In some ways what American didn’t say about their devaluation is even more interesting than what they did say.
United made major changes to their award chart ten years ago increasing first class Europe awards from 100,000 to 125,000 miles round trip. They increased business class roundtrips between the US and Australia from 90,000 miles to 110,000 miles. First class went up 20,000 miles to 140,000 (sigh…).
They made this bitter pill go down a bit easier by promising “saver awards available on every flight to every destination.”
When British Airways announced a huge devaluation at the beginning of the year which went into effect in April they softened it:
Guaranteed availability: For ‘this year’ BA guarantees they will offer a total of 9 million award seats, including at least two business and four economy seats per flight made available when schedules load 355 days out. If not booked they may be withdrawn 45 days prior to departure.
The availability promises touch on what frustrates members most. So programs use the story that they’re going to make more award seats available as a way to get members to swallow the bitter pill of higher prices.
It even makes sense, that with higher prices the programs can better balance supply and demand. Maybe they’ll even spend more on those saver award seats and the airline’s revenue management folks will make more seats available.
It rarely really works out that way in a meaningful way that benefits members especially over time. But airlines use the availability line frequently when devaluing their points.
American’s story around their devaluation did not include this. On the one hand, they weren’t really spinning the program changes and I both like and appreciate that. On the other hand, if there’s even a credible claim that availability is going to get better, the long airline history is to make that claim. So the lack of such a claim seems telling.
American A321T First Class
American availability in premium cabins on its own flights used to be really good. That changed about three years ago. First class awards remained good to Asia especially until about 18 months ago. Now American is the most difficult US carrier to get premium cabin awards on (indeed, even coach awards are tough). I like my AAdvantage miles for partner awards.
However, American is a member of the oneworld alliance and oneworld doesn’t have as many members as Star. Star’s volume makes it better for business class awards to Europe and Asia and even South America. That’s advantage United.
On the whole Skyteam isn’t great for availability, and member airlines’ inflight products lag oneworld.
But being in oneworld, and not releasing much award availability themselves, is already a disadvantage of American miles. What’s more, Cathay Pacific has been releasing less award space to Asia and British Airways awards (BA is American’s primary transatlantic partner) come with fuel surcharges. Those are real constraints.
American needs to do better releasing its own award space. And ‘the deal’ as it’s being articulated by AAdvantage doesn’t seem to be “higher prices for better availability.” It’s just “higher prices.”