American’s Interesting New Last Minute Award Pricing

Filed Under: American, American AAdvantage

Over the past few years American’s saver level award availability for their own flights has gotten terrible. While there are lots of great award redemption opportunities on partner airlines, American saver level award availability is quite hard to come by.

We know that American will eventually be following the lead of Delta and United in introducing variable award pricing, though they haven’t gotten that far yet… technically.

American’s abysmal last minute award availability

One annoying trend from American over the past few years is that they don’t even open up award seats at the saver level last minute, even when flights are empty. In other words, if a flight departs in a few hours and there are five first class seats remaining with no one on the upgrade list, you’d think they’d want people to cash in their miles for those seats. But nope.

Instead for the most part American has been charging premiums for last minute travel.

For example, take American’s 6AM flight tomorrow from New York to Los Angeles, which has seven seats for sale in first class with no one on the upgrade list to first class. Rather than opening up some saver level first class award seats, they’re instead charging an outrageous 115,000 miles one-way.

This is an overall trend we’re seeing from both American and Delta (United is the exception here, as they’re good about last minute awards). They’re viewing awards from a revenue management perspective rather than a loyalty perspective.

Rather than considering the very low opportunity cost of those seats and getting the value of the miles off their books, they say that “if tickets are expensive when paying cash, they should also be expensive with miles.”

I could do a whole different post about why I think this is terrible logic, but that’s definitely how management at AAdvantage and SkyMiles has felt the past few years.

American’s new last minute award pricing

@xJonNYC notes something very interesting going on with last minute American awards in some markets. As I said above, historically American is charging an outrageous number of miles for last minute tickets on their own flights.

It appears that for flights to several destinations in Asia they’re testing out something new. While American isn’t making saver level award seats available in business class, they are offering some really reasonably priced “AAnytime” awards (which are intended to be their rule-buster awards).

While the normal saver business class price is 70,000 AAdvantage miles one-way, American seems to be charging as little as 87,500 AAdvantage miles one-way when booking last minute.

Below is an example from a flight tomorrow from Dallas to Hong Kong.

That’s interesting because otherwise they charge 140,000-175,000 miles one-way in the days leading up to flights (which matches what the award chart shows).

This isn’t just limited to Hong Kong, but the same is true in other markets as well, like Los Angeles to Shanghai.

I don’t currently see this on flights to Australia, South America, or Europe, so I’m guessing American is testing something out here.

It’s an interesting concept, as they’re offering award seats at a more reasonable price last minute, but not at the saver cost.

Of course this also hints at them moving closer to dynamic award pricing, since the 87,500 miles isn’t otherwise an award price they have.

Bottom line

For now this is just something to keep an eye on, though American does seem to be reducing premium award prices in some markets within a couple of days of departure, and they’re also charging prices that aren’t otherwise on the award chart.

Ultimately I think this is better than nothing — 87,500 miles isn’t an unreasonable amount to pay for a last minute business class award ticket — though would it kill American to just make some saver space available?

For what it’s worth, this isn’t the first time they’ve had lower award pricing. In May they launched a “sale” on AAnytime awards to Europe, where we saw pricing from 85,000 miles one-way in business class.

What do you make of this trend from American AAdvantage?

  1. Hey Lucky I’m seeing similar non saver award levels tyo to Ord around nye. Not the normal saver level of 60k but 82.5k. Not unreasonable as you say.

    I have a akl nrt flight arriving at 445pm on air nz. Think I can make the 620pm aa direct to Ord ?

  2. So, normally the Ivory Tower group in charge at American either prices last minute awards acting like a pack of idiots or actually are a pack of idiots. Sheesh.

  3. Worth considering how this shows how broken and fragmented this game is getting. Presumably these awards, despite being nearly at saver levels are not open to partners. That is one huge advantage UA has with the strength of *A and the fact they are still playing a little bit more by the rules (despite us knowing dynamic pricing is coming there too)

  4. Everything is stupid at AA, hard to find good use of my last 200k AA miles to fly internationally.

  5. <3 Christian 🙂 actually these Boarding Area Comments should have a like dislike feature 😉

  6. I’m so fed up with American. I have been an Executive Platinum for years and nowadays its just garbage. For an economy flight within the US I see 18.5k, 21.5, 23.5k, 37.5k, 43.5k, 48.5k, 50k and 75k for the non stop route even weeks before the flight. This is garbage.

    Anyone knows the best way to complain about all the issues? Def customer relations is not enough.

    Finally, isnt there a way to sue American or go to Better Business Bureau? In their Ts&Cs they say its 12.5k Saaver and 25k AAnytime awards within the US. They never said it was variable, its against their policy right?

  7. I disagree with your assertion that United is somehow better at this. I find it basically impossible to get premium cabin award seats on UA metal these days. Their saving grace is their superior set of partners. Even last minute, they don’t seem to open much up. Strangely, they don’t seem to ever release any domestic F seats any more. Not sure the logic there.

