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Travel apps used to be among the most basic of smartphone technology, even just a few years ago. However, in the past few years, many have improved their functionality exponentially, allowing users to do everything from creating entire travel profiles and itineraries to tracking all their points and mileage balances. Some travel apps have even become many travelers’ go-to portals for booking flights and hotels.
Airline apps in particular, which once lagged behind the times, are evolving and adding useful features right and left lately. These days, you can do everything from submitting and checking on upgrade requests to tracking your luggage and storing entertainment playlists for your flights, as well as booking both paid and award flights.
In this new series, we’re going to take a look at the ability of major airlines’ apps to search for and book award space and consider how the experience compares to using the carrier’s regular website.
For today, our focus will be the American Airlines app, which only recently added the ability to book award tickets. But just how good is it at finding award availability, both on American’s own flights and those of its partners?
The good news is, any partner awards you can book via AA.com you should also be able to book through the app, including:
- Air Tahiti Nui
- Alaska Airlines
- British Airways
- Cape Air
- Fiji Airways
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Malaysia Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Royal Jordanian Airlines
- S7 Airlines
- SriLankan Airlines
No word yet on whether the site and/or the app will bring back the ability that briefly appeared in October to book Cathay Pacific and LATAM flights.
Let’s walk through a couple different scenarios and see how the app compares to the website. In most circumstances the differences will be negligible and will only come down to the interface you prefer.
American Airlines Flights
Let’s start with a quick look at booking American’s own flights via the app versus the website. Both are pretty straightforward. Here’s the website’s search box where you can add cities, dates, passengers, etc.
That takes you to a page with a four-week calendar of award availability at various levels including economy MileSAAver (saver-level) awards:
Economy AAnytime awards:
Business/First SAAver awards:
And Business/First AAnytime awards:
If you look on the side, you can find an option to filter to solely nonstop flights. This limits your search to a three-day window, though you can then also narrow down your criteria by airport and airline.
You can also sort flights by number of stops, arrival and departure time, departure airport and total travel time. You cannot organize the results by price.
Theoretically, you’ve sort of done that by selecting the award level you want in the previous step, but this will come up again later when we talk about taxes and fees. Once you pick your flight, you log in using your frequent flyer credentials, add options like pre-ordered meals or mileage boosters, then pay.
The app interface is also pretty simple, allowing you to enter your flight dates and cities.
Instead of a four-week calendar, though, your results are shown in three-day blocs.
You can then sort them by criteria like number of stops, the price, departure time and total travel time. The default display will be economy awards, but if you choose business/first on the initial search page, that should filter the results down.
You then click on the flight you want, go through a couple more steps verifying your account information and choosing seats, then pay with a credit card on file or various other forms of payment, just like on the AA site. I’ve found that the award availability displayed on the American Airlines website matches that found on the app, as you can see from the above examples.
Oneworld and Other Partner Flights
Now, let’s make it a little more interesting and see how the app does at pulling in partner awards and why you might want to use one versus the other to search for them.
I want to begin with an interesting example of a partner that was recently made bookable via AA.com (but soon might not be if the airline’s CEO has his way): Qatar Airways. I searched AA.com for a Qatar Airways business class award from Boston (BOS) to Doha (DOH) in January. While the first search turned up a ton of awards, including many on British Airways with taxes/fees of around $800…
I was quickly able to narrow those down to dates with nonstop availability just on Qatar Airways.
Clicking on one of the dates with nonstop availability, the flight on Qatar Airways from Boston to Doha came up first, followed by one-stop options via Chicago (ORD) and Philadelphia (PHL).
In order to see the taxes and fees, though, I had to click on an actual flight and go to the next step in the booking process.
In the app, the first results were also a mix of flights, and the order in which the flights with connecting airports varied from the ordering on AA.com, but not by much.
However, by sorting for those with the lowest travel time, I was able to get the same results as searching on AA.com. What’s more, the taxes and fees were displayed at the same time, saving me a step.
So there are pluses and minuses to each portal. The website allows you to look at award availability four weeks at a time, narrow down your search to specific carriers and nonstop flights, and use those features to home in on awards more quickly. The app has access to the same award inventory but only displays results in three-day blocs. However, it does one-up the website by displaying the taxes and fees immediately so you can figure out if something is worth booking.
