Up until coronavirus fears starting chasing passengers away, planes have operated pretty much full for several years. That meant it was tough to deliver traditional ‘saver’ award seats, which are seats that would have otherwise gone unsold. That’s true at a time when more miles than ever are being printed and earned through partners.
Simply tell customers nothing’s available, or nothing is available except at rulebuster pricing (which itself has gone up substantially) risks turning off customers and killing the golden goose of the frequent flyer program.
What many programs have done is introduced revenue-based awards, offering not just expected unsold seats but also seats that would have sold for cash – with the cheapest fares available for the fewest miles.
United and Delta have hidden their award charts claiming to eliminate them entirely (they haven’t). American has kept its award charts while running a parallel revenue-based redemption program called ‘web special’ awards. (This is, by the way, the correct way to run a loyalty program.)
American’s web specials truly are revenue-based redemption, so much so that they’ve extended the same discount to employees redeeming web specials that employees get when buying paid travel from American.
American Airlines employees (and eligible family) can now redeem ‘web special’ awards at a 20% discount, and also receive a refund for checked bag fees. This mirrors their ability to buy paid American Airlines travel 20% off with a bag benefit. Effectively American’s web specials are ‘miles as money’ awards (that do not earn miles).
The trick is that the 20% employee discount usually means putting an itinerary on hold and calling in to have the discount applied. Here they’re offering a rebate after travel is completed (and a refund of checked bag fees paid).
If American ever automates booking employee discounted paid travel (versus having them hold itineraries online and call) we can probably kiss the web hold feature goodbye. When American started offering 24 hour cancel/refund they still needed to make holds available for this reason. Eventually they said online holds would go away, but that was contingent on automating the AA20 discount process.
Regardless if there was any doubt that these web specials were revenue-based redemption, this change should offer insight into how American thinks about them.