American Airlines announced today several changes that affect its loyalty program, including how it awards status, miles, and upgrades, as well as how you can redeem your miles for award flights. I’ll break up this story into a couple different posts since I’ve already covered some rumored changes to earning side, which have mostly materialized. This post will be about the changes to the award chart, which will affect you even if you now decide to stop flying American. I’ve now added a post that covers the changes to elite status and how you’ll earn award miles in the new program.
When Are These Changes Happening?
The most important thing to note is that the changes will only affect tickets booked on or after March 22, 2016. If you book your travel before then, even if you fly at a later date (330 days in the future), you can lock in the current award chart.
Is There Good News?
New MileSAAver awards for flights of 500 miles or less will now cost only 7,500 miles in economy class or 15,000 miles in first class. This is a welcome change considering that Delta, United, and Alaska already offer cheaper awards on short or intra-state flights (Delta is recent, and the other two have been around for years).
The 500-mile limit is harsh, but whatever. This could help make up for the recent loss of 4,500 Avios awards in the domestic US, but time will tell. The airline can lower prices all it wants and still cut award space to match.
It’s Mostly Bad News, Isn’t It?
Yeah. While economy class awards aren’t changing much, there will be some significant increases in the cost of business and first class awards on American Airlines’ partners — flights on American Airlines have their own award chart. This is unfortunate as they are traditionally the best use of your frequent flyer miles.
The following table shows one-way award prices on partners before and after the devaluation for travel originating in the United States. You can view the entire chart and the region definitions on American’s website. Note that a few destinations actually go down in price (negative increase). Here’s the partner award chart for economy class (which does not include the new discounted awards for flights 500 miles or less).
|Destination||Old Economy Class||New Economy Class||Increase|
|Contiguous 48 States||12,500||12,500||0%|
|Canada and Alaska||12,500||15,000||20%|
|South America Region 1||17,500||20,000||14.2%|
|South America Region 2||30,000||30,000||0%|
|Middle East / India||45,000||40,000||-11.1%|
|Asia Region 1||32,500||35,000||7.7%|
|Asia Region 2||35,000||37,500||7.1%|
And for business class, it’s much the same — a mix of up and down, but the increases are a little greater. I’m not too concerned about the business class awards.
|Destination||Old Business Class||New Business Class||Increase|
|Contiguous 48 States||25,000||25,000||0%|
|Canada and Alaska||25,000||30,000||20%|
|South America Region 1||30,000||30,000||0%|
|South America Region 2||50,000||57,500||15%|
|Middle East / India||67,500||70,000||3.7%|
|Asia Region 1||50,000||60,000||20%|
|Asia Region 2||55,000||70,000||27.3%|
But as you can see from this next chart, some of the first class awards are going through the roof.
|Destination||Old First Class||New First Class||Increase|
|Contiguous 48 States||32,500||50,000||53.8%|
|Canada and Alaska||32,500||55,000||53.8%|
|South America Region 1||40,000||55,000||37.5%|
|South America Region 2||62,500||85,000||36%|
|Middle East / India||90,000||115,000||27.8%|
|Asia Region 1||62,500||80,000||28%|
|Asia Region 2||67,500||110,000||63%|
If you had any dreams about flying in first class, go now! One of my favorite awards, Cathay Pacific in first class, will be among the worst affected (Asia Region 2).
These aren’t good changes, but they’re not surprising either given other changes in the industry. I’m glad that I’ve decided to focus most of my earning on Alaska Airlines. Of course, they could announce their own changes, but I don’t know of any recent company events such as a merger that would provoke this action, so I hope it’s at least a year or two off.
Ultimately the award chart is only half of the equation. It can still work to your advantage if you earn enough miles or if award availability improves. As I’ll discuss in a later post, I don’t think this is likely.