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Can I Still Change AAdvantage Awards After the Devaluation?

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TPG reader Ken sent me a message on Facebook to ask about booking AAdvantage awards:

“If I book a ticket now using American Airlines miles, and then change the date after the devaluation next year, will I have to pay the mileage difference between the old and new award charts?”

Last month, American Airlines announced updates to the AAdvantage program planned for 2016, including changes to its award charts. While a handful of awards will actually become more affordable, many more mileage requirements will be going up (some by as much as 60%), representing a significant devaluation for frequent flyers. Fortunately, these changes won’t take effect until March, so there’s still time to book awards at the lower rates.

American has a relatively friendly policy for award ticket changes, as you can alter your travel dates and times with no fee under certain conditions. Ken wants to know if he can take advantage of that policy by booking awards now and then shifting his itinerary as needed later while still paying the lower rate. Fortunately, the answer is yes, though there are some restrictions.

My contacts at American have informed that the current rules will still apply: Passengers can change the date/time and routing without repricing to the new, higher award level. For example, if you booked an award from New York to Dallas on June 17-21, you could shift your departure to June 18 and keep the rest of the itinerary intact. You could change your flight from San Francisco to Madrid to route through Dallas instead of Chicago if that fit your schedule better.

So long as the origin and destination remain the same, you won’t need to pay the extra miles. That means if you’re certain about where you want to go but not sure about when, you could book your awards before the deadline to lock in the better rate, and then adjust them later as needed. However, keep in mind that since those awards won’t be repriced automatically, you’ll need to request the fare change if you rebook an award that’s becoming cheaper.

If
If you’re planning to book AAdvantage awards, be sure to do so before rates go up in March.

As always, you should be able to change your plans more freely if American makes significant changes to your flight schedule. In that case, the airline should allow you to shift your itinerary at no extra charge. There’s some uncertainty surrounding what constitutes a significant change — you probably can’t rebook for free if your departure time gets bumped back 20 minutes, but it’s worth a shot for anything more than an hour. If you have a legitimate schedule conflict and reach a sympathetic agent, you might convince them to honor the original price.

Again, the new award charts won’t go into operation until March 22, 2016. Until then, you can book awards (and make changes) at the current rates even if your flight is scheduled to depart beyond that date. American has a 331-day booking window, so you can lock in the lower prices for award travel through mid-February 2017, and then make adjustments as needed.

For more on AAdvantage award booking rules and avoiding change fees, check out these posts:

If you have any other questions, please tweet me @thepointsguy, message me on Facebook or send me an email at info@thepointsguy.com.

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