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American AAdvantage and US Airways Dividend Miles unveiled brand new award charts, with new prices effective immediately for travel dates June 1, 2014 and beyond.
People with flexible schedules on simple trips. Not much has changed for you if you use your miles to fly from Point A to Point B in a direct manner on the cheapest MileSAAver awards, either in Coach or Business / First Class. True, no one ‘wins’ when other prices increase, but in this case the risk was these prices could have gone up.
Though there is the risk AAdvantage will make fewer seats available at the cheapest prices, which is bad news. For example, the new ‘Anytime Level 1’ price of 40,000 miles roundtrip for a domestic Economy ticket could become more common than the 25,000 mile MileSAAver level we’re used to. This is straight out of the US Airways playbook – its 40,000 mile ‘Mid’ level award is the most common for its flights. Now AAdvantage has the same flexibility to charge that in between price, which is bad for flyers. US Airways Dividend Miles ranks among the lowest in customer satisfaction in our survey of frequent flyers, mostly because of higher than expected award prices.
For now though, we are seeing the cheapest ‘MileSAAver’ award is still widely available on many domestic flights, which is good, and we think American will approach changes cautiously.
People saving for international First / Business Class trips. US Airways and AAdvantage have both been good programs if you liked to use miles for international First and Business Class trips, which are important to their most frequent flyers. They have partners with lots of seats available and the mileage prices are better than Delta and United.
Delta and United have both substantially increased the entry level price of international flights in First and Business Class for travel this year, so there was a real risk American and US Airways would make big price increases. They didn’t increase the entry level prices, with most prices remaining below both Delta and United, which is a real value if you have a big mile balance.
But there is still a risk American could decide to make fewer seats available at the entry MileSAAver level, and that would result in a quiet price increase overall.
Mile enthusiasts. If you liked getting two free trips at once thanks to being able to add a stopover in the U.S. to or from your international award, or if you liked using the little advertised ‘OneWorld Explorer’ chart for multi-airline trips spanning the globe, you’re losing some generous rewards for playing the game shrewdly.
For example previously you could book an award ticket from New York to Paris on May 1, returning May 3, but adding a ‘stopover’ in New York, which continues on July 2 to Los Angeles. That effectively added a free one way ticket to Los Angles for the same price as a roundtrip from New York to Paris. The rule was worded to allow this, but it wasn’t intended to let people who live in New York to regularly get extra free flights like that.
While it’s reasonable for American to change this, doing it immediately with no notice is a disservice to people who banked miles with plans to utilize the rule.
People who are not flexible with their schedules. If you only travel on set dates, without a lot of flexibility there’s a chance you will get stuck paying more. About 50% of days the ‘Anytime’ award will be available at Level 1, which is less than the prior ‘Anytime’ award price. The rest of days though will be priced at the higher Level 2, which is higher than the prior ‘Anytime’ award price.
American will have a lot more flexibility to charge more for awards on certain days because of the two new ‘Anytime’ award levels, and if it chooses to make fewer MileSAAver awards available it’s bad news.
The good news is for now the most valued MileSAAver awards are unchanged, including the 100,000 mile Business Class ticket to Europe and 140,000 mile First Class ticket to South Asia, which are great values. You can also still get to Australia in Economy for just 75,000 miles roundtrip versus 100,000 miles in Delta’s program.
American is for now preserving the best value for the many people – very good MileSAAver prices on aspirational awards like Business and First Class tickets to Europe, Asia, and Australia.
Most importantly, AAdvantage is avoiding the massive increases in First / Business Class awards on partners that United passed through.
For example, American still charges 110,000 miles roundtrip for a MileSAAver Business Class ticket to China. United charges 140,000 – 160,000 miles for the same ticket at the entry level, with the higher price for using its partner airlines. Delta charges 140,000 miles for a Level 1 award and 180,000 miles for a Level 2 award starting in 2015.
So if you like getting to where you want to go most comfortably in the shortest way possible, the changes shouldn’t hurt you much, especially if you use partners. But if you liked AAdvantage for multi continent jaunts in First Class unfortunately that is now harder with the elimination of the ‘Explorer’ award chart.
As always, you shouldn’t be hoarding your miles if you have enough for the award you want right now. Miles should be used as soon as possible in all instances, because prices generally trend up over time.
Another price change is possible when the two programs combine next year.
The good news for AAdvantage members is the AAdvantage MileSAAver prices are already higher than US Airways, so perhaps the change will be limited to increasing some awards on the US Airways side like Africa in Business Class moving from 110,000 miles roundtrip in Dividend Miles to 150,000 miles as it is in AAdvantage today.
It’s also possible the ‘Level 1’ off peak award prices will be eliminated and today’s ‘Level 2’ will become tomorrow’s ‘Level 1,’ which would put it in line with United and Delta’s prices.
We still think AAdvantage and Dividend Miles are the best programs to use for First and Business Class travel around the world, though Europe is probably the least competitive place to use them because of large surcharges on British Airways awards.
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