Make Sure to Book AAdvantage Awards Before up to 56% Increase
In early December, American Airlines announced award chart changes with the cost of some flights increasing by up to 56% for awards booked on or after Jan. 16, 2019. However, unlike other broad-scale devaluations — like we saw in early 2016 — this devaluation only targets certain regions.
The good news: You still have time to book with the old rates. And you'll definitely want to do so if you're looking to book one of these trips with AAdvantage miles.
Here are the regions that are changing for award tickets booked starting Jan. 16, 2019:
First Class Flights to Hawaii
For awards booked through Jan. 15, 2019, all front-cabin awards to Hawaii cost just 40,000 miles each way. Starting Jan. 16, 2019, this will jump to at least 55,000 miles each way. A 38% increase would be bad enough, but it gets worse. If the ticket "includes travel on an aircraft that offers lie-flat seats," there's a 7,500-mile surcharge. That means that the best awards to Hawaii are going to cost 62,500 miles each way. That's a 22,500-mile increase over the current rate — which represents a drastic 56% increase.
Lie-Flat First Class on Domestic Flights
While the standard domestic first-class awards will remain at 25,000 miles each way, American Airlines is increasing the award price on lie-flat domestic first-class awards. Like the Hawaii awards above, there's going to be a 7,500-mile surcharge for all awards that "includes travel on an aircraft that offers lie-flat seats." Previously, this surcharge was only charged on three-cabin aircraft such as American Airlines' A321T that operates from New York (JFK) to Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO).
It's certainly understandable that AA would want to add this surcharge on transcontinental lie-flat flights — like the 777 operating between Miami (MIA) and LAX. However, this surcharge doesn't seem to be justified on other routes such as the 1.5-hour flight from Charlotte (CLT) to Philadelphia (PHL).
After this change goes into effect, you'll certainly want to look into whether it's better to book these awards with British Airways' distance-based award chart rather than through AAdvantage.
Lie-Flat Business Class to Canada and Alaska
American Airlines doesn't have many lie-flat options to Canada and Alaska. Only the new 787-8 Dreamliner route between Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) and Anchorage (ANC) comes to mind. But, for awards booked starting Jan. 16, 2019, these awards are increasing by 7,500 miles each way, as AA has added the condition: "If the award includes travel on an aircraft that offers lie-flat seats in the US and Canada, the Business/First levels will be 7,500 miles higher than what is shown in the chart above."
|BUSINESS CLASS||Current||New Rate||Change||% Change|
|Domestic (lie-flat, non-transcon)||25,000||32,500||7,500||30%|
|Canada (recliner seat)||30,000||25,000||-5,000||-17%|
|Hawaii (recliner seat)||40,000||55,000||15,000||38%|
Lie-Flat Business Class to Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and South America Region 1*
Although the base rate for awards to all of these regions are remaining the same, there's a critical change to each of these regions: an (ambiguous) asterisk. Starting Jan. 16, 2019, each of these regions has an asterisk next to the region name. In the key, this asterisk signifies, "If the award includes travel on an aircraft that offers lie-flat seats in the US and Canada, the Business/First levels will be 7,500 miles higher than what is shown in the chart above."
However, each of these regions are outside the US and Canada. So, it's unclear if this surcharge is only going to apply when there's a lie-flat seat on domestic connection or if this will apply to all flights that include lie-flat aircraft options.
Awards to Canada Dropping In Price
It's not all bad news, though. If you're looking to book an award between the US and Canada, you'll want to wait until Jan. 16, 2019, to do so. Starting then, award flights to Canada will be treated the same as award flights inside the US.
That means that MileSAAver economy awards will drop from 15,000 miles each way to just 12,500 miles each way, and domestic first-class awards will drop from 30,000 miles each way to 25,000 miles each way.
If your award flight to Canada is nonstop and fewer than 500 miles, you'll still get the same 7,500-mile saver awards in economy and 15,000-mile saver awards in domestic first class. However, you'll save 5,000 off both economy and domestic first class AAnytime Level 1 awards and 10,000 off both economy and domestic first class AAnytime Level 2 awards.
Sadly though, Canada still hasn't been added back to AA's Reduced Mileage Awards, which allow eligible cardholders to book awards for as few as 6,500 miles each way.
It's understandable that AA wants to increase awards on flights where passengers are currently getting outsized value from their miles. So, it makes sense that AA would want to increase award prices for lie-flat business-class flights to Hawaii and transcontinental flights.
However, these changes go too far. There's no justification for charging 32,500 miles one-way for a domestic first-class award on the 1.5-hour flight from Charlotte to Philadelphia just because AA happens to be positioning an internationally configured aircraft between the two airports. And it seems punitive to spike the award price for lie-flat business-class flights to Hawaii from 40,000 miles to 62,500 miles each way. That makes lie-flat awards to Hawaii more expensive than lie-flat awards to Europe, South America, Japan and South Korea.
Interestingly, the winners of these award chart changes are American Airlines elites. With premium-cabin award prices jumping up 56% on some flights, there should naturally be fewer passengers booking premium-cabin seats. With these routes covered by 500-mile upgrades, there should be more empty front-cabin seats — meaning more elite upgrades will likely be able to clear into first class.