One Change American AAdvantage Now Must Make

American is going to have to change its award ‘routing rules’ — a perhaps unintended consequence of yesterdays announced changes. Without changes, members are going to face some absurd results.

As American and US Airways integrate, they’re looking at each element of both frequent flyer programs to figure out what to keep and what to change.

While I’m not surprised at the loss of distanced-based oneworld explorer awards, one thing that now must change as a result are American’s award routing rules.

One of the more arcane rules of AAdvantage award travel is that you cannot connect in a third region — award travel between two regions cannot touch a third region unless a specific exception is in place.

So you cannot fly from the US to Asia via Europe.. You have to fly direct from the US to Asia. (No American partner flies non-stop form the US to Africa, so they have an exception in place that will allow you to connect in the third region of Europe.)

Previously though you could get around this by booking a distance-based award. You could fly wherever you wished and the price of the award would be based on the distance flown.

Now, without that, members are going to run into some real problems:

  • Most of the time, to fly to Australia, you had to fly via Asia. American doesn’t’ allow you to connect in Asia on an Australia award (both Delta and United will permit this).

  • There’s very little oneworld airline service to Africa. For US – Africa travel you’re pretty much limited to flying British Airways via Heathrow – few flight options with any award availability, and huge fuel surcharges. American won’t allow you to fly Qatar via Doha, Etihad via Abu Dhabi, or Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong (US Airways will allow the Doha or Hong Kong routing, Alaska Airlines allows Cathay via Hong Kong, and United just has more partners that fly to Africa).

  • With American, an India trip has to be across the Atlantic – even though it may be shorter from the West Coast to cross the Pacific.

  • And while US Airways and United both allow flying to South Asia via the Atlantic (from the East Coast it’s pretty much the same distance), American does not.

For Africa travel, and especially for Australia, ‘connecting in a third region’ that isn’t Europe is a must — given limited flight options on American’s partners to those destinations.

So without a way to get around these problems, other than paying for multiple awards (e.g. one-way to Hong Kong and then one-way again from Hong Kong to Australia), the rules for how an award can be routed need to change.

If they don’t, even United’s extortionate premium-cabin partner awards will look reasonable in comparison.

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. Vast majority people don’t want to fly via Asia to get to Australia.

    Why would you anyway? Plenty of Delta avail on Virgin Australia for Biz.

    And for Economy plenty on Qantas with AA miles.

    Sadly not sure these are holes AAdvantage wants to fix.

    Hopefully they will relent and let the Gulf carriers let you get to Africa.

  2. I hope everyone will also protest the decision to elminate free stopovers at Gateway cities. This not only costs them nothing, but it actually saves them by getting you to your connection point early so there’s no chance you’ll miss the connection and have to be put up in a hotel as has happened to me otherwise several times.

    So the only reason this would be done is to be mean, to play Mr. Burns pulling at his chin wondering how he can make customers lives a little less enjoyable. Nice work, “New” American. Starting to sound like “New Coke.”

  3. @Greg – Unfortunately small but intense group of people used the gateway stopover to fly to places beyond home. For example, people living in New York using New York as the stopover city, then flying to LA 3 months later. Something promoted by some of the newer class of bloggers. Gary stayed above this fray.

    Spoiling it for people like you who used it as intended

  4. “members are going to run into some real problems”

    What, you think they care? After the last few days, I don’t think they care at all. In which case, there is nothing they “must do”. 🙁

  5. This all implies that AA/US actually thought this through before upending everything.

    Of course it has to change. They also need to increase the 4 hour connection time and eliminate the requirement of a published routing. That would open up many awards, even domestic and make AA availability look much better. Now that stopovers and Explorer are gone, there is no way to resolve routing problems as you said.

  6. You can still arrive at the gateway city the day before departure. Just has to be within 24 hours of the international departure.

  7. I understand it was possible to backwards cross-country months ahead to do a Gateway stopover, then fly halfway around the world to Europe and even get the off-peak rate if you started it all before May 15th. AA fare desk approved this for me before and said if management wanted it stopped they would just restrict it in the programming. But again, it may seem cheeky but it costs them nothing since I wouldn’t have bought either ticket anyway.

  8. @greg I am flying to Perth tomorrow. Flying yvr to per via hkg is less distance than yvr-lax-syd-per.

  9. This is actually one of my biggest beefs with the announcement. I was in the ‘conceptual’ stage of planning an Explorer award for my parents to get to OZ. They don’t give a crap about stopping in Asia on the way, but alas, that’s pretty much the only way it was going to happen in a premium cabin.

    If they relax the rules as you suggest, I *might* agree with you that the loss of Explorer isn’t THAT big of a deal. But as it stands, they’ve effectively increased the premium cabin award price to OZ by 50%. (Just a guess — maybe Seth can make a nifty chart showing what the typical Asia routings to OZ would have cost under Explorer, and what they’ll end up costing now as two separate awards.)

