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American Airlines made a major announcement about changes to its AAdvantage mileage program in November, including a huge overhaul of its award chart. While most of the ensuing commentary has focused on how the airline raised the number of miles for many redemptions, it turns out there were other changes as well. TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen takes a look at some of the major changes in how the regions of the chart are delineated, and what that might mean for flyers going forward.
American Airlines’ award chart changes go into effect on March 22, and while most of the attention has been given over to increasing redemption requirements, there are some other changes flyers should be on the lookout for as well. Namely, several destinations are switching regions, which will affect how and where you can redeem your miles. Here are the ones to keep in mind.
So you can follow along with the regions yourself, here are the links to:
- American Airlines’ current award chart for its own flights before March 22
- American Airlines’ award chart for its own flights on/after March 22
- American’s partner award chart for flights before March 22
- American’s partner award chart for flights on/after March 22
The region definitions are down at the very bottom of the partner charts. You’ll note that in American’s charts for its own flights, many region-to-region redemptions are omitted since the airline doesn’t fly to or from several of them. So instead, let’s focus on those partner charts and the regional definitions there.
If you do try to book award travel before the changes, be sure to consult our guide to American Airlines award routing rules to help you plot out your flights. There seem to be some strict rules about how and where you can route through various regions, but in practice, these are a bit more flexible than they might appear. For instance, you should technically not be able to route from Asia 2 (including China and Singapore) to the US via the Middle East, but I recently was able to book a Saver-level single-priced award using American miles on Etihad from Sri Lanka to New York via Abu Dhabi on Etihad. So there’s some room for maneuvering — feel free to report your own successes in the comments section!
For reference, I verified routes using the Oneworld interactive timetable and Google Flights.
COUNTRIES CHANGING REGIONS
There are quite a few countries and even specific destinations that are shifting regions. Many make a lot of sense, while a few are a little more obscure. Only a couple should affect a significant amount of flyers, though.
1. Bolivia and Manaus (Brazil)
- Old region: South America 2
- New region: South America 1
Why it matters: This change is a mixed bag because Bolivia is now considered part of South America 1, so travelers might have to alter their plans if they intended to visit this landlocked gem as part of an itinerary that included other South American destinations. If you’re combining your visit to Bolivia with one to Peru (and one of the only nonstops to La Paz is from Lima on LAN), your redemption will go down to 10,000 miles each way in economy from 12,500 miles. But if you’re coming from Iquique in Chile instead, the mileage will increase from 10,000 to 12,500 miles each way.
Interestingly enough, American has nonstops from Miami to both La Paz and Santa Cruz in Bolivia, so thanks to the shift, these will be decreasing in price from 30,000 miles each way in economy and 50,000 in business class to just 20,000 in economy and 30,000 in business class.
The same will be true of American’s nonstop from Miami to Manaus in Brazil. That might seem like a good deal on the surface, but if you want to go anywhere else in Brazil, which is in South America 2, it’ll then cost you more if you’re stopping over in Manaus after March 22 since the city will be in a different region from the rest of the country.
- Old region: Asia 2
- New region: South Pacific
Why it matters: Again, this isn’t a hugely trafficked destination, and the only nonstop Oneworld flight I could find going to/from Guam only takes place a few times a week on JAL from Tokyo Narita. That said, you can connect to the rest of Asia from there.
This shift really just impacts flyers who would have to transit through Japan to get to Guam. Whereas now you can fly to Guam via Tokyo as a single award since American allows you to route through Asia 1 (where Japan is) to get to Asia 2 (where Guam currently is), once Guam joins the South Pacific region, these flights are going to price out as two separate awards — one from North America to Asia 1, and another from Asia 1 to South Pacific. That means instead of 35,000 miles each way in economy and 55,000 miles in business, you can expect to pay 65,000 each way in economy and 100,000 in business.
3. Sri Lanka
- Old region: Asia 2
- New region: Indian Subcontinent/Middle East
Why it matters: Sri Lanka might seem like an out-of-the way kind of place, but it’s strategically important for a few reasons. First, since it joined Oneworld, SriLankan Airlines has rapidly grown its fleet and route network, and you can regularly find awards throughout Asia on the carrier, even on routes not passing through its hub of Colombo (such as those from Bangkok to Hong Kong and Canton). So once Sri Lanka is shifted to India/Middle East, it’s going to be important in a couple of ways.
On the negative side, you won’t be able to get such cheap award redemptions from Colombo the rest of the airline’s Asian destinations such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing. For example, a recent business-class award I booked from Beijing-Colombo cost me 22,500 miles, but after March 22, that will shoot up to 40,000 miles, a 78% increase!
On the flip side, if you’re flying the airline to get to India or the Middle East from Colombo, those redemptions will decrease 5,000 miles each way in economy.
