Can You Change American Awards Post-Devaluation?

As we probably all know by now, American is devaluing their award chart for bookings made as of March 22, 2016.

2016-AAdvantage-Program

The devaluation is significant between many regions, as the cost of some of my favorite awards is increasing by 60%+. For example, the cost of Cathay Pacific first class awards between the US and Asia is increasing from 67,500 miles to 110,000 miles one-way.

Cathay-Pacific-First-Class-777-01

In many ways this devaluation is match the United MileagePlus devaluation from a couple of years back, making AAdvantage miles not nearly as lucrative as they used to be.

How will award changes be handled after the devaluation?

One question I’ve been asked repeatedly is how will American handle award ticket changes after March 22? Can you book an award before March 22 and then make changes afterwards while preserving the old mileage rates?

To answer that question, let me start by posting two reminders:

  • American AAdvantage makes award seats available 331 days out regardless of whether you’re looking to fly American or a partner airline (meaning if you ticket an award on March 21, 2016, you’ll be able to book travel through February 15, 2017)
  • All tickets are valid for a year from the date of issue (meaning if you ticket an award on March 21, 2016, all travel has to be completed by March 21, 2017)

With that in mind, it’s my understanding that AAdvantage award changes post-devaluation will work similarly to when AAdvantage and Dividend Miles integrated.

Post-devaluation you can change an award and maintain the price if the award doesn’t require reissue. That means if you’re traveling between the same origin and destination in the same class of service and the same general set of airlines (either American, oneworld partners, or non-oneworld partners), you’ll be able to make a change after the devaluation and preserve the price.

However, if you make any change which requires the award to be reissued, you’ll be charged the new cost, as this will require the old award to be redeposited and the miles to be deducted from your account again.

Reinstating-Award

What’s my plan for making bookings?

My plan is to book a few awards as far out as possible for travel post-devaluation on routes I know I’ll fly. For example, I might book a couple of first class tickets in Cathay Pacific first class from Los Angeles to Hong Kong for 11 months from now. Then I can always change the dates without issue anytime up until a year from the date the ticket was issued.

If I wanted to get two seats in Cathay Pacific first class, I’d probably book two seats on separate flights (since Cathay Pacific rarely opens up two first class seats on a single flight far in advance anymore), and then when I see two seats on a flight I want, I’d make that switch.

The good news is that the type of awards which don’t require a reissue also don’t come with any change fees, so you can move around dates and times freely without incurring any fees.

Bottom line

If you have a lot of AAdvantage miles to redeem, I’d start thinking about what kind of speculative bookings you want to make. I’d wait until as close to March 22 as possible to make the bookings, though, so you have as long as possible to use the tickets.

To keep things simple I’ll be making bookings out of major gateways, so that I won’t have too much trouble finding seats at a later point (ie, Los Angeles to Hong Kong, New York to Abu Dhabi, etc.). I’d rather pay for a positioning flight to a major gateway than being stuck paying the new award cost in case I can’t find award space to the gateway.

What’s your strategy for making post-devaluation AAdvantage bookings?

Comments

  1. Good advice. I’m trying to burn my AAdvantage miles on CX F from HKG to JFK this weekend but Cathay awards seems to be unusual even though it might be 24-36 hours out I haven’t been able to find good amount of F award space. Anyone knows what’s going on? or any tips or advice?

  2. I’m going to have 15k miles post on 3/23 from some paid J travel on QR. Any idea on whether new rates will be charged if I hold space prior to 3/22 but have it ticketed post 3/22 once I get some extra miles credited?

    I tend to think it would need to be ticketed prior but open to other thoughts.

  3. Thanks, Lucky. I was wondering this question myself recently.

    How sure are you on this holding true. Will we hear from AA in an official capacity? Thanks.

  4. @Bill

    Sometimes they tighten up all the award space in the period before and after the holidays. Potentially due to very full flights with the number of students going back and forth btw HK and the US. I had major issues with a JFK-YVR flight in mid-Dec. Absolutely zero space on any day in any class.

  5. @Lucky – I plan to book an CX F award from NYC to SIN in late Nov 2016 , I have Japan Airlines on hold, should I book it or wait for Cathay Pacific ?

