My Predictions and Fears for American’s Coming New Award Chart

American will be the only North America carrier that doesn’t allow stopovers on its awards of any kind (unless they bring back stopovers later), and the only North America carrier to add fuel surcharges to US-originating itineraries on their primary partners.

While American hasn’t devalued its award chart in many years, it is already quite expensive to many regions so that it is more or less on part — for all except first class redemptions — with where the industry already is with last year’s round of devaluations.

There are a few regions where they’ve got headroom to increase award prices. And the fact that Delta doesn’t offer international first class awards, and their primary competitor United increased their so much, makes it thinkable that we could see first class increase a good bit. But I would be genuinely shocked to see them priced anything like what United has done.

Back when United announced its changes, I said that “American flyers should be nervous.”

I’ve put together a comparison of roundtrip award prices for American, Delta, and United along with “worst likely” prediction for what happens to the American award chart.

On the whole I would guess that we’ll see some increases when the programs combine although I very much hope they simply combine into the American chart or combine to take the higher of the two award prices between American and US Airways.

Note that:

  • Each airline has a slightly different definition of which countries are in which ‘zones’ but this is a pretty fair comparison of like-awards I think.
  • I exclude off-peak award discounts, which American offers at certain times of the year.
  • I’m using United’s partner award pricing for comparison because — while you can save miles sticking to United flights — the best availability is often on partners. The fact that United has a lower price for flights on its own aircraft will help, though, hold award chart increases in check because it will serve as a comparison point for members (regardless of relative availability at each price).


Awards that shouldn’t change much:

  • American adds fuel surcharges onto their primary transatlantic partner’s flights. That means their Europe awards are already more expensive than the industry norm, and there’s not a ton of rom to bump them up.o
  • Competitors have kept awards in the Americas relatively steady, so American will likely follow suit.
  • Competitors have kept awards in economy relatively steady , so American will likely follow suit.
  • American’s chart to Africa is already expensive, and British Airways awards to Africa doubly so with fuel surcharges, so I don’t see likelihood of an increase here.
  • American’s chart to Central Asia and the Indian Subcontinent is already expensive, so I don’t see likelihood of an increase here.

By all means, some awards will go up. But there won’t be major upheaval the way we’ve seen especially with United.

Where I expect the biggest increases is North and Southeast Asia, and possibly Australia (especially if American alters is routing rules to allow transit via Asia now that they no longer offer distance-based awards).

I don’t think any new chart is going to be worse than this. You’ll be able to link back to this post (and presumably I will do so too) when news actually does come out. We’ll see how I did.

I hope when changes do happen that we get good advance notice and of course that they’re better than what I’m predicting above.

What are you expecting?


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 InsideFlyer.com, 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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Comments

  1. Good grief – why give them a ‘pass’ like this. Get that they benchmark – we are all aware of the risk, but there goes our advocate!

    You could argue they need to keep Asia award prices much lower than DL/UA because they don’t have a good route network of their own. That would be a nice advocacy role.

    This is basically saying – Suzanne I love you – do what you want.

  2. @Greg I have been asked by readers for these predictions. It gives people ample warning based on what are guesses. And tells them to redeem now.

  3. Expect the unexpected.

    We’re not in a period of “our frequent flier program needs to be competitive with their frequent flier program” we’re in a period of “how far and quickly can we cut the number of seats for which we’re not paid a solid cash fare”.

    If each airline were only playing catch-up with the others we would not have seen the sort of major deviations from the norm we saw in the the last two major announcements — drastically increased premium partner rates at United and the tremendous change in earning at Delta.

    The only reasonable lesson that any profit-oriented airline can take away from recent developments is that a generous frequent flier program is NOT a requirement for a profitable, popular airline.

    American is under no particular pressure to keep AAdvantage “competitive” with other similar programs.

  4. For your next predictions, what do you think will happen to systemwides for EXPs, and will the 100% Plat bonus hold?

  5. Why do you keep doing the airlines’ work for them? Please stop explaining to them where they could make changes and get the response of, “Oh that was expected.” If I were an AA beancounter, I could sit back, read a few blogs, and bring my proposals to the boss.

  6. Great post, Gary. That all looks reasonable (although I don’t like it). Gotta keep burning.

  7. For North America to Middle East, why did you predict the first class redemption to be 170,000? The current is 180k and United partner’s is 280k, but not sure why you predicted it to be less at 170k?

