American Airlines’ Award Chart No Longer Reflects Reality

Filed Under: American, Awards

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for a while, as this is a trend that has emerged over time.

The trend of airlines eliminating award charts

There’s a trend among airlines to move towards dynamic award pricing. Among the “big three” US carriers, Delta SkyMiles has no doubt led the way here, as they introduced dynamic award pricing (and eliminated award charts) years ago.

United MileagePlus followed their lead in late 2019, as they also eliminated award charts and introduced dynamic award pricing for United flights (and to some extent for partner flights when booking last minute).

Will American eliminate award charts?

The logical follow-up question is if American AAdvantage will eventually follow Delta SkyMiles and United MileagePlus in eliminating award charts. There have been no strong indications of this happening imminently, so what gives?

Well, the reality is that American has already introduced widespread dynamic award pricing, and for all practical purposes the award charts no longer reflect reality, at least for travel on American Airlines.

The reality of American’s award pricing

With dynamic award pricing, we see greater variance in the cost of awards, with award pricing tied more closely to the cost of a ticket if paying cash.

When you look at what has been going on at American lately, that’s very much the case. First of all, American recently eliminated close-in ticketing fees, which is fantastic news, independent of everything else. They were following the lead of both Delta and United in that regard, though.

It’s the award pricing above and below what appears on the award chart that is most indicative of dynamic award pricing, though.

American’s web special awards

American Airlines has started offering “web special” awards, which includes first and business class awards that are prices significantly lower than what the award chart shows.

For example, we’ve seen 73,000 mile first class award tickets from Dallas to Hong Kong, when the published price is 110,000 miles.

This has become pretty widespread for travel in all cabins, with substantial discounts in many cases. What makes this most interesting is that in many cases flights bookable with these web special awards don’t even have saver award availability.

American has priced first class awards below published levels

American’s off-the-charts “standard” award pricing

It’s the pricing on the other end of the spectrum that’s more concerning, though. For example, here’s the AAdvantage award chart for travel on American:

As you can see, there’s the MileSAAver pricing (saver awards), and then there’s AAnytime Level 1 and AAnytime Level 2 pricing (standard awards). The award chart does specifically note:

AAnytime award levels vary by date and region. There are select dates that require a higher number of miles (in addition to Level 1 and 2 awards). When you search for awards while booking, you’ll see the applicable award level.

On some level this has been going on for years, with some flights pricing higher than the published rates. However, historically this was for periods of exceptionally high demand, like right around Christmas when flying to Australia.

We’ve seen the higher pricing become so widespread at this point that one couldn’t even guess by looking at the award calendar what the price “should” be.

For example, 960,000 mile roundtrip business class award tickets are out there, and aren’t even that rare…

But more than that, we’re seeing an increasing number of dates with one-way business class awards pricing at 300K+ miles

Of course it’s tough to quantify exactly how much this off-the-charts pricing has increased.

My biggest takeaway is just how all-over-the-place award pricing is. Completely randomly I chose to look at the calendar for Dallas to Auckland in business class, and over the course of a month we’re seeing one-way business class pricing of 175K miles, 195K miles, 218K miles, 250K miles, 274K miles, 339K miles, 349K miles, 353K miles, 358K miles, 360K miles, 375K miles, 449K miles, 456K miles, 472K miles, and 480K miles.

And heck, I’m probably missing some variance, but after 15 different prices I got kind of bored.

American charges 480K miles for some one-way awards

What about partner award tickets?

The good news is that American is still pricing partner awards consistently, per the published award chart.

At the same time, Delta and United aren’t that different in that regard, since neither airline has truly dynamic award pricing on partner airlines. While neither airline publishes an award chart:

  • United still has consistent partner award pricing, except when booking last minute, when they charge a premium of up to 3,500 miles one-way
  • Delta has some “tiers” of award pricing based on how far in advance you’re booking, but the patterns they follow can still be figured out, so I wouldn’t consider it to be truly dynamic

Delta has somewhat variable pricing for Virgin Atlantic awards

Bottom line

I’m very much pro-award chart, and on the surface I appreciate that American still publishes an award chart, both for their own flights and for partner flights.

However, at this point their award chart for travel on American in no way reflects reality. I’d go so far as to say that American’s award pricing is just about as variable as the pricing from Delta and United.

I do appreciate that they’re still consistent about partner award pricing, though, which can’t be said about Delta and United.

Frankly I don’t necessarily mind American’s type of dynamic award pricing. Personally I don’t ever book “standard” awards, while I could benefit from the “web special” pricing that we’re seeing. That’s just me, though, and I realize those used to booking the rule-buster awards are much worse off.

The moral of the story is for those of you wondering when American will finally eliminate awards charts, they might not be doing so anytime soon… because they’ve already done so, without actually doing so.

What do you make of the state of American’s award pricing?

  1. There were comments by AA that they were keeping their award chart; as you note, if the prices are like this, it doesn’t matter much.

