How to Lock in Pre-Devaluation American Airlines Award Prices for Awards Booked in 2017 (Maybe)

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This week I am urging people to get full value from the 50,000 bonus mile offers on both the Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® and CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard® by getting and using their bonus miles by March 21.

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Unless you live under a rock, you know that American Airlines is devaluing its award chart March 22, 2016. Book by March 21, and you lock in the current cheaper prices no matter when your trip is (with the standard rule that all travel must be completed within one year of ticketing.) Book March 22 or later, and you pay through the nose.

As I’ve mentioned many times, on March 21, you can book awards through about February 15, 2017. So if you know you want to go to Thailand or Australia next January, book it in the next two months to lock in the current price.

That’s all well and good if award space is bookable before the devaluation, but many routes only offer award space in the last few days or weeks before departure. With American Airlines miles, there are many routes/partners that offer much better award space at the last minute:

Say you want to book Cathay Pacific First Class to Hong Kong in September 2016. That award space probably won’t exist until September 2016, after the devaluation. Is there any way to lock in the better, current price for that trip?

Probably, maybe.

What will happen if you book an award on the current award chart and then change the award after March 22?

American Airlines has said: “We have advised our agents that voluntary changes to date/time only will be permitted without forcing new higher/lower award levels, and we’ll have more information once the new award levels are applicable. This means the origin and destination need to remain the same.”

American Airlines has also confirmed that you can change the routing as long as you keep the same award type, origin, and destination.

Changing an award type (eg from MileSAAver to AAnytime) will cause a repricing, but why would you do that?

Changing the cabin of an award will change the award price (eg from economy to First), however there are some nifty workarounds to this.

So what’s the plan to lock in the current award prices for awards you want to fly in late 2016 or early 2017 even if the actual award space won’t open until the last minute?

What to Do If You Can Book Distant Award Space Now

For instance, if you want to fly New York to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific First Class at some point before March 21, 2017 but don’t know when, you can book the route on March 21, 2016 for any random day with award space. Then when you know you want to travel, you can change the booking to your real travel date.

You will probably have to pay a $75 change fee for changes made within 21 days of departure when you change the award, but that’s worth it to pay 67,500 miles (current price) instead of 110,000 miles (future price) for the award.

Example

Book March 21 for your dream date:

  • JFK to Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific First Class as far in the future as you can
    Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 6.46.49 PM

You will be charged the First Class price of 67,500 American Airlines miles one way.

Then whenever you figure out when you actually want to take the trip, change the date to your preferred date. If you are within 21 days of departure, you will pay a $75 change fee. If you aren’t, you won’t. In either case, you pay no extra miles because American Airlines said that mere date changes are allowed.

Things get trickier if the award space you want to book is only ever available at the last minute, like Etihad A380 First Class.

What to Do If You Can Only Book Last Minute Award Space Now

Method A:

Say you know you want to fly Etihad A380 First Class from New York to Abu Dhabi in October 2016. Etihad only releases this award space within 72 hours of departure.

If you can tack on another leg with First Class, you can book the big leg in a lesser cabin and change it to a better cabin in the future without repricing the award.

Example

Book today for your dream date:

  • JFK to Abu Dhabi in economy or Business
  • Abu Dhabi to Mumbai in First Class (which is widely available over the next 11 months)Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 6.34.11 PM

You will be charged the First Class price of 90,000 American Airlines miles one way.

Then within a few days of departure, when JFK to Abu Dhabi award space opens up in First Class, you can add it to the award. This does not change the cabin of the award–it was already a First Class award–so the award will not reprice.

Etihad, Cathay Pacific, Qatar, and British Airways all have a decent number of short First Class flights with good award space that you can add to an award to make it a First Class award. Or you can add American Airlines First Class on its three-cabin planes that fly between New York and San Francisco and Los Angeles.

However, adding two-cabin domestic American Airlines First Class to an award will not make it a First Class award because domestic First Class is really–and prices like–Business Class.

Fail:

Book today for your dream date:

  • Austin to JFK in American Airlines First Class
  • JFK to Abu Dhabi in economy or Business

This award will price at the Business Class price because First Class on two-cabin planes is really Business Class when it comes to award bookings. If you change the Etihad leg to First Class within a few days of departure, you are changing the cabin of the award from Business to First Class, and you will be bumped up to the price on the new chart–115,000 miles.