  6. Hi,

    I have some questions. I want to fly Etihad Apartment from LHR-AUH-India, however my origin is Oslo. Can i book the OSL-LHR-AUH-India for 40k AA miles?
    If I can, can I then change the date for the enire trip later without reissuing the ticket?

  7. What about changes to off-peak economy rewards? For awards booked pre-devaluation, will pre-devaluation off-peak dates, rules and prices apply if the original award is changed without requiring reissue? For example, what if I book an AA off-peak coach award flying JL US to NRT and want to change the dates of the flights post-devaluation to what would have been off-peak dates pre-devaluation, while still flying JL? Would it be 25K or 35K one-way? (AA has eliminated partner off-peak awards to Asia 1 post-devaluation).

    As another example, for an off-peak award booked in economy to Europe pre-devaluation, if I want to change the date post-devaluation to a date that had been off-peak pre-devaluation but is no longer off-peak post-devaluation, would I still be able to maintain the pre-devaluation off-peak pricing (assuming the award type doesn’t change between all AA/oneworld/partner). Partner Europe off-peak awards are still allowed post-devaluation, but the mileage is increased and the dates are severely restricted.

  8. @Logs90210, I flew both JAL and Cathay first class this past summer, and actually preferred JAL over Cathay. They were both fantastic, but JAL had slightly better food and a better seat in my opinion. Can’t go wrong either way though.

  9. Lucky,

    A very timely post, thank you very much. My wife and I flew CX outbound to Vietnam, and KE back from HKG in 2015. Both were awesome experiences.

    We are in the process of adopting our daughter from Thailand. I’ve been strategizing how to do some of that BKK travel on points. The date to travel outbound will be on short notice: 2 days – 2 weeks. So my thought had been to book CX business far out, and then do last minute First availability. I wasn’t sure if the class of travel upgrade would nail me on the devaluation (my travel is nearly certainly post-March).

    Your split the ticket recommendation is spot on and I’ll work that approach.

    One challenge I have is that while I live in an AA hub, it’s not a CX origin. So last minute AA availability worries me.

    I could go three options:
    1) Book CX origin to BKK, with intent to cash ticket last minute to CX origin in USA. So something like ORD-HKG-BKK. Risk is being locked into ORD departure and limiting which flight would have availability, also risk on last minute HKG-BKK.
    2) Book home to BKK, Flexible on CX availability from USA gateways, still risk on HKG-BKK leg last minute. Also, risk on AA availability to CX origin.
    3) Book Home to HKG. Eliminate the HKG-BKK last minute risk.

    Anyone have any advice?

  10. Hi Lucky,

    I’ve been thinking of a trip to Cambodia and Vietnam early next year. I’d love to route from SFO thru Hong Kong on Cathay First. Two questions:

    1) All of Cathay’s flights from LAX and SFO offer the same hard product, right? (I know there are morning, afternoon and late night departures.)
    2) Will award space availability be any more difficult (or easy) to find if I book all the way to Hanoi or Phnom Pehn, rather than just stopping in Hong Kong and book separate flights from there?

    Thanks much!

    Matt

  11. Hi Lucky,

    I booked 2 F tickets on JAL using AA miles. I recently noticed 1 F spot opened on the flight the day after my currently booked ticket and would prefer to move to that flight. Did I make a mistake by booking both of my tickets on the same record locator. Is AA able to split our tickets without redepositing the rewards and charging me a fee? I don’t have any status with AA so what should I be expecting to pay if I want to do this? Thanks!

  12. Quote:

    “Post-devaluation you can change an award and maintain the price if the award doesn’t require reissue. That means if you’re traveling between the same origin and destination in the same class of service and the same general set of airlines (either American, oneworld partners, or non-oneworld partners), you’ll be able to make a change after the devaluation and preserve the price.”

    I interpret the parameters above would permit a carrier change ONLY, as changing dates or class of service would invoke a reissue – correct?

  13. According to my DM correspondence on Twitter w/AA, any changes made to partner award travel dates after March 22nd “will change to the new mileage level.”

