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What You Need to Know About the Upcoming American Devaluation

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Welcome to March, the month when AA’s AAdvantage program is scheduled to undergo a major devaluation when it comes to award redemptions. Today, TPG Contributor JT Genter digs into these changes and what they’ll mean for you.

It’s just three weeks away now: The dreaded American Airlines devaluation. Effective March 22, the current, generous American Airlines award chart will be no more.

Whether you’ve had March 21 circled on your calendar for months or are just hearing about this now, here’s what you need to know.

Award Flights to Book Now

Cathay Pacific first class seats are a better redemption than ever with a new award fare policy from US Airways
Cathay Pacific first class is one of the hardest-hit redemptions, jumping from 67,500 to 110,000 miles each way from the US to Asia.

1. Business and First-Class Award Flights

American Airlines Flights Business Class First Class
Old New Old New
Contiguous 48 US states 25,000 25,000 32,500 50,000
Contiguous 48 US states (≤ 500 miles) 15,000
Canada and Alaska 25,000 30,000 32,500 55,000
Hawaii 37,500 40,000 47,500 65,000
Caribbean 30,000 25,000 40,000 50,000
Mexico 30,000 25,000 40,000 50,000
Central America 30,000 25,000 40,000 50,000
South America Region 1 30,000 30,000 40,000 55,000
South America Region 2 50,000 57,500 62,500 85,000
Europe 50,000 57,500 62,500 85,000
Middle East 67,500 90,000
Asia Region 1 50,000 60,000 62,500 80,000
Asia Region 2 55,000 70,000 67,500 110,000
South Pacific 62,500 80,000 72,500 110,000

Almost across the chart, premium-cabin award flights are increasing — some rather drastically. If you like to travel in comfort, you should certainly consider booking any business or first-class award flights before March 22.

Not sure where to focus your search? We featured the best options in this article.

2. Certain Off-Peak Award Flights

Off-Peak Economy American Airlines Oneworld Partners
Old New Old New
Hawaii 17,500 20,000 17,500 [22,500]
Caribbean 12,500 12,500
Mexico 12,500 12,500
Central America 15,000 12,500
South America Region 1 15,000 17,500
South America Region 2 20,000 [30,000] 20,000 [30,000]
Europe 20,000 22,500 20,000 22,500
Asia Region 1 25,000 32,500 25,000 [35,000]
Asia Region 2 32,500

AA is eliminating its off-peak award flights to South America Region 2 (20,000 old off-peak vs. 30,000 MileSAAver) — while also increasing off-peak redemptions to Hawaii (17,500 to 20,000), South America Region 1 (15,000 to 17,500), Europe (20,000 to 22,500) and Japan/Korea (25,000 to 32,500).

Also, off-peak awards have been all but eliminated on AA partners. The only option that’s left is Europe for 22,500 each way. If you’re interested in flying AA partners to Hawaii, South America Region 2 or Asia Region 1, make sure to book by March 22 before these flights increase as much as 10,000 miles each way.

New Off-Peak Dates To the Region From the Region
Hawaii Dec 29-Mar 12, Aug 11-Nov 18, Nov 24-Dec 10 Jan 7-Mar 19, Aug 18-Nov 27, Dec 3-25
Caribbean April 27 – May 20, September 7 – November 14
Mexico April 27 – May 20, September 7 – November 14
Central America April 27 – May 20, September 7 – November 14
South America Region 1 January 16 – June 14, September 7 – November 14
Europe January 10 – March 14, November 1 – December 14
Japan Jan 1-Apr 30, July 1-Nov 30 Jan 16-Apr 19, May 2-31, Sept 1-Dec 31
Korea Jan 1-Apr 30, July 1-Nov 30 Jan 16-May 31, Sept 1-Dec 31
China & Hong Kong Jan 1-Apr 30, July 1-Sept 30, Oct 11-Nov 30 Feb 1-May 31, Sept 1-19, Oct 2-Dec 31

Not only have some off-peak charts been removed and others increased, but dates ranges have also been adjusted. Off-peak to Europe will no longer include October 15-31, December 15-January 9 and March 15-May 15. Off-peak to Central America won’t include January 16-April 26 or May 21-June 14.

The adjustments to off-peak dates to Hawaii, Japan, Korea, China and Hong Kong are even more awkward. Rather than having blocks of time (i.e., October 1-April 30), there’ll now be different off-peak dates for departing and returning. Generally, American is removing off-peak dates for December 1-January 15. So, if you can find off-peak MileSAAver awards for these peak holiday dates, make sure to book them before March 22.

Changes to Previously Booked Awards

Business class on AA's 777-300ER.
Can’t find availability in business class on AA’s 777-300ER? You can book an available business-class award ticket now and change your flights after March 22.

If you book an American Airlines award ticket prior to March 22, you can change your flight dates or routing after March 22 and still be “grandfathered” in to the old award chart (assuming you’re able to find award availability, of course). However, if you change the origin or destination airports or change airlines, you’ll have to pay a $150 change fee and the difference between the old and new charts in order to complete the change.