  10. @Greg

    Why would I want to fly via Asia to get to SYD?

    As for your suggestions: I need Delta miles to redeem for a Delta award. I gave up collecting Delta miles a long time ago, so that’s out.

    I don’t want to fly economy to Australia from the US east coast. That’s ~20 hours in coach. No thanks, at least not if I don’t have other options. If I can fly a partner from the US east coast, it’s probably worth an extra five hours in the air if I have a good hard product.

    FTR, I have a trip to Australia coming up later this year. UA Global F from the US to PEK, and then AC J (flat bed) from PEK to SYD. We can debate the merits of UA F, but I’m really not complaining about what I ended up with.

  11. So you say they MUST make this change. What if they don’t? Will you leave AA?

    And if they do amend the rules, does that prove that this was just a knee-jerk hatchet job by new management? And that they didn’t actually think this through one bit?

    The excuses that Suzie has provided to you for why Explorer had to go IMMEDIATELY are just ridiculous. Even if it does cost something to train the agents, and implement the IT, no additional costs in those categories would have been incurred by allowing Explorer to exist for another month or two. This is just plain old Delta/United style cost cutting. Why? Because they can.

  12. I think it’s more likely that United & Delta will introduce this restriction, rather than AA remove it…

  13. US also allowed routing to Africa via South America, although I’m not sure they have the necessary connections anymore in OW.

  14. Oh, they MUST make this change now? That’s hilarious.

    Why MUST they do that – so you can continue to push credit cards to the rubes?

    They don’t need to do anything. And you will continue to suck up to them, because you have a financial interest in maintaining the fiction that people can easily enjoy premium travel for free if only they follow your expect advice.

  15. They also need to re-classify SEZ as being in the Middle East unless they pick up a codeshare agreement with HM.

    No other way there with AA partners except via AUH…

  16. Expecting them to change this would be a major oversight of their very clear intentions over the past 48+ hours. I trust them ONE BIT to make this adjustment and expect that it was done purposefully. I have already emailed Suzanne Rubin and cc’ed Customer Relations & Doug Parker about my completely disgust of their changes and lack of advanced notice. It won’t do anything, unfortunately, and I certainly don’t trust them to care about this either.

  17. I second Nick. Your ideas, Gary, sound great for the passenger, but as of late, it seems to me AA is looking out after itself with no thought of its loyal customers.

  18. I expect they should offer stopovers on RT itineraries. Right now they are behind all domestic majors in that sense, even their own other half of an airline allows stopovers.

  19. @Allen the reason to do it is because customers will otherwise become VERY frustrated heading to some VERY popular destinations — Australia and all of Africa, more or less. And that will turn customers off to the program and reduce their accumulation of miles which will hit American’s bottom line.

  20. @Nick US Airways allowed pretty much anything because there wasn’t any computer validation of routings, only whatever agents thought seemed right.

  21. How about PUBLISHING the rules for a start? How can they hide them — seems very sketchy/illegal.

  22. South America is a region where AA really needs to allow connections in northern South America enroute to southern South America. The rule has never made sense to me. We had 3 different routes approved then disapproved by AA when trying to get to a wedding in Sao Paulo. LAN has a flight that stops in Lima. Even though, at least then, the plane had the same flight number to Santiago, we weren’t allowed to book the flight. In the end, we couldn’t book an award to the wedding thanks to that odd rule.

  23. I am thinking that this was all a power play by Parker. Rubin just took the orders. I still think she is a phony. As far as changes that help passengers with doing award travel. Fat chance! Everyone thought that there would be at least a year before any changes or devaluations. Everyone thought American would let United and Delta take the heat. And suck up any defectors from United and Delta, helping American with the problems of doing an airline merger. I guess this really proves that the mergers ended competition in the airline industry.

  24. I dont’ think its fair to slam Rubin. In fact I had an experience that tells me she is keen to hear customer feedback. I had earned a Europe trip answering survey’s for United’s outstanding Opinion Miles (replacing a puzzle habit) and was appalled at AA’s vendor for this eRewards. I wrote a scathing email about the differences and received a call from a top marketing guy saying Suzanne Rubin had asked him to call to ask me more about how to better this mileage vendor. I spent over an hour on the phone with him. eRewards has since become much more responsive and addresses customer feedback quickly via personal message rather than FAQ. So it can’t be said she doesn’t care. I heard from her within a day of emailing.

  25. It’s not just that gateway stopovers that are lost now. Effectively with AA, there are now no stopovers ever. You used to be able to book a one world award to add stopovers on a trip to Asia for example, either in the US or in Asia. Now, in order to use your aa miles to visit more than one city on a trip you must book 3 separate awards. No other US program is like that, and it’s frustrating.

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