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The days of American Airlines' award charts look to be numbered

May 22, 2020
5 min read
American Airlines planes at LGA Zach Griff
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U.S. carriers have used the downtime associated with the coronavirus pandemic to make adjustments to their loyalty programs.

American was slow out of the gate compared to Delta and United, but the Fort Worth-based carrier is quickly catching up. At this point, we've seen AA make several updates that aren't necessarily customer-friendly, depending on how you use your miles.

Nonetheless, there's one common theme across all the changes: AA is likely gearing up to remove award charts.

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Adjustments to the award fee structure

As part of its elite status extension announcement, American buried a change to the award fee structure that might be bad news for you.

Previously, you could change MileSAAver awards for free, as long as the origin, destination and airline(s) remained the same. Similarly, AA waived the change fees for AAnytime (standard) awards, even if you made a change to the origin and destination. These fee-free changes could be made any time before scheduled departure.

American Priority check-in at DFW (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.)

Come June 1, AA has a new structure for anyone making changes to award tickets. Within 60 days of departure, fees vary from $50 to $150 per ticket depending on your status and even apply to changes that used to be free.

Furthermore, when it comes to reinstating miles for a canceled award, the fee was previously $150 for the first ticket and $25 for any other redeposits done at the same time into the same account. Now there won’t be any discounts for each additional ticket — a real devaluation for families who travel together.

Related: Redeeming American Airlines AAdvantage miles

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Aside from the update itself, there's something more telling here — it's clear that American is beginning to loop all award tickets into one bucket. When changing or canceling an award, there's now little difference whether you booked a MileSAAver, AAnytime or Web Special award. (The only difference being that Web Specials still can't be changed).

As the line gets blurred between award types, it gives AA free rein to remove its award charts.

Though we reached out to the carrier to ask for its perspective, we haven't heard back yet and will update this post if we do.

Removal of the legacy search tool

On May 19, we were the first to report that American quietly removed one of its most beloved award search tools. This legacy booking system clearly delineated the availability by category.

Before AA decided to remove this useful search engine, you could easily check what type of award you were booking. After all, it was designed when award charts were still alive and well.

American's legacy award search system.

American's new award search tool is purpose-built for an era when award charts are a relic of the past. The new interface simply displays a price in miles on the search results page. If you want to know what type of award you're booking, you need to make a selection and check on the next screen.

Related: American Airlines just removed one of its most beloved award tools

For a while the two systems lived in parallel, often displaying different prices depending on your search criteria. But now that American's removed the old system, it's a perfect time to double down on dynamic pricing — and remove its award charts.

Unprecedented Web Special award availability

When AA introduced Economy Web Special awards, we knew that this move represented the carrier's experiment with revenue-based dynamic pricing. Though AA initially reserved Web Specials for coach redemptions, it's since expanded them to premium cabins too.

Over the last few months, American's offered a plethora of great award sales, but only as Web Special awards. Generally, even when the sales were available, AA didn't load MileSAAver award space into the system. That means you couldn't book seats through partners. But more telling is the fact that AA's investing in the Web Special system at the expense of the old award types and charts.

Similarly, AA's built an unforgiving married-segment algorithm that stands in stark contrast to the existence of award charts. With married-segment logic, you may be able to find a 25,000-mile business-class award from Boston to New York to Los Angeles on the carrier's swanky Airbus A321T. But if you search for the same flight from New York to Los Angeles, the cheapest you'd find for that same seat would likely be much more than 25,000 miles.

Flagship First on the Airbus A321T. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.)

With award charts, countries are generally grouped into regions, and prices don't vary based on individual states within a country. Without award charts though, AA's free to charge whatever it wants.

Related: The best sweet spots with American Airlines AAdvantage miles

Bottom line

The writing is on the wall. American's latest moves set the stage for the day that it pulls its award charts.

Between the new award fee structure, the removal of the legacy search engine and the unprecedented Web Special award availability, it can't be that long before AA says goodbye to its award charts.

Featured image by (Photo by The Points Guy)