I decided to check if there were any discrepancies between the partner award availability AA.com is able to search versus those on the app. The short answer: No, the award inventory is the same.
AA.com easily finds Air Tahiti Nui awards.
As does the app.
Alaska Airlines awards are no problem on AA.com.
Nor are they hard to find on the app.
British Airways flights found on AA.com …
… match those pulled up by the app.
However, there was something interesting to note in this particular example given how high taxes and fees on British Airways tickets can be. Remember what I said about not being able to sort awards on AA.com by price? This is where the app really comes in handy. The nonstop flights up at the top of the app were the same as those on the site, since I’d set my preference in the app to number of stops. However, by sorting them by price in the app instead, I found a few interesting options sprinkled in, including this itinerary from New York-LaGuardia (LGA) via Philadelphia (PHL) to London (LHR).
The business-class award was the same 57,500 miles as the nonstop option on British Airways, but because both flights were on American, the taxes and fees only came to $11.20. Sure, I was looking for BA award availability, which did come up, but hey, I’d take the savings of $570 to fly American on an connecting itinerary instead!
Fiji Airways awards pop up on both the site and the app, like this example from Los Angeles (LAX) to Nadi (NAN).
Or you could mix-and-match an award via Auckland (AKL) on American and continuing on to Nadi on Fiji Airways.
Want to find awards on Finnair? No problem using the app to pull up flights like this nonstop from New York-JFK to Helsinki (HEL).
Or from Helsinki (HEL) to Asian destinations like Singapore (SIN).
This was another interesting case where the app automatically sorted by travel time so that the first option was an economy non-stop on Finnair, the second was a business-class award via Doha (DOH) on Qatar Airways and the third was an economy award on a combination of Finnair and British Airways via London (LHR). You’ll also note the wide fluctuation in mileage and taxes on each as a result.
To narrow it down, I’d suggest setting the sort to “Price (low to high)” so you get results like these.
I easily found Hawaiian Airlines flights within the islands and from Honolulu (HNL) to various international destinations like Brisbane (BNE).
I always find Iberia awards tricky using AA.com, since the site seems to prefer displaying American Airlines and British Airways flights, but I was still able to find awards using the app, like this one from Miami (MIA) to Madrid (MAD).
And the availability matched up exactly to what I found on AA.com.
Malaysia Airlines flights were a cinch to find via the app.
Qantas flights can be scarce whether you’re using AA.com or the app. Economy awards are fairly widespread, but business and first class ones are much harder to come by no matter how you search. In this case, you might be better off using the website since you can search for availability over long sets of dates. That said, you might get lucky and land on some dates where you find award availability right off the bat, like this first class award from Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) in April.
Royal Jordanian flights tend to have a lot of award availability, so it’s rather easy to find them via the AA app.
The same holds true for SriLankan Airlines flights. Here’s a sample business class award I found on both AA.com and the app from Colombo (CMB) to London (LHR) on the airline’s flagship A330. The subsequent listings are for Qatar Airways flights. But 42,500 miles for business class from Asia to Europe isn’t bad no matter how you end up flying!.
I took away a few key lessons after an extensive comparative search of AA.com versus the American Airlines app and its new award-booking functionality. Both portals pull in the exact same award inventory — which one you prefer will just depend on what you’re searching for and how you like to view the results.
AA.com allows you to search for a far broader set of dates at once, to narrow your search down by including parameters such as nonstop flights or only certain airline partners, and to pull up award availability in an intuitive way.
The American Airlines app lets you sort results in more interesting ways and to consider alternatives you might not have thought about. It also has the advantage of displaying taxes and fees with the original set of results, so it’s easier to figure out what your final tab will be in both miles and cash, depending on the flights you book.
Basically, you can use either the website or the app to book awards on the same partners without sacrificing the ability to see any award inventory. What makes this interesting is that the app only added this functionality two months ago and it already matches AA.com. Hopefully both the website and the app will continue to expand partner coverage so that users will be able to book awards on even more airlines (like Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines) in the near future.
Know before you go.
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