American Shuts Some Major Domestic Cities Out of Ever Redeeming a Saver Award

On Sunday I wrote about American’s unwillingness to offer even a single saver award seat in any class of service for any of their Buenos Aires flights more than a month out.

I value my American miles for partner awards, but most members look to redeem American miles on American flights and that’s gotten very hard. It used to be exceptionally easy. Sometime in mid-2012 premium cabin awards to Europe really tightened up. About 18 months ago premium cabin awards to Asia tightened up, and awards to South America did as well.

Now even economy awards are hard. This is especially frustrating to Europe because American’s primary transatlantic partner is British Airways whose awards incur fuel surcharges. When booking economy that almost completely defeats the point of using miles since you wind up paying much of the cost of an economy ticket while facing availability constraints, spending miles, and not earning anything in the process.

On several routes American is getting absurdly tough on domestic routes as well.

In fact, it’s so bad that in my home market of Austin it is nearly impossible to ever book a saver coach award through American’s primary hub in Dallas. That means for many destinations it is impossible to book a saver award, no matter where you’re going, period.

Reader Marc L. (who also raised the Buenos Aires issue) writes,

I noticed there is no saver economy awards available from DFW to AUS thru March 2016 except one flight on Feb. 18. I called and sent a DM via Twitter and claim this is not a glitch. Also no availability from DFW to IAH, but availability almost every day from DFW to SAT.

…Also HOU-DFW is blocked (since DFW is only destination from HOU that means no saver availability there at all) and SAN-LAX appears blocked too.

…I still think it is a glitch, but if it wasn’t, I would leave AA for Delta or United because this makes using miles domestically very difficult if Chicago does not work for particular destination or flights.

Austin in an important market for American. Not only do they have an Admirals Club and service to each of the airline’s hubs there are literally 14 flights a day (15 flights 5 days a week) to Dallas.

As a resident of Austin I’m on these all the time. They can be a tough upgrade because of a uniquely uncommon concentration of premium fare passengers and top tier elites. I usually clear upgrades at the gate of a few hours prior to departure. This past Monday I was number 10 on the upgrade list, and sat in back. I don’t much mind for the short flight, and I was in an exit row.

But if this concentration of customers can’t get saver awards ever, like Marc L., they aren’t going to stay very loyal.

Indeed, this is what the award calendar looks like for one passenger in economy Austin – Dallas.

And it looks like that consistently. No saver awards, any day.

I finally found one day where there was a flight with a saver award. Starting today and scrolling forward, it was February 18.

There are 2 days in April.

Things are a little better when we literally hit the end of the airline schedule.

This is with 14-15 flights per day and they don’t all run full, I often grab the second to last flight back to Austin in the evening and when it gets delayed I can easily hop onto the last flight of the night — a cleanup flight where seats are abundant.

What’s more, purchased on a standalone basis in advance these are not expensive flights. Here’s a calendar of pricing for non-stop American flights in August:

I can’t imagine that this situation persists, but it’s a problem. And it’s as much a problem for American as it is for members

Of course, American’s Executive Platinum members can call for better availability (does not show on the website) and if you put together an international award and are just missing the domestic segment you can ask American to release the space ‘to complete an itinerary’ although they’ve been tight-fisted in response to such requests especially more than a week prior to departure in recent times.

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, 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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  1. Regarding poor (no) Saver Award availability, it could have something to do with the Copa America soccer tournament. I don’t know. It’s just a guess.

  2. I live in Austin too & you’re right, can never find saver awards, always end up either buying a ticket or using the cheaper business class awards. But I’ve had problems with this from several locations, and I was looking in January for flights in August.

  3. Could you talk more about ExP members calling for better availability? Is it only for completing a larger itinerary?

  4. Gary, thanks for highlighting this.

    I can only speak to my own travels… but as someone who flies out of AUS frequently … in the past I was able to book AUS-DFW without issue using miles for last-minute trips. This was really helpful not so much because I needed to fly AUS-DFW but more because flight prices/availability was much better (especially for last-minute flights) out of DFW than for AUS.

    I noticed about ~10 days ago that the availability dried up completely, as you highlight in your post. I’ve seen something similar with other city pairs but re: AUS-DFW I am certain that this is intentional and not merely due to flights being booked up.

    I hope you stay on this!

  5. Seats opened again on, however, you cannot book them with Avios, killing the value of Avios.

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