American Made Another Change to Their Program On April 8th That They Didn’t Tell You About

Two weeks ago American AAdvantage made several changes to its program:

That’s stuff we knew about, or at least that American publicly acknowledged. There wasn’t a single web page with the changes that they made, and the email they sent out didn’t detail them either.

It turns out though that there was another change made at the same time that’s gone mostly unreported on — and as far as I can tell, hasn’t been officially acknowledged until now.

American has eliminated the option to make a request for award space when none is available. (I first saw this referenced at Traveling Better.)

Previously, requests “to complete a party” (e.g. 2 seats were available but you needed 3) or “to complete an itinerary” (you had most of the flights you needed but were missing, say, a domestic segment) could be made by an agent to a system called QMAX.

And appeals could also be made manually to inventory management.

Several years ago I redeemed an award to Barbados. Flights from New York to Barbados and Barbados to Miami to DC were available. But I needed a flight segment from DC to New York to start the trip. The agent on the phone said, “let’s see if I can ask for this to be released” and moments later I had the complete itinerary that I needed. (I was just an AAdvantage Gold member then, and only based on lifetime miles earned and not from having flown.)

More recently it’s been far more difficult to have success — more valuable customers might see success more often, and usually only within a couple of weeks of travel.

But it was a useful feature. You might find the Cathay Pacific flight from Chicago to Hong Kong to Bangkok, have your whole award together, but not be able to get that domestic connecting flight on American. If there were seats available, the flight wasn’t likely to sell out, American might just accommodate you. No longer.

Based on rumors that a change had been made along with the other changes to the program on April 8, I asked American and a spokesperson confirmed it.

Processes have been revamped to generate the correct availability of MileSAAver redemption seats automatically. As a result, the time-consuming manual workaround has been discontinued.

Seeking manual review by inventory management might have been costly. But the ‘QMAX’ system wasn’t a manual workaround (and I specifically asked about it) and it wasn’t time consuming in any meaningful way (it did take an extra minute for an agent to inquire, I suppose).

The courtesy of opening up award space for valuable customers to finish off an award, sadly, appears to be gone.

This was a fairly unique formal courtesy that American had in place and helped to set them apart. It’s not something that was done often by other programs. So I suppose they didn’t have to keep it. In some sense it was a throwback to an earlier era and less useful in recent times. But I’m still sad to see it go.

It also wasn’t a published feature of the program, so I’m not surprised they didn’t announce it. But I’m quickly learning that if you want to know something specific about American Airlines, you need to specifically ask.

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. US Airways agents would do this ALL of the time for me ….. I wonder if the option is gone from them as well?

  2. Thanks for this update, Gary. In and of itself, this change and the lack of notice is no big deal. But I’m afraid its yet another signal that we have a race to the bottom going on with the three legacy carriers’ frequent flyer programs. They don’t care much and, more to the point, they don’t have to. A lack of real competition does that.

    And a sarcastic thanks to Eric Holder’s Justice Dept. for folding on its opposition to the American-US merger. The programs would be deteriorating, regardless. But that move has expedited the downward slide.

    For the first time ever I’m planning an international business class trip solely based on the relative quality and cost of the carriers involved, which for this particular trip means ruling out both American and United and their alliance partners. I’ll still collect miles when it’s convenient via travel and certainly via credit cards, and will look to redeem them for great trips as much as possible. But beyond that my calculations have changed and status in deteriorating programs is less important. And for domestic trips, Jet Blue is looking more appealing every day.

  3. Gary-

    Do you think Suzanne Rubin’s email to the ten of millions of AAdvantage members announcing the changes was a good faith attempt to report the changes bring made to the award program?

  4. I can see both sides of this. From an integration standpoint, they’re probably going through a significant amount of policy and process review, standardization, and re-engineering. This is one of those things where they probably felt that the process variation wasn’t worth the customer benefit, or that it was not something that could be integrated with US going forward. Ergo, in the name of efficiency, it was nixed. On the other hand, any time some benefit – published or otherwise – goes away, it sucks for those who actually benefited from it.

  5. I think I might give them a pass on this one – not sure how much this bugs me. I’ve hardly ever been able to find decent international connecting space for an award trip (DCA to any hub, forget it), and I can be darn sure that no one ever hands it to me no matter how much I kick and scream! On paper at least, there is a certain fairness to having a transparent and unbiased system – WYSIWYG on, rather than this agent vs. that agent, HUCA, etc.

    I think from a business process standpoint, one can certainly see how this takes a huge “wild card” out of their projections of inventory usage. Knowing that they release X number of seats on route # whatever for this date, and that’s that, as opposed to some fluctuating number that isn’t really known and is based on good will and how people are feeling that day. If you were running a business, wouldn’t you want to be able to know how your inventory would look?

