Yesterday’s unveiling of new award rules from American Airlines brought out plenty of confusion and frustration. While every AAdvantage member will be affected slightly differently by the changes the lack of clarity on the new AAnytime awards was most challenging to me. Unpublished rules are rarely tilted in favor of the customer.
I reached out to American for more details on the new tier and learned quite a bit. American is not going with the Delta 5-tier system, for example, even though they have that many different prices for various award types. The three AAnytime tiers will be tied to calendar days, not different inventory buckets. So on Level 1 days the AAnytime awards will always be at the Level 1 prices; they won’t get more expensive even as inventory dries up. Similarly, on Level 3 days the AAnytime awards will always be the most expensive price, even when American still has plenty of lower fares for sale.
It is important to note that the Level 3 awards are NOT dynamically priced. Despite much speculation that they would be tied to the underlying cash fare this is NOT the case. Based on feedback from AA I’ve picked a few dates to compare the cash and point-based options on domestic routes. Note that the award costs are static even as the fares vary and also that the awards are Level 3 rates even though some of the cheapest revenue buckets are available for sale.
So, which dates get the Level 3 rates and what are they? An American Airlines representative offered me some guidance as to when we should expect to have Level 3 awards:
[T]he Level 3 dates will mirror previous US Airways blackout dates and are loaded into the system. If you search those dates, you’ll see what the Level 3 values are for travel in certain regions in each cabin for those that apply.
Alas, the US Airways list of blackout dates was pulled offline when the changes were made overnight. I found a copy of an archived version and started my comparisons.
I cannot do a perfect analysis because the new rates are only for travel starting 1 June and the search only covers 330 days out, but here’s what it looks like for flights within the Continental US:
- Tier 1: 143 Days
- Tier 2: 118 Days
- Tier 3: 17 Days
There are more dates at Tier 3 than US Airways used to have blacked out, and that’s without the March and April details known yet. And they’re different from what I see on the old US chart. But it is similar. And I suppose it is reasonable to assume that there are 40 more dates of the 80 unknowns to get to the “AAnytime award travel will now be available more for than half of the year at an even lower redemption level” promise American made. And that promise also ignores the number of regions where the rates are higher throughout the year. Plus, we don’t really know for certain and the other bits don’t line up perfectly.
For CONUS to Hawaii the calendar is slightly different:
- Tier 1: 140 Days
- Tier 2: 120 Days
- Tier 3: 18 Days
Again, these dates do not line up exactly with what was previously published as the US Airways blackout dates but it is close. I can only assume that the dates for other regions vary similarly, which is to say that it will remain inconsistent. I’m also not 100% certain that the blackout dates are symmetrical across all dates; we’ll just have to wait and see on that, though some spot checks appeared to line up the same in both directions.
And then there’s the actual rates, or at least what they are as of today. The far right column is an evaluation of how much the Level 3 price is compared to the normal Level 2 SAAver award.
The numbers are – as expected – VERY high. And that’s going to hurt some folks a lot. Compared to the old rates the new Level 3 numbers range between 1.5-2.6x more points for the same award. I know that we like to say “no one ever redeems for these anyways” but that’s simply not the reality. And increases of this magnitude will very much hurt those customers.
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Ok…confused. As a practical matter I will (probably) never cash in for an AAnytime award. My question is this – how does this 3 tier calendar impact SAAVer Awards? Since you’ve put SAAVer in Tier 2 does mean there will never be SAAVer space on a Tier 3 Day?
I understand capacity controls and the like – but up until now AA has been reasonably good about opening up Saaver buckets closer in toward departure to reduce ‘spoilage.’ Should we expect they will refrain from this completely on Tier 3 days?
It does not affect SAAver in any way. The only reason I included it on the chart above is to show the range between the “normal” SAAver rate and the Level 3 AAnytime rate.
This is the first practical analysis on the matter by someone not pushing his affiliate links.
What AA has done (I think) is use historical analysis of data to predict demand and then knowing the high demand days, make it higher pain /cost to redeem for these days
After all, since AA started the program to fill seats on empty planes, there is no point in giving the seats away on days you are going to sell out ultimately. So the prices are much higher then in advance.
I would have been happier if there was an element of PWM as on DL for AA. and if they had called it off peak, saver, standard, high and peak/anytime and if the aanytime was related to cost at 1.5cpm on these days
Also, I note that on UA (CO), one can get standard awards on partners even when one can not see any saver space (and I assume a partner award is always saver space), so UA must have an arrangement to pay more for more access to these seats, so they are allowing redemptions.
UA absolutely does NOT have access to “extra” inventory on partners. They’ll show that but it is either with a UA segment which requires the extra space or the same seat should be available at the Saver level.
Will “sAAver” awards be available on the US blackout dates?
The fact that this is calendar-based is somewhat frustrating.
If it’s the morning December 20th and I haven’t booked a trip for the holidays yet, I might try to do so. Until it’s clear they’ll be releasing more SAAver seats close-in (United is very good about this, American not so much), it would be disappointing to have to pay Level 3 rates for a flight departing in a few hours even when it’s going to depart with empty seats.
Thank you for the thorough, detailed & numerical analysis which helps consumers fare better (pun intended). Public transparency benefits all.
Thank you for the analysis. Can you please clarify what the white squares denote on the charts? I have already since different award levels for first class travel to Hawaii then are on the color chart.
The white boxes are dates which are unknown and unavailable to search yet.
Can you provide details on what dates you are seeing different than what I’ve shown?
Got it on the white chart boxes. Only a few minor differences, I see 2/28 and 3/6 as tier 2. 3/5 as tier one. Saturdays and some Friday Travel to and from Hawaii appear to be tier 2 a majority of the time. Appears American consistently wants us to use more miles on those days.
This is a great analysis. Thank you for sharing. It sure seems like it’s an understatement though for AA to imply that Level 3 correspond to former US blackout dates. There seem to be a lot more than that. Level 3 is the blackout price and they’ve increased the number of them.
@ Seth — any idea if L1/L2/L3 dates vary based on a specific route (e.g. dates for flying from Dallas may be different than flying from Detroit) or is simply based on regions?
The spot-checks I did and the statements I got from AA suggests they are by region, not specific routes. But I don’t have 100% certainty on that.
Thank you, Seth!
Speaking of AA awards, do you have any idea why all out of the sudden, we can’t see any space on IAH-DFW flights using BA site since US & TAM joined OW? Avios engine seems to only show awards if flying on US Airways (e.g. IAH-CLT-DFW) completely ignoring nonstop flights between Houston & Dallas on American. I sent them an email but they haven’t responded yet. Given all the horror stories I hear about the new BA call center, I’ve not called them to see if agents can see any space but, either way, this isn’t good.
No idea about the BA bit. Sorry.
So how does the new AA determine Saver availability? Great hard work fyi!
The same way they always have: However they want.
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