  8. Hopefully these predictions won’t give AAdvantage administrators any ideas, or implicit approval for them to act. Good job at the estimates. One prediction I don’t agree with would be that future AA Business and First to India/Central Asia would cost fewer miles than to SE Asia.

  9. +1 For this post not needed.
    You are trying to give AA a blue print with what top Frequest flyers think, AA can get away with.
    I understand the reasoning “being asked” and also you can later say “See I was right”.
    I would dare AA to say, you stabbed us in the back, now be a leader in some other awards as a trade off, especially when they realized that most AA flyers were pissed at un announced changes

  10. Given the recent changes, partner surcharges and the substantial cut in award availability a couple of years ago, increasing the number of miles required is totally absurd.

  11. After reading through a few comments, glad I am not the only one thinking “why the … do we need this post?”

  12. Folks, it’s a race to the bottom. Nothing Gary nor you nor I say or do is going to change that dynamic.

    The best advice remains: if you’ve got ’em, burn ’em!

  13. Enough of your praise of American Airlines or the devalued aadvantage program. You have been reciting the same mantras again and again for the last few days. Enjoy what they have given you. Will unsubscribe so I don’t get to hear your nonsense crap.

  14. 100% bonus for Plat most probably will go away

    8 SWUs will split into some combination of regional+global

    bloggers have been touting CX J and CX F too much. another low hanging fruit about to be chopped.

  15. After bashing Gary recently I’m actually going to support him on this one. First, many asked us for his predictions. Second, AA has a huge Aadvantage and revenue management staff- to think they will guide their program off of one blogger’s predictions is laughable. Third, he’s not advocating for any of these changes, these are simply predictions.

    Gary, I do have a few questions:

    1) What do you think will happen to MileSaaver Offpeak awards?

    2) If AA does gut their program, where will you head to? Emirates, Etihad, Qatar?

  16. @kokonutz that is indeed the best advice. Although I would add that under a new award chart it may make sense to earn again and redeem again.

  17. Gotta love people coming on here chastising Gary and implying that posts like these somehow contribute to AA’s future devaluation! Get a grip people. Much better to stick our heads in the sand and pretend nothing is happening, right? Let’s not even talk about it for fear that it might come true!

    Where is what he says out of line? Lots of folks have opinions about what the future will look like – Gary is just giving his thoughts on the matter. Why is this a problem?

    AA will do whatever it likes anyway – anyone heard of Delta?

  18. Gary, bloggers like you carry a lot of weight in the FF industry, post like this (although completely rational) will only help the head of the program making her decision…

  19. These predictions (assuming they’re accurate) don’t strike me as too terrible.

    And for all of you whining about Gary’s predictions – What the hell is wrong with you? The past few days you all have been ripping him for being out of touch, and now when he responds to REQUESTS FROM READERS for his predictions, you’re still ripping him?

  20. Huh? I guess this post is from the archives. In which case it should say so, but it doesn’t. Nor does it address the prediction that the worst AA will do is raise TATL to 150K, when in fact they have just raised it to 175/215K. I don’t understand this post at all. Am I stuck in some worm hole in the Time/Space continuum?

  21. I argee with the others about giving American input on what their combined AAdvantage devalued award chart would look like. In one of your recent articles, you mentioned that Suzanne Rubin reached out to Ben, TPG, you, and others independently after the devaluation because you guys have a perceived influence in the FF community. I would surmise that they would read these posts and comments as a free survey to guage how much value they can squeeze out of their members when they devalue their points.

  22. Just as a general comment from a long time reader/follower of this blog: The blog owner may write whatever he pleases in his blog. But when reader’s views/suggestions are sought and the blog followers use the CC sign-up links, so graciously provided, the whole thing turns into something less than a private affair. Under those circumstances, there is an unwritten understanding on both sides to be helpful and fair to each other. With that as the basis for a mutually beneficial relationship, the blog narrative should at least be couched in words which reflect a genuine hurt/frustration/disappointment on part of the public with whatever it is that the airlines do to their award ticket charts/conditions. It just makes good sense for PR to soothe the sensibilities of the blog followers.

  23. Hi Gary,

    Isn’t united at 80 in economy to South Asia, not 85?

    Do you see aa adding fuel charges to Cathay awards?

    Real question for me is whether I can get one seat on Cathay in any class of service 11 months in advance, from I am flexible about North American gateways to I am flexible about south asian destinations.
    Second question is what will be the total of booking charges (suspect 100 dollars) and cancellation fees (suspect 250) , as booking a one way eleven months out for me means just maybe can travel, and 350 times two is 700 dollars which would be the round trip cancellation fee.

