American Airlines Award Space As Pathetic As It’s Ever Been

I had a dream last night that American Airlines was on the verge of announcing that all of their international flights would either offer either:

  • 3 business class award seats, or
  • 2 first class award seats

The rule was going to be that each aircraft’s forward cabin would guarantee to offer some premium cabin award space.

American Airlines Boeing 787 Business Class

I woke up ready to blog about this, and talk about how it’s similar to the move that British Airways made with their huge 2015 devaluation, guaranteeing at least 2 business and 4 economy seats per flight that year when schedules loaded, and United’s guarantee that ‘every flight to every destination’ would have award seats when they devalued in 2006.

American had promised a year ago that we’d be seeing more transatlantic and transpacific business class award availability (right away) but that hasn’t happened, outside of momentary glitches or dumps of space that are removed as quickly as they appeared. And of course the change was just a dream.

I woke up and things were… the new normal.

Since American’s award search calendar is broken (and has been for months), you can’t search for American flights only anymore. So if you want to see what availability looks like on American’s flights and not British Airways flights then you need to search non-stop availability on routes that BA doesn’t serve. That rules out most of American’s London Heathrow routes and it rules out New York – Paris.

There is not one single business class award seat from today through end of schedule, eleven months, on:

  • Raleigh Durham – London Heathrow
  • Dallas – Madrid
  • Dallas – Paris
  • Dallas – Hong Kong
  • Los Angeles – Sydney
  • New York JFK – Milan

Not a single business class saver seat. And this isn’t “cherry picking” routes, these are the first routes I selected at random.

American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER Business Class

I don’t want to suggest there’s literally no business class award space on American metal, just very little. For instance searching the entire year New York JFK – Barcelona had a business class award seat on May 13, 30; June 3, 10, 18, 24, 25, 30, 31; November 24, 25, 26 (12 out of 331 days).

Thank goodness for secret partner Jet Airways.

American used to offer the best award availability of any US airline. Now it offers the worst. To some extent the change began before the US Airways merger. As American brought new business class products into the fleet they became careful with availability. I expected things to worsen with the merger because US Airways was always tight-fisted with awards, though the one unique thing about US Airways was that they were generous with domestic first class awards — and American is no longer even good there.

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. I have a Citi AA card that they haven’t charged me an AF on for many years. I keep it for the “benefits”, especially for the miles rebate on award bookings. But I only do a small charge twice a year so they won’t cancel it for non-use. I would never put significant spend on it.

    I consider the mile “sales”, that they email me about 3 or 4 times a month, to be basically a Ponzi scheme operation. I feel sad for those who do buy miles without knowing how dismal availability to use those miles is going to be.

  2. I have a new strategy with miles and points. I buy the tickets I want, often in business class. I then redeem points for basic, “required” domestic travel. If I need to travel to see family, take a LGA-BOS trip, upgrade a JFK-LAX business class ticket to first, I just use miles as I go. Much less stress.

  3. AA was always my favorite program, NRT, GIG ,GRU, PVG, EZE in First were no problem. Now
    even Delta SkyPesos looks better. Long haul routes with mixed cabins ( long segment in economy),
    Phantom award space and zero availability on some routes make Advantage a fraud.
    It could take years before enough people realize this and stop earning worthless miles
    Meanwhile, the program makes millions for AA. They’ll ride this cash cow till it dies.

  4. I’ve done a lot of searches recently and have had no luck finding AA aircraft at saver levels. I hate the AA search option because it always shows you saver is available but then when you look it is on an undesirable route or on the wrong aircraft, etc. The BA tool is good for finding saver but I try to avoid connecting via LHR because of the taxes and or fuel surcharges when you connect there. Your suggestions for JET airways and other are good.

    It is annoying when you always have to book on other airlines in order to get saver level.

    I’ve found on domestic flights, they are more likely to have saver business seats available rather than saver economy. So a lot of the time, it costs the same number of miles to fly in business. But still I don’t want to spend 50k miles RT to fly a short domestic flight.

  5. Is not only Business/First class awards, C inventory (upgrades) are also no existent until T24~48. I could say it they keep doing this, they eventually will see the effect in a couple of years. They keep strong because their partners offer more awards, at least a few of us know how to book it.