  2. “American Airlines’ Award Chart No Longer ReflectS Reality”

    … but I like that they still continue to publish it, which they haven’t. Because they have.

    Oh! And the new dynamic scheme isn’t much different than United’s or Delta’s, which I don’t mind as long as I pay less miles than the standard award I don’t book anyway.

    Congrats. Another Anti-AA clickbait headline written across the vacuous bubble of a meaningless article.

  3. 1) The issue is that people tend to view the most expensive award they see as the “default” price. For years, people mocked Skymiles for 300K one way redemptions. Now, they are doing the same thing with American and United redemptions. Also, those that don’t have a ton of time to look for saver of sale awards get discouraged when they see maximum pricing. So seeing quotes of 300,000K or so may encourage people to use their miles in non-maximizing ways just to get rid of them

    2) For a year or two, American’s AAnytime pricing was actually pretty competitive compared to Delta, British Airways and Air France (when including surcharges) and other programs. The gutting of AAnytime awards (even for domestic) does hurt the program relative to others

    4) Its time for people to reevaluate the big 3 in terms of miles. When you are somewhat reliably able to redeem Delta One to Europe for 49,000 to 64,000 miles each way through their sales, or able to redeem at 2 cents per share using a Delta Vacation sale, and when United and American are both moving to dynamic, its time for perceptions to change

  4. Does that mean that all these dynamically-priced award seats are not available to partners?
    i.e. little availability via Avios and others

  5. @ Jason — That’s correct, only the “regular” saver awards would be bookable via partners.

  6. One of the annoying things is that domestic legs to add to partner awards are now virtually nonexistent. You need to position for everything. Web special awards, even when significantly lower than the award chart saver number, are not available to be used to put together partner awards. (At least don’t seem to be.)

    So, say, PHX to LHR. Say you’re willing to pay the BA surcharge to get in at the 57,500 level. But all that is available is LAX to LHR. Even if PHX to LAX is selling for $49 and the web special price is 5k, you seemingly can’t use that leg as part of the partner award unless a 12.5k saver award is also available. And more and more I’m finding that saver award (as opposed to web special award) is NEVER available anywhere as a nonstop and only as a connection.

    If you don’t fly out of the international gateways these days, it is very hard not to have to position on split tickets.

  7. I saw 80,000 miles for coach domestic US RDU – LAS, it’s only a $450 flight. Yes I would use cash instead but still just illustrating how low the value has gone. This is not a worst case but a normal trip I take during a non-peak time of year (Feb).

  8. Lucky- I wonder whether this is legal. If they publish an award chart, under most circumstances, that becomes a legal contract. I understand that in today’s crazy political and business climate, companies will do whatever they want but at the end of the day, would they lose in a court of law for breach of contract? Could also be viewed as deceptive advertising which used to be against the law.

  9. The saving grace on Delta metal is the 1 CPM valuation floor in any class. Sometimes it’s a net better deal to use Pay With Miles against the cash fare instead of award travel (though there are some award gems to be had, including flash sales much like AA has). But DL is unique in terms of currency flexibility.

  10. @Fernsie: I have also wondered that too. The common retort is “They say they can do whatever they want at any time” but I don’t buy that, there has to be SOME contract element to all of this that they are breaking. Devaluations especially get me, like a few years ago when they changed elite status levels mid-year, so my benefits when I started the year were suddenly not the same, but when I started the year I was told these are the benefits I get until the following January, how is that not a breach of contract?

  11. Lucky:

    My response earlier was meant as an Adam Schiff-style paraphrasing. Apologies for lack of proper punctuation.

    Except the last paragraph, that was entirely my commentary

  12. This is very unsettling, however its certainly been a long time coming. That clause in the award chart is American’s saving grace as they can still argue they have published award costs even if that’s becoming increasingly not the case.

  13. Ben, not totally related to this post, but the AA Stand Up for Cancer airplane was here and I managed to find your mother’s name on it. Please let me know if there is anywhere I can email you the photos.
    Best, Brian

  14. @DavidM
    Is that ow or rt? business or economy?
    Scoring a great deal on a flight to NZ in business class is not easy, but flying coach all the way to NZ would be a nightmare.

  15. Look the reality is that no matter the airline, point are so devalued as to be meaningless. Any search today across any airline demonstrates the ridiculous escalation in points. I mean 360k points from New York to Paris?? It is under 7 hours, Really?? This is all about expending all legacy points in people’s accounts to get them off the books, wrap your head around how many flights in economy it takes to amass 360k points at any airline. It is all almost meaningless at this point.

  16. The emergence of these “web specials” seems to have largely replaced their “miles sAAver” awards which is bad news for Avios redemptions. That’s the main thing i’ve noticed of late. For now i’m finding reasonable deals with the “web specials” but I find my AA stash dwindling as my Avios stash stays put for now. Some think these web specials are a good thing – feels like something really bad is coming to me. It’s the road to utter destruction of being able to find any value.

