Can You Ask American To Open Award Space?

Yesterday I wrote a post entitled “How Stingy Is American With First Class Award Space? I was trying to get from London to New York, and American had two flights without a single seat sold in first class, yet they didn’t have any saver level award availability. There has been a trend over the past several years whereby American is releasing less and less award space, and to me this is the epitome of the situation.

American-Award-Space-1

Those seats would literally otherwise go empty, which they’d apparently prefer to getting mileage liability off the books, and more importantly, making a frequent flyer happy. It’s amazing how quickly the airlines forget why they’re in business. In this case, specifically, American wouldn’t be in business if it weren’t for Citi (they pre-purchased a billion dollars worth of miles from American when they were in bankruptcy and and on the verge of going out of business).

Anyway, as an experiment I thought it would be fun to see if I could get anyone at American to actually apply logic to the situation and open up some award space. Gary has written in the past about the ability to request American award space under certain situations when it’s not otherwise possible. The circumstances under which you can normally make the request for AAdvantage award space are:

  • When you’re trying to complete an itinerary (for example, one segment of a larger itinerary doesn’t have award space)
  • When you’re trying to complete a party (for example, you have three seats but need a fourth)

Let’s keep in mind this is merely a request. They can easily say no, so don’t expect this to be a secret weapon to opening up award space (“I know how I’ll trick them — I found award space from Tampa to Dallas, and I’ll ask them to ‘complete my itinerary’ with a Dallas to Hong Kong segment.”). šŸ˜‰

But I figured I’d call the Executive Platinum desk and see if they could put in a similar request for a saver first class award seat on one of those flights. I wasn’t actually sure if they could make the request or not, but figured I might as well try, since it would make an interesting data point.

The first time I called I decided to play “clueless,” and the call went something like this:

Me: Hi Sandy, I’m trying to book an award ticket from London to New York today, and it seems like American doesn’t any saver level award availability, even though first class looks wide open.
Agent: Hold on a second, let me check. Yeah, it looks like they only have first class availability for 175,000 miles.
Me: Since the cabin is wide open, is there any way you could maybe put in a request for a first class saver seat on that flight?
Agent: Sorry, there’s no way we can do that since there is award space, it’s just more expensive.
Me: Okay, thanks for your help, I appreciate it.

American-Award-Availability

Rather than playing the “clueless” card I decided to take a more direct approach with the next call:

Me: Hi Rhonda, I have a bit of a complicated request I was hoping you could help me with.
Agent: I have 25 minutes left in my shift, so bring it on.
Me: Perfect. So basically I’m trying to redeem miles for a flight between Heathrow and Kennedy for today, and both AA105 and AA107 are wide open in first class. Best I can tell they don’t have a single seat sold and are F7. Is there any chance you could put in a request with RM for ‘Z’ space on those flights?
Agent: Wow, you know all the lingo. Let me take a quick look for you.

*30 second pause*

Agent: This is very strange. You’re right, there’s not a single seat sold on 105 or 107, and I double checked and economy and business aren’t oversold either, so that’s not the reason. I’ve never seen that before. Let me create a record and put the request in for you.
Me: Thanks so much Rhonda, I really appreciate you trying.

*30 second pause*

Agent: Okay, let me give you the PNR, it’s ******. The request is in there, and if you wait on the phone for a minute or two I should get a response back pretty quickly.

*two minute pause*

Agent: “So I got a message back saying that the request was received and not to re-queue it. It’s in the priority queue, so give us a call back in a couple of hours and I’m sure you’ll have an answer one way or another by then.”

I should note that I made this request at 5AM on a Saturday morning in London, which is 11PM on a Friday night in Dallas. If something were to manually be reviewed, I don’t think there’s a worse time to make a request.

I called back a couple of hours later and the agent said there still wasn’t a response. She actually said RM isn’t even in on weekends, so it wouldn’t clear.

Then I reached out to the American Twitter team, who said the following:

Ben, we’re very sorry RM is not in the office on the weekends, the EP agent is correct. We do however have a few agents that’ll look at requests that have been sent in. You’re request has been looked at and we’re not able to clear.

So there ya have it…

Bottom line

Would the request have manually been looked at and would I have cleared if I made it when RM was in the office? It’s anyone’s guess. But at least I learned that it is possible to request a specific award fare class and have it sent to revenue management. I might have to give this another shot at some point under similar circumstances, except during US business hours.

And for those of you wondering how I got back to the US, I did manage to book a backup option for travel on US Airways in business class (stay tuned to find out whether that ended up like my last US Airways flight or not).

US-Airways-Business-Class-A330

Has anyone had a similar experience with requesting award space from American?