  8. An EF alert for Saaver awards will not be triggered because these are not Saaver awards, even if the miles required is very close.

  9. Would 85k J on AA125 depend on the same C space? Hope they don’t penAAlise SWU users for more miles.

  10. This tactic dramatically reduces the effectiveness of miles in Oneworld partners. Part of the advantage of an alliance is that frequent fliers of your partners (e.g. LATAM), can use their miles to fly on AA. This trend will further the disintegration of alliances.

  11. You have to now check all “fare buckets” for AA awards. I was looking for a domestic flight yesterday. There were no saver Y awards. But there were web specials in Y. Now I click all buckets to see what is available.

  12. “‘if tickets are expensive when paying cash, they should also be expensive with miles.’

    I could do a whole different post about why I think this is terrible logic”

    I couldn’t disagree more. American is smart here. It realizes it nowadays faces different kinds of consumers.

    There are irrational consumers which you can nudge in your direction with relatively small incentives. Those guys you don’t lose if rewards are sort of weak/redemptions are expensive.

    But then there is a growing segment of smart, sophisticated consumers. These consumers have above-average mileage balances (because they tend to be well-off and fly often). You don’t wanna open up arbitrage opportunities to those guys.

    It’s solid logic to make flight bookings at the last minute expensive (because many people booking at the last minute have a very high willingness to pay–if you lower ticket prices at the last minute because of low capacity utilization you’re cannibalizing revenues from those guys. You don’t wanna do that.)

  13. I’ve always been able to get decent AA domestic availability on AA in F using the BA portal and Avios. It’s not on the high-value trans-con routes, admittedly. But have done well out of places like Dallas and Charlotte, even Chicago.

    Am ExPlat if that makes a difference.

  14. It won’t really improve until the credit card revenue from sale of miles plummet.

    On a separate note, how can you tell there is no-one on the upgrade list for a flight leaving tomorrow? I’d love to know how to do that!

  15. They are realizing they can better monetize the seat with a lower anytime award price than giving the seat to an upgrade customer. I have to imagine this is happening on routes that they are forecasting to have open seats regardless.

    And as brteacher said, the practical result of not saver is to provide the seats to their loyalty members and not partners – that’s actually quite smart. Opening late access to partners is quite costly if there’s a chance of monetizing the seat and provides no long-term benefit.

  16. Seeing an interesting phenomenon for last minute domestic pricing on some mundane midwest routes. As of just a few weeks ago MileSaaver pricing would open up in the days leading up to the desired flight date. This allowed me to use my British Airways miles to get a ticket and avoid the close in booking fee that AA wants. Now that there are no MileSaaver awards there is no way around paying the fee (at least til that fee is eliminated in the hopefully near future). Also the non-availability of the MileSaver awards also means that you can’t save miles by using the Citi/Barclays reduced mileage award code either as it doesn’t work on “Web Specials”

  17. Amazing. I just booked Etihad in First from Singapore to Heathrow next March for 90,000 AA points on the AA website. I did the return from Paris to Bangkok for another 90,000 and it’s in First on BA from Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur. And I’m guessing service and hard product will be better than anything a US based carrier would ever offer, especially on Etihad.

  18. How do you find the old award chart on the AA website with mile saver, anytime and all days?

  19. And another AA practice that is disturbing: AA does not allow one to book mileage seats on non-stops even when they are available. For instance you can book from LGA to LAX via Boston, but you cannot book the same non stop from BOS toLAX. Or you can book from BOS to PAR using the non-stop from JFK to CDG but you cannot book the same flight from JFK to PAR

  20. Was lucky to find a 57.5K J saver when I needed it TATL to west coast from Europe on IB and AA metal, avoiding the BA fuel surcharge. Flying IB A350-900 for first time. That said, it’s hard to find from the West Coast TATL AA metal awards in J. AA seems to stick it to their FF with BA metal and fuel surcharges. I’m using up my AA miles and won’t be back. United is no better and ditto for them. Avianca Lifemiles has gotten very tough in finding West Coast – Europe J awards. I only use my BA Avios for Asia or intraEurope J flights, the only real bargain left with them. The FF programs, not surprisingly, are no longer a fun and rewarding thing. Airlines want to essentially do away with them.

  21. I sort of understand why AA does not want to release award availability even when the flight is about to depart with lots of empty seats: maybe they want to maintain a brand image of “paid passengers only” (I’m looking at you, @Endre) for their premium cabins. But it seems that they finally start to realize their product sucks so much that nobody is buying their brand.

  22. I refuse to follow AA lies and call standard awards (those that have been award since the 1980s) “saver”. They are not. They are the standard ones they’ve had for a long time.

    I wish you did the same.

