What American is Doing With New Variable Award Pricing

A little over a week ago I wrote about a no-notice change that American AAdvantage made to their program: different AAnytime award prices for different flights on the same day.

  • A little over two years ago American introduced multiple levels of prices for these higher-priced awards. Occasionally these cost 20% fewer miles, most of the time they cost a lot more miles.

  • The price did not vary by flight (how sold out it was, or how likely to sell out) but by date. So some days were more expensive than others. You could still book the last seat available on an almost sold out flight for the lowest extra miles cost if it fell on a lowest price date.

But recently American has started offering different award prices for different flights on the same day, at least for the New York JFK – Los Angeles and San Francisco routes.

American Airlines Airbus A321T Premium Transcon Business Class

While American acknowledged that the screen shots I was providing were not a glitch, they haven’t offered comment on these changes which went into effect without any notice to members. Here I’m not even talking about no advance notice. Rather they’re not even explaining to members that things have changed or what that means.

I dug into this a bit more and think I know what American is doing, and it’s neither as technologically sophisticated nor as insidious as I’d have feared.

American Saver Award Availability Has Gotten Really Bad

There’s actually not a single saver award on American’s New York JFK – Los Angeles non-stops in any class of service for the month. That’s despite 86 flights a week in each direction. There are 357 flights reflected on the calendar below. That’s 36,414 seats. And out of those 36,414 seats looking far into the future there’s not a single saver award.

But what I’m most interest in isn’t establishing “what happened to American’s domestic saver awards.” Sure, American used to have the best domestic award availability of any US airline, and that’s changed dramatically.

The more recent change, though, is how they’ve started to price ‘aanytime’ awards on the route.

American’s AAnytime Prices Vary Not Just By Day But Also By Flight

A majority of weekdays the cheapest one-way non-stop award in business class on this route is 97,500 miles, at least according to the calendar.

The calendar shows that on Mondays there are seats for 82,500 miles one way. In fact the calendar is no longer accurate.

Travel at peak times is 82,500 miles. But travel first thing in the morning, and in the evening prices at 62,500 miles — 20,000 miles less.

If you want to take the 6 a.m. that’s cheaper, but then all the flights in the middle of the day are more.

The price drops back down starting at 6pm. And all of the flights afterward are available at the lower (cough) price.

There’s Nothing Unique About These Flights Except the Time

Since I was looking at awards on May 22, I figured I should also look at revenue inventory on these same flights.

The 6 am flight has availability in the same revenue booking classes as the later flights. If anything, the later flights have more inventory in the cheapest fare classes than the 6 am does. You’d expect there to be the same or less availability at the cheaper level, then, on that 6 am flight if they were managing award inventory dynamically.

The same holds true in the afternoon. There’s no discernable difference in revenue fare buckets between the flights offering 62,500 mile award prices and those offering 82,500 prices.

As a result, all of these tickets price the same. There aren’t fare rules which dictate lower prices available only early or late in the day for instance.

All that’s unique about the flights is their time. American doesn’t seem to be doing dynamic award pricing, just charging a premium for flights based on time of day.

Now, the time of day where prices vary will itself vary.

  • On these Mondays where the award calendar shows the lowest price as 82,500 the pattern is the same as above: 6am and 6pm onward flights are cheaper.

  • But where the calendar shows 97,500 miles as the cheapest price, there may be flights priced at 82,500. For instance on May 23, the morning is again cheaper but that cheaper price applies to the first three flights and not just the first flight (so up to 8:30am) although price doesn’t drop at the end of the day until 8:00pm.

I’m not going to spend 82,500 miles or 97,500 miles for a $999 ticket (fare basis YA21DNUP). What I’m interested in here is that American appears to be fundamentally changing the definition of an AAnytime award.

When they made their major changes without notice to the program April 8, 2014 — introducing multiple award prices for AAnytime awards, among other things — they explained that a specific price would apply to a given day. Now they’re charging different prices on the same day, which runs counter to how American explained their awards. And so far they’re not offering any explanation of this change at all.

So far at least I’m still just seeing this specific phenomenon in the premium New York – West Coast markets.

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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  1. Don’t worry. Just wait until the day aa spins out AAdvantage. There will be more things to complain about.

  2. Gary, I really like the way you present subjects like this. I find it very educating. If there a way to get a PhD in aviation geekness, this blog would be on my acknowledgments page. Thanks!

  3. I appreciate the fact that you are continuing to report on American Airlines devaluations. This is pathetic.

  4. I was looking for saver award space LAX-JFK nonstop 10 days ago. Some saver awards appeared and in each case they were gone within 10 minutes. They never did show as available for Avios redemption.

    AA is most definitely throttling saver award space on these flights, but it does still exist.

  5. Why can’t you come out and say this is bad. Naughty. Not value generating. You’ve done a good job highlighting it but you should include a value judgment.

  6. I’m pretty close to done with American. There is just little reason for me to keep slogging it out on business routes for which I can fly Southwest. They are proving to be less and less trustworthy every month and their “loyalty” program is disintegrating before our very eyes. Delta gets away with this crap, because they provide, relatively speaking, the best domestic product at the moment. And, despite all the shenanigans, you can actually use skymiles to book international flights to Europe on delta metal without crazy surcharges. Sitting around all year waiting for one day when American will suddenly open up its calendar for non-BA bookings on AA metal, or hoping you can fly through MAD and you’ll find IB availability, has become tedious. No notice changes is the icing on the cake.