    *Dodges tomatoes*

  6. Automation has its downsides, and the loss of this feature of the program is one of them.

    OTOH, if everyone knew of the opportunity to appeal for that “one segment” or “one extra seat” for a trip, it’s a slippery slope indeed.

  7. Last fall, I took a business class award trip on Qantas using AA miles. I needed a domestic connection both ways on AA (it would be an RJ both ways). AA made the seats available for the outbound connection, but refused on the return segment. Queued to QMAX, and it was denied. Agent told me to buy a seat. I did: on Delta, which was half the price of AA. Checking a booking tool, AA’s flight went out empty. The earned no money from me on that & left a bad taste in my mouth as a multi-year Executive Platinum.

  8. They also made another change two weeks ago that no one talks about. North America travel to the Caribbean would allow gold to have two bags, that has been reduced to one. No notice was given on that either, I found out when I got to the airport.

  9. @LimaBravo, if they open up the space and let you redeem, they won’t earn any extra money anyway. haha

  10. Sadness. I was just this morning looking for a SFO-LAX-SYD-LAX-SFO and missing the first SFO-LAX leg. I guess I have to shell out $70 to buy a one way on VX now…

  11. I wish we had one blogger on Boarding Area that was not in any way beholden to the almighty credit card referral dollars. Then we would not have to hear, let’s give Suzanne Rubin (AA) “a one time pass”. She was lying thru her teeth when she said she did not realize “not giving advance notice” was bad…complete nonsense. She had obviously never had a corporate ethics class, because there was no ethics in that statement, it was an out and out lie. How these corporate people sleep at night is beyond me. And the bloggers never get down and call a lie, a lie.

    I am quite sure Randy will have another Delta Airlines Bar-B-Q sponsorship at his annual Boarding Area Blogger forum. Maybe they can even vote Suzanne Rubin, Frequent Flyer Executive of the year

  12. I used this when ticketing 2 awards a year in advance. It was a relief to get everything settled up by simply asking for the extra 1 seat on BOS-JFK to complete an international trip.

    I don’t see how eliminating this saves AA money. Has the new AA heard the term “lovemark?” This is the kind of personal touch that earns a company intangible love for their brand.

  13. Just this morning I booked 2 tickets AZO-ORD-HKG-MLE for next March with the first leg in coach on Eagle, the second in first on Cathay and the last in business on Cathay. Two seats on each of the last two legs were available on Cathay but nothing on the best connecting Eagle flight out of Kalamazoo. We checked on Expert Flyer and it consistently showed that they did not open any seats on that flight during the week. Despite that, we inquired with the Executive Platinum agent if it would be possible (we were ready to take the flight at 8pm the night before if need be). She put us on hold for a couple minutes and then came back and said she got us on that flight. I am not sure what process she used – maybe EP availability? – but for us, just this morning, it appeared as if she was able to make something good happen.

  14. @idahost

    Shhhhh… You’re gonna shine a light on the sometimes corrupt and cozy nature of what goes on here. Just let certain persons make their referral money off of these relationships will ya?

    Nothing wrong with taking advantage of cozy relationships such as the Cop who conveniently derides the proliferation of drugs all while taking a little cut of the drug money produced from the sales of such things. I mean, the cops are doing their jobs by showing they’re “upset” about the whole thing right? Does it hurt anyone that they get a little kick back while playing a little lip-service to law abiding citizens?

    Nothing wrong with that riiiight? Right?

  15. Ahh, “Jeff” who has commented as “Michelle” and “Bruce” and “Devin” and “Scott” and “Lindsey” and “Walter”…

    For avoidance of doubt I did not receive a dime from American Airlines or from Citibank for the American Airlines co-brand credit card in 2013, and I haven’t this year either.

  16. Interesting. I didn’t know any of this even after having been with AA since 2002 (7 years Plat, 5 years EXP) so I guess the loss for myself is not as big. But I agree with Gary, AA does not publish any specifics about their program and that is what drives me NUTS. Even the stopover regulation was an insanity for itself. I made use of this for every single award ticket I booked on AA so this unfortunately is a big loss for me. 4 Weeks ago I again booked an Award from LAX via YVR to Asia, stopping over in YVR. That is how I always did it and it is completely compliant with the rules. However after putting everything on hold (actually I had 2 different flights on hold) I called again to issue it with the Agent telling me this segment to YVR would cost another 25k. Nonsense, but he even called other departments and they gave him the same answer. I called back for my second itinerary and this one went through ticketing without any issues. Bottom line, American Airlines is a dishonest and unorganized mess. Publish rules and then abide by it just as you expect it from your customers, making things up whenever you call and always keep a loophole open for interpretation seriously pisses me off.

  17. How does this compare to the published benefit of increased MileSAAver access for EXPs? That’s always been a soft benefit, but it’s still in the Executive Platinum benefit list – has that been removed? Did they use this QMax system to determine that? If that’s been eliminated, that’s a big removal of a published benefit.

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