New American Airlines AAdvantage Award Fees: What Has Changed?

Filed Under: American, Awards

In April American Airlines announced several updates to the AAdvantage program. The airline extended elite status by 12 months, and revealed plans to introduce a new one-time American Airlines Vacations credit for elite members, and also adjust change fees for award tickets.

One of the major things that American Airlines has done is that they’ve changed the fee structure on award tickets. I wanted to take a closer look at how that works, as this new policy was implemented for tickets booked as of July 1, 2020.

American AAdvantage award fees have changed

For tickets booked as of July 1, 2020, American AAdvantage has adjusted the fees for changing and cancelling awards. The changes aren’t entirely positive — they’re positive for some, and negative for others, depending on your travel patterns.

Below I’ll compare the old and new policies. I’ll also go over the temporary waived fees that American Airlines is offering as part of their flexible booking policy at the moment. The temporary waived fees are due to COVID-19, while I want to compare the old and new “permanent” policies.

What exactly has changed?

American Airlines has changed the fees on AAdvantage tickets

Old American AAdvantage award fees

Historically American AAdvantage didn’t charge any fees to change award tickets as long as the origin and destination and award type remained the same. You could change the routing, dates, times, airlines, etc. This meant that after ticketing:

  • You could change the connecting point for your itinerary at no cost
  • You could change the dates and times for your itinerary at no cost
  • It didn’t matter if you made these changes 10 months or 10 hours before departure

However, fees applied for award redeposits and other changes. For mileage redeposits, as well as for any change that triggers a fee, you paid:

  • $150 for the first passenger on an itinerary
  • $25 for each additional passenger on the same itinerary

This would apply under all kinds of circumstances:

  • If you wanted to cancel the ticket and redeposit the miles into your account
  • If you wanted to change the origin and/or destination
  • If you wanted to change the award type (whether from business to economy, from a oneworld award to an American award, etc.)

All of the above fees were waived for Executive Platinum members.

The above fees applied to partner award tickets as well

New American AAdvantage award fees

For award tickets issued as of July 1, 2020, American is taking a different approach to change fees, with fees differing based on when you make a change, and also based on your status, with all elite tiers getting discounts (these are the fees for both award changes and redeposits):

The negative changes with the new fee structure are that:

  • There’s no longer a discount on the fee for the second passenger traveling on an itinerary (all passengers pay the same, so additional passengers no longer pay a $25 fee)
  • You can no longer make changes (while keeping the origin and destination the same) within 60 days of departure without incurring a fee; all changes, including changing the flight, the date, etc., will now incur a fee based on the above schedule

The positive changes with the new fee structure are that:

  • Up to 60 days before departure you can make any changes or redeposits to awards without incurring a fee
  • Within 60 days of departures, there are discounts on fees for AAdvantage elite members
  • The fees for the first passenger have decreased significantly in most cases
  • Upgrades to a higher cabin on the same flight continue to not have any fees, even within 60 days of departure

Awards can now be changed for free up to 60 days before departure

Temporary waived American AAdvantage award fees

Note that some AAdvantage award tickets continue to have no fees even within 60 days of departure. Specifically, for travel through September 30, 2020, American is waiving all change and redeposit fees on AAdvantage tickets.

In reality the new fee structure is only significant for tickets booked for travel as of October 1, 2020 (and that assumes the current fee waiver won’t be extended).

Is the new AAdvantage fee structure really an improvement?

American’s changes to AAdvantage fees are controversial, since it’s not entirely good news. This seems like an odd time to make a change that some may not appreciate, but then again, rarely is everyone a fan of any change.

Personally I like these changes, or at least think they’re fair:

  • In general I appreciate the concept of fees being tied to when changes are made, since this better reflects the cost incurred by airlines; they can almost always resell a seat if people cancel more than 60 days out, while the same isn’t true if cancelling days before departure
  • I like that awards can now be redeposited for free (again, only up to 60 days before departure), when previously no types of redeposits were free
  • I like that there are discounts for elite members

Many won’t be a fan of these changes, though:

  • Those who frequently liked changing the dates or times on awards liked the flexibility closer to departure
  • Those booking multiple people and needing to redeposit awards liked the discounted fee of $25 for each additional passenger

Personally on balance I think the changes are positive, though. I do believe more people could benefit from the new system, and I also respect the change, since the fees are more reflective of costs incurred by airlines.

