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Well, I guess it was only a matter of time before American Airlines decided to increase the amount of miles needed for award tickets since Delta, United and Southwest all made big devaluations this year. These changes are not good, but they also are not complete game changers and AAdvantage will still likely remain one of my top frequent flyer programs as long as they don’t mess with the elite program and institute revenue requirements like United and Delta.

The biggest change is that AAnytime awards will be split into 3 categories – Level 1, 2 and 3 and you’ll likely need to redeem more miles for that last seat on the plane. Luckily the SAAver program remains largely untouched with the off-peak program still intact, which is great since partners price out at the SAAver level and I’m glad AA is not starting to penalize for partner award travel like United.

Update: I’ve also learned that AA will change their international gateway stopover policy (that I wrote about yesterday) to only allow a 24-hour stopover, which is a complete bummer. I asked for clarification on when that change will occur and I believe it is in effect for travel starting June 1, so there could be time to leverage the current flexible stopover rule for travel starting before June 1 – I will need to play around with this to see the limitations and will update.

Update 2: American is also getting rid of their distanced-based Oneworld Explorer awards, which although complicated, can be a huge value.

New Award Chart (Link) Starting June 1, 2014

5 "Exciting" Award Levels
5 “Exciting” Award Levels


The key change here is that there will now be 5 award tiers (Sounds kinda like Delta, right?): Off-peak, MileSAAver, AAnytime, AAnytime 2 and AAnytime 3.  The good news is that there aren’t huge changes to the MileSAAver award structure – they’re still keeping the same off-peak dates and saver 30,000/50,000/62,500 miles awards for economy/business/first travel from the US to Europe, where United and Delta increased those awards by 25% or more. However, the AAnytime rate will vary for all awards and there will be AAytime Level 1 (which is less than current rate of double the miles of a standard award), AAnytime level 2 (which is more than the current AAytime award level) and a mysterious AAytime level 3 award that doesn’t even have pricing, but AA simply states “*AAnytime Level 3 awards are offered on a few select dates and will require higher number of miles to redeem.”

Gone are the days of being able to redeem double the miles for pretty much any flight
Gone are the days of being able to redeem double the miles for pretty much any flight
The new levels are already pricing for travel after June 1- today an AAnytime Award from London to NYC is 125,000 miles and with the new changes it jumps to 175,000
The new levels are already pricing for travel after June 1- today an AAnytime Award from London to NYC is 125,000 miles and with the new changes it jumps to 175,000


Checked Bag Policy Changes (Link)

For flights operated by American, these changes take place for tickets issued starting today. For flights operated by US Airways, these changes take place for tickets issued starting April 23.

Negative:
-AAdvantage Gold members and Dividend Miles Platinum and Gold members will receive one fewer free checked bag than they do today.
-Customers traveling on an AAnytime award or a full-fare economy ticket (on legacy American) will no longer receive free checked bags.

Positive:
-Starting April 30, customers who have the US Airways MasterCard® with an annual fee of at least $79 will receive one free checked bag
-The second bag charge on flights to and from South America will be removed.

Summary
Overall, these changes are not great, but they’re not nearly as bad as they could have been. When I got the call that AA was making major changes to the frequent flyer program my heart sunk. However, they’re not eviscerating SAAver level awards (the best value awards) like the other frequent flyer programs, but are more focused on protecting their revenue by increasing the miles needed for those last available seats which truly take the most expensive seats for sale off the market.

I booked an AAnytime award from Recife to Miami for 100,000 miles last week simply because coach and business class tickets were insanely priced and I snagged the last available business class seat that was selling for $4,000. In the end, the flight got canceled and I rebooked myself on a SAAver level award on different routing, but it was nice to have the option of using double the miles for that very last seat. Now, that AANytime award would cost 110,000 miles at a minimum (if there were a couple seats left), 150,000 (assuming pretty much last seat availability) or even more if it was a mysterious level 3 award that has no published pricing.

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