Method A could be an awesome method for you, but it only works in certain circumstances. Method B is more speculative but will work for more circumstances if it works.

Method B:

Say you know you want to fly Etihad A380 First Class from New York to Abu Dhabi in October 2016. Etihad only releases this award space within 72 hours of departure.

You could start searching the route daily for award space within 72 hours of departure. When you find some, book it for 90,000 American Airlines miles + taxes + a $75 fee for booking within 21 days of travel.

Then you could cancel the flights without redepositing the miles. There’s a button to do that on aa.com when you pull up your reservation. This should cost nothing, since you are not redepositing the miles, which would be a $150 fee.

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Then when the date of travel comes up and you find award space for it, you can “change” the award because it still exists since your miles weren’t redeposited. Since it will be within 21 days of departure, you will have to pay another $75.

In this way, you get the trip for the current miles price + taxes + $150. That’s worth it to save the the tens of thousands of miles that some awards are going up in price.

If the award space doesn’t show up on the later date, you can redeposit the miles for $150, meaning you paid $225 in total fees, and don’t even get a trip out of it.

Will either or both of these methods work?

We can’t be 100% certain until the devaluation happens and data points start to come in from people who are making award changes. I am almost certain both plans will work based on American Airlines’ statements and based on our experience with changing United awards after the United devaluation.

What American Airlines says is only as good as their programmers’ skill at making the computer actually operate the way it is supposed to.

Luckily this uncertainty cuts both ways. Maybe their programmers are more generous than planned. We might get lucky and get the United post-devaluation rules: any award made before the February 2014 devaluation could be changed to any other award after the devaluation at the old prices. United said the rule would be like American Airlines says their rule will be, but in practice, the computer was much more generous.

Bottom Line

Plan intelligently by March 21, and you can lock in current American Airlines award prices for quite a big longer, though in all cases travel will need to be completed by March 21, 2017.

You can even use the methods in this post if you have zero miles right now. The Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® MasterCard® and CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard® are each offering 50,000 bonus miles after spending $3,000 in the first three months.

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If you get both cards now and meet both minimum spending requirements on the first statement, your 106,000 miles should post in time to take advantage of the current award chart.

 


Editorial Disclaimer: The editorial content is not provided or commissioned by the credit card issuers. Opinions expressed here are author’s alone, not those of the credit card issuers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the credit card issuers.

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27 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for the information … I am studying and trying to carefully understand. We plan to travel RT from USA to Europe in October 2017. I can see the flights (departure and arrival cities) that I would like to use in 2017, now available for December 2016. Are you saying I could book this itinerary (MSY-ZRH departure and BCN-MSY return) for December 2016, and then when October 2017 opens up just change the dates to my REAL travel dates. I know it is a smaller number of miles difference than other itineraries, but with 4 traveling on our retiree mille earning, it does matter. Thank you for any direction you have for us.

    • All travel must be completed one year from the original booking, so you cannot get the old chart for any flights beyond March 21, 2017.

  2. I wish there was a way to force the new award chart before March. I am traveling to mexico at the end of march and one positive aspect of the new chart is the miles needed go from 17,500 to 15,000. It would be nice to book that now.

  3. “Since it will be within 21 days of departure, you will have to pay another $75.”

    i believe this only applies when you rebook award to/from the same region but different origin/destination. if you keep your origin and destination the same, i believe there is no fee. at least i never had to pay it and i don’t have status. once i changed Cathay F flight the day before to an earlier flight and didn’t have to pay any fees.

    • That’s correct, I just changed an award with 2 days notice to re-route myself from Asia and upgrade cabin. As long as origin/destination stay the same there’s no fee.

  4. If you cancel an itinerary, are the miles just sitting in limbo, since they haven’t been redeposited into your account? If so, can you use only part of them, or withdraw additional miles for use, both without paying surcharges? For example, If I cancel a trip to Europe for 60,000 miles, can I use 55,000 of those miles for a business class to Asia, while the remaining 5,000 just sit in reserve until needed? As an alternative, if I found first class seats to Asia, could I book a seat using the 60,000 miles, and just withdraw 7,500 miles from my account to have enough for the award? Would either of the two instances accrue penalties?

    • Those include changing the destination. According to AA, those will be issued according to the new chart.

