American Airlines Changed a Rule to Make Domestic Award Tickets More Available

Award seats on American Airlines became tougher to get after US Airways management took over. They went from 8% – 9% of seats on their planes being redeemed with miles down to 5% – 6%.

In the fall American promised that award availability would get better. And indeed observers say it has gotten better. It seems this improvement is focused predominantly on connecting itineraries in coach.

American says they’re on a path towards offering as much space as Delta and United make available. That misses the point of course. Matching Delta’s award space shouldn’t be the goal. Since their airline operation isn’t quite as good as Delta’s, their mileage program needs to be better (and indeed it used to be much better).

JonNYC notes that American has relaxed a rule that is causing more award space to show up.

Back in May American AAdvantage changed this rule. Traditionally a connection on a domestic award ticket had to be under 4 hours, with longer connections ‘breaking the fare’ and causing an itinerary to price as two awards.

Now connections of up to 18 hours are permitted on domestic awards (international connections are allowed up to 24 hours between flights).

These Saver Awards Wouldn’t Have Shown Available in the Past

Prior to this change if a morning flight and an evening connection were available at the saver level, American wouldn’t let you book the combination for the saver price. They’d show nothing as available at the saver level (since it would require two saver awards to book the space). Now in this case they’ll show the flights at the saver level. The same is true for any connection with over 4 hours between flights (but less than 18 hours between flights).

  • These are generally undesirable connections, most people most of the time don’t want connections greater than 4 hours and indeed up to 18 hours between flights.

  • This change makes it appear that American’s award space is better, when most people won’t think that it is.

  • On the other hand, why penalize someone by charging them extra miles for a super undesirable itinerary?

  • And occasionally you may want a super long connection, go have lunch with a friend or do a brief visit in a connecting city without having to spend extra miles.

Ultimately I applaud this change since it allows more customers to claim more awards for fewer miles. However it’s a change that will make American’s award availability appear better than it is in practice.

Bear in mind though that a domestic itinerary with a connection greater than 4 hours is going to entail double the security tax. Instead of paying $5.60 one way it’ll be $11.20, on the theory that longer connections may mean passengers leave security and go do something and then return back through security before their next flight.

It’s too bad, though, that American Airlines doesn’t publish its award rules so members have to learn about changes by reading this blog or following JonNYC on twitter.

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. Come on, Gary. These long connections are horrible, except in rare instances. Nothing to applaud here. Not even a golf clap.

  2. Can elites still standby on earlier flights when traveling on these undesirable award flights?

  3. I actually like this change. I wish paid tickets can have over 4 hour connections. Sometimes you only may have the option of a 1 hour connection or nothing on a booking. With delays I don’t like having less then 60 minute connections, and thus on paid tickets I often have fewer options to look at for flights.

    Although this is not a huge change, and won’t impact many, I think non the less, it is a positive change.

  4. Yes, It’s too bad that AA doesn’t publish its award rules, but thanks for keeping us updated, Gary. The analysis is good. This rule change is particularly interesting for the reasons you point out.

  5. How about just offering paid stopovers on international itineraries. Finally a fee that would benefit all.

  6. This explains a lot. A couple of weeks ago, two of my kids flew back from LGA with a 10 hour layover in DC. But it sure beat paying over $500 bucks a ticket.

  7. Will AA really give all the $11.20 to the US Government for say a domestic award ticket with one 5 hour same-day connection on it?

    Is AA required by the US Government to charge $11.20 on an award ticket from DCA-ORD-MSP with a scheduled five or six hour same-day layover at ORD?

  8. @ Gary — I think this is great. For certain routings that require a connection, the only tolerable connections are 1 hour or 5 hours. For the lower price, I will happily take the 5 hour connection over paying for two awards. Plus, as an EXP, I can always try to standby for the earlier flight, and waiting 5 hours isn’t the end of the world if you can work on your laptop in the lounge.

  9. “But when the TSA fee more than doubled in July 2014, a significant portion of the extra revenue was diverted to deficit reduction, under a deal negotiated by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., when he was Budget Committee chairman.

    The fee was raised from $2.50 for each leg of a flight, or $5 for a connecting flight, to $5.60 for each leg ….. The hike was part of a broader deficit-reduction deal that followed a government shutdown.”

    What’s worse, padding AA’s revenue in the name of questionable fees or being milked by federal government in the name of security and budget deficit reduction?

  10. To the extent that AA views this change as positive for its victims, er, customers, expect an offsetting change(s) in the near future. That seems to be the M. O. of these programs.

