American Airlines Pledges to Increase Saver Availability, Introduce Premium Economy Awards

Sep 29, 2017

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At the American Airlines Media and Investor Day on Thursday, journalists and analysts got to try out new products and hear some amazing stats. We also had multiple opportunities to ask questions of airline executives, for example about seat pitch. But we also had questions about AAdvantage awards.

Future of Saver Award Availability

Anyone who has tried to redeem AAdvantage miles anytime in the last year knows how frustratingly little “MileSAAver” award availability there can be. The Points Guy readers have complained that AAdvantage miles are downright “worthless” due to the lack of AAvailability. While I’ve gotten decent value out of awards — even scoring a 3.3-cent economy domestic redemption this week — I understand your frustration. And, I want to make sure American Airlines understands it too.

In her introduction before a Q&A session, Bridget Blaise-Shamai — AA’s Vice President of Customer Loyalty & Insights — said she knows AAdvantage needs to do better. So, I pointed out to her the frustrations of AAdvantage members and the competition that American Airlines co-branded cards have now from new premium cards and enticing cashback offers like the Bank of America® Premium Rewards® credit card. I asked if we are reaching a breaking point where AAdvantage has to get better or risk losing highly profitable credit card partnerships.

Blaise-Shamai was quick to point out that American Airlines signed two “industry leading” agreements in the past year with two different banks. The airline is “as excited as we’ve ever been about our prospects with our partnerships with the banks.” Then she addressed my question, mentioning the challenges resulting from the acquisition of US Airways:

There is certainly a lot of feedback we have received regarding availability of both tickets and upgrades. And, we have this integration where the two airlines came together. [The two airlines] kinda had a different view and use of the respective programs. And we’re at a level of availability that was just a little different from past practices and have moved upward since then. And, I can tell you as we sit here now, we are on a path to materially increase the saver levels on American. Just stay with us, it’s coming soon. We know that the value of the program for so many is tied into the use of their miles.

Premium Economy Awards

While squeezing seats in the back, American Airlines has done a commendable job of rolling out premium economy seating on its long-haul aircraft. Effective January 15, American Airlines is selling true premium economy to five countries in Europe, Japan, Korea, southern South America, Australia and New Zealand.

Based on slides at Media Day, these seats will be fleet-wide on wide-body aircraft by the end of 2018 — not by June 2018 as originally planned.

However, AAdvantage members still don’t have the ability to book premium economy awards — on American Airlines or its partners. So, I asked about the hold up. Don Casey, Senior Vice President of Revenue Management, pointed to issues with IT, and elaborated that the premium economy awards were “de-scoped in the initial rollout because we had all of the other work to do.” I pressed for a estimate of when they could be added. Don said we can “expect that it will be sometime in 2018.”

While the answers weren’t as conclusive as I would have liked, American Airlines does seem to understand our frustrations on lack of award availability.

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