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Back in September, American Airlines hosted a Media & Investor Day, inviting journalists and stock analysts from all over the world to Dallas to talk about the future of the the world’s largest airline, and I was there with a list of questions for the executives present. (I’m not sure if I’m going to get an invite next time after some of my questions.)

At the very top of my list was award availability. Anyone who has tried to use miles on AA flights recently surely has been frustrated with the lack of availability. I’ve personally found routes where there hasn’t been a single saver award for months — like on the frequent and almost-always-available LGA-DCA shuttle from August 7 to November 15, 2018:

So, when I got a chance to ask AAdvantage’s top executive a question, I didn’t hold back. In response, she noted that AA knows “that the value of the program for so many is tied into the use of their miles” and pledged that AA was on a “path to materially increase the saver levels on American. Just stay with us, it’s coming soon.”

Well, it looks like it’s here. If you’ve searched for AA award flights in recent weeks, you probably have seen calendars reflecting a lot more saver availability:

This isn’t just a fluke. As an airline spokesperson confirmed to me, this is part of a new award availability strategy that went into place within the last couple of weeks.

Yay for award availability! Except when you dig a little deeper — like I did for an upcoming reduced mileage award booking I wanted to make for January — you’ll find that it’s not all good news.

Although AA doesn’t have any nonstops between Tampa (TPA) and NYC (JFK/LGA/EWR), AA currently has 123 different one-stop itineraries for sale on this route for January 15. However, there currently isn’t a single award option on any of these one-stop options.

But, how about flight #1980 from TPA to CLT? That flight shows up for all three itineraries above, so there must be a lot of award availability on that early morning flight. So, someone looking to fly from Tampa to Charlotte should easily be able to book that flight with miles, right? WrongIf you want to fly from Tampa to Charlotte that day, the only option is to connect through Miami (MIA) instead.

One of those two-stop options utilizes an American Eagle flight from Charlotte (CLT) to Dayton (DAY). How about if you wanted to book that nonstop leg separately? Again, there’s no availability on that flight by itself. But, you have the option of connecting in Washington, DC or Chicago:

This is precisely AA’s irritating new strategy: The airline is opening award availability on itineraries, rather than individual flights.

The impact of this change causes some wild results. You can have the exact same first (TPA-CLT) and last (BOS-LGA) flight, but the connecting flight is the deciding factor in award availability:

Out of curiosity, I’ve been stalking this TPA-NYC route for the last few days. To say that it’s been a rollercoaster would be an understatement. Some searches will return zero availability. Then, hours later, there will be almost a dozen two-stop options.

But, finally — finally — a one-stop option popped up. It’s a rough itinerary, departing on the 5:05am TPA-CLT flight and bypassing earlier CLT-NYC connections to force a 3:18-hour layover. However, it’s a one-stop option which I can book for just 8,750 miles (before the 10% rebate), and I can score upgrades on these flights relatively easily and work from the Admirals Club during the layover thanks to my Citi / AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard.

Immediately, I logged on to ExpertFlyer to see how many spots were open on this option. Considering how stingy AA has been with these one-stop itineraries, I expected just one or two spots to be open. Instead, there were seven — the maximum that’ll show at one time:

Yet, when I checked hours later, this option was back to zero. I’m suspecting that all seven didn’t go to award bookers either.

Bottom Line

American Airlines is opening more award availability, which is certainly something to celebrate. However, the way in which it’s making more award seats available may still make it difficult for you to book the flights you want.

What do you think about American Airlines new award availability?

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