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Last week, American announced a slew of changes to the AAdvantage program for next year. Among other tweaks, the program will see some significant award chart devaluations. TPG Senior Points & Miles Correspondent Nick Ewen goes over some of the hardest-hit redemptions, all of which you should book sooner rather than later.
While many of us saw these changes to the AAdvantage program coming and were relieved it took as long as it did, they’re nevertheless a blow to what was one of the most lucrative programs out there. Fortunately, the current award charts remain in effect through March 21, 2016, so you still have some time to lock in redemptions at the old rates. Today I want to go through my list of AAdvantage award redemptions to book before the devaluation officially takes hold.
1. Cathay Pacific first class to Asia
One of the best values for AAdvantage miles in the current program is Cathay Pacific first class from the US to Asia. I redeemed miles for this exact trip (final destination was Bali) back in 2011 and had an incredible experience. In the current program, this award was just 67,500 miles (135,000 miles round-trip). As of March 22, this award will jump to an astonishing 110,000 miles. I figured this one would go up in price but never figured that it would be jumping almost 63%!
Earlier in the year, we wrote about a rumor that Cathay would begin restricting first-class awards for partners, but sadly it appears that this devaluation will be a much more immediate blow to those wanting to cross the Pacific using AAdvantage miles. For now, Cathay Pacific tends to release no more than one first-class award seat at a time, but there are ways to snag more than one of these seats with a little patience and some diligent searching. Just remember that some changes made to award tickets after March 21 will be subject to the increased price.
2. Any Etihad first-class Apartment award
Another terrific redemption option for AAdvantage miles is for Etihad’s First Apartment, available exclusively on the carrier’s A380 aircraft. There are many things to love about this redemption, including the sheer size of the suite (“apartment” does seem appropriate) and the onboard amenities. Etihad currently flies the plane from Abu Dhabi to both London and Sydney, and is just beginning flights to New York-JFK. Next year, the carrier will launch flights to Mumbai in May 2016, and flights to Melbourne in June 2016. Unfortunately, all of these redemptions will jump in price when the devaluation kicks in (all award amounts one-way):
- Abu Dhabi to/from Mumbai: 35,000 miles to 40,000 miles (14.3% increase)
- Abu Dhabi to/from London: 40,000 miles to 62,500 miles (56.25% increase)
- Abu Dhabi to/from Australia: 60,000 miles to 100,000 miles (66.7% increase)
- Abu Dhabi to/from New York: 90,000 miles to 115,000 miles (27.8% increase)
Note that these prices affect all Etihad first-class redemptions, even if you aren’t flying the carrier’s A380. However, given the incredible luxury of the First Apartment, these flights are a big hit.
3. Business or first class to Australia
Earlier this year, American announced plans for a new nonstop flight from Los Angeles to Sydney beginning in just a few weeks (on December 17th). This, combined with Qantas’ new flight from San Francisco to Sydney, represented some great new capacity to Australia. While premium-class awards are hard to come by on any flight from the US to down under (Dallas-Fort Worth to Sydney seems to be your best bet unless you want to route via Doha on Qatar Airways), if you can snag a seat, you better do it before March 22nd! Both of these awards are jumping in price with the devaluation:
- Business class: 62,500 miles to 80,000 miles (28% increase)
- First class: 72,500 miles to 110,000 miles (51.7% increase)
Unfortunately, even economy awards on these routes are going up, though the jump from 37,500 miles to 40,000 miles one-way is only a 6.67% increase.
4. Off-peak awards to Europe
The AAdvantage program’s off-peak award to Europe has long been a terrifically economical way to get to Europe (though it only applies to coach redemptions). The 2016 devaluation isn’t getting rid of this option, but it will become more expensive and more restrictive as of March 22, so you’ll want to lock in your travel plans before then. Here are the two main changes:
- Price: 20,000 miles to 22,500 miles (12.5% increase)
- Dates: November 1 – December 14 and January 10 – March 14 (previously October 15 – May 15)
The price increase isn’t too terrible, but the date changes are a big blow. Under the current award chart, well over half of the year was available at this off-peak amount (213 or 214 days, depending on Leap Year). With the new structure that takes effect in March, you’re dropping to just 81 applicable dates in 2016 and 2017 — just over a third of the year. As a result, if you’re planning an award trip to Europe in late October or over the holidays, you should definitely book these awards ASAP.
5. Transcontinental business/first class
Under the current award chart, American doesn’t differentiate between business class on two-cabin and three-cabin flights within the US, and three-cabin first class redemptions are a relatively affordable 32,500 miles each way. However, both of these are changing when the devaluation takes effect on March 22nd. When you fly within the US on an American plane equipped with both business and first class (mainly applicable to the carrier’s A321T aircraft), you’ll be charged a premium for those redemptions:
- Business class: 25,000 miles to 32,500 miles (30% increase)
- First class: 32,500 miles to 50,000 miles (54% increase)
As a result, if you’re looking to cross the country in style, you’ll want to book these awards sooner rather than later.
6. Business class to Europe or South America Region 2
The final change in redemption levels isn’t nearly as dramatic as some of the ones above, but it’s yet another blow to the AAdvantage award chart. Both business class to Europe and South America Region 2 (which includes Argentina, most of Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela) are jumping from 50,000 miles to 57,500 miles, an increase of 15%. In my opinion, this was a very deliberate choice on American’s part, as these new redemptions are still more rewarding (as a whole) than both of American’s main competitors:
- Delta charges 62,500 miles for a one-way business class award ticket to Europe and Southern South America
- United charges 55,000 miles and 57,500 miles for a one-way business class award ticket on its own metal to Southern South America and Europe, respectively. However, partner awards to Europe are much higher (70,000 miles) as a result of 2014’s devaluation.
This is especially pertinent if you’re interested in flying the carrier’s new flagship 777-300ER, as TPG did from JFK-GRU earlier this year. Note that he flew the same route in first class back in 2013, and that redemption is also jumping in price, from 62,500 miles to 85,000 miles each way (a 36% increase).
There’s no debating that the upcoming AAdvantage award chart devaluation is a big blow to those of us who took advantage of recent sign-up bonuses on cards like the Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard. However, American was long overdue for a course correction and was focused on completing its merger with US Airways, so it certainly wasn’t unexpected. It’s also not a complete loss, as there are still some sweet spots in the new award chart.
Remember that American typically allows redemptions no more than 331 days in advance, meaning that on March 21, 2016 you should be able to book flights departing on or before February 15, 2017 at the lower mileage levels. Just remember that any changes to your origin, destination and/or class of service after the devaluation takes effect will likely re-price your award at the new levels!
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