Finding Incredible Value In American’s ‘Web Special’ Awards

by Chris Dong

Many airlines have been (or will be) moving to dynamic award pricing. The thought here is the number of miles to redeem an award is shifting to be slightly more correlated to the actual cost of a ticket as opposed to using an award chart to determine value. Delta has been doing this for years without a published award chart and United announced it will also move to dynamic award pricing in November.

American has been the lone holdout so far amongst the three big US carriers, but AA’s “economy web special” pricing is thought to be a harbinger of things to come.

However, my most recent American AAdvantage redemption was a “web special” award that surprisingly had outstanding value. Even if there is no American SAAver space (usually the fewest number of miles needed for a redemption and books into fare class “T”), don’t fret just yet. It pays to do a search on American’s website to see if an “economy web special” award might fit the bill.

What Is American’s Economy Web Special Award? 

American Economy Web Specials

American unveiled economy web special awards late last year as a new subset of award fares. Sometimes on select routes, a web special award is fewer miles than even the lowest economy MileSAAver award. Often, however, it is higher than the SAAver award but fewer miles than Economy AAnytime. There are no published web special award pricing and it can seem quite arbitrary as to what routes are selected and when.

There are also restrictions for these types of awards that pop up before you can continue with a booking. However, if you’re an Executive Platinum status holder with American, you can cancel and reinstate with no fees as part of your elite benefit.

economy web special

My Travel Plans + Experience With Economy Web Specials

I needed to get from New York to Washington D.C. for a wedding this weekend and while there are many travel options, I wanted to fly to maximize my time. (And I use any excuse to get on a plane, so there’s that.)

There was a particular flight I was looking at — a 3:00pm on American from LaGuardia to Reagan on a Friday afternoon. However, cash prices for this flight were absolutely absurd for the one hour hop. It would cost almost $500 to fly. Absolute bonkers. No thank you.

Related: First Look — LaGuardia’s New Concourse In Terminal B 

Simultaneously, I took a look at award availability for Friday afternoon on American. My go-to move is to usually check ExpertFlyer and search for “T” inventory which is the fare bucket that is used for MileSAAver space. I often will book short American Airlines domestic flights with British Airways Avios.

Avios are easier to earn than AAdvantage miles because they’re a transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards and American Express Membership Rewards.

Sadly, there was no “T” space available for my day of travel either. If there was, this would be a 7,500 mile award redemption. And I could pick between using either American AAdvantage miles or British Airways Avios. With American, keep in mind there is a close-in booking fee of $75 if you don’t have status with the airline. (American is likely eliminating that fee though soon.)

Finally, I also searched American’s own website to see what the deal was. To my surprise, while there was no MileSAAver award availability for 7,500 miles, there was an economy web special award for just 500 miles more — 8,000 AAdvantage miles for the one-way. 

However, because this was not part of the “T” inventory, I couldn’t use British Airways Avios for the booking. However, I gladly used 8,000 AAdvantage miles and paid $5.60 in taxes to make the reservation.

Bottom Line

If you do the math here and compare it the price for this ticket ($488.30), I got over 6 cents in value per AAdvantage mile. That’s a tremendous value, but also keep in mind, I would not have even considered paying anywhere near that much in cash so it’s not a full apple-to-apples real life comparison.

After this experience, I thought more about American’s strategy for economy web specials. Sometimes, it is actually an incredible value but other times, it also seems just like an excuse to test out dynamic pricing in the guise of a deal.

Perhaps part of the reason American has web special awards is to discourage using points from other partner airlines? After all, I likely would have used British Airways Avios if MileSAAver space was available. By having web special awards, it seems like American can restrict people to book using AAdvantage miles only, but also not frustrate those with American miles with pricing something super high like at the AAnytime level.

I’m not sure what the strategy is, but I’m just glad I can fly to D.C. on a peak Friday afternoon for just 8,000 miles. Now, I can only hope that the flight arrives on time.

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4 comments
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4 comments

Jim July 29, 2019 - 4:11 pm

BA isn’t a transfer partner to Citi neither is IB.

Reply
Chris Dong July 29, 2019 - 4:16 pm

Oops thanks for the catch, Jim. Fixed!

Reply
Christian July 29, 2019 - 9:59 pm

Is there any special trick to find the web special availability vs. standard saver availability?

Reply
Chris Dong July 30, 2019 - 7:53 pm

There doesn’t seem to be a specific rhyme or reason as to what routes get web specials or not. However, I noticed NYC-DCA/BOS is one of the routes that does.

Reply

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