American Reveals How They’re Doing Improving Award Availability

The percentage of American Airlines seats occupied by award customers has been lower than that of competitor airlines and had been declining ever since US Airways management took over at the airline. American was been filling about 6% of seats with awards compared to nearly 8% at United and Delta and 13% at Southwest.

AAdvantage President Bridget Blaise-Shamai reported in June that they’re “on a path towards putting our availability much more closer to the competitive levels of like a Delta or a United.”

The goal, it seems, isn’t to to better than Delta and United, just not to be worse or at least not much worse (‘closer to’).

The percentage of seats occupied by award passengers isn’t a perfect proxy for availability of saver seats. But it’s one of the better proxies made available to us for delivering value to members.

So how are they doing? According to American Airlines President Robert Isom speaking at this yesterday’s Cowen and Company Global Transportation Conference they’ve “increased allocation of seats up 1.5% of [revenue passenger miles].”

That brings American up close to but not exceeding what their peers are offering. And in American’s case it seems to mean better connecting availability in economy, and to some extent better domestic premium cabin availability. What it hasn’t noticeably affected is premium cabin international awards.

What’s more by offering domestic flights in conjunction with international it hasn’t done as much to make connecting inventory available for international partner awards.

Ultimately most members redeem for domestic coach while the most value comes from international premium cabin redemptions. American is hobbled by awards on their primary transatlantic partner British Airways costing as much as $1000 roundtrip in addition to miles, and a limited number of transatlantic and transpacific partners compared to United.

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. They do seem to be opening things up a bit with last minute international business awards, at least anecdotally. Just booked 2 business awards DUB-ORD-SFO 2 days before departure, there was availability on 3 of the upcoming 6 days. I realize for most people planning out vacations/hotels/days off work having awards open up 3-4 days before leaving doesn’t do them much good.

  2. the biggest issue for many is that they can’t get ANY flight to connect to an international gateway for the long-haul flight

    ive managed to keep a steady balance of 200k or so AA miles just as a backup reserve, but stopped bothering with new buy-miles or share-miles promotions until there’s some actual value that doesn’t even cirque-du-soleil level of contortionism

  3. the biggest issue for many is that they can’t get ANY flight to connect to an international gateway for the long-haul flight

    ive managed to keep a steady balance of 200k or so AA miles just as a backup reserve, but stopped bothering with new buy-miles or share-miles promotions until there’s some actual value that doesn’t involve cirque-du-soleil level of contortionism

  4. I always get excited when I search for Milesaaver 1st class seats returning from Hawaii and availability shows up. Then you click on the flights and it’s coach on AS to the mainland and then 1st class on the connecting flight(s).

    Same thing when trying to get to Europe in business class and avoiding BA and availability shows up. It’s 1st class domestic and then coach on AY or IB.

    Uh. No thank you.

  5. Just looked the other day for phl-man and not 1 business class award 330 days out and the same to snn. Also nothing from ams-dfw 330 out.

  6. Here’s how they’re doing it:

    On routes where I used to see wide open availability, which then disappeared, they now have availability back again (at the SAAver level) for a flight that includes an early morning departure, 10-hour layover (that is not exaggerated), and arrival after midnight. So 16 hours to get to where you want to go domestically.

    But at least this airline can claim to have award availability. Have another drink, Parker.

  7. Award availability with AA is abysmal. I have cut all spending on the airline, and have switched all business to Delta/UA because it is just not worthwhile collecting points, even marginally. I had 200k AA miles in my account 5 years ago, and have only chiseled away 70k of them in the past 5 years. I want to fly AA Awards, so please let me! Then maybe you will see my spend again.

  8. “the biggest issue for many is that they can’t get ANY flight to connect to an international gateway for the long-haul flight”

    YES! I’m out of LIT & can hardly ever find the connecting city flight before the international gateway.

  9. Also, when economy flights are so cheap nodays, there’s less incentive to redeem miles for economy flights except for AA only airports or last minute flights. I’m still redeeming AA miles, but mostly on partner awards. Both of these drive down the percentage. Also, since earning is more revenue driven, you’d imagine that the majority of casual AA flyers have less miles to redeem.

  10. Has anyone taken a serious look at other valuable redemption options? Maybe miles for shares of AA Stock? @ about $40 a share and falling maybe it might garner stronger loyalty. Who’s a more loyal customer than an owner?

  11. Haven’t noticed any improvement, but I’m often only looking at direct flights to a hub like DFW or ORD where the only availability is multiple stops to get to a hub with long delays. I haven’t booked a SAAver award in years now. And this is on domestic flights.

  12. I would have redeemed miles many times. Major hold back is their introduction of married segment logic. Such horseshit for an award since most leisure travelers aren’t comparing the cost of the award to the cost of flying. It’s go or no go based on whether they can redeem an award.