    Do you have confirmation otherwise?

  14. @Marius Yes that is a valid routing for 40K. I did something similar recently and have another booked for when the A380 goes to Mumbai. Nearly 12 hours in apartments for 40k, what a steal. If you change the award within the issuing dates and same route etc then there will be no increase in price or change fee.

  15. What about upgrading COS once award is issued because space wasn’t available? Eg CAI-AUH-JFK-YVR – CAI-AUH and JFK-YVR only had J (it’s an F award) but if F opens last min can they upgrade to F on those flights without reissuing?

  16. I posted this on flyertalk. They all said the same; this would be a reissue situation.

    In my case I already have a booked 2+ week mid this year for a honeymoon. Wanted to go to Australia late 2017/early 2018. Thought about booking it come Feb or March 2016 then around November or December 2016 I would rebook for late 2017.

    I was told award tickets are good for a year so there in this example it would be a rebook and I’d have to pay additional mileage

    What if I tried to book Fiji or Tahiti Naui using the AA miles using my example above? Less concerned about the product and more interested in getting from NYC to Australia using the old award chart in late 2017/early 2018.

  17. I asked this question to AA on Twitter. The response was “if the ticket has to be reissued for any reason, the new award rules would apply.” I previously worked for American Airlines. Any change at all to your current routing and booking, is technically a reissued ticket. Based upon this answer, I would say that any change to the current award ticket (barring any schedule changes/delays/cancellation) will result in the change being based upon the new mileage valuation. Reissuing a ticket means to change your current flights to ANYTHING else. Literally it means anything other than what you are currently ticketed on. I believe any changes at all will incur the new ticketing/mileage rules.

  18. This post originally gave me hopes of actually getting a good strategy for my AA miles prior to devaluation. However, I called AA today and spoke with somebody at the Gold desk who said that ANY future change to award travel issued now (or a day before new award charts) will translate into the application of whatever policy American has in effect at the time the change is made. In other words, any changes made to an award travel reservation, including destination or departure city, dates of departure or return, or anything else, will trigger the change to be subject to the new policy in effect. One can always cancel the entire reservation and get the miles back by paying $150 fee.

  19. Thanks Lucky. Good advice. I had already considered the same and recently bought some AA miles to get me enough for two more one way first class flights on Cathay.

    @TCCQuest – I think there’s little risk that you’ll be shut out of HKG-BKK award space at last minute. There are many flights per day, and availability at last minute is usually good. You might not get the perfect connection, but if you are willing to do a 4 -12 hour layover in Hong Kong, you should find something once you have the space on the flight to HKG.

    I live in Las Vegas and go to BKK around Christmas time every year. I will try to book LAX-BKK in F on Cathay, for the week before Christmas or, if not available, anytime after that, then change at the last minute when space opens up.

  20. Well I’ve been told the exact opposite by AA phone agents. That you can make changes and as long as the origin or destination aren’t altered, you won’t have to pay additional miles. Typical corporate inconsistency. She actually put me on hold and as it was a “good question”, went to “check with a supervisor”.

  21. Coincidentally, for the past couple of weeks, I’ve ben trying to get AAdvanage CS to confirm (in an email) that they won’t reissue award tickets at a higher price if dates are changed but I’m not having much luck. I get a different story each time I call so I’m not prepared to believe anything until they put it in writing.

  22. Okay, so it is evident no one knows exactly what the rules will be with regards to award ticket changes post March 22. As knowledgeable as Ben may be, he doesn’t know for sure.

    Hopefully on the behalf of his many readers, he will be making it his priority to find out what AA says about this very important subject. Until then, it seems nothing more than a ‘sit tight’ situation.

  23. “not having much luck” meaning they don’t respond at all, or they do respond but without conclusively giving an answer? I have a feeling you won’t get it in writing.

    You could always try calling and record the call – legal where I live as long as you inform them at the start of the call that you’re doing it.

  24. Oh my – I just realized from this post you can BOOK awards for the same levels until 3/23. I thought that anything booked after 3/23 would suffer the devaluation. Hot dog!

  25. It looks like availability for my route only shows up about a week or so prior.

    Can I book it, then change it and put it on ‘hold’ until it gets closer and then attach it to the right dates?

