American Updates How It Sells Tickets on AA.com
It's been a while since American Airlines last redesigned its website. However, after big changes to its mileage program and Basic Economy fares reportedly launching this year, the carrier needed to refresh how it sells flights online — and you'll see the difference the next time you head to AA.com.
Overall, the changes look cleaner: The search process and viewing the results pages should be easier for the casual traveler — while also including additional features for advanced users and Executive Platinum elites.
Let's go through the new flight-searching process:
Searching for Fights
For those who are used to searching flights from the AA.com homepage, you may be relieved that this search option remains unchanged. However, if you click Advanced Search, you're going to get an updated — but straightforward — flight search tool.
If you're looking for an award flight, American Airlines starts with just this question. Once you enter your origin, destination, dates and number of passengers, you can further limit your search at the bottom of the page. The default is that AA will search the lowest fare for all cabins on flights with American Airlines flight numbers. You have the option to limit your search to refundable fares, search only business/first options or search "All airlines."
For domestic flights, leaving the "American Airlines" default option makes no difference. However, if you're flying internationally, you're going to get more flight options by selecting "All airlines." Leaving it as the default, search results are limited to just AA codeshare flights. While you won't earn as many elite-qualifying miles (EQMs) on partner segments, opening up the search to include other Oneworld partners could mean a cheaper price or a more convenient schedule.
Choosing a Flight Option
The new search result page is an improvement over the previous website. First of all, it's a cleaner interface — simultaneously including more information while keeping the page clear of clutter. At the top of the result page, you can easily compare fares on the date you selected with options on dates +/- 2 days.
One thing that's a definite improvement for AVGeeks — and others familiar with AA's fleet — is that the site will show the particular aircraft type in the search results, without you having to expand the flight option data or open a new tab to find this information. For example, many of American's 777-200s are sub-par — even in business class. So, if you see a "772" option listed, you'll know that you need to bring your own entertainment. Looking to fly on the new American Airlines 787-9 Dreamliner? Look for "789" in the flight results. Need to stay connected? You can see right in the search results which flight options have Wi-Fi.
For further information about a particular flight option, clicking on the "Details" link lists the on-time performance (or lack thereof), meal options and the booking fare code. If you're flying domestic first class, this detail is useful to see if you'll be served a meal or just "refreshments" on a particular flight. If you picked a flight option with a partner flight number, the booking fare code is useful information to be able to calculate how many miles you'll earn from the flight.
American Airlines Executive Platinum members will be able to find out in one click if a flight option currently has availability for applying a systemwide upgrade. Just click the "Systemwide upgrades" link for the flight option to get an in-screen pop-up with the details. In case you've lost track of how many systemwide upgrades you have available, this window also displays your current balance.
American Airlines also revamped the seat-selection tool. Rather than having a cluttered map of zero- to four-star seats and numbering every seat, AA has cleaned up the seat map. Now seats are just orange (Main Cabin Extra), green (Preferred Seats), blue (available standard seats) or gray (not available). You can view more information for each seat by hovering your mouse over it.
One interesting aspect of the new seat map: AA seems to have dropped "elite and full-fare" seating. Previously, we called AA out for hiding dozens of available seats from non-elite flyers. Now, AA has dropped the triangle symbol from the seat map and — for all of the flights I checked — the seat maps are identical for Executive Platinum members and general members.
New Concerns for Elite Members
American Airlines Basic Economy is coming. AA hasn't released official details on what Basic Economy fares will entail, but this weekend's changes to its website indicate some updates that could be coming soon.
After selecting main cabin flight options, the trip summary page includes the following unsettling phrases:
- Preferred seats on American flights
- Eligible for upgrades on American flights
- Up to 1 EQM per mile flown on eligible flights
- Changes allowed (fee may apply)
These are "perks" that haven't been listed before, as they're simply taken for granted. Flyers have always been able to select Preferred Seats — for a cost for non-elites — and all flights are currently upgradeable. The only obvious reason these items are listed now is that Basic Economy will strip these benefits away.
This would be mostly in line with what Delta has already done: remove seat selections, deny the ability to upgrade and make fares completely non-refundable/changeable. However, Delta still allows Medallion members to earn elite and award miles on these Basic Economy fares. Since it now mentions that main cabin fares earn EQMs, American seems to be opening the door to Basic Economy fares that wouldn't earn elite miles.
We generally like the new AA.com redesign and applaud American Airlines for making it easier to see equipment details, on-time performance and systemwide upgrade availability. However, the new design does make the website a lot less compact — meaning it's harder to compare flights at a glance for routes that have many options. Also, our joy is somewhat soured that this change is likely paving the way for Basic Economy fares to be introduced.
H/T: View From The Wing