I think it’s great that people can lock in an award ticket 11 months out, and then two months out they can cancel the ticket if they decide they no longer want to take the trip, all without incurring fees.

I think these changes are positive on balance

Bottom line

American AAdvantage has adjusting award fees for tickets booked as of July 1, 2020. The changes are a mixed bag, though personally I think they’re mostly positive.

Now all members can make unlimited free changes and cancellations up to 60 days before departure, and fees closer to departure are discounted as well. If you want to make a speculative booking for travel next year, you can now do so.

There are some downsides, though, like no longer being able to change the date or flight number close to departure at no cost, and no discounts for additional passengers on the same itinerary.

On top of that, keep in mind that earlier this year American eliminated close-in award ticketing fees (for those booked within 21 days of departure), and American has also made it easier to redeposit awards, so I’d say this is positive news all around.

What do you make of these AAdvantage award fee changes — are you a fan, or not?

Comments
  1. So tickets booked before June 1st for travel after September 30th will still be subject to the old fee schedule?

    I was hoping the new policy would start now since I’m still not confident of my ability to take international trips say in November of this year.

  2. What happens to the fees paid on award tickets ? I have a an award ticket for 07/01 on Cathay Pacific LAX-HKG-HYD, paid 70k AA miles and around $100 in fees. Would I get my fees back as well If I wish to cancel and deposit my miles ?

  3. @ Llamamanc — That’s correct, though it’s possible that American will extend the current policy, as they’ve done several times before. Only time will tell. If you need to cancel and have the flexibility to wait, I would recommend waiting.

  4. No sugarcoating, I hate this. No more changes to date and time without a fee, and even as a lifetime platinum, I’ll be hit with a $75 to $100 fee to change something that requires NO human intervention and is close to zero cost for American. This is NOT the time to be driving us away to Alaska, Delta or others.

  5. Not enough coffee yet but I already booked an award ticket for this November so I’m going with new or old award ($150 fee) unless I hit EXP before November.

  6. @ Bobo — I certainly respect if you think this is negative, though to be clear, American’s policy is still better than Alaska’s and American’s, no? Alaska charges $125 for all changes made more than 24 hours after booking, while Delta charges $150 for all changes, and doesn’t allow any changes within 72 hours of departure.

  7. @ Angry380 — If it’s already booked then you’ll be subjected to the old fees, unless American extends their current award fee waiver.

  8. I think this is a mistake. People will be speculatively booking trips 11 months out, depleting award inventory and then cancelling it 61 days out for no cost. It might make some award seats open back up at about 60 days out but if you book then your on the hook for the full amount to change or cancel. Mom, Dad and 2 kids goes from $200 in fee’s for non-elite to $500. Not great customer optics. The old fees didn’t seem so bad for non-elites.

  9. I think my least favorite part is AA effectively killing the ability to optimize a trip at the last minute. Many times, award seats for good schedules (e.g., 10am vs 6am) won’t open up until a few days before departure. Similarly, I’d often be able to change to a better carrier that had award availability open up last minute (e.g., Cathay, JAL). This seemingly will be a lot more costly now.

    I guess none of this really matters since AA will go bankrupt soon, they’ll bring in new leadership (bye DUI Doug!), and they can just tweak the policies once again

  10. Personally (non-elite member) this is a net positive. I never have had a need to make changes, keeping same O/D (other than involuntarily when there is a drastic schedule change). Although very rare, on occasion I need to cancel.

    @DaninMCI – I don’t think the vast majority of people are that savvy. Rand and Nance booking a trip with the kids for summer vacation are going to book what they want and leave it at that.

  11. Yeah it kinda sucks in a way because as a leisure traveler I always travel with family. So to cancel and redeposit is increasingly fairly substantially. I typically never have to do that but in this age of crazy viruses popping up I don’t appreciate it.

    Are web specials immune to this new policy?

  12. My gut reaction is that I don’t like losing the ability to tweak my award flights close-in, when availability often tended to be its best. But ever since the “married segment logic” kicked in, this strategy has been essentially dead for connecting itineraries on AA metal anyhow. So I guess it isn’t horrible in light of the pre-existing horrible stuff that AA has done.