    For me the biggest question is whether I can get a saver seat, not what the chart says saver or standard costs.

    Thanks

  24. @Ram – believe me, there’s no one more frustrated with the direction that I see both the AA flying experience likely going and the AAward experience at all, my investment is only going UP because my US Airways miles (I have a very substantial balance leftover from the trackitback promotion years ago) is getting combined into my AAdvantage account (and I have a seven figure balance there). I will take it on the chin with changes more than most readers will.

  25. Upon further review, I see that yes, the “old” award levels still exist. But only for travel on BA, with surcharges. Or for the occasional single seat on AA metal.

    I haven’t been seeing them since I always search for a pair of seats, and limit my search to AA metal.

    What I have been seeing are the higher tiers of award availability. So just as the old Saver rates still exist, but you cannot get them for a pair of awards, so too the old Anytime rates still exist, but you cannot get them for a pair of awards on AA metal.

  26. Robert Hanson is the one beating the right drum in my opinion…this post is predicated on the belief that SAAver space actually exists. AA has shown that it does not see a need to make this available. Absent the availability all this is is numbers on paper, or like the old sign that says “free beer tomorrow”. And in that instance, such as with TATL awards lately, the AAnytime level is the de facto minimum.

  27. @Gary what Robert is saying is that there is no TATL SAAver award availability and thus it is pointless to talk about SAAver levels to Europe because AAnytime is the lowest level one could actually redeem at.

  28. Our comments just crossed.

    I thought the “old” award levels had been totally eliminated, since I was looking for a pair of award seats on AA metal. And all I saw was the higher tier award rates.

    When I searched again, and mistakenly forgot to check “AA only”, the old awards levels appeared for BA flights. Changing my search for a single seat per flight, I found the odd date when the old rate was still available on AA metal.

    Now your post makes sense, of course. Operator error on my part….

  29. @Robert Hanson – I’m just talking about saver award pricing here and we know that American hasn’t had very good premium cabin saver award space on most transatlantic routes in about two years. They remain good in first class to Asia more or less, not as good as they used to be for South America.

    So your point was a bit of a valid one that American wants to shift us all to paying higher prices than the saver award chart implies.

    But the best use of American miles, outside of BA and its extortionate fuel surcharges, is partner award travel. And unfortunately most partners are not supported at AA.com. But the saver award chart applies, find partner space on the Qantas or British Airways websites, and then call (and pay the newly-increased $35 booking fee for the privilege).

  30. @CW – it’s really not, since saver space doesn’t seem materially different this week than it did a couple of months ago, which is to say award availability on American’s own flights has dried up substantially compared to the past but the best action is with partners.

  31. CW Yes, I was saying that, and that part is correct.

    But I also made the mistake of thinking the old rates had actually been eliminated, rather than just not available, because when one searches for a pair of awards on AA metal, all one sees is the new higher tier award rates.

    I still maintain this devaluation, because as CW says of the Saver awards “free beer tomorrow” is a farce when there is zero availability. And also because, even when searching for Anytime awards, looking for a pair of seats thrusts you into the higher tier rates.

    Look for a pair of Economy Anytime TATL seats, and you’ll see rates of 125K miles ONE WAY. That’s just obscene.

    Finally, I thought the email AA sent out said “no more blackout days”. If so that was a lie, since I have seen days when one can buy a ticket, but Anytime shows no availability at any price in miles.

  32. Gary It of little consolation to me if the old award levels are still available by flying BA. That $1K surcharge and fees per person is not what I signed up for when I earned my AA miles.

  33. @Gary – agreed, no overnight shift but all I’m saying is that so much of the focus (including this post and your table) has been on the demand side (# of miles per ticket) whereas in actuality it will be the supply side that sets the real price, and AA and partners can turn down award availability as they see fit with no recourse while all the while maintaining that those levels still exists because the award chart says so.

  34. “award availability on American’s own flights has dried up substantially compared to the past”

    So why, when everyone knows this, am I the only one to point out it was a stealth devaluation on it’s own. And thus the recent devaluation is actually the Second unadvertised, no notice, devaluation in two years. Instead bloggers are saying “I hope they don’t do that again”. Again? Once one admits the decimation of Saver availability was in fact a devaluation, it becomes clear AA has already done it twice in two years.

    When we flew FC TATL last Summer, (booked a year in advance of course}, for 125K miles per person RT, and today that same pair of awards on AA metal are going to cost us between 350K and 430K miles per person, that is a huge, huge devaluation. 🙁

  35. @Robert Hanson – probably because folks don’t want to use their American miles to fly American, for the most part. I have pointed out many times what is and is not available with American miles, but it’s only a devaluation for you if that’s how you were using the miles.