Finally, Sri Lanka a great place to position yourself for amazing business-class airfares. Flights originating from Colombo and flying to the US regularly go for between $1,500-$2,200 round-trip on carriers including Cathay Pacific, Etihad and Qatar Airways. So you can score some super-cheap premium seats. Not only that, but if you’re booking awards to/from Sri Lanka, it should be easier to route through the Middle East after the award chart changes go into effect. Right now, you’re theoretically not able to route through the Middle East (though you actually can in some cases). After Sri Lanka is shifted to India/Middle East, though, that problem goes away and you can fly via Doha on Qatar or Abu Dhabi on Etihad without having to negotiate with American’s phone agents.
- Old region: South America 1
- New region: South America 2
Why it matters: This is an interesting shift. Due to turmoil and instability (not to mention a soaring crime rate), Venezuela is probably not super high on anyone’s list of destinations at the moment. But the fact that American is shifting it into the South America 2 region is going to make it more expensive for US flyers to visit not only when coming from North America, but also from neighboring countries as well. Whereas now it would cost you 35,000 miles round-trip in economy and 60,000 in business class to get there from the continental US, after March 22 it’ll cost you 60,000 in economy and 115,000 in business class. Keep in mind that the flights to Miami operated by both American and LAN are just about three and a half hours! American also flies to Caracas from New York-JFK.
Not only that, but let’s say you wanted to fly a partner like LAN from its hub in Lima to Caracas. It’ll now cost you 12,500 miles each way in economy instead of 10,000.
On the other hand, if you want to visit Venezuela as part of a larger trip where you’re farther south in South America, you might end up saving some miles. If you were to come from another South America 2 destination like Argentina, Brazil or Chile, you’d only be paying 10,000 miles each way in economy instead of 12,500 miles if Venezuela had remained in South America 1, and 20,000 miles in business class compared to 25,000. Not a bad savings! LAN flies to Caracas from Santiago, while TAM flies from São Paulo.
Finally, though it might not be a popular route for US flyers, Iberia operates a nonstop flight from Caracas to Madrid. Currently, it’ll cost you 45,000 miles each way in economy or 55,000 in business class. Come March 22, though, that will go up to 50,000 in economy and a whopping 87,500 miles in business class!
OMISSIONS AND REMOVALS
What’s interesting is the number of omissions from the new chart (though many of these were also missing from the old charts).
Mongolia: Mongolia still doesn’t get a lot of visitors, but the country is enjoying some tourism development these days with new hotels both in the capital of Ulan Bator and the hinterlands. That said, the Oneworld timetable doesn’t list any flights there, and even Google Flights came up empty, so don’t plan to use your miles there.
Laos: This landlocked Southeast Asian nation still does not make an appearance in American’s regional definitions. Which makes sense, since I couldn’t find any Oneworld flights operating there (you have to fly Bangkok Airways, SilkAir, Thai or Vietnam Airlines, or one of a few Lao airlines). That said, maybe a carrier like Cathay Pacific or Dragon Air will launch service there, and in that case, I’d expect it to be listed in Asia 2.
African countries: There are actually a ton of African nations missing from both the old and new charts. Among the notable omissions are Botswana (a popular safari destination that’s quite close to South Africa), Madagascar, Malawi, Rwanda and about a dozen others. What’s interesting is that Qatar Airways actually operates a flight to Kigali in Rwanda via Entebbe in Uganda. You can find awards on the Entebbe-Doha flight, as you can see below:
But the Kigali leg is missing, and two American Airlines agents I called couldn’t find it anywhere in their system either.
Saipan: This small island was previously in Asia 2, but has been removed from the regional definitions.
Also interesting — though perhaps slightly less so — is that certain countries have been added to the charts. They are relatively obscure and probably do not suggest the addition of new routes either on American or partners.
Djibouti has been added to the region of Africa, presumably because Qatar operates a nonstop there out of Doha, on which you can connect to the rest of the world, including North America.
Kiribati, Palau, the Solomon Islands and Tuvalu have been added to the South Pacific. This is interesting because the Solomon Islands have become a fairly popular vacation destination from Australia and New Zealand thanks to some great scuba diving, and now that they’re joining the South Pacific region, travelers should be able to get there using relatively few miles. To be exact, it’ll cost 15,000 miles in economy each way and 30,000 in business class.
Do these changes affect your travel plans? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Based on TPG’s most recent valuations, the 50,000 miles are worth $700. In addition, you can earn 10,000 Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) toward elite status after spending $40,000 in a calendar year. As of July 23, 2017 this is the only card that offers Admirals Club lounge access so if you are an AA flyer this card might make sense for you. Aside from lounge access the primary cardholder will receive a Global Entry application fee credit every 5 years, first checked bag free for up to 8 travel companions on domestic itineraries and a 25% discount on eligible in-flight purchases on American Airlines flights.
- Earn 50,000 American Airlines AAdvantage® bonus miles after spending $5,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening*
- Admirals Club® membership for you and access for guests traveling with you*
- Complimentary Admirals Club® lounge access for authorized users
- Earn 10,000 AAdvantage® Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) after you spend $40,000 in purchases within the year*
- No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases*
- Earn 2 AAdvantage® miles for every $1 spent on eligible American Airlines purchases and 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on other purchases*
- First checked bag is free on domestic American Airlines itineraries for you and up to 8 companions traveling with you on the same reservation*