What Gives, American? Where is Your Premium Cabin Award Availability?

by Michael

Earlier this week I wrote about how airlines are free to exercise any amount of discretion (or bias) they may choose in allocating award seats to their partner airlines. Specifically, I noted how American Airlines is getting the short end of the stick from a European-based carrier, and how this makes using AAdvantage miles more difficult for upper class international travel. Since American gets access to fewer upper class seats than other partner airlines, maybe they can make up for that by offering more upper class seats on their own flights to their loyal customers?

Unfortunately, I found a similarly disheartening result. Searching American’s non-stop flight from Dallas to London in September, each day showed ample availability in coach. But when I searched for upper class seats on the DFW-LHR flight, here were the results:


Obviously, upper class seats on long-haul flights are very desirable, so I checked the seat map for one of these days to see how many seats had been taken:


Well, there goes that idea. This Boeing 777 has 52 business class seats. Only two of these are taken, and yet American has no saver-level award availability for this flight. Just to prove this was no fluke, I checked a domestic flight from Phoenix to Chicago for the same time period. I was not surprised to see that these flights also showed no saver-level award availability. Nor was I terribly surprised to see this as the available seat chart for one of these flights:


You can see 16 seats up front on their Airbus 321, with all 16 being available. Yet none are available for saver-level award redemptions.

It is understandable that airlines may want to hold on to many/most of these seats to try and sell them for full fare to business travelers. After all, this is a business and they are in it to make money. But to not give any of them up for saver-level awards nine months in advance? This certainly flies in the face of the term “loyalty programs” that have long since been used to describe the frequent flier programs with which we are all so familiar.

Seriously, what gives, American? Where is your premium cabin award availability?

Michael Prodanovich is a contributor to Point Me to the Plane, and author of The Ultimate Guide to Free Travel.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


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GL December 16, 2016 - 10:52 am

I don’t know if you understand how revenue management works, my friend. Allocation of seats is based on past performance. If they know these premium seats sell out most of the time, they have ZERO reason to allocate them to low level awards, especially 9 months in advance. They literally have nothing to gain from that. On flights which end up selling through unusually low, they will allocate seats closer to the date of the flight.

Nick December 16, 2016 - 11:11 am

Why won’t you mention the European carrier by name in this post instead of requiring readers to click a link?

Tony December 17, 2016 - 1:44 am

clickbait to get more page views obviously.

shaun December 16, 2016 - 11:45 am

@GL, I don’t think you can point to revenue management managing as much as AA just flat out eliminating saver availability. I agree with you that they have zero reason to make the seats available on flights they expect to sell out. But with that reasoning, they would make some available on less desirable flights, which most would agree is not the case.

I think it’s their strategy. Just look at the upgrade space using miles + co-pay since the fare class realignment. Prior to that, (A) space was available on almost all routes in copious amounts. Now it’s almost impossible to upgrade via miles post Jan-11. I think this all points to AA following DL & UA’s lead to monetize First/Business class at a higher percentage which will decrease the upgrade percentage.

I think we know it’s all coming, and unfortunately, I think the variation AA comes out with will be worse that DL’s & UA’s.

GL December 19, 2016 - 8:06 pm

I haven’t had any problems finding low level awards on AA on less desirable flights. PLENTY on flights through Charlotte, Chicago (over winter), Phoenix and Little Rock. Yes, ALL airlines are monetizing premium classes. Of course they are. That’s what makes them profits and supports share prices. However, that’s not what the author is saying. He’s saying that AA should open up low level award availability many months in advance. That’s just not how yield pricing and revenue management works. It’s plain supply/demand.

Joe December 16, 2016 - 12:13 pm

As a DFW based-traveler, the almost non-existent saver award of late have been a huge problem. Furthermore, when flying to other places in Europe, saver tickets almost exclusively require you to go through London which leads to huge taxes. It’s become really hard for me to use American miles for these reasons.

Michael December 16, 2016 - 1:50 pm

Yeah I feel and share your annoyance! I found something on Finnair with ORD-HEL being transatlantic. So I am sure you could ultimately find a DFW-ORD-HEL-??? flight somewhere, but then that still annoyingly requires 3 flights instead of one.

Golfingboy December 16, 2016 - 12:39 pm

I think this is an opportunity for AA to differentiate by offering an expanded award inventory for their mid/top tier elite customers.

A large part of our loyalty by doing a lot of business with one airline is the frequent flyer miles and if we can’t use them then that disincentivizes us from continuing to do $6-200K/year business with American, which in theory is not what AA wants to achieve.

GL December 19, 2016 - 8:11 pm

I’m not sure they’re too concerned about loyalty anymore. With just three major international airlines in the United States and just four in all of North America, we’re all fairly well sorted into our favorite hubs and routes already. With price variance being less than 10%, does price really dictated who flies whom anymore? I don’t think it does.

Airlines have, in the last few years, figured out that the way to make money is by selling premium seats instead of giving them away as “thank you” for loyalty and by selling food and luggage space. It works. Their profits are through the roof while load yields are on the constant increase. The less options we have as travelers, the less worried the airlines are about us leaving them. After all, one is not really any better than the other.

