, April 2015

Bridget offered that when the merger took place there were two ‘different philosophies’ on making award travel available. She does say that the number of upgrades redeemed this year has been steady year-over-year, which surprises me, though she concedes they’re redeemed much closer to travel.

I’ll add that while many people liked the US Airways Dividend Miles program they liked it for reasonably-priced awards and generous routings for travel on Star Alliance airlines. They didn’t like it for actual travel on US Airways — which could be tough to find internationally and for domestic coach (their inferior domestic first product was often available for redemption, which helped connecting to international Star Alliance premium cabin awards).

However she does expect that improvement will happen this year. And it should encompass both upgrades and saver awards, and across the myriad destinations that members want to redeem their miles for.

Better award and upgrade availability would go a long way towards fixing what’s wrong with AAdvantage relative to its competitors.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. These AA executives remind me of Trump. You can’t believe a word they say. They lie lie lie. When I see all of their supposed saver availability I’ll believe it.

  2. From your mouth to the mileage gods’ ears, Gary.

    You’ve previously offered good arguments for greater award availability, so I won’t repeat them here. But for the life of me, I find American’s similar cutbacks on upgrade availability even more counterproductive. I realize I’m only one data point, but I’m flying competitors much more since American eliminated most domestic upgrade availability at time of ticketing. So rather than getting the price of the economy ticket plus $150 (not to mention cashing in miles) from me for the round-trip upgrades, American’s would-be revenue goes elsewhere.

    Oh well, we’ll see what happens, though I’m not hopeful.

  3. I still don’t see why they have to announce that “it’s coming” since they say they “know it’s a problem.” Isn’t the only reasonably way to fix it to make more award seats and upgrades available? Why does it take time to figure something out?

  4. It was indeed miserable for about a year. But recently I am seeing more award space. Maybe I got lucky or maybe the fix already started…

  5. So as recently as about 2011, 2012 or more recent you could redeem 60k in US air miles for a off peak (Winter) business class award flight on nice lay flat seats. It could be tough but not impossible to find awards space for 2 or more. Now it cost 115k (almost twice as much) for those same routes roundtrip and the space is super hard to find.
    My fear is that AA will announce that they’ve opened up space and then go revenue based on the redemption where the miles are worth like 1/2 cent each toward $5k award booking tickets.

  6. Their availability has been disgraceful. I think with the merger with US Airways American became equally if not more stingy with releasing award seats. Domestic became damn near impossible and award flights to Europe pretty much evaporated even during years of fire sales on fares.

    But then again I too wonder if something is going on recently. For the past week I had been looking for even one single saver award ticket, economy or first class, in either direction, between two of their hub cities (PHL and LAX)- NINE MONTHS in advance. After checking a few times a day for a week, I assumed as usual I could forget using my miles as their was not one seat available even with some flexibility in my dates. Then all of a sudden, one single seat on one of the dates I needed became available, I grabbed it and then a few hours later they loaded a bunch more on several dates ( 7+ in coach on various flights and a smattering in first class). Then today, every single one is gone again. Not sure if that was a coincidence or if indeed they are finally starting to loosen things up a tiny bit.

  7. For what it is worth, I am already seeing greatly improved availability in all three cabins SFO-JFK compared with a month or two ago. For F it has gone from literally one day, whole schedule out, to 2-3 days a week most weeks. Crossing my fingers this stays.

  8. They can be even more like trump and start saying that aa redemption now under the parker administration is better than it has ever been.

    Anyone who disagrees or says otherwise is part of fake news…

    And to make it even more effective, they should tweet this at 3:00am.

  9. I just called and downgraded my Barclay Aviator card this morning, stating the miserable availability of award space as the reason. There’s just no point in collecting AAdvantage miles if I can’t spend them, or if they’re only redeemable at a value of under a penny a point.

    If large numbers of miles are being redeemed, it’s because people are giving up and cleaning out their accounts for whatever they can get.

  10. Dead parrot airline.

    Don’t devalue the mile and then still have the gall to call it a mile. It’s a point and we get it: You screwed customers who grew up on you and now have better choices who don’t succumb to piggish greed and treat their customers better.

    Crap airline. Chintzy skinflint greedhound ruin. Dead.

  11. Here’s a pipe dream if they open saver availability. Earning EQM and EQD on those flights like the hotel industry.

  12. Improvement will happen “this year.” Bridget does realize it’s October, right? “This year” is nearly gone so things need to happen pretty fast, yes?

  13. @Nun

    When you have the worst President since Hitler, the most hated man on the planet who’s trying to start a nuclear war, and who calls into question by the entire world the sanity of the American people to have a bleeding psychotic acting out on the world stage, you mention it because it’s on your mind.

    This what ignorant rednecks do when civilized people don’t vote, utter complete civilization ruin. As a country we have decided to let lunatics run the asylum. It’s doubtful we’ll survive it. You enabled it, by just laughing off your President being the sickest freak on earth and pointing instead to the people calling it out.

  14. Nope… Check it literally several times a day for weeks. AAdvantage miles are worthless. Hope AAdvantage members, Barclay and Citi finally realize they are being used so AA can build fancy new digs in DFW while the AA employees become more and more demoralized. See, “they will never lose money again.”

  15. @nun. Sorry it troubles u that some of us care about the destruction of the planet and r against white supremacy. Forgive us for caring. We can’t all be like u

  16. Who is the worst out of the two? Bridget Blaise-Shamai or Suzanne Rubin?
    Suzanne Rubin started the carnage/bloodbath/strangulation/dismemberment/ and Bridget is taking that to the bottomless-pit..Both of these two lady’s are as incompetent as our current President and House/Senate leaders..They should be fired!

    DFW shouldn’t be called a Hub of AA. The AA award space from/to DFW is like our current President’s head, empty.

  17. I’m not sure even with improved award availability they can recover over the short term
    They have damaged a significant part of their customer relationships some forever
    I’m at 0 miles flown this year 2017 after 20 years and 8 million miles earned in the past
    This was unthinkable till Doug Parker took over and virtually took all elites
    Exec Plat and down and threw them under the bus
    I’m at another program now
    AA management took a risk with exceptional greed and its going to hurt in teh big picture
    I may never go back I’m happier with the Customer service at Alaska Virgin AmericaJet Blue Southwest and other Int carriers for International flying
    It would take years of significant consistency to trust using American Airline credit cards and buying revenue tickets again for 25 k a year and up the way I once did
    They have destroyed any reasonable trust and credibility they had by the devaluation of their point currency and the extreme lack of saver awards and empty seats on board

  18. The Mother Of All Clickbait Headlines.

    Gary Leff has about as much credibility (and integrity) as Donald Trump.

  19. Excuse you? I lay out the issue with American award availability, and the strong statement American is making about the issue, how is that clickbait? I do not think you know what the term means.

  20. We didn’t have enough miles for our flight so we bought more miles (nonrefundable) and now we cannot get a flight 6 months in advance! We are going to cancel our Advantage Premium Select account. We already booked an apartment so we are not very flexible in dates. I thought United was bad, but American is worse!

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