What Happened To American’s A321 First Class Awards?

Award availability can be highly cyclical, so in general I don’t try to read too much into short-term changes in award availability. There are so many things which could factor into changes of award space that it’s tough to predict what’s causing something on a micro-level.

There are a few trends which are certain, however. A few days back I wrote about the sad state of American award availability, whereby American doesn’t have a single premium cabin award seat across the Pacific for all of 2016. That’s a trend I feel comfortable commenting on, since American’s progressively worse award availability on their own flights has been a trend for years.

However, there’s one trend which seems quite new. I’m not ready to draw conclusions about it yet, though it is worth pointing out.

Changes in American’s A321 first class award space

American arguably offers the best premium cabin product between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco, with their A321 first class. Nowadays they’re the only airline offering three cabin service between the cities.

American-A321

American’s first class cabin consists of a total of 10 reverse herringbone seats, spread across five rows in a 1-1 configuration (these are the same seats they have in business class on their 777-300ERs). It’s a fantastic hard product.

American-A321-First-Class-02

Historically American has been inconsistent with how much space they’ve released in first class on these flights in advance. Sometimes they’d make space available almost every single day for travel months in advance, while other times space was much more restrictive.

One thing which has been consistent in the past is that American has made A321 first class awards available last minute. In other words, if within a few days of departure the cabin was wide open, they’d make award seats available. In the past I could with almost 100% accuracy predict whether space would open or not, since American was that consistent.

That’s a trend which seems to have stopped recently — American no longer seems to be making A321 first class awards available last minute. For example, there’s not a single nonstop first or business class award seat from Los Angeles to New York at the saver level for the entire next month. Not one.

American-A321-Award

Last week I was trying to book a flight from New York to Los Angeles, which was wide open in all three cabins. Before non-revs, the flight ended up going out with two seats taken in first class (out of 10) and six seats taken in business class (out of 20), yet not a single first class seat was made available at the saver level, even day of departure. And that seems to be the norm as of the past couple of weeks.

Possible explanation for the change?

Keep in mind that this is an award American is greatly devaluing come March 22, 2016. A one-way saver level first class award between Los Angeles and New York costs 32,500 miles right now, while it will cost 50,000 miles a few months from now. So the mileage cost is going up by over 50%.

I’d certainly hope American isn’t basically devaluing this award early by heavily restricting space on this flight around the same time the devaluation was announced, though that certainly can’t be ruled out.

Just to be fair, I should point out that American is continuing to make some space available on the route in advance, though not as much as we’ve seen in the past. For example, there’s space some Fridays and Saturdays from Los Angeles to New York, though that’s about the extent of it. That’s not nearly as much space as in the past.

American-A321-Award-1

Bottom line

For a couple of weeks now, American doesn’t seem to be making A321 first class awards available last minute, which is a huge departure from their old practice. Booking A321 first class last minute used to be a near guarantee, while now it seems downright impossible.

It certainly could be a coincidence, though it’s interesting that this is happening around the same time that American announced the price of this award will go up by over 50% in a matter of months.

Have you noticed the lack of A321 first class award space, and what do you think the explanation is?

Comments

  1. I think a lot of these are selling to cash paying customers. Have flown in full cabins on both a Friday night red eye and Saturday flights this month. And that’s not counting the other full F cabin I will be on today as it is the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

    If the seat are going out full I hold the airline has no obligation to use them for award tickets as much as that sucks for us.

  2. @ Ben — I never thought I would say this and award pricing is pretty horrendous, but I think DL business SFO/LAX – JFK is possibly better than AA A321 First. Undoubtedly, the food on DL is vastly superior.

  3. It’s not just last-minute awards. I had been looking at an award booking in May, but waiting until my plans solidified. Award space, which used to be plentiful, is all gone except for Fri and Saturdasy.

  4. I hope that you will continue to highlight these changes, particularly in the next month. I am still on the fence a bit regarding whether I stick with AA, change to another OneWorld program, or change to another alliance but AA’s trend of making miles practically impossible to use in premium cabins is going to make that decision a lot simpler.