Afonso Bartos December 16, 2016 - 1:01 pm

I fully agree with the original comment: for months I have tried to get a business class seat on saver award from the USA to Japan. Not a single one on American! Only coach is available. What is the purpose of the loyalty program if you can not use your mileage? Very disappointing

Tony December 17, 2016 - 1:46 am

sure you can, just fly coach. Why should AA give away free business class tickets if people pay for them (and they do pay for them). The reason everyone sees more coach tickets than business/first class award tickets is because its a numbers game (obviously) there are 5-12x more coach seats than business/first seats on a plane lol.

William December 16, 2016 - 1:18 pm

Saver space is plentiful on DL these days.

But wait, according to the bloggers, SkyMiles is a worthless program.

GL December 19, 2016 - 8:51 pm

Saver space is plentiful, but their “saver” rates are often higher than high end awards on American. You don’t get to find out how much the flight will cost in points until you try booking it and then suddenly it’s 130k miles in DeltaOne to fly JFK-MXP? HA!

GL December 19, 2016 - 9:00 pm

Just looked at JFK-MXP in April and the lowest there is 140k points plus $654.96 for DeltaOne per person with limited availability. That’s saver level. Most other dates only had it at over 250k points, but only around $50 in taxes and fees.

Just 57,500 miles through AA in Business (on Finnair.)

DaninMCI December 16, 2016 - 1:22 pm

I would bet money that those “taken” seats on the 77W seat map are likely crew rest or blocked out also.

Jason December 16, 2016 - 1:44 pm

Wake up and stop being so naive. As it is continuously being been proven day in and day out, it’s delusional to think that the decision makers care about the customers. The only thing they care about is their promotion and bonus. They couldn’t care less about their customers or even their employees.
Their actions prove over and over that the executives have nothing but contempt for their customers. If this was not true, you would see improvements in what their customer’s experience, not deterioration in every aspect of the airline. Whatever “improvements” there are, they are simply band aids to keep everything from completely going down the drain. Seeing how poorly they treat their most loyal customers and their Loyalty program, is the best indicator of how they couldn’t care less about their customers.

Michael December 16, 2016 - 1:47 pm

Yeah, unfortunately you are spot on. They only care about their own bottom line, and not about us pesky customers anymore. Sad, but true.

Jason December 16, 2016 - 9:13 pm

Yup, they only care about their own personal bottom line – they don’t even care about the company’s bottom line or they would not be so callous towards their customers which in turn jeopardizes the company’s bottom line down the road. It’s called “get the big bonus and then run to the next gig”.

Michael December 16, 2016 - 1:45 pm

Great discussion! All good points, both in agreement with me and in defense of the airlines. I currently have a flight on “hold” with AA miles on Finnair with ORD-HEL being the transatlantic flight, although even this was hard to find and requires multiple 2+ hour layovers along the way.

This, of course when both Star Alliance and SkyTeam have ample saver-level business availability. It’s a shame that AA and oneworld are being so difficult, but I guess the lesson here is to use your AA miles when/wherever you can.

Tony December 17, 2016 - 1:47 am

The reason everyone sees more coach tickets than business/first class award tickets is because its a numbers game (obviously) there are 5-12x more coach seats than business/first seats on a plane lol.

Seat maps are not a reliable way of seeing how many seats are booked, something most so-called “travel experts” know. Maybe AA does release seats that far out in advance and far more astute people have booked them already.

ATXrr December 17, 2016 - 4:38 pm

What you’re describing has been the case for years with AA, so it shouldn’t be such a surprise. It’s also the reason that I bailed on loyalty 3 years ago. I had execplat for 8 years, and I’m lifetime Plat with AA but now only fly them on price and routing (which has amounted to 4 times in 3 years). Otherwise, my individual spend over the last 3 years of ~$90K has been directed to the carriers with the best price, route, and service. The change has been liberating and I’ve found that United (after trashing loyalty) has been working hard to get customers back, so it’s been great to spend $$ with them. I’ve learned that I’ve missed out by not flying some of the European carriers…and today, am happy to travel on their newer equipment, superjumbos, etc. What an idiot I was to blindly fly on AA for loyalty, but no more. Happy flying.

GL December 19, 2016 - 8:42 pm

I’ve just done a quick search for some dates in April 2017 out of DFW and into half a dozen major cities in Europe and only found two dates that didn’t have a MilesAAver level economy award at 30k each way and I purposefully excluded BA operated flights. Literally, searched a bunch of dates and 7 major European cities (excluding London) and only found 2 dates where that wasn’t available.

If you’re going to complain, complain about something that’s a fact, not a perceived problem.

Michael December 20, 2016 - 10:10 am

I also know and even acknowledged above the saver-level awards in economy were plentiful on most routes and partners for most dates. This post was solely about the lack of saver-level awards in premium cabins,

Flying to Cuba - To Pay Cash or Use Miles? - Point Me to the Plane April 5, 2018 - 2:32 pm

[…] fact that despite the low price, there were still no saver award tickets available for the flight (thanks, American!), and I would have ended up getting a value of about 0.3 cents per mile if I’d have chosen to use […]


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