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

More articles by lucky »

Comments

  1. Does this lack of award seats also apply to getting seats on Cathay Pacific? (by phone since its not seen on the aa website)

  2. “Those seats would literally otherwise go empty”
    How do you know this?
    SWU may not clear until last minute for folks in Business class. Moreover concierge key members are frequently moved to 1st class ~1 day before departure.

  3. I have tried several times. Some say the can’t do it, others know what to do. RM has come back the same way all the time – NO

    By the way, was there business class availability?

  4. I thought one of your call examples would be 1) completing an itinerary or 2) completing a party (for example, you have three seats but need a fourth)

    However, both your call examples just seem to be requesting to open up award space on flights that have 0 First class passengers.

  5. I am in no way placed to comment on this, but won’t they be better off with an empty cabin rather than catering and staffing first just for one award passenger? Perhaps you’d have better luck if there was at least one paid up revenue passenger?

  6. Lucky – Don’t have the American experience but would like to ask you about US Airways DM Chairman dedicated phone people. I went on BA’s website and found a First Class award seat available at 0750 Jan 6 BOS – LHR. I called the US Air Chairman desk and asked them to book me on that flight with my miles. Agent said she “can’t see any 1st award space available on that flight”. Why can I see it on BA’s website and she “can’t see it”? What hoops do I have to negotiate to get that award space?

    Thanks.

  7. @Lucky — I’m based in GRU, which is notoriously tough with awards and upgrades, so I’ve been there plenty before. Yes, I’ve been able to have “someone” look at it more than a handful of times, but was never granted award space (most requests were for business, some for first class and once or twice for coach, including this past week). Upgrades are a different story. I’m routinely wait-listed (which is normal, nothing “special” there) and routinely get it cleared a few days prior to departure. I only missed it once on a pretty full flight. So, yes, it appears that AA now prefers to fly an empty cabin than open Milesaver space. They’re a bit “easier” with upgrades, but still extremely stingy compared to how they were before.

  8. Lucky – How do you find out how many seats are sold on your flight – much like the screen shot you showed above?
    Thanks

  9. No wonder AA went bankrupt previously. There must be something wrong with RM if they wanted to let so many seats go empty instead of opening up awards at the last moment.

    And they think other airlines in OW are stupid? If AA keeps doing this, other airlines in OW will block AA miles from redeeming in their premium cabins.

    AA should have someone reviewing the team in RM. Entire First cabin going empty, and the agent also confirmed Biz and Coach are not full as well. And how on earth there is no one looking at RM on weekends? It cannot be revenue during weekends are not important.

  10. @Chris

    In that screenshot he’s using ExpertFlyer. Though it’s only telling him how many seats are available for sale in each fare bucket. This doesn’t perfectly correspond to the number of seats actually available, nor does it tell you how many have been sold.

    However- from experience, we know that the maximum AA will list in F is F7, and if the seatmap is empty, there are likely none sold (although it is not certain as occasionally people still have bookings without confirmed seats)

  11. Would AA ever close the F cabin? In that case, it could make sense for AA, despite some of the complaining otherwise. Less crew and no F meal catering.

    No idea if AA does this. I fly CX, and CX frequently does this on short haul 77W segments where F was sold but CX really has no intention of maintaining F integrity. For example, HKG-TPE or HKG-BKK. Sometimes without any cash sales CX will close the cabin entirely – which AA awards travelers booked through gripe about to no end – because the economics work. The incremental revenue a CX gets from AA for that short segment are almost nil, pax will still come back as long as the long-haul is F, and less crew and F catering means cost savings.

    LHR to JFK is obviously a longer segment but I wonder if that happens. Would be curious to know if that cabin actually went out empty.

  12. AA, like QF, doesn’t want to give away tickets at the last minute even though the cabin is empty. They don’t want to encourage people to wait until the end to try to redeem miles. They would rather you buy the seat.

    QF is the same, they will not clear reward requests when there are empty seats in the requested cabin.
    I called AA to add the domestic F segments from LAX to WAS – but best I could get was LAX to SJC on AS, then SJC to DFW to DCA. AA agent emailed RM to see if they would open 2 F seats, but RM declined.

    So I held for a while and some months later AA seemed to open domestic AA transcons for EXP. So for six different QF F and J rewards I was able to get whatever I wanted in F to/from LAX and WAS.

    I am not sure what the deal was for that original request and decline, but RM doesn’t seem to open up rewards seats from requests. But AA does have better availability for domestic rewards for EXP.

  13. Agree with the people believing they’d rather fly an empty F cabin. If there’s an award pax filling the seat, the accounting benefit of getting those miles off the books doesn’t exceed the real cash cost of catering, etc. the flight.