    Hypothetically, if I fly the same schedule in 2016 that I did in 2015 I can make EXP by about 400 EQM’s – or I can make BA Gold and be about 2000 miles short of Alaska MVP Gold. With what AA has been doing to availability there is no doubt that the BA and Alaska miles are more valuable.

  5. Sounds more like AA is being “innovative” much like DL. They don’t ever make those seats available for either elite upgrade or for redemption on the their east west flight. Lax/SFO to Atl or NYC always fly full with paying customers up front. They sell every last seat in first. I was upgraded once as a Diamond and only because they had to do an operational downgrade because they had one too many cabin pets. Not a pretty sight.

    @Gene – DL has at most one flight a day from lax/sfo to the east coast that has their Delta One product. The other aircraft have standard domestic first seating. Even still, I think the AA reverse herringbone product is still better than Delta One.

  6. ex-SFO, this has been going on far greater than a “couple weeks” — more like a year. We’ve always said, “Doug is going to drive that airline into the ground!”

  7. I think it might have something to do with the holidays, at least most recently. I’ve been monitoring award availability, and on Wed night, some Z space opened up on JFK-SFO the week before Christmas, which I jumped on. I haven’t seen anything on JFK-LAX, though.

  8. Not to mention that last minute BA Avios economy award availability on AA JFK LAX routing has disappeared completely. This used to reliably appear on short notice for much of past year. So disappointing.

  9. I’ve had some luck on JFK-LAX. I scored 2 F saver awards in early Feb as part of flights to NAN. Originally I had booked JFK-MIA-LAX-NAN – but a few days later 2 seats non-stop F opened up.

    I also scored 2 C back LAX-JFK during President’s week.

    It sounds like they are trying for force late purchases to revenue vs. awards. I can’t say I 100% blame them. If it’s always available – why buy – just wait them out. There’s a delicate balance here – some revenue (from the AAdvantage subsidiary) is better than none.

  10. I have a revenue LAX-JFK red eye in J/I booked for mid-January and was able to upgrade with my last 2015/6 eVIP to F/A, so could also be AA is keeping these seats open for those who pay revenue J/I and want to move up rather than release them as awards. As for transPac during 2016, does the BA/Avios engine show premium awards on AA, JL or CX on the north Pacific? Could be a OW-wide version of STARblocking.

  11. I agree with AdamH as carriers are becoming evermore greedy and if the economy really starts to slow it will get worse.

  12. The AA website is rigged to make you not want to use your miles, at least for saver awards. I’ve noticed a couple of glaring examples of them making availability to where you want to go almost there but not quite or turning a non-stop unnecessarily into a 1-stop. It reminds me of Delta back in 2010 when they kept increasing the mileage requirement for an award ticket I was looking to book for FAR-LIH. It started out as 60k in economy and by the time I could get the miles required transferred from MR and Starpoints it had went up to 92.5k for RT econ ticket. Back to AA, the website is broken. I was trying for weeks to find availability from HNL-CHA and would always get an error saying try again later or call in. I’m finally able to do this search now but it’s like the website is keeping track of your searches much like I believe Delta was back in 2010 when I was searching for the FAR-LIH ticket. Another example is I was searching for an economy ticket for PHX-KOA and there wasn’t any in saver but there was from PHX-HNL. I thought maybe there was a mistake because they partner with HA and they generally have availability all day. So I did a separate search and lo and behold there was availability all day, right up to the time the flight would arrive into HNL and then nothing after. The planned return was the same with no availability except for a couple of flights that would be too late arriving in HNL. So I booked the PHX-HNL tickets with the thought of purchasing tickets separately for HNL-KOA-HNL. A couple of weeks later, I decided to check with AA.com and see if I could use miles instead of shelling out a couple of hundred dollars for each RT ticket. Guess what, there was availability basically on every flight that HA flights between HNL and KOA so I booked the tickets using more AA miles.
    Furthermore, maybe because of the merger or my lack of status with AA, there have been a number of schedule changes with award tickets that I have booked for upcoming travel in 2016 and the new itinerary that they give me is considerably worse than before. I call up AA and they basically say there’s no saver availability so you’re stuck with what we gave you. I don’t want to brag on UA but when they make a schedule change they are actually willing to open up seats(at least on their own metal) and make it work for you. The way the AA award availability is reminds me very much of how the old USAirways website used to have very little availability(at least at the lowest mileage price).