  23. @ Bill n DC

    The fact that top tier AA management would rather have a plane fly out with empty seats than offer them to engaged loyalty members seems pretty stupid to me. In doing so, they also wipe out the chance to get the miles off the books as a liability. Insults aside, how exactly do you disagree with my premise?

  24. Pretty fed up with AA awards. Have had no success for years trying to get a saver JFK-SYD in J. Don’t even know why they list saver awards as they seem to be non existent. 200K miles left in AA. Have surrendered the saver J dream and got a short notice JFK-SYD in Econ aisle seat for 80K rt leaving Saturday.

  25. Lucky Quote
    “We know that American will eventually be following the lead of Delta and United in introducing variable award pricing, though they haven’t gotten that far yet… technically.”
    Well if they haven’t it sure seems to me like they are doing a hell of a job imitating variable award pricing (sigh)
    A trip to Ohio varied from 11,000 to 50,000 miles one way in coach
    When I found an award for around 13,000 to 15,000 that was a reasonable routing with good time departures it was called a web special and no changes or mile refunds were allowed
    I booked on Southwest. Problem solved!
    Wont being buying any more American miles
    I despise the direction Americans is going in
    They have simply assured I will never be back flying 100.000 miles a year

  26. 11 hours from departure and I still see it available for 87.5k in J. When I fly non-rev (which I rarely do in summer anymore) I often see up to 10 unsold premium cabin seats the night before on widebodies…And guaranteed by morning almost all are sold/awards. This has been the case especially in the last year. All flights, all destinations, any day, any time are no longer predictable as non-rev. I agree that it makes no sense to drop prices hours before flights especially in this booming economy with record air travelers.

  27. Mick: Airlines and Airports publish Minimum Connect Times (MCT) depending on whether you are connecting between the same airline, airlines of the same alliance, or airlines of a different alliance. 1.5 hours is likely enough time to connect from an Air New Zealand flight to a United flight — but may not be enough time to transfer to a Japan Air Lines flight (for example). At the end of the day, in 99% of the times, you are not able to buy a ticket with a connecting flight unless it is a legal connection meeting the MCT rules. Translation: You should be fine unless you are travelling on a single-segment one-way tickets (in which case you should pull up the NRT MCT rules).

    Saba3: You can book nonstop transcon AA flights using (saver) mileage but you need to do it far in advance (2-3 months as I vaguely recall). I last did this successfully in September 2017 (JFK-SFO) — but I’m happy to concede that things could have changed since then (as some of the above comments allude).

  28. I live in Hong Kong and fly AA back to the US due to their direct flight from HK (family is in LA and Cathay’s pricing is borderline criminal for direct flights out of HK)

    I am resigned to the fact that there is never any availability for award seats. Instead, they open up upgrade awards for approximately 80% of the flights that I’ve checked at 48 hours out. So every flight back I do this stupid dance of buying eco for cheap, setting alerts on Expert Flyer for award upgrades, then calling them up 48 hours to go to secure the inventory. Seems like a big waste of time for me and them vs. just opening up the inventory.

    And don’t get me started on their first class on the HK LAX route. NO ONE ever buys it. Two days out usually 2 or fewer of the seats are occupied. Then day-of the non-revs put in their requests for standby (and it is all non revs, since most won’t waste miles/SWUs on J->F upgrades on AA), and then magically 1st class is completely full even. Seems like a huge waste of real estate on a plane to have it basically as an employee perk.

    As a random aside, their international call centers are TERRIBLE. They ALWAYS mess up upgrades, either by not running the credit card correctly, deducting miles from the wrong account, etc. I have to use Google Voice to call the US number to get a competent agent (and in fairness, they have always been very good stateside)

  29. You mention in your post that there is nobody on the upgrade list for tomorrow. Out of curiosity, how can you check that for a flight you have not booked? I thoughts you can only see the upgrade list on the app 4 hours before departure and only for flights you are booked on. Would love to find out how you can see it further in advance and for unbooked flights.

  30. So many frustrations with AA award booking here as well. Long selling (at least on domestic flights) also appears dead. I did HUACA three times recently and got turned down every time. AA seems to have so many itineraries listed as available at the “U” saver rate, when they only have one segment actually available upfront and the rest in coach.

  31. “This tactic dramatically reduces the effectiveness of miles in Oneworld partners. Part of the advantage of an alliance is that frequent fliers of your partners (e.g. LATAM), can use their miles to fly on AA. This trend will further the disintegration of alliances.”

    Yup. Avios are worthless on premium AA transcons.

  32. Wasnt the original purpose of a ‘frequent flier’ / loyalty program to fill excess inventory so that planes don’t go out empty? In fact, it was such a great idea that all airlines followed AA with their own versions and it became (is?) one of the most profitable parts of an airline’s business. Seems like such a risk to gut that golden goose. One things for sure, sooner or later the economy will turn, and we’ll see who was silly and who was smart.

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