  13. I’m with @XenaWP.

    I would estimate at least 80% of AAdvantage awards I have booked over the years involved last minute minor changes of some sort. For example, a nonstop from Seattle to the international gateway would often not be available at booking but would open up a day or two out. This didn’t matter when I was EXP, but I have no AA status now but still have AA miles to burn. I can’t really blame American though. All those free changes add up to a lot of labor on the part of the AAdvantage CS team.

  14. This is clearly negative for a lot of frequent flyer experts, who were in the habit of keeping an eye out for last minute award availability. But the vast majority of customers didn’t do that, so this is probably better for more people.

    Also, when I first saw this change, I assumed they were making the change to get in line with Alaska’s policies given their new partnership. But I had missed that Alaska no longer offers free changes 60+ days out, so now I’m kind of stumped.

  15. Does the fee apply for upgrades. Eg I book business on a flight because that is all that is available. Couple days prior to flight first opens. Do I need to pay the fee to upgrade the award to first?

  16. @ Jon212 — Good point, added that specific exception. Upgrades to a higher cabin on the same flight aren’t subjected to the fee.

  17. I cancelled an award ticket the other day due to COVID and while they let me cancel it without penalty, they didn’t repost the miles and told me “not to call” until I’m “ready to rebook.” It seems they are hoping people will cancel and forget because you have to do extra work to actually get the refund.

  18. Perhaps AA is making these changes in advance of [FINALLY] getting their IT situation in order to allow people to manage their own award itineraries online. It’s beyond irritating to have to call to get mileage back or make changes to award trips. Wishful thinking (Exec Plat here). But all in all I think these changes are reasonable, and similar to what UA does.

  19. @Lucky

    I read yesterday on another site that AA would be giving credit for miles earned with Citi or Barclay cards towards the Million Miler status until end of this year.

    They used to do this but stopped years ago. It may be good for people within sight of this level to get Lifetime Gold.

    Unfortunately I am 800K away from the 2 million so no way can spend that much to get Lifetime Platinum

    AA is also once again allowing members to earn miles that qualify toward lifetime elite status by spending with co-branded credit cards, such as the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ Mastercard® and the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite™ Mastercard®.

  20. I love the changes personally. I’m not a last minute guy so this works out just fine.

    ~ The Honorable Reginald

  21. So, can i book and then cancel for free to extend the expiry dates of my miles (i don’t think AA has yet extended them due to the current situation and mine expire soon)?

  22. @cahbf – when was trip? AA is allowing cancel and redeposit of miles for any award trips through 5/31 w no fees. Likely will be extended. I canceled 2 trips in April and 1 in May and all miles were redeposited in my account (plus credit for $11.20 fee) immediately.

  23. Same question as Adam re whether web specials are included?

    Also, what’s the best way to get that free cabin upgrade? Can I do that at anytime from my account?

  24. I recently had to cancel two trips on AA due to the Virus. One was a round trip to CA from CT for one person March 21 for returning on March 27 and the other one way from Puerto Vallarta to CT for both my wife and myself and again due to the virus and the shut down of all the resorts in the area. I spent many hours on the phone with AA and walked away pretty pissed off. They would only give me a voucher for the March trip good until December 2020 and a voucher only good until October of 2020 Vacations are planned around time off not around airlines. I found that Delta who was the airline that I was traveling to Mexico on from CT. was top notch when addressing the same issue. I was given a voucher for both my wife and myself good until March of 2022. I am not sure how I will get to use these vouchers from AA and am sure that is what they are counting on but if I do that will be the last time I ever use AA and will be sure to not renew my Advantage Card the next time it comes due for renewal

  25. Alaska MP, to their credit, started allowing fee-free award cancelations and fees deposit very early in this current crisis.
    I had some consecutive CX flights which Cathay kept changing until it reached the point where the itinerary looked nothing like the original, which was near perfect from my point of view. Also at that time the HK riots were getting out of control, and I was only prepared to tolerate the shortest connection possible.
    MP allowed cancelation and miles re-deposit no problems, freeing me up to do the whole itinerary on JL (using AA miles) routing through Japan.