  13. We can all thank the DOJ and DOT for all these mega airline mergers. Talk about fraud and not consumer friendly. How about all the fee’s. Billions in fee’s and we are supposed to just take it. AA started this I would say 1 to 1.5 years ago with pulling saver awards.

    Now as Ben has talked about it doesn’t matter what ocean you cross or stay domestic. They have gutted the program. I myself had to use 210,000 miles one way F DFW to HKG back in September. It pained me and the service sucked. We just need to all continue to complain and expose AA for what they are now.

  14. Its pretty simple its the US Air effect
    Ever try and book an award on US Air? it was horrible
    Mr Parkers influence already has been far more negative than positive
    Like Marriott without doubt who will be soon ruining SPG in a short matter of time I expect the worlds first and best frequent flyer program to continue its downward spiral to the bottom
    I have already stopped buying miles reducing my business until I see integrity long term reliability and
    reasonable trust if any that American may demonstrate
    Prepared to cut up my American Citibank credit cards and fly other carriers after 8 million miles earned
    Time will tell all

    Off topic I’m surprised no bloggers have brought this up
    No one so far has brought up the fact that the American internet customer service support is now outsourced with unhelpful clueless individuals.
    I recently cancelled 2 Full fare refundable tickets as when I went to ticket them online and aa.com
    tried to bait and switch me into a non refundable
    They were unhelpful rude and untrained I purchased at Virgin America instead

  15. Nice, my two comments from the AA availability post (Etihad last moment seats and this)
    became two separate posts without any thank you or anything…

  16. BTW, I really hope this will change after March as I booked a few of those knowing
    I can change the date last moment when I need it… Obviously they might defend themselves against
    such practice, but flying empty plane makes no sense neither. Especially when it’s gonna be 50K miles.
    I predict “magically” seats will show up after March 22nd. And probably some Etihad F will show up as well…

  17. lax/jfk is the route I fly most often. I book in j and upgrade to first. Frankly it’s not a ‘real’ first class product but it’s marginally better than business when traveling solo (single seats) I get free upgrade certs through the office, but I would NEVER pay for it (with my own miles or money). The service is just too inconsistent and the food is terrible. Save your miles and book in business instead.

  18. AA has been terrible with award availability on popular flights–especially in premium cabins–for years, as noted already…and that has only gotten worse since the merger, especially when compared with UA and even DL. AA apologists used to point to the better mileage award chart as justification, but now that award chart is about as devalued as those of UA and DL but with even less premium award availability on MOST AA routes. That is ESPECIALLY true on AA routes with a true F class IME.

  19. @ DavidB — BA’s website should show space on JAL, Cathay, etc. And agree it makes sense for American to hold the space back until the last minute, but even last minute they’re not making anything available.

  20. @ AdamH — Totally agree, but have seen several instances of the cabins going out almost completely empty without them making award space available. Certainly don’t fault them for selling the seats.

  21. @ Gene — Interesting. Absolutely believe business catering on Delta is better than first catering on American, but it comes down to the seat for me. On Delta you have a seatmate on the 757, and I’m not a fan of the 767 hard product.

  22. I’ve booked several JFK-SFO flights in business class for ~$1,200 round trip. From what I can tell, first is about $2,000 round trip. At those prices, it may make more sense to pay cash for those routes, especially if you have status and get mileage bonus.

  23. dwonderment and Buddy M sum it up perfectly. For the past year, when I do searches for availability on AA, First Anytime awards show up as almost TWICE the amount as stated in the award charts (210K vs 140K) and I also get ridiculous route schedules. Seems perfectly evident to me that AA very much wants to alienate their loyal customers.

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