  5. I’m may be mistaken or misinterpreting what is a new change of rules but I think any changes involving a non AA airlines will incur a $150 fee. I found this our very recently after arguing with a AA agent. Heres what it says on their website:
    ‘For awards involving travel on other airlines, origin or destination changes or changes to the airline(s) in the itinerary will incur a change fee of $150, even when retaining the same award type”

    When did this happen?

  6. If we book now and change date later, it will only works if the award seats are available for the new date, correct?

  7. Scott,

    I’m a long time follower of your blog, and always appreciate the info.

    Help me understand this post a little better please. I’m confused by the travel must be completed within 12 months of the original booking thing.

    So let’s say I want to travel to Europe in April or May or June of 2017 – we haven’t decided on the date yet.

    I could book now for January 2017 travel because those months are available on the calendar. Then, if in 6 months we decided on May 2017 travel dates, are you saying that I would not be able to change it to those dates because that would be past the twelve months from my original date of booking?

    Thanks Scott,
    Michael

    • Yes, I am saying that. All travel must be completed within 12 months of original booking. No number of changes can change that.

  8. Scott, have you noticed that there is no domestic AA Business or First Class SAAver awards for any dates currently in Jan. 2017? Specifically I’m looking at JFK to LAX or SFO to tag onto a CX flight to HK and on to DPS. There is availability even on NYE, but zero for 2017. See: http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/american-airlines-aadvantage/1244474-milesaaver-saaver-award-reduction-scarcity-discussion-13.html

    I can book on CX Biz Class originating from JFK, but thought it would be fun to add on the AA321T flight with a layover at the Amex Lounge in SFO (or LAX). I may do that and hope SAAver space opens up (I understand this change would not affect a reprice, but am not certain given that it changes from CX to AA/CX).

  9. Hi Scott.
    If i want to book an F class on JAL or CX from CGK to LAX for apr 3, 2016 but no opening right now, but there is opening for apr 10, let’s say – on JL.
    I book apr 10 first, then as apr 3 is approaching but only J class available. How much will the change fee be and will i get tge mileage difference back?

    2nd question… how about if CX available and i have the apr 10 booking on JL? Is it changeable for diff airline? The transit will be at diff cities, HKG vs. NRT.

    • My understanding is that you would pay a $150 fee and need to cough up 2,500 extra miles because you’d be on the new chart where Business is 70k (and current First Class price is 67.5k.)

      Changing between those airlines doesn’t matter, nor does the transit city.

      • Thanks, Scott!

        I see a lot of AA F seats open every months from LAX to NRT. What do you think if I cannot find anything on JL or CX, and I will just book AA F LAX-NRT and NRT-LAX with JL F class for now for flights around December 2016 to secure the pre-devaluation cost? If I see any CX/JL F later, then I will change the dates.
        Will this work and how much will it cost me?

  10. My fiancee and I are planning a trip that will have a leg from Melbourne or Sydney to Abu Dhabi around the new year for 2017. Etihad has plenty of space available on these routes in their first class cabin on the 77W, but nothing on the A380, and I really want to fly the Etihad apartment on the A380. Is my best option to book two first class seats on the 77W and wait until a couple days before our flight to try and change it to the A380?

      • I definitely misunderstood the Etihad booking process. While Etihad shows first class availability on their flights at the end of the year, they apparently only release the first class seats to American within a few days of departure (as you stated in your post). That being said, I was interested in visiting Doha, so I looked into booking a business leg from Sydney to Abu Dhabi and a First class leg from Abu Dhabi to Doha. First class apparently doesn’t exist on the flight to Doha, so I believe the only option left is to book a flight in the next few days and then cancel the flight and wait until space opens up to re-book the award. Do you see any way around this?

  11. I want to book a flight for LAX to SYD and back for next Feb. Currently there is availability for SYD to LAX before LAX to SYD. I would like to book as a round trip to avoid having 2 cancellation fees if award does not open up. Can I change this for free if my final ticket will be LAX to SYD to LAX instead of SYD LAX SYD?

  12. I know this post is “ancient”, but if I may ask a follow-up question…re: not changing origin/destination…in the case of Tokyo, for example, do you know if changing from HND to NRT would count as a change or is it considered the same since they both fall under the TYO umbrella? Another example, does NYC = JFK/EWR/LGA according to AA?

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