Some credit card offers in this post have expired, but they might come back. If they do they will appear –> Click here for the top current credit card sign up bonuses.

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.

 

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