  26. The old way was fine. I’m Exec Plat but seems a step backwards when they should be focused on selling.

    They are taking advantage of down time so when people start traveling again it will be old news.

  27. As learned from the experts, most of my award travel is international and most of the times the options to optimize the trip (seats on direct flights, better hours, shorter connections, etc.) only opens up close to travel date. I am OK to pay an acceptable service fee if we MUST call an agent, 25 USD for example; but not to the prices posted; or maybe have the first change done for free.
    This should also be free for Million Milers, as done for EXPs: After all a hard earned Million Miler status demonstrates a very long term accrued loyalty beyond a one year EXP status.
    If we have the option to self service such changes online this should remain free.
    Your comments?

  28. We booked 4 BIZ class tickets LAX-BKK for 12/20 at 70K per seat. If the present pandemic situation persists, can we change without additional fees? Cancel without penalties?

    Thank you!

  29. @kalboz – technially, no, based on this – unless AA extends waiver. As of right now, all changes discussed only apply to travel through 9/30/20.

    I’m looking at a Web special over thanksgiving from Mid-Atlantic to South America for only 30k RT, and debating whether to book. Technically I wouldn’t be covered for changes, and would be relying on flight being cancelled wrt COVID. If no cancellation, but I didn’t feel comfortable going, would be on the hook.

  30. Does anyone else feel it’s a bit odd that their policies have a “gap” in time:

    First policy: Up through May 31 but travel thru Sept
    Second policy: Starting June 1 but travel thru EOS

    So essentially anyone booking travel for *after* September before June 1 is left in total limbo.

    I get that from AA’s perspective it allows them to still “adjust” June 1st…they could always push this date back or cancel altogether since this event is in the future. Also, it will force some to delay speculative or future award bookings thru EOS until after June 1st at which point AA could adjust their award availability, dynamic pricing, or schedule.

    But it does put anyone want to book an award ticket before June 1 in a classic pickle.

  31. I booked an award ticket for over thanksgiving (Buenos Aires), so I’m very much in that limbo. Best case scenario is that the trip goes without an issue, hopefully won’t have to get into the details of refunding policy, which could of course yet change. My thought is that the flight is more likely to be cancelled if it’s virus prohibitive, than me not being comfortable going. If they’re flying, I’ll likely be comfortable going. We’ll see.

  32. I had too hoped the new fee structured had come into effect today, not July 1st.

    Weird that they’d wait to add in flexibility on canceling, but perhaps they’re prioritizing revenue bookings.

  33. Great. So all the awards I’m holding for travel next year, which I planned on booking today, now incur a $150 redeposit fee whereas I could have gotten a free redeposit 60+ days out.

    Am I interpreting this correctly?

  34. Looks like there is no longer a 9/30/20 travel date limitation on ticket booked before 6/30/20 in the new terms. If this is a correct understanding, this article needs to be amended.

  35. Can Lucky get a comment from AA? They’ve got THREE different written policies on the website at the moment.

    POLICY 1:

    For new travel booked by June 30

    For new tickets booked between now and June 30, we’re expanding our offer to waive change fees for future travel. This offer includes AAdvantage® award tickets but excludes Basic Economy tickets.

    Keep in mind:

    – You may owe any difference in ticket price when you rebook your trip.
    – You’re allowed to change your origin and destination cities as part of this offer.
    – If you rebook, travel must be completed by December 31, 2021.

    POLICY 2:

    Travel must be completed by December 31, 2020.

    POLICY 3:

    Tickets that include a Web Special award don’t allow changes, and – while you can cancel and reinstate your miles – fees may apply. Reinstatement fees are waived for Executive Platinum members.

  36. In answer to those who asked about Web Specials. I called and after a 20 minute wait and many calls by the rep, she told me that there will be no change on Web specials. $150 redeposit fee regardless of when you cancel. No charge for EXP. Did not ask if there are any reductions if the reservation includes one than one traveller.

  37. So as an ex plat, did anything change?

    Also, are you suggesting I could have a booked a mile saaver ticket then called a changed it to the optimal flight settings that day that had a higher mileage cost and it wouldnt have cost me anything, miles or dollars to change?

  38. Am I the only one that notices AA is simply aligning with Alaska in anticipation of the merger?

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