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For the past few years, I’ve noticed that American Airlines basically blacks out award space for several weeks from mid-December to mid-January on all or most of its routes.

What I Mean by Blackout

This isn’t a hard blackout during which you can’t use miles at all. It’s a MileSAAver blackout. No MileSAAver award space will appear on a route for about a month, so you need to spend 2-4x the MileSAAver price if you want to book an AAnytime award.

For a quick refresher, MileSAAver is American’s cheapest level of award space and its most heavily capacity controlled. There are several levels of AAnytime award space, which provides last seat availability for a lot more miles. For instance, the MileSAAver price for a one way economy award within the United States is 12,500 miles. The highest AAnytime price is 50,000 miles–four times higher.

This Year’s Blackout?

I wanted to take a look at this year’s Christmas season to see if American’s MileSAAver blackout continues. (You can now book American Airlines awards through early February 2016.)

The good news is that while some routes have something like a blackout in economy over Christmas, premium cabin award space is less affected by the holiday season.

All searches are for one passenger on the selected routes, since I was testing whether American was withholding all of its award space at certain times.

Miami to Buenos Aires

Miami to Buenos Aires in economy shows good award space that totally stops on December 9.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.39.44 AM

Ah-ha! This is what I was expecting!

Except that it’s not how the blackouts worked in years past. The blackout is broken with award space twice in the week between Christmas and New Year.Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.40.12 AM

Award space doesn’t really become regular in 2016, but this still isn’t like blackouts I’ve seen in the past when there’s award space every day until some point in December and then it picks up again with award space every day after some date in January.

Dallas to Santiago

Dallas to Santiago shows more of the classic American Airlines Christmas blackout in economy. There is award space until December 15.Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.41.05 AM

Then nothing until January 18 when it picks up regularly again.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.42.04 AM

A similar pattern appears in Business and First Class. There is no Business Class space between December 9 and January 19.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.41.19 AM

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 11.39.08 AM

There is only one day with First Class space between December 11 and January 20.
Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.41.24 AM Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.42.11 AM

New York to London

These calendars show only American Airlines, not British Airways space

On New York to London, the blackouts really fall apart. Economy’s near blackout from December 15 to January 6 is broken by four days with award space.Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.43.03 AM

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.43.35 AM

Business and First Class show no semblance of a blackout. Here is First Class award space in December and January.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.43.14 AM Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.43.41 AM

Dallas to Hong Kong

There’s an economy blackout between December 2 and January 15 with no Business or First Class award space to speak of on the route.Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.44.20 AM Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 10.44.31 AMNew York to Los Angeles

Just like New York to London, there is an economy blackout, but not one in premium cabins. The economy blackout is between December 13 and January 7.

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 11.05.32 AM

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 11.05.58 AM

But Business and First Class space on the premium planes with flat beds in both cabins runs right through December and January without stopping.Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 11.05.39 AM

Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 11.05.43 AM

Bottom Line

There is no systemwide blackout of MileSAAver award space on American Airlines flights from mid-December to mid-January this year.

Many routes do feature something like a blackout from some date in early-ish December to some date in mid-January at least in one cabin. But that “blackout” is often punctuated by award space on one or more days in the middle. And the blackout is often “ignored” in Business and First Classes, which tend to have better award space over Christmas.

Christmas and New Year’s are still the toughest time to travel with miles pretty much no matter where you want to go (other than Australia and New Zealand), but I’m relatively heartened by how much award space I found on American Airlines routes over the peak period.

One final word on space on American Airlines over this period: if you see a blackout on the route you want, it is unlikely to improve. While many airlines, including occasionally American, release last second award space, I never see American do that around Christmas on routes that have had Christmas blacked out all year.

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