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AA Makes Mileage Award Prices Vary

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AA Mileage Move: Another Airline Makes Mileage Award Prices Vary, With a Catch.

By Scott McCartney

American Airlines introduced a new mileage-award pricing option for elite-level frequent fliers using miles to buy coach tickets, but there’s a new catch that comes with the new option: The “Dynamic Air Awards’’ tickets aren’t changeable.

The move expands American’s mileage redemption levels to at least three for coach tickets. Other airlines have already gone to three redemption levels, which often means fewer awards available at the lowest level. Southwest Airlines and a few others have gone to completely dynamic pricing where the price in points fluctuates as much as the dollar price.

Frequent fliers have been demanding more ways to use all the billions and billions of miles they’ve earned traveling or through credit cards. (See this article for a comparison of award availability among airlines.) Frustration over inability to score mileage awards because of a lack of availability or a doubling of the price in miles makes collecting miles far less enticing and threatens to ultimately weaken airline programs. So adding redemption levels is one way airlines have moved to boost redemptions and at the same time get travelers to burn more miles on tickets.

American’s Dynamic awards fluctuate in the number of miles needed for a ticket based on the corresponding fare, so the airline can more closely match miles needed for a ticket with the price of the tickets. The awards don’t have black-out dates or capacity controls, American says, so elite-level frequent fliers should be able to find more award seats at lower mileage requirements than American’s top-cost “AAnytime’’ awards. (Dynamic awards are only available for coach tickets.)

AAnytime awards, like a full-fare ticket, are refundable and changeable. That’s a big advantage, especially if you use awards for things like family emergencies where you may want to be able to change your return home. American’s basic-level “MileSAAver’’ awards are changeable as well, without a fee, if a seat is available at the same redemption level.

But the Dynamic awards aren’t changeable. You can redeposit the miles to your account if plans change, but there’s a $150 fee. (The charge is waived for top-tier Executive Platinum members.) In terms of flexibility, the Dynamic award becomes more like a non-refundable ticket with penalties for change.

As there often is, there’s a trade-off for travelers. Offering better deals to make miles more valuable helps, but it comes at a flexibility cost.

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