  7. AA is selling buckets of miles to credit card companies who are giving away buckets of miles to reel in new customers. Those customers are then trying to use those miles for awards which cost even larger buckets of miles. This is not going to end well for anyone.

  8. “36,414 seats. And out of those 36,414 seats looking far into the future there’s not a single saver award.” But what I’m most interest(sic) in isn’t establishing “what happened to American’s domestic saver awards.”

    I don’t know about others, but I could care less about AAnytime Awards. But literally going overnight from having the best domestic award availability of any US airline to having little to none is a big deal. I think that’s what passengers want to see discussed and explained.

  9. Further shenanigans by AA and they don’t even feel the need to explain it to their program members. Following several devaluations, this is not how you increase loyalty. I’m flying as a free agent and AS more.

    Dropping EXP in 2017, not worth the effort and the miles are not worth much.

  10. Gary, the highest award to Caribbean should be 37500


    From:Aruba Reina Beatrix – AUA
    To:Tampa International – TPA
    Flight Date:Sunday, July 23, 2017
    Miles Used:65,000
    Taxes and Carrier-Imposed Fees Link opens in a new window:
    All award travel requires the government taxes/fees, and carrier-imposed fees when applicable, from $5.60 per person per award
    There are currently no Economy MileSAAver awards available for your requested Origin and Destination. The results below reflect the closest match to your request.
    American Airlines and AAdvantage participating airlines offer flights up to 331 days in advance.
    Award LegendTaxes and Carrier-Imposed Fees Apply Link opens in a new windowAward Details
    * Valid for Business/First on flights with two classes of service where applicable and Business class on all other flights.

    July / August 2017
    Close Full CalendarRequested: Sun Jul 23
    Previous Month
    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires27.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires27.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires65K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires65K

    Selected return date.
    Economy AAnytime seat – requires65KSelected

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K

    Economy AAnytime seat – requires37.5K


  11. @JA I couldn’t agree with you more and I’m confused as to why the disappearance of saver awards isn’t the topic of this article??? The value for those of us who are loyal to AA and want to use the miles that are generated from that loyalty is through saver awards in business and first. If that is no longer available, then it is time to switch loyalty…plain and simple.

    Gary, can you write an article about the issue of the apparent and significant decrease in (or elimination of) saver awards and determine if this is going to be more of the norm for AA? That would be something that would represent a valuable and informative piece of data that could help me (and I assume many others) plan a loyalty strategy moving forward. Thanks.

  12. I should say for the purpose of this post I’m interested in thr AAnytime changes. I am interested in award availability broadly, of course!

    Here though it is figuring out what seems new this month.

  13. There will be more changes to come within the next 6 months. Don’t forget that PEY (premium economy) will be hitting the markets around the first quarter of 2017. THERE WILL BE ANOTHER ROUND OF DEVALUATIONS.

  14. It’s not just the transcon routes that are affected. I have been looking for a week for east coast to Hawaii awards and they are all over the place on the same day with the regular award fares–and all of them are high. Not only that, but saver awards for premium cabins are virtually non-existent. I think they are going to do this systemwide and I think it is as insidious as you originally thought. American has gone from first to last in value because they don’t open up seats and play games like this. They picked a great week to start advertising how great an airline they are. The points are not simply a bonus–we pay for them and they get paid for them by flying and through the credit card deals.

  15. Gary, good article and appreciate the focus here on aanytime awards. But I agree the bigger story is the vanishing of saver awards. Any point in tweeting AA about the statistic you came up with 30k seats with zero availability. They will probably not be shamed by it but at least some bad publicity?

  16. AAdvantage is really a DisAdvantage….

    I’m sitting on over 3M AA miles I can’t find uses for when I’ve been able to use over 1.5M in UA miles as saver levels to Europe for 4 passengers without issue over the last 2 years…

    I wish I could magically change my AA miles to US miles as easily as it seems AA feels comfortable with devaluations and lack of award availability…

  17. Your comments are only the tip of the iceberg. I tried to get economy miles saver tickets on a round trip Memphis-San Juan, PR months ago. Few existed and we’re not on dates we needed & saver awards were available with itineraries of 24-36 hours for what is typically 6-10 hrs with connection. Ultimately booked two of us for a total if $720 thru skyscanner on legitimate connecting flights that didn’t come up at all on American’s website where the only inconvenience was a 4 hr layover on the one connection which made trip 9 hrs with departure times both way at exact times we wanted. That was a 60% savings over best price on AA.com for the regular 1.5hr between flights. Time to donate miles…

  18. I’m kinda glad I’ve burned over 600,000 miles on AA this year for magnificent foreign trips in premium classes on AA’s partners. Beginning now, they are giving me every reason to use miles for all personal travel, and use them only when it’s business paid by somebody else.

  19. I know this is an old post but I guess I’m wondering if there is saver space available that is not showing online. I hate calling to book awards but that might be my next approach.

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