American Now Limits the Number of Flights You Can Book On An Award (Because Somehow American Awards Were Too Generous Before)

American is Placing New Limits on Award Routings

American just added rules limiting the number of segments you’re allowed to fly on an award.

In each direction you will only be allowed to have:

  • Domestic and Canada: Three segments
  • Other destinations (including Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands) Four segments

At first blush that seems reasonable. Who wants to take more flights than that to get where they’re going?

On closer inspection though it’s:

  • one more step from a program that seems to be afraid that someone, somewhere might be getting value from their miles.

  • one more restriction from a program that hasn’t realized yet it’s continually cutting costs while its most relevant competitors — bank programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards — are spending unprecedented amounts wooing customers.

  • one more restriction when I have a hard time remembering that last positive thing the program did (other than upgrades on domestic awards for Executive Platinums and Concierge Key members something competitors already offered more generously).

American Already Has Among the Most Stringent (Punitive) Routing Rules

The value of miles is a combination of the number of miles a saver award costs (pricing or award chart), award availability (how easy it is to get the award you want), and routing rules (what flights you’re allowed to combine to get where you’re going).

American’s rules are so complicated that I wrote the Ultimate Guide to Booking Award Tickets Using American AAdvantage miles.

In a nutshell you have to fly a published routing of the primary carrier on your award. You have to fly within a set number of maximum allowable miles for the trip. In addition awards to Asia must go via the Pacific even it’s no more travel to go via the Atlantic. No stopovers are permitted. And you aren’t allowed to connect in a region other than your origin or destination region unless there’s a specific (unpublished) exception, the list of which I catalogued.

Now in addition to all of those rules you are limited in the number of segments you can fly.

American Says They’re Doing This to Enforce an Existing Rule

An American spokesperson explained “The changes we are implementing are in line with our most direct routing rule and allows us to better support our partner airlines.”

But that’s not really true. American has long said you have to take the most direct routing but American’s internal rule always said that “[t]he number of awards assessed should be determined by the customer’s intentions.”

If the indirect routing is booked at the customer’s request, multiple awards should apply using Pricing Override Options – Force Fare Breakpoint. If the routing is booked based on lack of award availability on direct routes, then an exception may be made, allowing Sabre to price as one award.

In fact American has allowed customers to travel 25% over the published Maximum Permitted Mileage for a given city pair, as long as the routing doesn’t fall afoul of published routing rules for the most significant carrier on the itinerary and doesn’t fall afoul of the ‘no third region’ rule (and crosses the correct ocean).

American’s rule has been that you’re allowed to book an indirect routing as long as you don’t want to do so. If that’s all that’s available, it’s been allowed. Now if that’s all that’s available, it’s not allowed.

No One Is Choosing More Flight Segments If They Don’t Have To

There are times where several connections are actually necessary. Say that I live in Wichita Falls, Texas and I want to go to one of the myriad destinations in Alaska that American’s redemption partner Alaska Airlines flies to. You’d have to fly Wichita Falls – Dallas – Seattle – Anchorage – Beyond for most cities in Alaska. It’s bad enough the Alaska Airlines partnership is being gutted, now many redemptions are off the table as a single award, too.

Most of the time though several connections is something customers hate, but deal with because of poor AAdvantage award availability. If you live in an international gateway city, where American’s partners fly out of (good luck ever getting saver awards on American itself), you’re fine under these rules. But if you need to connect domestically to get to the city you’ll fly internationally from? Good luck.

If you can find award space on American at all it’s likely a connection. Even if you live in Dallas and need to fly out of Chicago that may be two segments just to find award space, and that’s if you’re lucky. Call it Dallas – Kansas City – Chicago. And from there you might fly to Tokyo (Japan Airlines) to Kuala Lumpur and then to Langkawi, a popular Malaysian beach destination served by oneworld partner Malaysia Airlines.

Except that’s five flights, not allowed, you pay more miles. And the reason you pay more miles isn’t because you want more flying, American is adding a surcharge for their own poor award availability.

If you want to fly transatlantic without fuel surcharges your best bet was Jet Airways Toronto – Amsterdam. Of course AAdvantage is losing that partnership at the end of the year. But to take advantage of it you’d have to fly to Chicago or New York and then to Toronto. Then you’d fly to Amsterdam. From Amsterdam you’d need to connect in London or Madrid or Helsinki to your final destination.

You didn’t want five flights, that was a last resort that’s a function of American’s poor award availability but even that’s being taken away.

American is losing partnerships, they’re more restrictive offering award space than ever, and they’re wondering why it’s so hard to convince people to earn their miles rather than a competitor’s. They need to consider doing this that actually benefit their members rather than worry that members might find a way to get value from the program.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Why did you expect anything different from the sh!t-bag CEO with his track record.at US Air and before?

    Thank you DOJ for yet another rubber stamped airline merger.

  2. Many times it takes 4 segments to get to Maui from the east coast, especially to find saver seats i.e. xxx-CLT/PHL-PHX-LAX-OGG.

  3. I have been having issues redeeming my miles. 5 years ago this wasn’t issue. Clearly something has changed. We have miles left but I they almost aren’t even worth using.

