Watch out: American Airlines now pricing two one-way awards higher than round-trip awards

Oct 23, 2019

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Part of what can be so confusing to points and miles novices is the complexity of how different airlines price awards. From British Airways’ one-way distance-based award chart to Flying Blue’s illogical city-pair pricing, the award pricing on some airlines can be hard to understand. Indeed, TPG’s Richard Kerr points out complexity has become the way airlines devalue their miles.

Compared to other airlines, the American Airlines AAdvantage region-based award chart had been straightforward. To find the price of an award, you need to figure out which region you’re departing from and which one you’re going to, then check the AAdvantage award chart for the one-way award price.

For example, the AAdvantage award chart shows that domestic U.S. MileSAAver awards cost 12,500 miles each way, flights between the U.S. and Europe are 30,000 miles each way and flights between the U.S. and South Pacific — which includes Australia — are 40,000 miles each way.

Using this chart, you knew exactly how many miles you’d need to save up for a family vacation to Europe or Australia.

Previously, the complexity has been in getting a discount off of this standard award pricing. Domestic nonstop flights under 500 miles in distance are discounted to just 7,500 miles. You can get book award flights to Europe for 22,500 miles each way during off-peak dates.

Related: How to redeem miles with the American Airlines AAdvantage Program

But then American Airlines made award pricing much more complicated. In October 2018, AA introduced “Economy Web Specials” starting with just a few domestic routes. It’s since expanded to many domestic and international routes. While originally billed as a discount program, it’s turned out to be AA’s way of implementing dynamic award pricing.

However, from the hundreds of Economy Web Special searches I’ve done, I haven’t seen a pricing difference between booking two one-way awards or booking a round-trip. That was until I was researching route pricing for my post about why AA’s dynamic award pricing can be both good news and bad news.

For flights between Los Angeles (LAX) and Sydney (SYD), I noticed that American Airlines was charging as few as 33,000 AAdvantage miles one-way via Economy Web Specials. That’s a modest 18% discount off of the standard pricing of 40,000 miles each way.

The same 33,000-mile pricing was showing up on the route from Sydney to Los Angeles:

So, I searched a round-trip award, fully expecting to be able to show readers a screenshot of how awards can now cost as little as 66,000 AAdvantage miles each way. Instead, here’s what showed up:

That’s right. While one-way awards for these same dates are pricing at 33,000 miles each way, the price drops to 27,500 miles each way when you search a round-trip award. While 66,000 miles for a round-trip award on this route would have already been a pretty good deal, 55,000 AA miles round-trip is much better — valued at just $770 at current TPG valuations.

Unfortunately, it’s not just award flights between the U.S. and Australia that are affected. I checked award flights between Los Angeles and Barcelona (BCN) and found similar pricing differences. For example, here are the results searching one-way:

And here are the results when searching the same dates the same route but as part of a round-trip award:

What’s even stranger in this example is that some dates are available as Economy Web Specials when searched as a round-trip, but not when booking as a one-way.

So far, we are only seeing this one-way versus round-trip pricing difference on American Airlines-operated flights sold as Economy Web Specials. As far as we’ve seen, MileSAAver, AAnytime and partner round-trip awards aren’t pricing cheaper than two one-way awards.

Related: Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage

This change is a bummer for those who book one-way awards, and there are a number of reasons you might want to do so. For example, passengers planning to travel on particular dates may book one-way if only one-way has award availability at first. Or, travelers might want to piece together a series of one-way flights as part of a bigger trip.

No matter the reason, booking these one-way awards may now end up costing you more than half of the round-trip price. So, be wary of this award pricing scheme when booking AA awards.

Featured photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images.

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