How to Lock in Cheap Awards Before the American Airlines Devaluation

How to Lock in Cheap Awards Before the American Airlines Devaluation

American Airlines is making several significant changes to its award chart for travel booked on or after March 22. Fortunately, American allows customers to book flights up to 331 days in advance. The last day to book before the devaluation takes effect is on March 21, 2106, meaning you could lock in current rates for travel through February 15, 2017. 

It’s time to start thinking about holiday travel, school breaks, and any other opportunity to use your miles. Wait too long and they’ll only go down in value. You can visit American’s website to find the current award chart for travel booked on or before March 21, as well as the new award charts for travel on American and travel on partner airlines when booked on or after March 22.

Book Now and Change Later

What if you aren’t so sure about your travel plans, or you can’t find the award space you want? It could still make sense to book an award now and then change it later. American Airlines has advised that it will allow customers to make certain changes to their award tickets without re-pricing the award and collecting more miles. (Change fees, which are waived for Executive Platinum members, will still apply.)

American Airlines flights
American Airlines allows customers to book flights up to 331 days in advance

Specifically, changes requested by the member to fly on a different date or at a different time will allow travelers to keep the existing award level. Other changes that affect the itinerary, including a different origin or destination, will be re-priced at the new, higher award level.For example, say you want to travel on December 20 to visit family in Montreal, but you can’t find award space from your home in Dallas. If you can find available space on November 20 or January 20 (or any other date), you could book that trip now and lock in the current price. Here are the current and future prices for one-way award travel between these cities:

 EconomyBusinessFirst
Current12,50025,00032,500
Future15,00030,00055,000

It’s probably safer to pick a date after you plan to travel since you can always change it to something earlier. If you book a date before you plan to travel, you might approach that day before you find something new. In this example, January would be a better choice than November if you need to book something now and later change it to December.

Some Awards Will Be Cheaper

If by chance the award you’re looking at goes down in price (which will be true for economy and business class tickets to Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America, as well as economy class tickets to India and the Middle East) then you may also call American and ask them to re-price the award to refund the extra miles back to your account.

Changes to Cabin Class or Connecting Cities

What about a few other changes, such as new connecting cities or moving into a different cabin class? The policy is less clear on these points.

American Airlines has said they will clarify the rules for changing awards after the new award chart takes effect, which isn’t very helpful now. But we can make some guesses. It would not be surprising if choosing to travel on a different date would require different flights to get there. Flying at another time on the same date would certainly require new flights. Therefore, we can guess that it will be okay to connect in different cities as long as where you start and end remains unaffected.

American Airlines Main Cabin Seats
American Airlines Main Cabin Seats

Changes to cabin class are a different matter. American has long had a policy that allowed customers to “upgrade” their ticket to a higher cabin class closer to departure, when many airlines typically release more award space. This is a helpful rule that allows you to secure your dates now and change your itinerary to something better at a future time. You only need to pay the extra miles, but there are no change fees.

The bad news is that premium cabin awards are going to increase the most when the award chart devalues on March 22. For example, the current price of a business class ticket to Hong Kong is 55,000 miles one-way. If you change it to a first class ticket before March 22, the price will be 67,500 miles, and you’ll need to pay the difference of 12,500 miles. However, changing the award a few months from now will present a much bigger bill. First class awards will soon be 110,000 miles on this route, for a difference of 55,000 miles.

Features of the First Class of the Airbus A321T
Features of the First Class of the Airbus A321T

Where to Find Award Space

Clearly you want to book the same cabin that you intend to fly. Although some carriers don’t release a lot of business or first class award space in advance, they usually release at least a few seats. One of the best approaches is to book as far out in the future as possible. Many carriers release two or three seats when their schedule is first published.

Other times you might find a few scattered seats on random dates six to nine months out. They can be few and far between, so don’t give up hope just because you can’t find any for several weeks at a time. Remember that you plan to change the dates anyway!

In addition to the American Airlines website, British Airways provides an excellent tool for finding award space on oneworld Alliance carriers. Etihad is another American Airlines partner, and we’ve previously described how to find Etihad award space and call American to book it.

In summary, many travelers who plan in advance will be able to book award travel now and pay lower prices to stretch the value of their American Airlines miles. You don’t need to know exactly when you’ll fly, just where. Be sure to book the cabin class you want to fly in because upgrades will be expensive. Otherwise, changing to a different date or time should be possible once more award space becomes available.