The cost of many of my favorite awards is increasing significantly, in some cases by 60%+.
Award prices are based on when you ticket your reservation, and not based on when you actually fly. That’s why a lot of people are locking in award tickets now, in hopes of changing them later to a more convenient date while preserving the old price.
In early January I wrote about strategies for locking in AAdvantage awards at the old levels, and then posted a follow-up with further clarification from American.
Given that the devaluation is happening in less than two weeks, I figured I’d outline how to go about booking awards pre-devaluation, with the intent of changing them after the devaluation. And then if you guys have any questions, let me know in the comments section.
How far out can you book AAdvantage awards?
There are two important dates to keep in mind when it comes to ticketing AAdvantage awards with American:
- American AAdvantage makes award seats available 331 days out regardless of whether you’re looking to fly American or a partner airline (meaning if you ticket an award on March 10, 2016, you’ll be able to book travel through February 4, 2017)
- All tickets are valid for a year from the date of issue (meaning if you ticket an award on March 10, 2016, all travel has to be completed by March 10, 2017)
In other words, if you’re trying to book a placeholder award, book it as far out as possible so that you have lots of flexibility, but keep in mind you can extend it even further out than that eventually, as you can use that ticket all the way until a year from the date of issue.
What changes can you make without repricing awards?
American lets you make free changes to award tickets as long as the following don’t change:
- Your origin and destination
- Your class of service
- The type of award — whether it’s a saver or standard award, and also whether the general set of airlines stays the same
However, if you make any change which requires the award to be reissued, you’ll be charged the new mileage cost, as this will require the old award to be redeposited and the miles to be deducted from your account again. You want to avoid that happening, obviously.
The last point is the most confusing to people, regarding not changing the type of award. Let me explain that in more detail, because that’s going to cause the most confusion.
American has oneworld partners (British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, etc.), and they also have non-oneworld partners (Air Tahiti Nui, Etihad, Gulf Air, etc.).
For the purposes of award types, oneworld partners and non-oneworld partners are considered to be different.
So to avoid an award repricing, you’ll want to keep the same general set of airlines.
To give a few examples:
- If your routing is New York to Los Angeles to Hong Kong on American and Cathay Pacific, you can change to New York to Hong Kong nonstop, since that will remain a oneworld award
- If your routing is Los Angeles to Tokyo to Bangkok on Japan Airlines, you can change to Los Angeles to Hong Kong to Bangkok on Cathay Pacific, since that will remain a oneworld award
- If your routing is Dallas to Hong Kong on American, you can’t change to Dallas to Los Angeles to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, since you’d be changing from an American award to a oneworld award
- If your routing is New York to London to Abu Dhabi on British Airways, you can change to New York to Doha to Abu Dhabi on Qatar Airways, since that will remain a oneworld award
- If your routing is New York to Doha to Delhi on Qatar Airways, you can’t change to New York to Abu Dhabi to Delhi on Etihad, since you’d be changing from a oneworld award to a partner award
- If your routing is Los Angeles to Paris on Air Tahiti Nui, you can’t change to Los Angeles to London to Paris on British Airways, since you’d be changing from a partner award to a oneworld award
Hopefully the above makes sense. Some will likely present some inbetween scenarios. For example, what happens if you’re flying from New York to Doha on Qatar Airways, and then from Doha to Abu Dhabi to Cairo on Etihad, and want to change the award entirely to Etihad or entirely to Qatar? I’m not sure, to be honest, and I wouldn’t risk it. If you’re going to mix oneworld partners and non-oneworld partners, I’d count on keeping the routing the same, or at least keeping the same mix of airlines on the award.
Adding American to either type of award shouldn’t be an issue, though. In other words:
- You can switch from an award on American and oneworld partners to an award exclusively on oneworld partners
- You can switch from an award exclusively on oneworld partners to an award on American and oneworld partners
- You can switch from an award on American and non-oneworld partners to an award exclusively on non-oneworld partners
- You can switch from an award exclusively on non-oneworld partners to an award on American and non-oneworld partners
What awards should you lock in now?
What should factor into your decision making process when deciding which awards to book?
- Book awards between regions which are going up in price most — for example, first class between the US and Southeast Asia is increasing from 67,500 miles to 110,000 miles one-way
- Book awards on airlines which are good about opening up last minute award space — if your intent is to make changes, you want to make sure you’re maximizing your odds of actually finding that space at some point in the future
- Book awards on high frequency routes, which maximize your odds of space opening up last minute — for example, if you’re booking Cathay Pacific first class, consider booking their Los Angeles or New York to Hong Kong flights, which has four frequencies per day, rather than their Boston to Hong Kong flight, which is only operated 4x per week
- Keep the routing simple — the simpler the routing, the better the odds of you finding that space later; if you book something like New York to San Francisco to Tokyo Haneda to Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur to Bali, it’s going to be really tough to replicate that routing in the future, so consider sticking to something simpler, like New York to Tokyo to Singapore, or New York to Hong Kong to Singapore
You have less than two weeks to book AAdvantage awards before the devaluation kicks in. Hopefully you’re already thinking about what you want to book, but if you’re not, you’ll want to start doing so as soon as possible. For more inspiration for fantastic values, see my post about the 10 best uses of American AAdvantage miles.
Furthermore, I wouldn’t wait until the last minute to book, as phone lines will get progressively busier as the devaluation approaches. Don’t expect to get through the night before. The sooner you can lock in awards, the better.
Stay tuned for a follow up post, where I’ll be sharing which awards I’ve booked pre-devaluation.
What’s your strategy for locking in pre-devaluation awards?