  4. AA’s draconian award routing rules (like no US-Europe-HKG etc) really exacerbates this problem.

    with both JL and AA awards essentially unicorns on a rainbow, you’re mostly at the mercy of what CX provides (granted, they’re generous if you book early enough)

  5. @Credit: “They are telling Texans, we don’t want you.”

    It’s just about anyone who lives away from a hub that suffers as a result, not just Texans.

  6. they are trying to generate revenue to a certain threshold and stock price hits the target, then cash out to sunset. I am not spending a dime this year after years with them.

  7. American Airlines is being run like an insurance company in “run-off.” Just trying to suck the last remaining value out of a dying asset, having given up on growing the brand or the company. Kind of reminds me when Carl Icahn bought TWA and sucked it dry until it was an empty carcass.

    I’m a former AA Platinum flyer that just realized today that I still haven’t used my Amex annual $200 credit so far this year. I’ll have to remember to switch the airline next year. This is the sort of thing that made me realize that AA no longer deserved any loyalty from me.

  8. AA doesn’t have availability anymore. Availability for upgrades…..gone. Availability for MilesAAver awards……..mostly dried up. Pre-departure Drinks…………50-50 shot of it happening in Business. Revenue and miles for status as opposed to miles only. Almost all flights internationally are done on partner airlines with heavy fuel surcharges. My wife and I are moving to Alaska Airlines and whichever domestic carrier will offer a status match next year.

    The death by 1000 cuts to the AAdvantage program has become AAtrocious

  9. Too bad they do not print miles on paper, At least you could then use AA miles as toilet paper. The new segment restrictions gets even uglier if you live in a secondary or tertiary airport market. Maybe change the program from Advantage to No Fnway Awards.

    Why can AA sell miles for 1.87cents/mile and we can’t? They should not be allowed to sell any miles if we can’t use or sell ours. Maybe some class action lawyer with time on their hands can make the case.

    I’m hoping they get a gift card partner as I have 700k to dump before they are worthless.

  10. then open up space!

    It is pathetic that looking at LGA-CLT I get more connection options than non-stop considering it is hub-hub with hourly service…

  11. I just checked:
    Points.com values gift card redemptions at about .4/cents/mile
    Hotel bookings are a little better at .5cents/mile.
    They have the balls to sell (unusable) miles at 1.87cents/mile
    I’m going to cancel all our Citi and Barclays cards- (reason for canceling- AA devaluation)
    If enough folks cancel their cards the banks will have to offer 100,000 mile signup bonuses to get an application from the uninformed or dump AA for a better partner.
    Vote with your feet!

  12. Rather preposterous the un-availability of even minimal award space via AA whether its on Etihad, Qatar or Cathay.

    That said, all these bloggers were jumping all over the Qatar discount as a way to earn/keep their AA EXP/Concierge Key status.

    Hoping long-time players like Gary are able to convince AA into doing right by the customer again. Here’s to Gary!

  13. Gary if you are so unhappy with AA leave and go back to United. The company is making record profits and doesn’t need to give away a ton of product to low value customers. The best part is that you can redeem for any flight, any day of the year unlike years ago when all awards were capacity controlled. AA RM is an astute and sophisticated bunch, AA invented yield management and super sAAver fares I’m guessing the people at HDQ know more than someone who has *never* worked in the industry and the extent of your knowledge is using ExpertFlyer.

  14. Gary’s point, which he has made here and elsewhere, is that airlines are in a race to the bottom precisely because they misunderstand their competition. It isn’t the other airlines (ie: “Go back to United””), it’s the bank programs. This represents a long-term threat that they aren’t considering. They have record profits because of low oil prices, not because of business-savvy cuts to their frequent flyer programs.

  15. @Larry: “The best part is that you can redeem for any flight, any day of the year unlike years ago when all awards were capacity controlled.”

    If you’re willing to spend double or triple the miles, that is.

    Otherwise, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that people willing to defend their programs tooth and nail exist for every single program out there.

  16. There are some awful things about AA award redemption — most notably, the lack of availability — but complaining about this change is silly. The new rules are completely reasonable. And, really, if you need more than 3 domestic or 4 int’l segments to reach your destination, you should be getting there some other way. Or not going.

  17. Yet another “enhancement” to benefit the airline, its shareholders, and the big investment bankers.

    Just a matter of time before UA and DL follow suit.

  18. @ iahphx there isn’t a lack of availability as the program allows last seat availability with pricing commensurate to the market and demand for a given flight and date.

  19. @Larry — But if they want to go that route, they should go to a revenue program like WN’s. I suspect, one day, they will.

  20. Yeah the changes do suck and unfortunately all head in one direction… If anyone doesn’t want their miles they can still give them to me… ☺

  21. Does this go into effect immediately? I had PSP-DFW-DAY-PHL-MHT on hold because that’s all that was available to get my mom from Palm Springs to my house in New Hampshire. I hadn’t gone back and booked it yet, I’m hoping I still can.

  22. @Corey — You were really going to fly your mom on a 5-segment trip across the country? Why on earth would you do that? It’s not like 12,500 miles for this trip is a deal of a lifetime. For your mom’s sake, I hope they don’t let you ticket this!

