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’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.
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.
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.
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?