While speaking with American AAdvantage Managing Director Heather Samp about changes to status qualifying and benefits for 2023, I asked about changes to award redemption. I wasn’t expecting to get an answer. She was more forthcoming than I expected! Heather shared that,
- “We do have redemption changes coming up.”
- She described American as “standalone in the U.S. industry in having an award chart, and we will maintain an award chart moving forward. What that looks like will be discussed further in 2023.”
My first thought was ‘Alaska Airlines has award charts too’ although Alaska has said we’d see major changes there, introducing ‘simplified award charts’ before the end of 2022.
- American “will sunset MileSAAver and AAnytime levels.” She says that “overwhelmingly the membership has enjoyed web special awards which have been below MileSAAver rates historically.” It’s not clear what an award chart for MileSAAver looks like, since those have priced ‘off award chart’ and either lower than saver or anytime prices. Perhaps they’ll be published as ranges or “start at” prices.
I asked if she had a sense for when we’d see changes to award charts in 2023 and she told me she did not. I also asked whether the end of AAnytime awards would also mean the end of last seat availability for award travel, and was assured it would not.
That’s all a bit better than the airline’s official ‘fully dynamic’ language which gives me greater pause,
In 2023, award travel on American becomes fully dynamic with a new, simplified award chart.
Heather confirmed that “at this point” partner awards will still price based on an award chart. That’s often what’s most important to those looking for the most value from their miles, and not anticipating changes to that in the coming year is great news!
- United mostly still prices partner awards based on a (hidden) award chart.
- Delta has decoupled partner awards from any fixed pricing, and instead now mostly charges for partner travel what they’re charging for award travel on Delta’s own flights (meaning often over 300,000 miles one way for a partner award).
- Usually awards on partners have a fixed, modest cost to the loyalty program so passing on mileage costs three times or more what they’ve been in the past to members is simply egregious.
A commitment to maintain a chart is a huge positive, because it gives members a sense of what to expect rather than “the price is whatever we say it is later.” Perhaps even more importantly, it means that changes to what members can expect usually need to be disclosed to them.
Hopefully then it’s nothing along the lines of what the last head of AAdvantage described as coming, akin “to a real estate website that shows you how many people have bought a property in a given area and for what price range, as well as a ticker for how many people are looking at a specific property right now” which could mean a website showing historical award pricing by route.
Whenever we’ve seen an airline remove award charts we’ve seen awards get much more expensive. Being able to raise prices in a non-transparent way is not good for members. So I’m grateful for the pledge to continue to have award charts, though cautious about what that will mean.
Ultimately loyalty marketing involves members engaging in an activity first – like flying or card spend, show their loyalty, earn a currency – and trusting that those points will be valuable in the future.
In order to generate trust the program has to commit up front to what the value proposition is going to look like. That’s especially true for airlines which have a history of abusing consumer trust.
Without a specific promise of value, and a credible commitment to deliver on the promise, there’s little reason to accumulate the currency. If a program won’t even tell you what your points will be worth when you go to redeem, why should you believe in their value? That’s why award charts matter – both for members, and for the program.