  13. A NY area flier here willing to use any of the 3 major airports and its impossible. My wife and I each have about 160k in AA and we cannot use them for anything unless we want to fly NY > Chicago > Dallas or something instead of going direct. and like others said, huge layovers.

    Anyways, I did use 80k AA miles to fly Air Tahiti Nui from PPT > LAX so that was a decent use of points. I’ll eventually look to burn our remaining AA miles flying back to the Pacific or South America since their major partner in Europe is BA and those fees are insane.

  14. I’m on my way to giving up on AA. Either Can’t find availability or Have to pay crazy number of miles to fly out of my home airport RDU for a weekend trip. What’s the point of accumulating miles when you can’t redeem them? Redemption copay on their international partner BA is tantamount to extortion. Sorry AA you’re losing a loyal Platinum customer starting today.

  15. Apparently the need to show progress on award space has led them to simultaneously reduce upgrade availability (or perhaps they improved award space without touching the stingy upgrade inventory levels). On several recent searches for both U (award biz) and C (upgrade biz) on transatlantic flights, I found several flights with 1-3 award seats and no upgrade inventory. Good luck using SWUs for anything besides domestic upgrades these days. Nice way to treat your EXPs!

  16. I have had a hard time finding availability on American both connecting to long haul, and long haul business or first class.

    They really need to improve significantly before I will try collecting more AA points.

  17. Another claim that AA has opened up more space. OK, now instead of not showing awful times/layovers/connections etc… we see a 5:10 am departure, 10 hour layover, 2 connections etc…
    and nothing but BA and their insulting fuel surcharges TATL.
    No thanks.

  18. Hand & hand is abysmal ‘C’ inventory for VIP upgrades.
    I’m concerned about what I’m going to do with the 8 eVIP’s I’ve just earned this year.
    Is there ever any space to SYD or AKL? Even 330 days out? NO.
    DFW-HKG is much worse than before.
    DFW-HNL is like hens’ teeth.
    LHR has poor round-trip availability.

    Making me rethink the whole value of loyalty.
    But, from what I can see, AA is the best of the lot in OW.

  19. I’ve seen improvement. As a check, I looked at availability from my airport to DFW in October, and found seats for 23 of the 31 dates. That’s about 20-23 more than it was in several months last year. The timings aren’t all awful either. I think whether or not one sees progress is very route and redemption pattern dependent.

  20. Recently flew OKC> DFW>FRA and return, cattle car flight, paid for upgraded seat , that darn seat was smaller than the “free” seat on way over.
    Horrible flight, uncomfortable seats and on return rude personnel.
    As soon as I use up my miles I will no longer fly AA. Lost my bizz, been flying AA for over 30 years but this is it.

  21. There is more availability? Where? Tried to book a flight to Paris and can got one there but then have to do a econ back on BA with a $250 fuel surcharge. I don’t call the availability.

    Tried to book a Business to Japan and have to leave in the AM to get to DFW for that night and then leave the next day for Japan. a 2 day trip that should only take 1 day!!!! There are saver awards to Japan but there are NONE for 11 months back from Japan on any day on any flight at any airport at any time..

    Had better luck with Star Alliance flying LH and Asiana airlines.

  22. I am glad to see LAA thinkers starting to take over now that Kirby is gone. In the past year the AA experience has improved a LOT. I have been using my AA miles on BA so would be nice to find a seat or two on AA for my upcoming trip down under. Good news indeed!

  23. They suck – out of LAX there is virtually no award availability in certain specialty markets where there used to be quite a bit (i.e. LAX-HNL) and in many markets which require two flights from point A to point B they have upgrade availability on one leg and not the other. I just ended up burning 2 systemwides between LAX-SFO since I didn’t want to loose them. I’ve already re-qualified for EXP for next year, but because of the inability to upgrade, and my not wanting to have to wait at the airport to see if I’ll be upgraded (and generally from what I’ve seen, that doesn’t occur) I’ve ended up just buying the 1st class ticket, so again, systemwides are pretty useless. I’m now flying competitors and choosing based on fare, not brand loyalty as AA’s product is no longer one that’s “premiere”.

  24. I recently looked to try and use my AA miles for a premium cabin award to TLV. AA doesn’t fly there of course so just trying to do the main TATL long haul on AA metal was close to impossible. I finally was willing to give up and bite the YQ bullet with BA so I found a mixed cabin award with mostly domestic econ on AA metal and some BA premium cabins on long hauls with bad connections and weird routes. Went to pay and it was nearly $1400 in fees per ticket plus 140k in points. Another camel breaking straw in my loyalty. I will say that it seems AA does have more award space on some routes but it’s almost all economy. I’m sure that will help the overall stats in some odd C level meetings.

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