  36. @Gary – Why whenever one of your posts causes an uproar in the comments do you speed up the number of your posts in a day? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to let it ride out and get more site traffic and more credit card money and stuff? Some of those people who just wont shutup may be talkin now but if you get more traffic and referrals then both your influence with airlines and wallet should get big enough to the point where everyone will have to listen to you. Well airlines listen to you anyway but maybe they’ll listen even more or something. Anyway. Just wondering why you let this stuff get to you is all. Just Trust in the Lord and things will always be alrite.

  37. @Just asking – it’s very much not intentional and probably isn’t actually the case at all, in fact it’s precisely that this topic has been controversial and has drawn lots of comments that I keep writing on it since it seems super-engaging right now. 🙂

  38. Great point by many that saver awards on AA metal have really disappeared of late. A recent search couldn’t find one seat on AA metal in the saver level for LAX-CDG.

    Of course, BA is readily available and while 125K and $1000 seems high, considering the product and how 125K for First will be a distant memory soon, I will probably grab it.

    My hope: that when they do devalue — and it’s coming — that they give us three months and SOME saver award availability to make future bookings so we are not stuck with just saver awards.

    One of the interesting facets in all this, in my opinion, is how these devaluations and impending change to the AA program in general, will affect my loyalty. For six years running, I’ve been Executive Platinum, as flying 100K miles a year meant 200K redeemables and 8 systemwides along with those beautiful free one-way gateway awards. Now that is all a-changing and so, too, will my approach to loyalty.

  39. Folks should realize that the American award availability issue is not new at all. It’s really been over the psat two years that the status quo has prevailed (although first class awards to Asia have been much eaier to get, and as recently as a year ago there was still decent award space to South America).

    Of course there’s still good availability to South America on LAN and TAM and good space to Asia on Cathay Pacific.

  40. Something that seems to me is being ignored: These companies don’t operate in a vacuum. Their actions will have real consequences. For example: AA and Citi are by far the largest “owners” of AAdvantage miles. Devaluing the play money that they sell does them no good in the long run.

    I’ll let others opine about loyalty and status and airline spend. My expertise is on the credit card earning side.

    I can pull my card spend from Citi in one day. It came to Citi from Chase after the UA bloodbath. If AA/Citi treats me with decency and respect they will maintain my business. If they get stupid then I can always earn an easy 2.2 with Arrival or 2.0 with Fidelity. That means they sell FEWER miles through the card market. Some of their recent moves are clearly to reward their partner CITI. (Fewer checked bags unless you’re a CITI customer. Lounge access limited unless your’e a CITI customer). Would they really stab CITI in the back at a point when they are both poised to earn big $$$ from this relationship?

    United went way too far with their “retail” award pricing. Now they will have to have “award sales” on one side and print more miles (via Chase) on the other to move that product and stay in the game. In the meantime they’ve alienated so many people.

    AA has the ability to maintain most of it’s dignity and it’s position as the “premium” airline. Tread cautiously Mr. Parker…

  41. I agree with Robert Hanson. That’s where the big devaluation is and where it will continue to be. The fact that it has been tight availability for a couple of years (although in Dec 2012, I scored Thankgiving 2013 RT LAX-LHR in business class) doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a big current devaluation as a result of the new 5 tier system. They work together like hand in glove.

    I go to Asia disproportionately to my interests because CX is awesome and available. I’d go to Europe more often if it was available without surcharges.

    Believe it or not, Delta (for LAX based flyers) might be the best for TATL award travel (on AF, AZ). That’s who I’m taking in May, and will be looking at for may 2015 as well.

  42. Gary, if you were flying to Europe using one world on an award, would you rather fly a partner than American. Even with the cradle seats, I prefer AA to BA’s tight business class with YQ.

  43. @beachfan Delta does not have the same inventory on Air France anymore that the rest of its partners do. Check out what Delta will give you vs what Alaska will give you on Air France. It ain’t pretty.

  44. @Ram – “Under those circumstances, there is an unwritten understanding on both sides to be helpful and fair to each other.”

    Gary is telling you what he thinks is going to happen. How is that NOT helpful to anyone?

    “It just makes good sense for PR to soothe the sensibilities of the blog followers.”

    Gary has said here several times that he blogs to express himself, not to get others to agree with him or like what he says.

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