    LH does (or at least did) the same thing with SWU’s into F – they catered F in “sets” of 4, and if the cabin was booked to 4, and you would make 5, they wouldn’t let you clear, even if there were 4 seats available. They refused to carry the costs of catering for an extra 4 pax for an upgrader, although they’d be happy to for a revenue pax.

    Greg

  14. This story just drives the point home why those 400k from the Citi cards are not entirely worthless but if you think AA can compete as an international FC carrier then the stuff in your bong is some really powerful stuff. Think how UA started to act after they emerged from bankruptcy and ditto AA. See the chugholes in American roads…….there are also chugholes in the AA clouds.

  15. @Randy – Not sure of your QF FF status, but QF will regularly clear requests and upgrade at the last minute into F… In fact, requested (and had cleared) F SYD-HKG on A380 in a completely empty cabin 14 days out a few months ago, the day before takeoff I was still the only one booked in F. I got on the plane and every F seat was taken by either upgrade pax or staff travel… no wonder they ditched F on that route.

    QF will take requests to open award space for Platinum members (or above), as will CX for Diamond members (or above). QF uses yield management software which will spit out a Yes or No answer, where as with CX it seems to be up to some sort of manager on duty at the time in the call centre. To be clear, both can only be done on their own metal.

    I’ve also had luck with SQ (clearing waitlisted flights, with no status) but it requires much more determination. Similarly to the AA article though, they’ll happily fly an cabin with one or two revenue pax in F and not open any award space at all..!

  16. @ Michael — Here’s the info I got: “FYI 105 went out with 7 nonrevs and 1 empty seat in 1st. 107 had 2 seats filled by revenue passengers, 6 empty. It was an unusual day.”

  17. @ Steve — There will be the same number of flight attendants aboard regardless of whether the first class cabin is full or empty. And as far as catering goes, while other airlines don’t, American caters the cabin regardless.

  18. @ bobbieddie — It’s a case where you may just have to hang up and call again. Not all agents are all that competent at searching award space.

  19. I have to say, even if it didn’t work out, the willingness to try stuff like this is where AA really distinguishes itself on customer service. As much as I like flying onboard Delta, it frustrates me to no end that even as a Diamond Medallion, it seems the phone agents are never empowered to try to make exceptions like this or try anything out of the standard rulebook.

  20. @ Chris — I just pulled that from ExpertFlyer. It just shows how many seats are still for sale. “F7” is the most number of seats it will show for first class, and that simply means that at least seven first class seats are still for sale.

  21. @ bobtrial — They don’t, in my experience. They’ll leave it open even if it’s just non-revs that would fill it.

  22. Great post!

    Since USAIR doesn’t allow one-way award purchases, what did you end up doing with the return and how will you use it?

  23. Was looking at some cheap fares LAX-BKK in April. Asked them to check upgrade space to business for 2 for the DFW-HKG portion – there was nothing for the 1st half of April even though the cabin was wide open. Same thing on the return – nothing for the 2nd half of April.

  24. It’s also well known that BA metal is an attainable milesaver award while AA metal is usually difficult. Too bad the taxes are so craazy.

  25. This is not an isolated incident. AA has been letting cabins fly practically empty on their own metal for a couple of years. It’s why my focus on AA miles has changed as well. AA wan’t to have it both ways.

  26. Good post, and points to a real issue. AA has become much more difficult in the past few years in my experience. I love the bit about RM not working weekends. Like physicians in the USA… must be nice!

  27. I started beating the alarm drums about award availability starting in 2009. In the last 12-24 months, AA have really lost their mind though.

    They simply do not open award space in saver bucket anymore. I have been monitoring availability to Hawaii for over 6 months for a 2015 trip and they never made a single date available in any class of service for the month I was looking at. Same with a domestic trip I have lined up for January.

    In essence they have decided to remove saver availability unless they expect zero demand. And even then, they try to push as much traffic onto partners that collect huge YQ as possible. And if all doesn’t go as planned, they have jacked up anytime rates and will end up flying airplanes empty and refuse to make seats available even close in.

    It boggles the mind that they would not make inventory available for EXPs and then fly 7 nonrevs in F.

    This is principally one of the reasons why I have moved my business to UA. At least with them, when their metal availability sucks, there are tons of partners one can fly free of YQ and with decent availability.

    AA just act like they are trying to send message to its ffs including EXPS. If they want to douche us though, then they had better be prepared for the consequences….

  28. I’ve been able to get a request in easily like you did in the second call, however it was during business hours and she said the same “call back in a couple hours to hear the result”. But then almost as soon as she was done saying that she already got a response back with a denial. Kind of hard to believe that was actually manually reviewed. She was even surprised it came back that fast. Then again, I think I was trying to get an additional F seat on HKG-DFW, so they may actually have that one coded haha.

    I don’t think many people will be successful with this option in general though.

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