Two weeks ago American AAdvantage made several changes to its program:
- Rolling out a new three-tier pricing model for AAnytime awards (paying extra miles when regular award seats aren’t available).
- Eliminating free stopovers on international awards at the North American gateway city
- Eliminating distance-based oneworld explorer awards
- Increasing the telephone booking fee from $25 to $35 (they still do not waive this fee for awards that cannot be booked online, and most airline partner awards cannot be).
That’s stuff we knew about, or at least that American publicly acknowledged. There wasn’t a single web page with the changes that they made, and the email they sent out didn’t detail them either.
It turns out though that there was another change made at the same time that’s gone mostly unreported on — and as far as I can tell, hasn’t been officially acknowledged until now.
American has eliminated the option to make a request for award space when none is available. (I first saw this referenced at Traveling Better.)
Previously, requests “to complete a party” (e.g. 2 seats were available but you needed 3) or “to complete an itinerary” (you had most of the flights you needed but were missing, say, a domestic segment) could be made by an agent to a system called QMAX.
And appeals could also be made manually to inventory management.
Several years ago I redeemed an award to Barbados. Flights from New York to Barbados and Barbados to Miami to DC were available. But I needed a flight segment from DC to New York to start the trip. The agent on the phone said, “let’s see if I can ask for this to be released” and moments later I had the complete itinerary that I needed. (I was just an AAdvantage Gold member then, and only based on lifetime miles earned and not from having flown.)
More recently it’s been far more difficult to have success — more valuable customers might see success more often, and usually only within a couple of weeks of travel.
But it was a useful feature. You might find the Cathay Pacific flight from Chicago to Hong Kong to Bangkok, have your whole award together, but not be able to get that domestic connecting flight on American. If there were seats available, the flight wasn’t likely to sell out, American might just accommodate you. No longer.
Based on rumors that a change had been made along with the other changes to the program on April 8, I asked American and a spokesperson confirmed it.
Processes have been revamped to generate the correct availability of MileSAAver redemption seats automatically. As a result, the time-consuming manual workaround has been discontinued.
Seeking manual review by inventory management might have been costly. But the ‘QMAX’ system wasn’t a manual workaround (and I specifically asked about it) and it wasn’t time consuming in any meaningful way (it did take an extra minute for an agent to inquire, I suppose).
The courtesy of opening up award space for valuable customers to finish off an award, sadly, appears to be gone.
This was a fairly unique formal courtesy that American had in place and helped to set them apart. It’s not something that was done often by other programs. So I suppose they didn’t have to keep it. In some sense it was a throwback to an earlier era and less useful in recent times. But I’m still sad to see it go.
It also wasn’t a published feature of the program, so I’m not surprised they didn’t announce it. But I’m quickly learning that if you want to know something specific about American Airlines, you need to specifically ask.