Yesterday I posted about flying to Europe for 20,000 American Airlines miles year round–even during peak summer time–by adding a free oneway to your award that falls between October 15 and May 15. See 20k Miles to All of Europe All Summer.

Gary Leff commented on the post:

This is a glitch in how the website prices the award, rather than AA policy. It’s a *long-standing* glitch.

But don’t expect to be able to call AA and have them change the dates on your award, if they notice the pricing error or reprice then you will have to pay the incremental miles (ie you will lose out on the off peak pricing).

I had always thought that the agents on the phone were using basically the same award pricing engine as the website, so I wanted to investigate.

I went online and found space for an award that fit yesterday’s formula:

  • A free oneway between October 15 and May 15
  • A flight to Europe between May 16 and October 14
Yesterday we learned this award will, surprisingly enough, price at 20k miles if booked online.

Having found the space, I called 800-882-8880 and requested these exact flights. The agent priced the award at 20k miles and $5, exactly what it would have cost online.

This has two major implications:

1. I don’t believe how AA assigns a single date to a oneway trip for the purposes of determining whether an award is off peak is a glitch. Clearly both the online engine and the engine that phone agents use assign the date of the first leg of a direction as the date for the whole thing for the purposes of off peak.

2. We can book 20k to Europe even on partners S7 and Iberia who don’t show up on aa.com, just by calling in the reservation at 800-882-8880.

I also wanted to test whether agents would “catch the error” and tell me that the award was pricing incorrectly. I thought this unlikely since I don’t believe this pricing to be an error, and since I find agents more than content to follow their computers’ leads at all airlines.

For this test, I moved the Europe leg to the middle of summer, so that even an agent who doesn’t know the exact peak/off peak dates would know that my Europe leg was during peak times. I moved the free oneway to February to make the Europe leg in starker contrast.

The result? The award still priced out to 20k miles and $5.

Unfortunately if you start an award booking by phone and put it on hold, the price doesn’t show up online under your reservations, so I can’t show the 20k and $5 price.

What if you change your award later?

If you booked an award like the one above:

Denver to Chicago February 6

Chicago to Berlin July 4

and you wanted to change it later, would you have to pay extra miles?

It depends on the change.

If you later changed the free oneway–Denver to Chicago–to a date inside the peak period, you would have to pay the 10k extra miles that a peak award goes for compared to off peak. So this change

Denver to Chicago February 6 May 20

Chicago to Berlin July 4

would cost 10k miles. (It wouldn’t cost any cash. Date changes are free 22+ days out, and taxes wouldn’t change.)

But if you wanted to change Denver to Chicago to a date still outside the peak range, change Chicago to Berlin, or change both, you wouldn’t have to pay any extra miles. Why? AA thinks all those awards should cost 20k miles. So this change

Denver to Chicago February 6 April 4

Chicago to Berlin July 4 June 10

is free.

The danger of calling up after booking these awards

Gary said: “[I]f they notice the pricing error … then you will have to pay the incremental miles.”

That would be a prime danger of calling up and making a change to an award like this–even the changes that I said would not cost extra miles. I would strenuously argue with American if they tried to reprice one of my awards.

Department of Transportation regulations prohibit AA from repricing awards (Hat Tip Gary):

Does the prohibition on post-purchase price increases in section 399.88(a) apply in the situation where a carrier mistakenly offers an airfare due to a computer problem or human error and a consumer purchases the ticket at that fare before the carrier is able to fix the mistake?

Section 399.88(a) states that it is an unfair and deceptive practice for any seller of scheduled air transportation within, to, or from the United States, or of a tour or tour component that includes scheduled air transportation within, to, or from the United States, to increase the price of that air transportation to a consumer after the air transportation has been purchased by the consumer, except in the case of a government-imposed tax or fee and only if the passenger is advised of a possible increase before purchasing a ticket. A purchase occurs when the full amount agreed upon has been paid by the consumer. Therefore, if a consumer purchases a fare and that consumer receives confirmation (such as a confirmation email and/or the purchase appears on their credit card statement or online account summary) of their purchase, then the seller of air transportation cannot increase the price of that air transportation to that consumer, even when the fare is a “mistake.” A contract of carriage provision that reserves the right to cancel such ticketed purchases or reserves the right to raise the fare cannot legalize the practice described above. The Enforcement Office would consider any contract of carriage provision that attempts to relieve a carrier of the prohibition against post-purchase price increase to be an unfair and deceptive practice in violation of 49 U.S.C. § 41712.

And this isn’t like United’s 4-miles-to-Hong-Kong mistake where the price displayed as something other than 4 miles all the way until the last screen. In this case, 20k miles displays at all steps of the process, so there is nothing to indicate 20k miles is a mistake at all.

An itinerary split across two dates–part in February and part in July–presents a problem: which date is operative for purposes of deciding whether to grant off peak pricing? AA has answered that the first date is operative through its programming, and I consider it a reasonable choice, not a mistake.

But Gary definitely knows what he’s talking about, so if he says there is a risk of a repricing if you call AA, there is a risk. Proceed with caution on any phone call.

Booking

See How to Book Free Stopovers Online: American Airlines for full details on booking these types of awards.

Recap

Off peak awards during peak times are bookable by phone using the exact same method as we used to book them online.

This implies a consistent choice by American Airlines as to which date of a multi-date itinerary is operative when deciding whether an itinerary is off peak. It also means awards on partners not bookable on aa.com are eligible for 20k year round pricing.

These awards should not be repriced if you later change them unless you change the date of the free oneway to a peak season date. If AA claims that the pricing is the result of a “mistake” and tries to “correct” it, DOT regulations prohibit that.

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