  6. You are spot on. Dismal is right. Last night I looked for one round trip award seat in First for June from DFW to SNA. There were no Saver awards. There were no upgrade awards for a revenue seat in Economy, including Y fare basis. It doesn’t end there. Additionally, there was no availability of a VIP systemwide upgrade in either direction of travel (I’m Executive Platinum – and the company’s website promises increased inventory for EP – right . .). And the Group Meeting Desk that processes Business Extra Awards had zilch inventory for the entire month on this routing.
    What I did find was Anytime award availability for 110,000 miles. At 2 cents/mile, that ticket would cost $2200. Published fare (in “I”) is $740.
    If I had any other viable options I would use another carrier. Problem is, all the legacy carriers are pretty much the same. If one is going to play the game at all, it should be with credit cards and non mainline carriers.
    Airline loyalty programs are a joke and the product on offer continues to decline.

  7. Gary, what can we do about it then? Some tips would be helpful. Seems like some bad press in the news would go a long way, as well as numerous complaints to the airlines itself. We curse these airlines, but then we don’t band together to collectively call out these airlines. Right now, it’s just talk into the echo chamber unfortunately.

  8. I think there are two easy ways to send a message to AA to demonstrate dissatisfaction. 1) Call Citibank and cancel your AA card and tell them why you are cancelling the card and; 2) Stop flying with them unless they are offering a superior price, schedule or service on your route. I don’t know which of these things will be more effective, or if either is at all, but if enough people do it I am pretty sure they’ll get the point. I know that Citibank just lost a chunk of money on me with all of the benefits I got in exchange for a single annual fee, if they lose money on enough customers they’ll talk to AA about it, and I think even someone as arrogant as Dougie will remember that selling miles to banks is the only thing that kept AA out of liquidation 7 years ago.

  9. Another Steve – it’s yet another Steve. I think you are right that the only response with a chance at getting AA attention is for people in numbers to move away from their revenue generators. I also agree that there is no way of knowing if even that will be effective, or if it would only inspire them to change their con in some unhelpful way. I’m a long-timer with Citi and an even longer-time AA loyalist. I am sorry to say there isn’t much of a soul left in the entire bunch. If AA thought it would add $5.00 to their bottom line to completely jettison your business and/or mine – we could quickly become stains in the pavement. Citi would care only if some portion of that $5.00 would otherwise have come to them.

  10. Been EXP for several years. I’ve found the paying more to fly American worth the benefits up until fairly recently. Now I don’t even see the point of collecting more miles as trying to redeem them for any award of interest has been made near impossible – even with the supposed “expanded award availability” for EXP.

    No more flying American over other airlines for me.

  11. Great post…now please don’t follow-up in a week or two with some great AA Citi or Barclay Credit Card offer. ..

  12. Just burned all my AA miles on BA flights from Spain to SFO. Yes, I paid the ridiculous fees/taxes but at least we are flying Biz class. No AA metal insight on their website. One more insult to BA’s high fees, BA charges (~$100) for seat assignments even in business. I wrote AA complaining, and they are going to pass it on to MGMT…..

    Going to back to Virgin, UA and Chase cards…

  13. I feel like the ONLY way we’ll get AA’s attention is to start cancelling our Citi AA cards en masse. If we all cancel our cards and cite lack of reward availability as the reason, that will get reported back to AA (you know Citi keeps stats on cancellation reasons and reports back to AA. This will also serve to really bother Citi and they might have some real clout with AA whereas us individual schmucks are lucky to find a human being at AA to read an email.

    In my case I fly a lot between TPA and DCA. AA operates 4-6 flights a day, depending on time of year. Fares are frequently on sale for $69-89 and it’s hard to pay more than $129 unless you are booking last minute or travelling around a holiday. But try to find a Saver award. Nothing at all every Sunday and Monday, almost nothing on any given Friday or Saturday, and just a few options around 35% of Tuesdays or Thursdays, even when looking 11 months out. And when award availability does show it is almost always a connecting flight that ends up in BWI, not DCA or even IAD.

  14. I have Citi AA cards that get basically zero use now because Chase UR is much better. I suspect that Citi are aware of this and if my pattern is similar to others AA will get the feedback. Not necessary to cancel cards per se I think just zero spending sends a pretty big message.

  15. So true! I’ve been looking for 2 business class award tickets from Dallas to Paris for the last 6 months and nothing ever opens up! Very annoying!