  23. @iahphx It’s only a 4 segment trip, and would be 3 segments even with cash on any airline. The two cities have no common destinations.

  24. American can take their AAdvantage program and shove it where the sun don’t shine. I buy a lot of long haul biz and first tickets and I avoid AA & UA like the plague. If I’m buying a ticket why would I pay to fly on a cut rate airline with lousy service? The last time I flew AA in first on a 777-300 from LAX to HKG the food was completely inedible. I swore never again to pay them for a first class ticket. Bye bye!!!!

  25. @Corey you’re insane. Fly her into BOS and drive down to pick her up instead of making her at best connect twice and at worst (!) connect three times. She’s your mother for christ’s sake.

  26. Like so many others, live in Dallas, lifetime platinum, almost never fly AA. SW, VA,JB, anything to keep money out of their till.

    But I’m not holding my breath. With capacity limitations at many airports and fortress hubs, the big 3 would really have work not to make large profits.

  27. For those of us not at a hib city it is perfectly normal to need several connections to get to some domestic destinations. Indeed, in some cases as the Alaska example Gary gave, it is impossible to get from A to B in three flights. In other cases it may be a necessary evil due to rotten award availability on AA. I too will be canceling credit cards. Citi and Barclay need to know they’re getting ripped off by whatever they pay for these useless miles.

  28. @DaveS — No frequent flyer program is ideal for all redemptions and, honestly, if you can’t get somewhere domestically in 3 segments — even if you were paying — you need to find another transportation plan. AA is truly saving people from themselves by imposing a completely rational segment limitation. Just because there are other problems with AAdvantage doesn’t mean this rule change is bad or wrong.

  29. Great comments on this post. I laughed out loud at @mike’s comment about @Corey’s mom. Too funny.
    I have mixed feelings about this. If AA was to open up award space more to places like Europe (not YQ space on BA and phantom Finnair space) then I might be OK with this. As a non-hub AA elite I could find space to say ORD, DFW, etc. and jump on a flight to say LHR, etc. and maybe another leg to final city. No big deal. But I bet they won’t.

    The other thought is why? Why would they do this and why would they offer so little award space. It reminds me of Basic Economy bait and switch. AA can still publish an award chart showing SAAver space for awesome rates but actually you can’t book any of it. That way you get tempted to book AAnytime space and use up your miles. Is that the end play? Make me wonder.

    I also wonder how long it will be before all the USA airlines start increasing award redemption fees. I’ve booked international business redemptions many times with $20 to $100’ish type taxes and fees. How long before it’s just a bit more like say $50 to $200. If you found awesome award space tomorrow for @Corey to take his mom on a PSP-LAX-LHR business ticket in SAAver space would you really care if it was $157 in fees instead of say $103 or what ever? It’s just more revenue for the carrier that goes straight to the bottom line.

    Think about it this way if the miles are worth say 1.4 cents for the consumer they could even offer you redemption’s for less miles and charge a bigger fee. They win either way but the fee goes to the bottom line. The miles just come out of some bucket that already sailed with a credit card company purchase. They can print more miles at will but not more money.
    Anyway I’m mad about this and @corey is made and most everyone on here is mad so congratulations AA. “We” are your elite flyers and customers.

  30. @iahphx: “@DaveS — No frequent flyer program is ideal for all redemptions and, honestly, if you can’t get somewhere domestically in 3 segments — even if you were paying — you need to find another transportation plan.”

    So you’re suggesting that a person, for example, who lives in Daytona Beach who wants to go to Barrow and would need to fly DAB-CLT-SEA-ANC-BRW should take the bus instead?

    That’s pretty ludicrous, if you ask me.

  31. AA award redemptions were already horrendous. Since there is no saver availability this change makes little difference to me.

  32. Interesting, because often the places I want to go, the only options usually are 4 legs. Then again, I don’t fly them because of that. Who wants to fly that many legs? I can’t believe this is a big problem for them…All those people filling planes needlessly because they’re dying to fly extra legs…

  33. I suspect few people fly extra legs on purpose on an award ticket unless, maybe, to take advantage of a layover or stopover. What AA is doing here is saying some award destinations cannot be booked at all from certain origins, even when award seats are available and the destination is part of the carrier’s own or codeshare network. This is a serious change for those of us not at a hub. I know that some who travel from hubs view connecting flights with disdain, but for some of us it is the reality. Maybe you wouldn’t book four flights to get to Alaskan destinations beyond Anchorage, but those are very expensive cash flights and it is perfectly logical that people would want to use their AA miles this way.

  34. When you complain about lack of award availability, it’s actually the flip side of the massive sign up bonuses for credit cards that everyone is applauding (and Gary pushing hard on this site)

    Simply a case of too many eskimos (AA miles) and too few fish (reward space)

  35. @RogerWilco – while too many miles chase too few seats is a problem, it’s not the american airlines problem. american has changed its award availability philosophy. and american’s availability is worse than its competitors, despite not having more of an imbalance than those competitors.

    american’s award availability is poor and must offer more miles to entice customers as a result.

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