Check the Fare Code Before Buying AA Special Fares
If you miss the AAdvantage program's old mileage-based earning structure, there's still a workaround: AA Special Fares. By booking your flights with points through a travel portal, you'll get a percentage of the miles you fly as award miles rather than based on the amount you paid for your ticket. As we confirmed in November, you can still get credit based on the Special Fares even if you only pay for part of your flight with points.
When these Special Fares were first released, the chart was rather straightforward. It consisted of just four groups: full-fare business/first class, discount business/first class, full-fare economy class and discount economy class. Unless you were buying very expensive seats on a nearly full or last-minute flight, you were surely going to get credit based on the "discount" fare group.
However, in early December, the fare code structure was changed for flights departing on or after January 11, 2017. For flights departing on or after that date, the new earning structure is:
|Fare booking code||Award Miles|
per mile flown
|Class of service|
|Changes from prior chart (if any)|
|First (A, P)||100%||50%||2.00||30%|
|Business (D, R)||100%||25%||2.00||25%||Reduction in class of service bonus and EQD rate|
|Business (I)||100%||--||2.00||20%||Reduction in class of service bonus and EQD rate|
|Economy (H, K)||100%||--||1.00||20%||Increase in award miles rate and EQD rate|
|Economy (L,M,W,V)||75%||--||1.00||15%||Increase in award miles rate and EQD rate|
As you can see, the changes were actually beneficial for economy flyers — with rates staying the same or increasing — while they're a bummer for discount business-class flyers. While you could assume that you were going to get credit based on the "discount" rates for flights before January 11, knowing which fare code you're booking can have a bigger impact after this change. If you've got a long-haul business-class flight, the difference between 20% Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQDs) and 30% might make the difference between earning your EQDs from flying or needing to generate EQDs through credit card spend.
Also, it's important to note the code before you book. Once you've booked your flight, it's going to be a pain to retrieve this fare booking code. The code won't be listed on your AA.com itinerary and most travel portals don't retain this information. If you need to reference this booking code on a flight you already booked, note that I've had success calling American Airlines Reservations to get the fare booking code.
Now that we know why it's important, let's look at how to figure out the fare code.
Citi Travel Portal
The Citi Travel Portal makes it pretty easy to figure out the fare booking code before you book a flight. Once you search for flights, click "Show Outbound Details" on the itinerary you're interested in seeing. In addition to the flight number, aircraft type and a link to the seat map, there's also going to be a small letter in parentheses after "Economy Class." In the example above, this is a O code fare. Going to the chart, we can see that O fares earn award miles at 50%, EQMs at 100% and EQDs at 10%. Here's how this ends up:
|Chicago-Denver low-cost example||Earnings||Formula to Determine|
|Award miles (member)||443||= Flight Miles x 50%|
|Award miles (Gold)||620||= Flight Miles x 50% x 140% (elite bonus)|
|Award miles (Platinum)||709||= Flight Miles x 50% x 160% (elite bonus)|
|Award miles (Executive Platinum)||975||= Flight Miles x 50% x 220% (elite bonus)|
|Elite Qualifying Miles (EQM)||886||= Flight Miles x 100%|
|Elite Qualifying Dollars (EQD)||89||= Flight Miles x 10%|
That's not bad for a $43 one-way flight!
However, not all options are going to earn at the lowest tier. Let's say that you needed to book a last-minute trip from New York to Los Angeles (LAX).
In this example, the cheapest flight is a $253 one-way V code fare. According to the chart, you'll earn award miles at 75%, EQMs at 100% and EQDs at 15% on this V fare code flight. Here are the earnings:
|New York-LA mid-cost example||Earnings||Formula to Determine|
|Award miles (member)||1,852||= Flight Miles x 75%|
|Award miles (Gold)||2,592||= Flight Miles x 75% x 140% (elite bonus)|
|Award miles (Platinum)||2,963||= Flight Miles x 75% x 160% (elite bonus)|
|Award miles (Executive Platinum)||4,074||= Flight Miles x 75% x 220% (elite bonus)|
|Elite Qualifying Miles||2,469||= Flight Miles x 100%|
|Elite Qualifying Dollars||370||= Flight Miles x 15%|
Note that if you fly a V fare before January 11, you'll only earn 50% award miles and 10% EQDs — reducing the benefit of the Special Fares.
American Airlines Vacations
While not all Citi travel portal bookings will count as "Special Fares," there's one website where you can count on getting credit for flights based on Special Fares: AA Vacations. Thankfully, it's very easy to see what your fare booking code will be. After entering your search terms, AA Vacations will display the suggested flight pairing, including the fare booking code.
In the example above, we're flying domestic business class from New York's JFK to Orlando (MCO) for the week. As this is being booked far enough ahead, the flights are booked into a discount business-class fare code (I). While AA Vacations doesn't mention the flight miles, you can use the Great Circle Mapper to estimate the flight distance, or run an example booking through AA.com to determine exactly how many miles AA will credit you for the flights. In this particular case, both sources agree that the flight miles are 1,900. Plugging that into the Special Fares formulas, we get the following earnings for this round-trip:
|New York-Orlando first class example||Earnings||Formula to Determine|
|Award miles (member)||3,800||= Flight Miles x 100%|
|Award miles (Gold)||5,320||= Flight Miles x 100% x 140% (elite bonus)|
|Award miles (Platinum)||6,080||= Flight Miles x 100% x 160% (elite bonus)|
|Award miles (Executive Platinum)||8,360||= Flight Miles x 100% x 220% (elite bonus)|
|Elite Qualifying Miles||7,600||= Flight Miles x 200%|
|Elite Qualifying Dollars||760||= Flight Miles x 20%|
Considering this flight+hotel (for seven nights) package starts at just $772 per person, that's some solid mileage earnings for these flights.
Chase Travel Portal
While we haven't been able to confirm flights booked through the Chase travel portal will count as AA Special Fares, we have early indications on two bookings that these flights will indeed post based on the Special Fares chart. Specifically, the itineraries booked through the Chase travel portal are showing up on AA.com without the fare-related information. For the testing we did on Citi travel portal flights, this was an indication of how the flights would post.
However, the Chase travel portal doesn't list the fare code anywhere through the booking procedure. So, it's going to take a few more steps to get this information. Let's take the example above — where you can reserve an international business-class seat on a domestic route for just $68 one-way!
The most straightforward way I've found to determine the booking code is to start your search on Google Flights. Set your route (i.e,. MIA to JFK) and date (February 17), then narrow by airline (American) and departure time (between 1-2 pm). Click on the result and click through to AA.com to see the same flight option bookable through American Airlines. In this particular case, the cheap one-way fare is booking into Q code. That means the earnings on this flight would be:
|Miami-New York example||Earnings||Formula to Determine|
|Award miles (member)||545||= Flight Miles x 50%|
|Award miles (Gold)||762||= Flight Miles x 50% x 140% (elite bonus)|
|Award miles (Platinum)||871||= Flight Miles x 50% x 160% (elite bonus)|
|Award miles (Executive Platinum)||1,198||= Flight Miles x 50% x 220% (elite bonus)|
|Elite Qualifying Miles||1,089||= Flight Miles x 100%|
|Elite Qualifying Dollars||109||= Flight Miles x 10%|
For flights after January 11, it'll be even more important to know which fare code your AA Special Fares book into. Before January 11, you could pretty much assume that you were booked into the discount fare bucket. Now, there are more potential crediting rates for both business and economy tickets. The exact rate will be especially important if you're trying to maximize your flight purchase and decide between buying directly from AA or purchasing through a travel portal. If you're trying to plan out your 2017 elite qualification, make sure to note the fare code before booking.