  16. Agree – the only way to change AA’s practices is to put your money where your mouth is and stop flying AA if you don’t like it.
    Fly where you get the best value – Jet Blue, Alaska/Virgin, Southwest on domestic flights and Asian/European/ME carriers for international travel. I found great value in purchasing international business class fares and I’m ok with pretty much any airline on flights under 4h (ok, maybe not Spirit)…

  17. You guys are sooo naive by hoping that AA will want to release Saver Award space. Doubly naive to think that a lawsuit or class action lawsuit would help.
    Here is why:
    1. The legal and mental energy costs to pursue a lawsuit would be so high to make it absolutely not worth it. So AA just laughs in your face and says want to sue us? Sure, go ahead!
    2. If someone decides to sue, AA could just easily release a whole bunch of award seats to blunt any claims. They can do this over and over at regular intervals to totally cut the legs out from anyone who is thinking of suing.

    Unfortunately I think that all the miles and points bloggers have done such a great job of promoting the idea of premium travel for free that I think some airline executives have come to really resent this big time and now are out to mess it up for the bloggers and all the people who are trying to game the system. I think all of their moves restricting saver awards is to deliberately piss off and squeeze the award seat booking companies and all the people trying to “game” the FF system.

    Separate from the Award Seats issue, I don’t think that the execs at AA care about anything other than getting the biggest bonus possible by increasing short term profits at the expense of everyone else. Everything I wrote is just my personal opinion.

  18. I’ve been searching for First (and Business) from PHX to VCE and FCO in any combination for the last 3 months – almost daily. The only availability I’very seen is with mixed availability, such as economy on the US leg and always going through London with those outrageous surcharges. I’ve examined the seating on the economy assigned legs of these First Savers, and have found flights where first class is completely empty — not one sold seat! I’ve flown to Europe several times in Biz, but never First. I’d be happy to blow all my points for this one experience, but the awards just aren’t there — at least not from late May to mid September.

  19. Good article, Gary. Keep the pressure on AA.

    This is insanely under-reported, probably because others would rather keep selling AA credit cards rather than do some honest journalism on this subject.

    One of the worst plays in this hobby is collecting AA miles. I wish there were others who are willing to say that.

  20. I personally think “saver” award availability on AA is outrageously awful, and that it’s a bad business strategy to be that stingy. Bad because normal people will not spend money on AA credit cards to receive scrip they can’t use, and frequent flyers might decide it’s not worth being loyal to AA when their loyalty doesn’t get them much.

    That said, if you’re savvy enough to read this blog, you’re savvy enough to find value in your AA miles — even if it’s hard. Using this under-appreciated tool is step one:

  21. I agree with those who say that in addition to them being mileage sociopaths – AA’s system is broken. I have been trying to book partner airlines business class flights from Miami – with Zero availability to go anywhere at all – clear out to the max reservation dates. Then I started to ask about just the partner carrier legs and found that the main problem is AA not showing any availability for the domestic legs – even for coach seats, that would allow for a voluntary downgrade. And I’m not talking about highly popular flights, or cherry picking at all. I tried for JAL flights to NRT in November – and found plenty of availability out of Dallas, Chicago and San Francisco. Even New York. But in every case the AA reservations people told me they couldn’t get me to those towns from Miami. When I protested they told me I should “take it up with management”. What a horrible time-wasting company. If you believe the Citizen’s United decision that Corporations are people – this particular person is a bonafide AA**ho**.

  22. Good post.
    I can’t get direct from DCA to ORD in saver, even with their 8+ flights a day, without going through LGA, ATL, or some other small airport. Its complete BS.

  23. Interesting that Dan of DansDeals now says AA award availability is improving. Dan is probably the only person more critical than Gary (and me) about AA’s award availability. I remain skeptical, but it’s worth keeping an open mind. Policies do change. I’d also note that just because there’s no inventory in what you want (say, domestic FC travel) doesn’t mean inventory hasn’t improved for somebody else (like int’l coach travel). It will probably take months to figure out whether anything is really changing here.

  24. @iahphx Dan seems to be talking about domestic economy (in the context of British Airways redemptions), here I’m talking primarily about international business. I haven’t seen what he’s talking about, I don’t think current domestic coach award space is reasonable, but I suppose if the reference point is 18 months ago when you couldn’t find more than a handful of days where there was even an AUS-DFW seat despite up to 14 flights a day and most flights selling for $49 then sure it’s gotten better 🙂

  25. All the correct descriptors have been used. Fraud, Ponzi, etc. Im cancelling my citi aa visa. My lifetime Gold should be renamed lifetime brown. As far as FF programs its had to go from first to worst, but they’ve achieved that.

