American Increases the Price of Extra Availability Awards Around the Holidays. Here’s How Those Awards Work.

I spoke with American on Wednesday morning about an upcoming very modest tweak to their award chart.

They’ve gone to pretty great lengths to reach out in advance about even minor changes they’re making (I got a note last week about Avis being the only car rental company that shows up for booking on their site, and reassuring that did not mean other companies would no longer earn miles) ever since they received substantial and well-justified criticism over making changes to their program 16 months ago without any notice.

American let me know that they’ll be increasing the price of ‘AAnytime’ extra availability awards for a handful of dates around the holidays starting some time in August. This is for ‘level 3’ AAnytime awards only, and only for a few days where level 3 awards even apply. This does not change American’s saver award pricing at all. These are awards that hopefully no one uses.

Here are the new, unpublished, ‘high’ award levels which apply to a handful of dates around the holidays.

[Within the Domestic 48 States]
Economy – up to 75k
Business/First – up to 100k
First (on a three-class aircraft) – up to 140k

[Domestic 48 States – Canada/Alaska]
Economy – up to 80k
Business/First – up to 105k
First (on a three-class aircraft) – up to 145k

No changes for Hawaii

Mexico/Caribbean/Central America
Economy – up to 80k
Business/First – up to 105k
First (on a three-class aircraft) – up to 145k

What are American ‘AAnytime Awards’

American has three levels of ‘AAnytime’ awards (extra miles for last seat availability) in addition to saver awards. In other words, they have a four tier award chart.

Until April 8 of last year it was just a two tier chart.

They used to offer ‘AAnytime’ awards for twice the price of coach and all members could have the last seat available on an American flight for that price.

US Airways on the other hand had multiple levels of pricing and even had blackout dates still.

As part of the merger they went with more expensive, multiple tiered last seat availability pricing (like US Airways) with no blackout dates (like American). This was not a win for flyers.

They originally published a chart that showed three tiers of AAnytime pricing. The third tier was an ‘asterisk’ and not a published price.

Now they only show two tiers, but note that “AAnytime award levels vary by date and a few select dates require a higher number of miles.”

How Are AAnytime Awards Priced?

There are two very important statements contained in the caveat about AAnytime award levels varying.

  1. “AAnytime award levels vary by date” means that American doesn’t actually manage the price of extra mileage awards based on inventory for a specific flight. “AAnytime 1” is often cheaper than double the miles. Since there are days of the year where AAnytime 2 or AAnytime 3 apply — rather than specific high demand dates or super sold out flights, you can still get values at this higher price point (for instance there were plenty of ‘AAnytime 1’ seats available in and out of Austin during South By Southwest). On the other hand it may be a high demand date while a given price may be cheap in cash — it will still cost more miles. None of this affects whether saver space is available on a given flight.

  2. “a few select dates require a higher number of miles” refers to this ‘AAnytime 3’ pricing that’s no longer listed as a level on the award chart. It’s meant to be dynamic pricing — so it isn’t published.

American’s Change to the Top Unpublished AAnytime Pricing Level

What American’s news today is that peak holiday dates (likely ones that used to be blackout dates at American) which are already level 3 will now have a higher price than other level 3 dates.

Put another way, they kind of sort of have a level 4 but don’t call it that since level 3 pricing is unpublished.

These changes will go into effect sometime in August. So anyone who was going to book a last seat availability award on American at the level 3 (extortionate) price is better off doing that now than two months from now where the price will be even higher.

The truth is that these level 3 prices rarely make sense on a value per mile basis. However it’s conceivable that they could if the ticket price was high enough.

Insight This May Give Us About the AAdvantage Program

What’s interesting, from the fact that they’re tweaking these prices as a one-off (and I was told there aren’t more award chart changes in the near-term pipeline), is that clearly people are booking these level 3 awards.

American mentioned doing this after having a year’s worth of data. They see redemption patterns and their costs and believe they need to adjust prices up for these dates. (It’s conceivable, although unlikely and wouldn’t fit the ‘year’s worth of data’ explanation, that the airline is simply raising the price for the AAdvantage frequent flyer program to purchase these seats.)

I’ve redeemed extra mileage awards only three times in my life, each time eventually cancelling and redepositing the miles. One example was when I booked a United flight home from London as a backup in case my award on Britsih Airways was cancelled during their cabin attendants strike. My flight took off, and I cancelled the United award.

These are the sort of awards that are most expensive for American to provide, because they really do in all likelihood trade off with paying customers — and paying customers who would be forced to pay a premium. They are the sort of awards that you shouldn’t redeem for if you can possibly avoid it. While good that all members have access to these, the expense is truly prohibitive and — though it had long been predicted — it’s disappointing that American no longer offers the value at last seat availability that they once did.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. Can you tell me why AA got rid of essentially ALL international saver award space without warning at the end of 2014?

  2. I can see that meeting now.
    The AA staff “Oh wait look, people are booking award seats on December 24th. We “Need” to increase the award price for those…”

    Then the US Airways leftovers piped up and added “You actually let people book award seats around the holidays? We used to just add a points buying or sharing gift promo in December”.

  3. I agree with your comments about AA awards at “Level 4” being those that make sense to avoid at all costs. You want to see some truly extortionate awards? Take a look at AC’s so-called “Market Fare Awards”. Some Canada to Europe awards in Economy on AC non-stops (even with half the Y cabin empty) during the summer are more than 900,000 miles round trip. They make AA look generous!

  4. It’s not the miles, it’s the lack of saver availability on simple things like LAX-MIA

  5. By the way , Lax-Mia revenue tickets are pretty cheap, still no saver awards on non stops.

  6. When USAirways management took over AA, the saver award space dried up markedly. The exact same thing happened to USAirways when the same management, then from America West, took over USAirways. Apparently its the philosophy of Parker and co.

  7. Are you actually admitting that AA is inferior to UA on aanytime awards? For those who have miles to burn the anytime awards make good sense during peak holiday periods when certain prime days can run $500-1000 for a one-way ticket. Spend $4000 to fly the family to cancun, or 25-50kk miles per person? I know which one I’d do.

    The multiple levels are equivalent to DLs skymiles sham, the only difference is that DL doesn’t even publish the chart anymore.

  8. @beachfan: A week ago I grabbed an LAX-MIA nonstop seat on July evening. I ended up not needing it. I admit, other dates had zero availability, so this was pure luck.

  9. Why did AA get rid of the OneWorld awards (those that allowed 25K/30K etc. flown miles with up to 13 stops) without notice in 2014? Was it because AA agents were too dumb to deal with these awards or was there some other reason?

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