Some AAgents aren’t currently aware that these changes will be free. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been polling each agent I’ve spoken with about this. Many are aware that free changes will be allowed, but a few agents were adamant that free changes won’t be allowed. Hopefully, the training will be universal by March 22. If you reach an agent that won’t let you change your flights without paying additional miles — and won’t budge on the position — ask to speak to a supervisor or politely end the call and try again with another agent.

Another year means another opportunity to hit calendar-year spending bonuses.
Award tickets are only valid within one year of ticketing. If you’re booking before March 22, make sure you plan to travel before March 22, 2017.

Unfortunately, you can’t extend these award tickets out eternally. American Airlines’ “Redeeming AAdvantage miles” terms & conditions state: “Once ticketed, you’ll have one year from the date of ticketing to complete all travel unless otherwise noted.” So, make sure that you’ll be able to use the award tickets within 365 days of booking.

Award Flights to Wait to Book

There’s not much that you want to wait until March 22 to book, but there are a few areas where the award chart has improved.

1. Domestic Flights Under 500 Miles

Fly short hops on American Eagle for 5,00 less miles than before.
Flights under 500 miles will cost 5,000 less award miles when booked after March 22.

American Airlines is adding a new level to its award flights: one-way, domestic, nonstop flights under 500 miles are just 7,500 miles in economy or 15,000 miles in business, matching BA’s new rates. This will be quite useful for those living in Dallas, Charlotte, Chicago, New York and other American hubs that have lots of options within 500 miles. However, this change might not be as useful for most of us, who may have just one <500-mile option.

2. Economy to the Middle East/Indian Subcontinent

American Airlines doesn’t fly to these regions, but AA’s partners certainly do. If you don’t mind long-haul flights in economy, you can book award flights from the US to the Middle East/India for 40,000 miles each way on or after March 22. Currently, this route requires 45,000 miles each way.

3. Economy and Business-Class to the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America

Economy flights are being reduced from 17,500 to just 15,000 miles each way, while business-class flights are dropping 5,000 miles each way (from 30,000 to 25,000 miles).

4. Economy to Central America on certain off-peak dates.

If you’re looking to fly to Central America in economy from September 7 – November 14, you might be able to snag off-peak awards for 12,500 miles each way after the change. The current off-peak rate for this route is 15,000 miles each way.

Consider Mileage Running While You Still Can

Hopefully minimal actual running involved.
Hopefully minimal actual running would be involved in your mileage run.

In the “second half of 2016” — no exact date has been announced and I can’t get any AAgent to give it up if they know — American Airlines AAdvantage program is switching to a revenue-based earning program. While some business and paid premium-cabin travelers are going to benefit from this change, budget travelers and economy-class mileage runners are going to lose a way of cheaply generating redeemable miles.

Before we reach peak summer season, you might want to consider booking cheap long-haul flights through American Airlines to earn cheap redeemable miles while you still can. I hope Kuala Lumpur (KUL) is wonderful this time of year, as I’m headed there soon thanks to $547 round-trip fares — flights which will earn 20,470 elite-qualifying miles (EQM). This round-trip will get me more than 40% toward AA Platinum status, which we value at $2,840.

Check flight options to SE Asia - especially Kuala Lumpur (KUL) - if you are looking for a mileage run.
If you’re looking for a mileage run, check flight options to SE Asia – especially Kuala Lumpur (KUL). Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.

If you currently have Platinum or Executive Platinum status, this route would generate 40,940 redeemable miles. After the change to a revenue program, this route would only generate 3,530 miles for a Platinum member or 4,853 miles for Executive Platinum members.

If you’re an Executive Platinum member, the Dallas (DFW) to Hong Kong (HKG) flight is an awesome use for your systemwide upgrades — due to the flight length and excellent business-class product.

Interested in a mileage run?

1. Make sure to book all of the segments with American Airlines flight numbers, as redeemable and elite-qualifying miles rates are reduced if you book a partner flight number.

2. Make sure you apply for any necessary travel visas before departing. You’d hate to be turned away at the airport.

3. Try to stretch your flight to maximize the number of miles you can get for the same price.

Mileage running is a lot more fun if you can fly business or first class.
Mileage running is a lot more fun if you can fly business or first class.

It’s even better if you can find cheap business-class mileage run options. You’ll be traveling a lot more comfortably, while also earning 2 to 3 elite-qualifying miles per mile flown (depending on the fare class) and up to 12,000 bonus miles per segment. For more information, see TPG Contributor Patrick Fallon’s post about a recent AA premium-cabin mileage run.

Bottom Line

Depending on how you want to utilize your American Airlines miles, March 22 could be the end of an era or just another day. Make sure to book in the next few weeks if you want business/first-class awards or certain off-peak redemptions. Hold off booking if you’re interested in one of the few mileage reductions. If you have a lot of American Airlines miles, consider your options and develop a strategy for them. Then, either “burn baby burn” or stash them away for later.

Which American awards are you booking before March 22?

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