  26. 100% agree with Steve.

    The fact that people can occasionally fight there way through for a ticket using the miles they collected in good faith (and with lots of money) does not alter the fact that this is the creepiest major airline in America. And that’s saying something.

  27. When I try to book AA for international award travel in business or first class, 95% of the time, the only available seats are on BA with massive taxes, etc. Often in business, the routings are poor (three or four legs to go from London to Nashville) whereas first is only two legs (imagine that—the award level is just that much higher so I burn more miles just to avoid an extra leg or two and interminable hours waiting). I have gotten sick and tired of the scams. For instance, round trip from Nashville to NYC for two: easy going up, but no matter what day of the week, hell coming back (via multiple cities or just not available). Book two tix one way with my miles, then my poartner books two tix one way the other direction and, amazing, the lower nonstop fares are available each direction. It is called bait and switch. So I decided last year to just spend down my miles and be done with American. I had already burned a million, and sitll had almost two million, but now less than 100K. It was also the case that years ago you could turn some of your 500 mile coupons into actual miles (depending on how they were earned)–no longer. So I’m sitting on about 120 useless 500 mile upgrade coupons. AA used to be good, with the emphasis on “used to be.”

  28. I thought I was part of a small number of people disenchanted with AA FF… The great majority of the comments I read reflect exactly my feelings about the AA program. I have been an EXP FF every single year since inception, and in the top level for 33 years or so…. The much vaunted “loyalty” program works only one way, as there is very little or practically no loyalty from the airline towards its best customers. The “bait and switch” quality of the program today is most disappointing as I recorded 5.5 million miles in FF account, mostly from flying, all of which were fairly expensive and I am getting very little satisfaction and lots of disappointments for my loyalty! I will willingly participate in any “protest group” that may be organized to bring the attention of the airline to the problems highlighted by everybody above

  29. It seems that AA has forgotten what a frequent flier program is – a LOYALTY program. Maybe they did not forget and are intentionally gutting the award space as they devalue the overall program.

    We who have responded to this article have been loyal to AA.

    Unfortunately, at the present time, the loyalty program is broken.

    I earned EXP again for the current year. My (our) SWUs were cut in half (from 8 to 4) and our earned redeemable miles were reduced to ticket price rather than as previously earned based on miles flown and the amount of miles required for an award flight has increased.

    The profits of the airlines are at an all time high. Therefore, the airlines can currently “stick it to us” because they are all making good profits. However, when the economy again sinks (and it will) some of us will remember the way AA has treated us (its loyal customers).

    It seems the best way to deal with the problem is to ignore loyalty and look for the best routes and fares with other airlines for our travel destinations.

  30. As a loyal 28 year multi Million Miler and AAL shareholder I have only minor complaints. I’m flying the longest routes on the planet and a robust award search engine that reliably includes seats on partner airlines is at the top of my wish list. I get many unpublished benefits not only for my loyalty but also for the manner in which I communicate with the staff. Most recently I had trouble putting together a multi sector international business class itinerary. Impossible without a domestic positioning flight. My inquiry was passed up to a supervisor who without any promoting from me gave me a complimentary one way first class fare from my home city to the gateway. No complaints at all from me. The retail price of that fare was about $750. I paid only the award price of $45. Moral of this story is you can go a long way by being loyal AND nice.

  31. Brad, I am a 34 year FF member, EXP every year since inception, more than 5 million miles accumulated in the program and have always tried my best to be nice and pleasant. I used to feel the way you do about the program, but unfortunately in the last couple of years AA has done its best to alienate me, making a real mockery of the much advertised loyalty. I agree wholeheartedly with all the negative comments I found in this blog… Congratulations on your good luck and hopefully you’ll have no reason to diminish your enthusiasm!

  32. Brad – “Moral of this story is you can go a long way by being loyal AND nice.”

    Do you mean the rest of us who responded to the lack of award space are not nice?

    If so, I must agree with “The Other Steve” in his response which says “Nonsense. Nice AND nonsensical.”

    By the way, when searching for award space on line, the computer does not know if you are “nice” or not. Quite simply, there is no space, nice or not. Hopefully, AA will come to its senses before too many loyal customers bail on them and go to other carriers.

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