  17. > “ What makes this most interesting is that in many cases flights bookable with these web special awards don’t even have saver award availability.”

    This is the part that makes no sense. If a cheap web saved is available, then I should also be able to buy a saver for more. Partners have no access to these cheaper web savers either.

  18. Massive devaluations are now the norm. “Loyalty” programs a thing of the past. AA points on average worth 25% of what they were just 12 months ago. The points game is dead! It was it lasted, but time to move on!

  19. I just looked at mid October for First web specials CLT-SFO (5x non-stops a day). If you find one on the outward leg, you won’t find one coming back. And this is midweek, empty cabins, changing dates around etc. It’ll still come out to more miles than the J award flight I booked last year CLT-LHR return (note more fees/tax on the LHR).

  20. + I probably should have checked what the J flights I booked last year to LHR come out to this year.
    Last year: 120k and $311.40 plus $75 fee.
    This year: 443k and $322.55.
    The above is pretty much apples to apples as January was when I booked last year’s flight and flew in April. The cabins on the flights in April – about a fifth occupied via RDU (same route as last year). Am so glad I’ve been building up my BAEC avios and got silver with them and dumped that executive world elite citi card.. I do hate living in an AA hub which is 90% American on the old USAir fleet..

  21. To be perfectly honest, I would like to see all airlines to abolish their award programs. Airlines would then compete for your business and premium cabin prices will be reduced.

    There are too many business owners collecting hundreds of thousands of miles every month. The average flyer cannot compete. So dilution will continue.

  22. Marty – it makes sense, but it’s really credit cards that drive the miles people have (whether business or us regular folk) and airlines don’t mind those as they get their cut, so I don’t see it changing anytime soon. What makes us realize though that it’s only certain *cough* AA *cough* carriers who take AAdvantage of customers is when you look at Southwest. They appear to be one of the few I’ve seen in the US that make sense with their award flight pricing (and the prices in $ are consistent with the award miles too).

  23. Interesting award pricing to say the least. I am finding 1st Cathay Pacific for 90K and economy AA for 270K. The loyalty programs are moving targets.

  24. @Marty, the sale of miles to credit cards companies is a major cash cow for the airlines, sometimes more important to their bottom lines than actually flying airplanes around. The chance they will abolish their award programs is sort of like the chance that Microsoft will get out of the software business.

  25. If that is truly the case, than it’s just a matter of time before people realize that buying or earning points on airlines is a useless effort. If it will take 10 years of credit card efforts, even feeble minded people will realize they are wasting their time. Does that mean that airlines will start losing money then? I have to believe they will unless they come up with some other way to make money

  26. 1. Remove seat availability for MilesAAver.
    2. Turn it over to Marketing. “We Listened” (nobody books MilesAAver, Web Specials are more popular!!!!… so we eliminated award charts)

    Contrary to Ben’s repeated assertions, AA does have a vision and a core philosophy: “If God sends you a sheep, skin it!”

  27. @fernsie I think maybe you have it backwards. This trend is very positive for the carriers. As it gets more confusing, we should all remember: If you don’t understand the business model, you’re the product.

    Points and miles are a great hook to keep us paying attention. If you’ve got a stash of AAdvantage miles, you’ll check before traveling. Right there, there’s a gotcha. Then, a crtedit card with FYF and more miles, who wouldn’t apply? Gotcha. You have stranded points, so you visit again. What do you find? Not what you expected. But there’s something else, which you can “afford” cuz you have a zillion miles, so what the heck you book MIA-LHR for 250,000. Was it a bargain? How can we know? How can we compare?

    Soon, 10 of us logging in at the same moment, searching the same itinerary, will get 10 different results.


  28. Maybe I’m thick but I’m not seeing it that way. Maybe for people like us who travel and use miles on a regular basis, I can see that. But for the majority of people who use mainly credit cards I just don’t see it it. A perfect example is my neighbor who asked me my opinion ( I travel over 150K miles per year) on where to go with points. I asked how many points they had and they replied that they have been saving for over a year and had 16K. With the devaluations that will get you to the end of the runway. When they looked at the miles needed to go to Europe this summer, their jaw dropped. First words out of their mouth was, BS! Then they thought it would be a better deal to use their Costco card and get money back as it is a much better deal. That’s what I think more and more people will do.

  29. Thank you, Ben, for finally calling out AA on this. If this isn’t bait and switch, it’s awfully close.

  30. What kills me are the inconsistencies – I was looking at flights from Hong Kong to Lax and it’s showing me 140K but if I search HKG to SJC with a layover in LAX its only 59K. (And yes, the HKG to LAX for both of these flights are the SAME flight). This makes no sense to me.

  31. This puts me out of the ballpark. I was excited that I finally have 25,000 miles so I could go round trip on a coast to coast flight. Puts us little guys out to dry.

  32. I recently booked a trip with AA from TYS-CLT-DFW-BUR for 5,000 miles in main cabin.
    I don’t mind all the connecting flights and was thrilled I could get so far for so cheap.

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