  26. Currently PointsPros booked a First and Business ticket on CX with AA miles in Aug with the expectation I can upgrade to First close to departure. Would you recommend I book another First ticket on different dates at the current rate and then move it close to departure?

    I don’t have status and will have to pay for any change/re-deposit fees.

  27. Re booking the award tickets later would be subject to availability. Although highly unethical, it would be an interesting business strategy to:
    – Announce a major increase in miles required to get award seats, especially in higher award levels.
    – Suddenly have plenty of award seats available, like we have seen, especially in higher award levels
    – Many, trying to get the most of their miles, go out and get all these awards, probably exceeding the capacity that is available.
    – Shortly after the revised award date suddenly reduce the number of award seats until after March 22 of 2017.
    – Now changes require the availability of an award seat and none are available. You have to travel on your original plan or pay to reinstate your miles.

    What do you think?

  28. this is all so confusing! I have 33k miles and I am wondering if I should just book something quickly before the 22nd.
    I would be flying out of phl or jfk to a warm destination in Feb. 2017 (islands, central america)
    Ugh!

  29. Time is running out and the issue is still unclear. Spoke today with 4 different AA telephone agents, final answer was that any change – including just changing dates, will require that the new award chart mileage level is used.

  30. Good morning Lucky
    I am vivid reader of your blog …. and appreciate very much your knowledge in this confusing world of mileage programs – especially with AA Mileage.
    Just booked yesterday a flight thru AA mileage center … and got the following answer from the associate at AA..
    If you change your date of travel after March 22 – your mileage costs will be adjusted accordingly to the new tariff as of March 23 … in other words more or less the double for most of the routes ….
    ( Not changing the route … just changing the dates … )
    This is in stark contrast what you have said in your current blog
    In addition – when I asked what would be the new mileage requirements for a specific flight after March 22
    the AA associate told me that no one knows – and that only after March 22 they will know the new mileage.
    Unless the AA associate was just to ” lazy ” to calculate – or if she was just telling the truth … I would recommend that your readers be careful in booking tickets …
    It looks like – that AA will certainly be trying to ” cash in ”
    In addition – I found it rather bizarre, that wanting to book a flight beginning JUNE this year from Manila to London .. that there seemed to be no seats available in First on any of the Oneworld alliance partners…
    Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Qatar, etc …
    As you are a seasoned traveler … I would appreciate if you can comment on this ..
    Also checked your comment on Etihad’s Business Class which you are raving about in highest praise
    on your flight from Dusseldorf to Abu Dhabi …
    I then checked some other rating sites .. and most of them said that Business class on Etihad was rather poor
    and that the majority of people would not use Etihad anymore in Business class.
    Were you just lucky ???

    Kind regards
    Ritchie

  31. @ Ritchie — That is absolutely a lazy or ill-informed agent.

    As far as June, it’s not surprising there isn’t first class space at this point. Space tends to be good 9+ months in advance, and then pretty limited until just before departure.

  32. Hello, I have 493K AAdvantage miles, so procrastinated and booked a family trip (4 tickets) on the last pre-devaluation day from DFW to SYD on QF A380 in November. The reservation is on hold till 3/26, 11:59 PM. I have not bought the tickets yet. I now see that a Sunday outbound flight has become available and want to move up the departure date 2 days. In order to just change the date only on the outbound flight, would I be subject to the new devalued mileage? I will lose 20K more miles if AA uses the new award structure.

  33. AA is pissing me off.

    I booked BKK-NRT-LAX-AUS before devaluation for 67.5k in F.

    AA downgraded NRT to LAX to Biz-class only

    I called to try to get them to open F seats on the HKG-DFW route, and make the ticket BKK-HKG-DFW-AUS.

    After 20 minutes on the phone, I was told by a supervisor I cannot change the routing from BKK-NRT to BKK-HKG because of the way the ticket is written. Apparently, I can’t go from CX to JL because CX won’t allow ticketing at the old price.

    My only option is to reinstate the miles (67.5k) and rebook it on my own at the higher price (125k or whatever it is).

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