  11. The only reason why you’re being milked by the government is that the Republican controlled government would rather use your tax dollars to give tax cuts to the rich instead of using them for basic services. Don’t try to blame this on the government, the Republicans are the ones breaking government so that they can point to it and say how broken it is in order to break it more. The party of destruction.

  12. I suppose it’s better than nothing…. but not by much.
    I had noticed stuff like this on United too but not sure if if it is new …. at least overnight layovers …. the calendar looks great with all that saver ability … but when you go to book it’s all requiring overnights on itineraries like Houston to Canada

  13. Sure, the long layover saver award for 12,500 + $11.20 shows up on the calendar. I put the award ticket on hold and then return to purchase and it is priced out at 2 X 12,500 miles. System has changed to two separate award tickets. Is this on purpose with American IT? or am just not doing something incorrectly?

  14. @TommyLeo — So you’d rather them NOT offer these longer award connections? Really? How can more options be a bad thing? I obviously agree that, in most cases, you won’t want to book them, but sometimes the alternative is not going, or paying a ton more miles. I’d also note that AA’s generous award change policy lets you book the bad itinerary and keep hunting for a better connection, at no charge.

  15. Ran into this 2 weeks ago trying to replicate a paid ticket itinerary, called to find out the answer. Glad to see the change.

  16. I didn’t know this was a rule. Back in March I redeemed an award for my parents, for travel in June. CCS-YUL. 32k. One option for the ticket was CCS-MIA-CLT-YUL with a 18-hour layover in CLT.

    Perfect since my uncle lives there but I agree that these options are not generally desirable

  17. This is good because you can grab a booking for the entire itinerary and then modify it as space becomes available.

  18. Thank you American Airlines for this wonderful customer-focused passenger benefit. I wrote about this when I was planning a trip using an AA Award from DTW to BON. The total trip time was 66 hours 45 minutes due to the BON flight operating only on Saturday.
    Leaving Wednesday from Detroit, you would overnight in Chicago. The next day you fly from ORD to CLT and overnight in CLT. The next day you fly from CLT to MIA and overnight in MIA. The next day, Saturday, you fly MIA to BON. All for 15,000 AAdvantage Miles.

    I think this would be an excellent and economical trip for students on a school break who want to maximize their drinking time while at the AA Admiral’s Clubs at ORD, CLT and MIA as well as the AMEX Centurion Lounge at MIA. People with both an AMEX Platinum card and AA Admiral’s Club access who are over 21 can have a three-day binge of lounge hopping and also use the Minute Suites in Charlotte, North Carolina. In Miami, they can enjoy the AMEX Centurion Lounge and the Corona Beach House in Concourse D, Air Margaritaville and Viena lounge in MIA Concourse E, Club America in Concourse F, the Avianca VIP Lounge and VIP Lounge Miami in Concourse J all for 15,000 Advantage lounge fees. Thank you American Airlines for your exceptional value when we redeem our AAdvantage Miles.

    More details:

  19. Sad the continued demise of what was once the industry leading program (and the first). I would never even both if the connection is >4 hours – heck I usually don’t take connections anyway if nonstops are offered.

    AA miles remain pretty useless except for occasional inventory dumps of TATL saver business class.

  20. This used to lock me out of tons of flights, so it’s a good change. I just wish they had more filtering capabilities, so filter based on things like this, or even more important, not to allow results that aren’t in your class the whole way.

  21. Your point about not publishing the rules is spot on. I recently had a situation where I could only book connecting flights with 2 awards but didn’t understand why. It took 2 reservationists, an AA web tech and his supervisor to finally admit that AA wouldn’t book certain connecting flights as one award. But not one of them knew the 4 hour rule. My disgust with the situation was that AA doesn’t train their people on all the booking rules. They all kept insisting there was a technical glitch. Should we be publishing the rules for them?

  22. I have a problem trying to set up a 1st class RT DTW LAXon AA in that cannot get !st on all connections, Very frustrating.We have the miles

  23. I confirm this change… I had a 6 hour layover flight (on purpose) booked at DCA, then due to a schedule change this reduced to 3.5 hours. I called to get changed to an earlier flight and get a 9 hour layover. It took them several minutes of puzzling to figure out how I even booked the 6 hour layover… they thought the maximum layover was 4 hours. They eventually found the policy change (and told me verbally it had changed from 4 to 18 hours), and changed my ticket.

    The moral of this story: The policy change is true, but not all ticket agents are aware of this change.

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