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A Look Back at American’s Old Award Charts

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With AA’s massive devaluation now just a few days away, TPG Assistant Editor Matt Zuzolo takes a look at how American’s new award chart compares to one from a decade ago.

With what feels like a near-constant stream of rewards program changes and devaluations, including American’s coming up next Tuesday, many flyers and travelers are worried about the current state of award travel. While it may seem that these huge changes are a regular occurrence, the updates in the past haven’t been too bad — at least for American flyers.

AA's program in 2005 wasn't too different than today.
AA’s program in 2005 wasn’t too different than today’s.

With this in mind, I thought it’d be interesting to take a step back and see what’s changed with the programs. After a bit of digging, I managed to find American Airlines’ 2005/2006 AAdvantage Member’s Guide (warning: PDF). Aside from some smaller details, I was surprised to realize that little has actually changed — at least compared to the current award chart that will become obsolete in just about a week.

Possibly the biggest change is the expansion of American’s own service. Since 2005, the airline industry has consolidated and American most recently finished a merger with US Airways. AA itself has also been expanding its presence — especially in the Pacific with new service to cities like Sydney and Hong KongOf course you could always book flights on partners and Oneworld alliance members like LAN, Qantas and Cathay Pacific, but this award chart shows the limited scope of American’s own service. Japan, for example, is the only Asian country listed on American’s chart from 2005.

You could still earn bonus miles in the past with AA.
There were various options for earning bonus miles with AA back in 2005.

However, while this new chart spells bad news for some particular redemptions, some of the new changes are better and cheaper than they were in 2015 or even in 2005. For example, the introduction of the ≤500 mile domestic flight redemptions are a great new option that would’ve previously required 10,000 extra miles for a round-trip ticket. Other redemptions, such as those to many Latin American countries (especially in business class) remain the same price. Note that on the tables below, I’ve bolded award redemptions that either saw no price change or actually saw a decrease in cost.

The airline has also changed its regional definitions quite a bit, which also contributes to redemption changes. For example, Central America was listed as the same redemption type as Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Today, those countries mostly require the same redemption, but they’re categorized a bit differently. For the purposes of this post, I’ve approximated the regions, but you can see the exact redemptions in the members guide for the 2005 redemptions or on AA’s website for today’s region definitions.

While the redemptions themselves haven’t changed too much since 2005, the way you earn miles have. Back in 2005, the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select was still available, but you could also earn with a Citibank / AAdvantage branded debit card — not too common an opportunity in 2016. On the other hand, there are tons of new ways to earn miles, such as using dining programs, shopping portals and so many more card options available today. While some of these options existed in the past, it’s become an even easier and more robust way to earn passively.

Economy-class award chart for AA flights:

From US to: Economy Off-Peak (2005) Economy SAAver (2005) Economy  Off-Peak (2015) Economy SAAver (2015) Economy Off-Peak (2016) Economy SAAver (2016)
Contiguous 48 US states N/A 12,500 N/A 12,500 N/A 12,500
US < 500 miles N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A 7,500
Canada & Alaska N/A 12,500 N/A 12,500 N/A 15,000
Hawaii N/A 17,500 17,500 22,500 20,000 22,500
Caribbean 12,500 15,000 12,500 17,500 12,500 15,000
Mexico 12,500 15,000 12,500 17,500 12,500 15,000
Central America 15,000 17,500 15,000 17,500 12,500 15,000
South America Region 1 15,000* 17,500 15,000 17,500 17,500 20,000
South America Region 2 20,000 30,000 20,000 30,000 N/A 30,000
Europe 20,000 30,000 20,000 30,000 22,500 30,000
Asia Region 1 25,000* 32,500 25,000 32,500 32,500 35,000
Asia Region 2 N/A N/A N/A 35,000 32,500 35,000
South Pacific N/A N/A N/A 37,500 N/A 40,000

Business-class award chart for AA flights:

Travel from US to: Business SAAver (2005) Business SAAver (2015) Business SAAver (2016)
Contiguous 48 US states 22,500 25,000 25,000
Domestic < 500 miles N/A N/A 15,000
Canada & Alaska 22,500 25,000 30,000
Hawaii 37,500 37,500 40,000
Caribbean 30,000 30,000 25,000
Mexico 30,000 30,000 25,000
Central America 30,000 30,000 25,000
South America Region 1 30,000 30,000 30,000
South America Region 2 45,000 50,000 57,500
Europe 45,000 50,000 57,500
Asia Region 1 45,000 50,000 60,000
Asia Region 2 N/A 55,000 70,000
South Pacific N/A 62,500 80,000

First-class award chart for AA flights:

Travel from US to: First SAAver (2005) First SAAver (2015) First SAAver (2016)
Contiguous 48 US states 30,000 32,500 50,000
Domestic < 500 miles N/A N/A N/A
Canada & Alaska 30,000 32,500 55,000
Hawaii 47,500 47,500 65,000
Caribbean 40,000 40,000 50,000
Mexico 40,000 40,000 50,000
Central America 40,000 40,000 50,000
South America Region 1 40,000 40,000 55,000
South America Region 2 62,500 62,500 85,000
Europe 62,500 62,500 85,000
Asia Region 1 62,500 62,500 80,000
Asia Region 2 N/A 67,500 110,000
South Pacific N/A 72,500 110,000
American's service may have changed a lot, but award travel are not too far off.
American’s service may have changed a lot, but mileage redemption rates haven’t increased as much as you’d think.

Final Thoughts

Of course, there are a ton of variables when it comes to evaluating a program’s worth, especially when comparing programs a decade apart. Many of the redemptions either haven’t changed much since 2005, or they’ve become more favorable. Nonetheless, redemption requirements are remarkably similar given the perception that airlines are constantly devaluing programs. While the latest award charts aren’t exactly welcome by frequent flyers, it could certainly be worse and it’s surprising that low-cost redemptions lasted this long. Moreover, it’s a great time to be earning miles. While credit cards and flying are two ways that have been around, airlines have introduced easier ways to passively and actively earn miles just for daily spending.

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