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American’s Obscene Award Rates for Thanksgiving Travel

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November 27, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, is one of the busiest travel days of the year and one of the most convenient if you’re trying to enjoy your holiday vacation as long as possible. During a search for just such a flight, it became obvious American was charging an exorbitant number of miles for an award ticket on this date — for just about every domestic route.

Back in March, American devalued its award chart followed by an unannounced increase in AAnytime award costs in August. It now seems American is charging the newly increased AAnytime level 3 and 4 prices (categories not even listed on AA’s own award chart) for the vast majority of domestic routes within the lower 48 states on November 27. That means a one-way economy ticket will cost 65,000-75,000 miles.

Flying on day later on DCA-CHS will cost 10% the miles compared to flying on the 27th.
Flying one day later on DCA-CHS will cost 10% of the miles compared to flying on November 27.

Regardless of the length of flight, you’ll most likely come across these sky-high prices. TPG contributor JT Genter joined my search in trying to find a reasonably priced award flight for the day by looking at AUS-DFW, a usual route for him. His only option was 75,000 miles for the 33-minute DFW-AUS hop for all 12 of the daily flights on November 27!

At only 190 miles, you'll still have to pay 75,000 miles for a DFW-AUS flight.
Even though the DFW-AUS flight’s only 190 miles in distance, you’ll still have to redeem 75,000 miles.

Next, it occurred to me that hub-to-hub flights might prove a bit cheaper due to the sheer volume of seats available. Wrong again. All 16 DFW-ORD flights on November 27 cost 75,000 miles for an economy seat:

All 16 flights for DFW-ORD on Nov 27th cost 75,000 miles per seat.
All 16 flights for DFW-ORD on Nov 27 cost 75,000 miles per seat, including the 10 listed here.

Using ExpertFlyer, I count more than 110 discount economy fares available for sale on these DFW-ORD flights, but none of these fares correlate to an award ticket costing less than 75,000 miles. I continued my searc for a reasonably priced domestic award seat by moving out west with PHX-DEN: 75,000 miles.

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Then I moved to the Northwest with SEA-SFO: 75,000 miles.

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Then the Midwest with ORD-MSP: 75,000 miles.

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-7-49-31-pm

Maybe the Southeast has luck? MIA-MSY: 75,000 miles.

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-7-50-52-pm

Route after route, region after region — it didn’t matter. American is charging a huge number of miles across the country to fly on an award ticket the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

The Competition

Let’s look at how you would fare if you have Delta or United miles and want to fly on November 27. From the outset, the respective program rules dictate you would most likely come out better with SkyMiles or United miles compared to AAdvantage rewards. For MileagePlus members, United doesn’t have multiple levels of standard award pricing for economy domestic flights. For elites and co-branded cardholders, Standard awards cost 25,000 miles or there isn’t a seat available for booking. For SkyMiles members, while there’s no published award chart, I don’t ever recall seeing a domestic economy segment priced over 60,000 SkyMiles. These data points mean the 75,000 miles American is charging for domestic segments isn’t possible in the MileagePlus program and not likely with SkyMiles.

I didn’t expect to find any routes which had Saver economy availability for United or low-level 12,500-mile (or below) for Delta on the 27. However, for the first few searches I tried, found a few routes from Chicago using United miles with Saver availability costing only 10,000 miles one-way. I found that ORD-CMH, ORD-DES and ORD-CVG all had flights available at the Saver level for 10,000 miles and three ORD-LAS flights were available for 12,500 miles. If my quick searches yielded these results, I imagine there are many other routes available on November 27 with United Saver availability, and — at the very least — plenty of standard availability at 25,000 miles (or a third of what American is charging).

SkyMiles, on the other hand, did not yield any flights with low-level availability, but I did find several routes costing between 25,000 and 45,000 miles per segment. That’s still a lot of miles for a domestic flight, but nowhere close to the 65,000-75,000 American wants.

I next completed a few direct comparisons of one-way flights for November 27 to see what your options are for an economy award ticket. Here’s what I found:

ATL-ORD

American: 75,000 miles

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-6-12-25-pm

Delta: 32,500 miles

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-6-31-29-pm

United: 25,000 miles

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-6-12-39-pm

NYC-LAX

American: 75,000 miles

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-7-36-47-pm

Delta: 32,500 miles

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-7-34-54-pm

United: 25,000 miles (one-stop, no economy availability on nonstop)

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-7-36-31-pm

Bottom Line

I enlisted a few friends to help in searching for AA domestic segments costing less than 65,000 miles on November 27. Of all our searches, the only exceptions found for American charging less than 65,000 miles include a couple PHX-LAS flights for 7,500 miles and one SFO-LAX flight in business class for 25,000 miles (though an economy seat on the same flight is 75,000 miles).

The only explanation American gives for this level of pricing on AA.com is a single sentence on the award chart: “There are select dates that require a higher number of miles (in addition to Level 1 and 2 awards).” Based on the overwhelming majority of American flights costing a minimum of 65,000 miles on November 27, we can interpret the statement as meaning the airline is willing and able to charge an exorbitant amount of miles on peak travel dates. It’s understandable for carriers to raise prices — including for award tickets — on peak travel dates to meet traveler demand, but this seems to be excessive. If you were counting on your AAdvantage miles offsetting expensive holiday plane tickets, you’d better have a large account balance.

Do you think American is justified in raising prices to this level?

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