Lucky over at OMAAT recently discussed the full rollout of American’s new award booking interface. Previously, the “beta” versions of the interface were flat-out awful, with tons of glitches and no working calendar feature. Now, however, the full version works much better, and with a potentially intriguing new redemption opportunity. As Lucky mentioned, the new calendar also includes the rollout of AAdvantage premium cabin Web Specials. These awards can provide lucrative redemptions, though with several limitations and catches.
The Existing AAdvantage Premium Cabin Award Chart
For purposes of this post, I’m looking at awards from Dallas to Sao Paulo. While American occasionally opens the award floodgates on this route, First Class Saver space is almost totally nonexistent. As in, not a single seat during the 330 day award calendar nonexistent. (American does usually open up some Saver space in Business on this route.) The standard award chart charges 57,500 miles each way in Business, or 85,000 in First.
How to Find AAdvantage Premium Cabin Web Specials
Finding premium cabin Web Specials can be tricky, as AA’s award search function remains a little buggy. As in, an award search sometimes pulls up the old interface, which displays only Economy Web Specials. In general, I have the most luck when performing a search directly from the home page. Just check the “Redeem miles” box to get started.
In other words, don’t click on “Plan Travel”, then “Flights”. That tends to bring up the old interface. If you do get the old one, though, there is a way to pull up the new one. Just go back to Plan Travel/Flights, then click the “try our new award booking search” link.
To pull up the calendar, click on the “Calendar” box at the top right of the search results.
Also, to filter by class, click on the “Show All Classes” box and select the appropriate fare class.
New AAdvantage Premium Cabin Web Specials Pricing
American introduced Economy Web Specials several months ago, but premium cabin Web Specials are new. The basic concept: American does, on select flights, offer awards at less than published rates. Note, this does NOT necessarily mean less than the Saver rate. I’ve seen Economy Web Specials priced between the Saver and Anytime Level 1 rates. More on my concerns with that later.
So how about premium cabin Web Specials on the Dallas – Sao Paulo route? Business seems pretty fixed at the Saver rate, but First Class offers some interesting possibilities. If you’re willing to do a little digging, at least. As mentioned, standard pricing on this route is 85,000 miles. But there are a handful of dates with pricing below that level, as low as 75,000 miles in this case. Not a fantastic discount or anything, but nothing to sneeze at.
Sao Paulo to Dallas generally presents somewhat better availability. In this case, options come in as low as 74,000 miles.
Other cities offer even better options. Miami to Sao Paulo, for instance, clocks in at as low as 64,000 miles. That’s nearly 25% off the normal price, a very nice discount. Depending on the price difference, that might make it worth it to position to Miami and fly from there.
It’s also worth noting, Economy Web Specials price as low as 17k miles each way. That’s a 43% discount over the standard Saver price. Normally, coach redemptions provide modest value at best. But this is actually a really good price.
Of course, American being American, this isn’t all fun and games for the consumer. First of all, availability at this special pricing is often very limited. Miami to Sao Paulo in this example actually shows excellent availability when planning far in advance. But Dallas to Sao Paulo only has a handful of dates (6/30 next September) at the lower pricing. And let’s call a spade a spade – modest shoulder season availability doesn’t exactly scream “deal of the century”. (Though in fairness, there’s far worse places than South America in the spring. Especially if your schedule allows September/October/November getaways.)
The possibly more sinister issue lurks between the lines, though. You’ll notice many dates with pricing falling between the Saver and Anytime Level 1 bands. I don’t know, a more restrictive (more on that below) award that’s still more expensive than a Saver award just seems mildly dishonest. Invariably, this feels like the final move towards a fully dynamic award system. My friend Kyle takes the glass half full view, arguing that Web Specials provide real value. While I don’t dispute that, I also have little trust in American that this pricing holds up over time. Maybe you do find First specials for 75,000 miles a few days of the year. But the flip side will be Delta SkyPesos-style extortion pricing like this most of the time.
And remember, this is only a Business Class award, not even First Class. Yikes.
But more than that, Web Sepcials represent a clever way for American to block redemptions from partner programs. Why? Because they don’t actually book in “Saver” space, thus partner programs (i.e. British Airways) can’t access them. What happens if, for example, American decides to flood Dallas to Chicago with 11k Economy Web Specials? While a small discount off the normal price (12.5k), that blocks your ability to use 9k Avios instead.
The other (sometimes major) catch is that Web Specials heavily rely on married segment logic. In other words, the lowest prices only apply to connections. In my Dallas-Sao Paulo example, you’ll pay 190,000 miles for the nonstop on the same day you can buy the Web Special.
The Web Special instead routes you on a one-stop with a pretty ridiculous connection. It involves an overnight in Miami, followed by an 11 pm departure the next day. Also note that you might have to do some real searching to find the lowest First Class price in the results. You can sort results by price, but this only works for Main Cabin awards. Annoyingly, you can’t filter by price and class. This Web Special was the last of 47 options. Very irritating to have to sift through 46 of them to find it!
That nonstop from Miami costs 129k miles separately.
But get this, the 64k web saver routes you on – the flight from DFW! Yes, the same flight that costs 190k if booked as a nonstop.
On the other hand, not all married segment logic results in terrible connections. Take the return from Sao Paulo to DFW, which includes a quite reasonable connection in Miami. This gets you home just a few hours later than the nonstop. That seems like a decent trade-off to save some miles.
Finally, American states that Web Specials are non-changeable, though this is only partially true. Yes, you lose the ability to make unlimited date changes between two cities without charge. But you CAN still “change” your award booking. You can still cancel and then redeposit the miles for a $150 fee (waived for Executive Platinums).
At least for now, AAdvantage Premium Cabin Web Specials do provide some useful value. Especially if you can travel during shoulder or off-season, don’t mind spending some time searching, and can position to begin your trip elsewhere. However, I have a nagging feeling that American is throwing us a bone now, only for another shoe to drop later. Namely, a full removal of award charts with a switch to fully dynamic pricing. And this pricing won’t last once that happens.