Here’s why unaccompanied minors can’t book American Airlines Web Special awards

Feb 25, 2020

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Editor’s note: As of April 1, 2020, you can now book Web Specials over the phone for domestic flights and those to Canada and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Reader Questions are answered twice a week by TPG Senior Points & Miles Contributor Ethan Steinberg.

There’s no denying that dynamic award pricing is a bad thing for the majority of travelers, especially those whose work or school schedules force them to travel over peak dates. However, American Airlines has softened the switch to dynamic pricing just a little bit by offering some incredible award sales, including transcontinental domestic award routes for 5,000 miles one-way and business class to Europe for 84,000 miles round-trip. TPG reader Ralph wants to know if it’s possible for unaccompanied minors to book these awards as well …

My 15-year-old son has had an AAdvantage account since he was three weeks old and has accumulated a decent amount of miles. I found a 13,000-mile Web Special award for him, but because he’s traveling as an unaccompanied minor I need to call American Airlines to book his ticket. The agent on the phone said they can’t sell me the 13,000-mile award, and are instead trying to charge 50,000 miles for the same route. What gives?

TPG READER RALPH

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Dynamic award pricing comes with growing pains for everyone, both travelers who have to get used to the lack of predictability that comes from not having a fixed award chart and airlines who have to fine tune their pricing and update other policies to keep up to date. Let’s break down what’s going on here, starting with the Web Specials.

Similar to Delta’s increasingly-popular flash award sales, AA’s Web Specials offer discounts on selected routes for a limited amount of time. In addition to the cheap domestic and European flights, we’ve seen discounts on AA Flagship First to Hong Kong, business class to Tokyo and a number of other routes.

Related: Maximizing redemptions with American Airlines AAdvantage

The key word to focus on with these deals is “web.” These prices are calculated by a computer system and can only be booked online, likely as a way to cut costs by reducing the number of calls that need to be answered by a real live human. The takeaway: Even if an agent wanted to, they simply don’t have any way to sell you a Web Special award over the phone.

Which brings us back to Ralph’s question. American Airlines requires children traveling solo between the ages of 5 and 14 to register as unaccompanied minors, and for children aged 15 to 17 this service is optional. This should mean that Ralph could book his 15-year-old son a Web Special award if he forgoes the unaccompanied minor service, but AA also adds the following piece of language which complicates things:

And of course, if Ralph has to call AA to book the ticket, he won’t be able to take advantage of the Web Special award pricing. So what exactly is going on here? In an era of increasing digitalization, I understand why American still wants a human to process unaccompanied minors with a focus on safety first, rather than relying on a computer system.

Related: Flying alone: Unaccompanied minor policies and fees in the United States

You really can’t fault the company for that, but the issue is they haven’t yet built a workaround to fix this. We reached out to American Airlines for comment, asking specifically if they had any way to reconcile these two policies, and received the following answer:

“Since the web special awards must be booked online, and minors traveling alone cannot be booked online, a different type of award ticket will have to be chosen for their travels.” 

Bottom line

For the time being, it’s not possible for children traveling as unaccompanied minors to take advantage of American Airline’s Web Special awards. Hopefully the company will come up with some sort of workaround in the future, such as booking online and then calling in to confirm the details of the unaccompanied minor.

Thanks for the question, Ralph, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at info@thepointsguy.com.

Featured photo by Caiaimage/Agnieszka Olek/Getty Images.

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