American Airlines switches to one-way rewards; drops free stopovers

oneway Big news out of the American Airlines AAdvantage program over the weekend – rewards can now be issued as one-way tickets rather than round trips.  These rewards can be redeemed at 50% of the typical round trip reward levels so no reward price inflation.  It also means that rewards can be redeemed “mix-and-match,” allowing for travel to and from different zones or in different cabins in each direction at the combination of one-way prices.

And now the bad news.  No more stopovers allowed at the International gateway city.  Up until now American had perhaps the most liberal stopover policy of any carrier worldwide.  A stopover was allowed at both gateways for international travel.  So if flying New Orleans – Paris the trip could be routed via Chicago and London with a free stopover at each of those cities.  That essentially got a couple more hops out of a reward ticket.  The new rules will still allow the stopover at the departure gateway (Chicago in the above example) but not at the far end of the trip.  With rewards booking as one-way trips it would be possible to book the international gateway stopover on the return part of the trip (it would be the “local” gateway at that point) but that used to be allowed anyways so it does cut down on options.  That same New Orleans – Paris trip previously could have been routed with stops in Chicago, London, Paris (destination), Madrid and New York all on a single reward ticket.  Now only one of the North American stops will be allowed and one of the European stops (in addition to the actual destination). 

Should an AAdvantage member want to book the stopover they’ll simply have to pay the extra miles for the one way trip.  Or pay cash.  In some cases that isn’t a huge deal.  For an intra-Europe stopover there are likely LCCs or rail options that can make up the loss at a reasonable price.  But if you were planning a stopover in Hong Kong or Tokyo on your way to Thailand or Bali the costs just went up significantly, either with cash or miles.

This truly is a mixed bag change.  The ability to do the “mix-and-match” redemption in different classes or different zones is a significant improvement and brings American up to match a number of other carriers in that regard.  But losing the stopover at the international gateway is a pretty big loss.  For the bulk of their customers who live in their hub cities the stopover at the near-side gateway is essentially useless since the trip starts at the gateway.  As a customer I’d be much happier with simply a single stopover instead of them dictating which end of the trip it should be at.

This wouldn’t be enough to drive me away were I a heavy AA customer.  I’d just take my stopovers on the return side of the trip and call it a day.  And as a very light customer (1-2x yearly) I actually like it since I have fewer miles and can get a one-way here or there and actually afford it with my earning pattern.  But it definitely changes the landscape of the reward market in the United States.  The waiting game now begins to see if any of the other legacy carriers will match the move (the non-Legacy carriers already offer such redemptions in their programs).

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.